One of the best ways to do this is by using Google Earth (which is free) and the topography map from Earth Point (which is also free). With Google Earth, you can search for your property (using the address or coordinates) and zoom in using your mouse buttons and the control/command and shift keys on your keyboard. This will allow you to tilt the earth so you can see precisely where all the hills and valleys are in your area. 
great article and timely. I have several undeveloped lots located in urban and well rural settings., from quarter acre to 120 acres. I am also thinking of developing the lots my self but need a step by step process including spread sheet showing cost of development and potential roi. what type if assistance should I expect from local gov’t in this process for environmental goals, building green, workforce housing etc. thanks

1. I never use loans when I buy vacant land, because I’m able to get my properties very, very cheap (and I’m only able to do this because I know where/how to find motivated sellers). Most banks won’t lend directly on land UNLESS you have an immediate plan to build on it – and this is why seller financing can be such a helpful tool when selling land (because most buyers will need it in order to do the transaction).
This has got to be one of best articles out there about land investment. Thank you so much for the advises. I live in San Jose, CA and I am also looking into buying land myself to build a residential home on. I’m somewhat skeptical about it as i’m very new to this whole process and afraid i might be stuck on a parcel that is not build-able or would cost too much to develop. The parcel i’m looking at is currently zoned “commercial”, however, the surrounding area is heavily residential so i wonder if this was a city’s mistake. To avoid troubles down the road, I plan to hire a professional for all the permitting and developing advises/estimate (if you know anyone in the Bay Area that provides this type of service, could you please refer?) but I just don’t know how much i can completely close my eyes and just sign wherever i was told by the professional. Any advise will be much appreciated.
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?
I’m not the best person to answer that, because I’m not a lawyer and I know very little about what your rights are – but I imagine it could be difficult to prove much without a signed contract. That being said, I’ve heard that there are potential claims on the grounds of “squatters rights“. If you’ve lived at the property for 20 years, there may be something worth exploring here.
You can also try to contact a few local real estate agents in the area and ask them if they wouldn't mind driving by the property and snapping a few pictures when they have a chance. Most agents are regularly in the field anyway, and it isn't a huge ask for them to swing by your property and get some pictures (especially if you show an interest in using them for your future listings and/or paying them a few bucks for their trouble).
Whether you’re selling your land yourself or with the help of a real estate professional, it’s important to ensure that you have all the necessary documents to complete the transaction. It’s highly recommended that you consult with an attorney to ensure that your contract includes all of the necessary information and to ensure that you aren’t missing any important documentation. If you plan on selling the land yourself, be sure to do your research to avoid complications during the sale process.
Can you tell me how does the developer acquire and secure several acres surrounding the 1 acre he owns to expand his development. The problem is that the developer lacks financing and cant afford to acquire the adjacent land, yet he wants to prevent other parties from building on the adjacent land so as to ensure there is enough space to expand his development.
We found a really great 2 acre property zoned rural residential in the area of town that we really want to live in Oregon. It is the only lot left in the older established subdivision, so it has city water but would need a septic (which everyone in the neighborhood has of course). One big issue is that it is basically a forest. The whole lot is full of trees, huge and small.
Hi Giselle – all of the properties I’ve bought have been SUPER cheap, so I’ve always just paid with cash. I have done plenty of seller financing when I’ve sold properties, but not so much when I’m buying. However, what you’re saying could certainly be a feasible way to get properties without taking out a hard money loan – you’d just have to find a seller who is willing to work with this kind of arrangement and then hold their hand to make sure they understand the process and that everything is being done correctly (paperwork, recording, processing of payments). There are a lot of additional moving pieces when seller financing enters the picture, but for the right deal, it could absolutely be worth all extra effort.
Once you get over about an acre in size and two or three lots, the complexity of the subdivision process can rise dramatically. The level of difficulty – and expertise needed — can be compounded if you have a site where lots will not front on an existing public road or where utilities and infrastructure must be built. This likely will require you to undergo municipal oversight (possibly even state or federal, for some situations) for the subdivision’s site design and layout, as well as construction of roads, utilities and other infrastructure. In this scenario, you basically are stretching the activity from simply subdividing a parcel to full-scale community and land development.
A major issue that we see when people try to sell property to their friends is that they’ll cut breaks for their friends. Perhaps their friend doesn’t have the money, so they’ll allow for later payment while transferring the property to their friend. Always ensure that you are engaging in a business deal that is within your best interests. If your friend does not have the money to buy the land, have a contract written up with payment details and guidelines. Never trust someone blindly - this is a business deal and should be treated as one despite your friendship.
Once we have completed our title examination and have established that there is clear title to the property, we will coordinate with you to set up closing. A title professional will prepare the necessary documents for you to sign, notarize, and return to them. Once the signed and notarized documents are received, the agreed upon funds are distributed and you get paid! Our process is simple, straightforward, and typically takes about 2-4 weeks to complete.
My wife and I are thinking about selling our home and have been looking for tips to get it off the market quickly. I like that you suggest talking to building inspectors because they deal with large volumes of buyers on the market. Having connections is really important to get the word out so we might try talking to a few different real estate agents and contractors. Thanks for the help!
Hello Elizabeth, thanks for posting. LandInvestors is a great place for you to start. It is an incredibly valuable tool for newcomers (and old-timers alike) to bounce ideas off other (like-minded) investors, ask questions, share concepts, etc. It’s a remarkably symbiotic community that everyone gets a lot out of. This forum-based site should be the first place you go with questions, and Jack, Jill, myself, and the rest of our staff are on there often helping in addition to our whole community. There is a wealth of free information about selling properties on the site. The Cash Flow from Land Program is also a place that fully covers selling your property. Feel free to email us if you have any questions.
In the right location, today’s seller’s market makes it so you could put your home on the market as-is and likely still receive interest. But if there’s a possibility you’re misdiagnosing your home as a desirable purchase for a teardown, you should think about preparing the home properly for the market, as minor updates and cleaning can go a long way. You could have your property appraised to see how it would likely fare compared to similar homes in your neighborhood, or consult a real estate agent to see if they expect more builder versus homebuyer interest.
Once we’ve received your signed agreement, we will begin our title examination on the property. We have a large network of established title companies, real estate attorneys, and real estate title professionals that will research the title to your property and help to arrange closing. All that is required is a few signatures on your end. There is no need to travel to complete the sale. Best of all, we pay for all the costs involved and arrange everything for you! It doesn’t get much easier than that.
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