Particularly in popular neighborhoods and areas where undeveloped space is limited, purchasing existing property for the sole purpose of building a new structure on the land is fairly common. In many cases, developers and building companies will redevelop multiple properties in a neighborhood, knowing buyers will eat up new, bigger homes where midcentury ranch houses once stood.
I am currently listing a 10 acre piece of vacant land, which is zoned R-1, in Hesperia, California. The seller states the property can be zoned commercial. I spoke to the planning department and they stated it is zoned residential. My client is totally convinced they are wrong and it can be switched if someone pitches a commercial rezoning presentation. What is your take on this?
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First, you need to understand the exact dimensions of the parcel of land you are evaluating. Next, call the local zoning department and ask them what the designated building setbacks are for the property in question (building setback requirements are very common, and are imposed as a way of giving order and consistency to the buildings in any given area). When you take these setbacks and regulations into account (relative to the size of this parcel of land), is there still enough room to build something worthwhile – or does it render the property useless? I've come across several properties that were designed (albeit, unintentionally) to be too small and after factoring in the setbacks – you can't build anything on them at all, leaving them virtually worthless!
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Get Proper Tax Advice. This is an absolute, and again must be done early on in the procedure. Professional advice is needed to structure the transaction in the most tax efficient way, making the most of any reliefs and exemptions that may be available. Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Inheritance Tax, Value Added Tax and Stamp Duty Land Tax are all taxes which may need to be considered and planned. Many developers will want to certain that the seller has obtained professional tax advice before exchanging contracts.

I’m so happy that you mentioned to send out letters to your neighbors that say you are planning on selling your place. My sister had the worse time trying to sell her place. She put ads online and in the newspaper, talked to real estate agents, and tried other methods. It wasn’t until she sent letters out to her neighbors that she got a response. All in all, don’t give up! You’ll find someone to buy your place one way or another!
Remember, the goal is to get your listing in front of as many potential buyers as possible, and the buyers who browse on Website A may never think of browsing on Website B (or C, or D, or E). Since we can never know precisely where our next buyer will come from, it may be worth your consideration to look at what each of these options can bring to the table (and since none of these cost a dime, the only thing you stand to lose is your time).
In most cases, rural land owners should enlist the help of a professional land agent in selling their properties. Unless they have a lot of experience or it is a slam-dunk deal, the seller will benefit from having an agent on their team. In fact, most serious land investors have at least one agent that they go to for finding deals or making sales. Take a cue from sophisticated land investors and enlist the help of a true land sales professional to market and sell your rural land. You will be glad you did.

First, find experienced professional advisers. Arranging the deal yourself to avoid fees is almost certainly a false economy. An experienced agent, a solicitor and importantly, an accountant, are all essential before any sale negotiations are begun. Developers will have strict criteria for the land they wish to purchase in order to maximise their own profits, so obtaining the correct advice at the start will help ensure you can offer land for sale in the most appealing way to the developer and lucrative way for yourself.
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If you’re looking at a vacant lot in the middle of the desert or near the top of a mountain with nothing around for miles, you will probably want to verify with a professional that water will be accessible if/when you need it (and if your only option is to have it hauled in by truck, you'll want to get an idea for how much this will cost on an ongoing basis).
And consider that the developer may not really “need” your property, and may just be looking into options for improving the entrance to the community. It’s worth noting that a more beautifully landscaped or designed community entrance adjacent to your 10 acre property could increase your property’s value. Also, building a friendly relationship with the developer may lead to a buyer for your property in the future.
In the very least, your land contract should include the address of the property and a full legal description of the land. It should also include the down payment amount, purchase price, the number of payments that will be made, the monthly payment amounts, and any balloon payments that may be required. You may also consider creating and attaching an amortization schedule.
Rezoning isn’t a quick process, and there are no guarantees. “Sometimes councils won’t rezone because the land is too fragmented and needs consolidation,” Coutts says. “It can easily take four to five years. Some landowners don’t have that time, so it can be a very daunting and upsetting process. You can see why they say ‘just sell it and let’s get out of here’. But if you can wait and manage the process effectively, the rewards can be considerable.”
Honestly, since you’re the buyer, there’s no real reason not to use a realtor (because they’ll take their money from the seller, not you). I’d just be sure to get one who knows their stuff (i.e. – make sure they have some level of experience dealing with vacant land, as it’s a whole different animal than what most realtors are used to dealing with).
Mortgagee’s consent. If your land is subject to a legal charge you will require the lender’s consent to the sale. If you are selling off part of a larger parcel of charged land you will need to obtain a release. This might mean the renegotiation of your financial arrangements, which again, is sensibly addressed early in the transaction. Speak to your relationship manager and your solicitor.
Hi David, I think it has everything to do with the zoning of the property, and what the local municipality will allow you to do with it (given the size, shape, location, and what exactly you’re hoping to do with it). Once you have a specific property in mind, you could find out pretty easily by calling the local planning & zoning department. Just ask them what can be done with the property, and they should be able to give you your answer!
The hard part, however, is getting your neighbours on board if that’s what you’d like to do. Offering a developer a larger parcel of land can be more profitable for them, and therefore more lucrative for you. This will require negotiations and time, possibly between yourself and your neighbours or between your agent and the neighbours. Be prepared that not everyone else will want to sell, even if there’s a big payout promised. Make sure that the extra effort will be worth the final sales result by comparing an estimated selling price for your home with what your portion of the sale will be if you sell to a developer.
Hi, Jane. Some of your situation will depend on local regulations (as always), but I would think you could handle this scenario by subdividing the 2 acres off as a building site but your son still keeps the land in his name. In other words, there likely is no need to transfer the property to you at all (unless you just wanted to do it that way). If he keeps title you also may avoid incurring unnecessary taxes, transfer fees and other transaction costs. Check with a local real estate attorney, and good luck!

I might add that in some development-friendly communities, the city and developer might try to play the eminent domain (condemnation) card. Ostensibly, eminent domain should be used only in the exercise of public good such as a new highway or road widening, though some cities get away with it in dubious circumstances. Your agent should know whether this could be an issue. Such a scenario, as unlikely as it is, would probably force you to hire a lawyer to get a decent price.
This all boils down to how badly the developer needs your home, how much money he stands to gain by moving quickly and how robust the multi-unit housing market is. If the final offer falls a bit short of where you’d like it to be, factor in the negatives of staying: more construction noise, additional traffic and all the dough you’ll have to fork out to comfortably remain there. Realize, too, that condo prices, in particular, can be mercurial and turn on a dime if the greater housing market starts going south, which might give your buyer cold feet.
When you are buying and selling lots and land, working directly is often the best way to go. Agents don’t typically put in the time or energy that they’d put into a selling a house. Comparatively, the commissions are low, and the land market is slow. When a parcel is listed on the MLS, the price is often inflated to cover commissions and other fees that will offset the seller’s profit. Typically there is less money and less effort put into marketing a piece of land, so it ends up sitting there, with the price being slashed time and time again.

Maurice "Moe" Veissi, president elect of the National Association of Realtors says that the first step in negotiating a fair land deal is to make sure that it’s a clinical, not an emotional purchase. When it comes to a land purchase it is not unlike buying a car, he says. For example, would you purchase a new car without knowing what it is you want, what price are you willing to pay, and what the average purchase price is for the car you are eyeing? 

An open listing generally brings the same result to a landowner. If you engage several agents to help you sell your property, then no one is responsible for marketing and selling your property. By making it open to everyone, you essentially make it for no one. Why would an agent spend money advertising a property that they have no reasonable guarantee that will produce a return on their investment? When they do, sellers often get the impression that the agent has nothing to offer and is not effective. Good agents will not do that as a standard practice.

You always have the option of selling your land through a professional which is your real estate agent. There are some significant benefits to doing this when you are looking for a quick sale. These experts have the training and expertise for selling property. They also have a large database of potential buyers. Then they have ready access to many more forms of marketing that you as a private seller may not have. This includes selling through the internet. Most have high profile sites set up that draws traffic from interested buyers. If you are attempting to sell your property online you probably don’t have this same outreach.


Here are reasons why I believe an Exclusive Listing Agreement is better for the seller when it comes to selling land. (Let me preface all of these reasons with the assumption that you have researched prospective listing agents with experience in selling land and you are only going to deal with ones that appear to be qualified and have good reviews. For more explanation read, “Not All Agents are Competent About Land.”
I am considering buying a quarter acre, to build a house for my retirement in a few years. I have never bought land before but it is in an area that will definitely increase in value over the next few years so I want to lock it down now and build the house I want later, rather than purchase a home and make payments in addition to my current home. Thanks for the tips on how to assess, my question is whether I should use a realtor and/or get a property appraisal. I will probably pay cash for the land. Thanks much!

I am a relatively new real estate agent and just got a land listing. This is a great article with many helpful strategies for selling land. I think selling land can be a bit intimidating because most sellers have such high expectations that you will sell their land for them quickly and it usually takes much longer, as you pointed out in your article. Thank you for the great information!

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