Learn to evaluate the risks and rewards of subdividing land into residential lots. In this first of three articles on the subject, a developer and real estate lawyer provides landowners specific items to evaluate when considering whether or not to subdivide land. Come back for the next articles in this series that provide insights for landowners based on the author’s real world experiences with the subdivision process, as well as a hands-on description of the steps landowners should take when subdividing land.

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Planning Consent. This will be needed before development is begun, but who obtains it is a question for landowners. Embarking on the planning process at your own risk can pay off, but it is a gamble and we recommend that you speak to either a surveyor, a planning consultant or a planning officer at your local authority to get an idea as to whether or not an application for consent for development would be successful. Many such applications will go to appeal. Is the planning consent you obtain going to be the one developers need? This is why many landowners enter into promotion agreements or conditional contracts which oblige others to apply for planning, as they often have a greater chance of success on the right terms. Be aware though, that extensive price negotiations can take place once planning consent is obtained, and the actual net development area can be calculated. This will take into account any ‘extra’ costs such as wildlife surveys or ground investigations that are required as a result of the planning conditions.

Hi Seth – very helpful blog indeed. I have recently been given the opportunity to buy the 6-acre wooded lot, zoned residential, that adjoins my already-owned 3-acre lot for $64k. I know the terrain of the 6-acres quite well as I’ve had to chase my dogs all through it when they get loose. On the back end is a power line right-of-way, so certainly nothing will be built behind it. It does have a site cleared for up to a 4-bedroom home, a “proposed” well location, and although the site will not perk, the seller has an off-site discharge permit issued from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for a sewage disposal system. The owner will finance, with $998 down payment and $688/mo for 10 years, but that comes out to a LOT of money for 6 acres so I would likely come up with 40 percent down on my own, and pay off the rest with a personal, lower-interest loan. My concerns when it comes to land, especially as an investment: would the monthly payment for the land not be better spent to pay down my existing mortgage? Or, would the monthly payment for the land not be better invested in something with a higher rate of return? Of course, from a diversification standpoint the land may make perfect sense. I live (and the land is located) in an area mid-way between Washington, DC and Richmond, VA – – – an area that is growing like mad. I have a tough time believing that in the 15 years I have left until I retire I would LOSE money on the investment. And unlike a 401k or an IRA, which can disappear overnight should an economy tank, land will never be totally worthless. I would not actually DO anything with the land (aside from perhaps harvesting some firewood) other than to HOLD it for 15 years until I retire and leave this area.
Rule #18: Before traveling to view a promising parcel, check the county assessor’s website using the parcel number. Some are VERY helpful, containing all sorts of information such as what areas are known for landslides, flooding, wetland/buffer areas, contamination, noxious weeds, etc. The sites also give past purchase pricing and tax information, and sometimes even if there’s been “issues” with the land (such as a previous owner building unapproved structures which they may have had to tear down, leaving a foundation for you to deal with).
First and foremost, it is vitally important to understand what a property can be used for, and what the highest and best use of the property is. With a simple phone call to your local planning  & zoning department, most offices can give you the answer to this question in a matter of seconds. Once you know the zoning classification (e.g. – residential, mixed-use, commercial, industrial, agricultural, etc.), ask them to give you some examples of what type of property would be allowed under each of these particular zoning classifications. They may even give you some ideas that you hadn't previously thought of. Once you understand the most ideal use of the property – you can quickly determine whether it will fit your needs (or the needs of those you intend to market the property to).

Hi Victoria – you’d probably want to check with your local municipality to see who owns these parcels that surround the house (or you could also check out this tutorial or this tutorial to figure it out yourself). You generally don’t want to touch any trees that aren’t on the parcel that you own… but in terms of whether those surrounding parcels are “preserved woodlands” – that’s an answer you could probably get from someone with the local government office. Just Google the township or county clerk, give them a call and see what you can find out.
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.
Since it is near the New Year, please allow me to use this illustration. Many people make a resolution to diet and exercise to lose weight in the New Year. They may buy a new piece of equipment and some new workout clothes. They go hard for a couple of weeks, and slowly excuses begin to interrupt the routine and eventually there is no real progress. Then the person can say, “I tried the Bowflex for a while, but it didn’t really work for me.” The truth is, they didn’t do what Bowflex recommends and therefore they did not achieve the desired result.
The trick with vacant land is to understand why it's vacant in the first place. I've run across quite a few vacant lots that seemed attractive at first glance, but eventually, I discovered the reason nobody was using them was that you CAN'T use them. If one (or more) of the issues above are prohibiting someone from putting a property to good use, believe me – you don't want to find out after you already own it.

I requested a quote 13 days ago & I accept the fact that you are back logged & it could take up to 14 days to get a written response. I just hope that you seriously consider our property for purchase. It really is a great lot. We had plans 13yrs ago to build a house with a walkout basement & even add a pole barn to the property. Times change, situations change & we've been trying to sell this since 2008. I'll keep my fingers crossed & hope that I hear a response with an offer very soon. I appreciate that you look at every property & realize it might take a little longer than 2 weeks to hear something. Thank you very much for your consideration. Amy
Having a knowledgeable professional on your side always helps when selling your lots and land. There are many benefits from having specialized expertise on board, so we encourage you to work with a real estate agent who specializes in lot and land sales. They will help you understand the market, set a price and market your land to the right buyers.
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