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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.
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.
If you need to find a buyer fast, our company is in the land buying business. If you've got time to wait for a few months, then get it posted on your standard online sites (don't underestimate Craigslist!) and consider hiring an agent. If that doesn't work out or you don't feel like waiting, we've got a network of buyers at Landmark Property Buyers.
I would appreciate your opinion about my situation. When I purchased my home on 5 acres twelve years ago, the builder included two acres at no additional charge. Both the 2 acre and 5 acre parcels are adjacent to each other. So, I have two properties with two tax bills. In the future, I plan to obtain a reverse mortgage, so I would like to maximize the value of my home by combining both parcels into one larger 7 acre parcel.
Tenants. Informal arrangements with tenants can also pose a problem when it comes to selling. If you let any buildings to business tenants they should be on proper leases which are contracted out of the security of tenure provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. Any residential tenants should be on Assured Shorthold Tenancies. For agricultural tenants, make sure they are on licences if appropriate or Farm Business Tenancies under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. Bear in mind the long notice periods and that compensation may also be due for these tenants. Agricultural tenancies that were granted before 1 September 1995 are likely to have lifetime security of tenure and if they predate 12 July 1984, successors can also be named by the tenant so that up to three generations can farm the same land. Compensation will also be payable on termination for any tenant improvements to the land. Again, it will help to have all the paperwork accessible and to hand.
Hi Seth – My brother-in-law and I are looking to get into real estate investing and have our eye on a piece of land (we want to start small, FYI). It is 1 of 8 lots, all of them are only 1,742 sq ft, for commercial use only, and the lot we are looking at is the end lot…My thought is, buy now and hold on to it for a length of time until a developer comes along and wants to buy all 8 lots. This would obviously need all sellers to agree to sell which I am not sure how tricky that would be. My question is, do you see any chance for money to be made here? The lot is in a great location and I honestly can’t believe nothing has been built there yet. More details: $16,500 for the lot, taxes are $1,087 / year which I know is a little high based on what you stated above but even so, after negotiations, I think we could get taxes down to 4%. I know it might be hard to say, ‘yes you will make money’ or ‘no, you won’t’ but just wanted any insight you could give.

My question is how does the land being full of trees affect the value? We received an estimate of clearing 1 acre of land of trees (logging plus stump removal & grinding) of $17K with a potential timber profit of $11k. It seems that my realtor is under the impression that the land is worth more because off all of the timber. In our opinion, it is worth less with all of the work plus out of pocket costs to clear for building.
After 10 years in the rental business industry, my husband and I opted to sell off our properties. We sold two through land contracts and another through a traditional mortgage sale. Though the steady monthly income was reliable, we opted to sell our larger note to pay down debt and free up our monthly budget. After testing the waters with 5 different firms across the nation, we selected to use First National Acceptance Company. Our agent was Richard Nzokou. Richard provided the best information with the most clarity on the process of selling our note. The offer and closing value were very fair. Richard kept a close eye on our sale through the approval process and kept me informed every day. I highly recommend this company and encourage you to work with Richard.read more
And I know what you mean about the assessed value – this number means almost nothing in my mind, because the county will usually peg this number as high as possible, because it allows them to charge more in tax revenue for the property. I think you can get it reassessed in many cases, but there usually aren’t any guarantees that your request will get traction, and the process isn’t necessarily fast or easy. It may be worth your while to call the local tax collector and just ask them how much the annual tax bill is – that should tell you pretty quickly what the obligation would be.
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.

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.


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.
If you intend to hold onto a property for any length of time, beware of a super high tax bill relative to the actual value of the property itself. I haven't run across this issue very often, but for various reasons, there are some properties that have some ridiculously high taxes in proportion to the property’s actual value (for example, if a $10,000 property has an annual tax bill of $2,000, THIS IS TOO HIGH). In my experience, I've found that a reasonable annual tax bill usually falls in the range of 1% – 4% of the property’s full market value.
Even if you’ve confirmed that there are no restrictions that forbid subdividing the land (or make it unfeasible), you and your experts also should research the local zoning, subdivision and development laws so that you can understand the layout and size limitations for your planned lots. Each county, city or other authority will have its own regulations that describe important items like current zoning requirements, minimum lot widths, setbacks (front, rear and side), buffers, building heights, required open space and other significant details that affect the size and layout of your lots.
Overall, I like how Oodle makes it pretty quick and simple to compile a listing, and the syndication with Redfin is another huge selling point for the site. Assuming you can get the site to keep your listing active without flagging and removing them (which was unfortunately a big obstacle for me), it's a nice little outlet to get some additional exposure for your listings.
We buy land fast from people for many different reasons.  Unlike what most people guess, it’s actually not usually from people who are trying to avoid foreclosure.  In reality, most land owners just have a piece of property that they really can’t use.  It’s also really difficult to sell most types of land, unless it’s something you focus on……like us!
Very informative articles, and exchanges. I have a general question about subdivisions. I am looking to sell a 5 acre parcel, that would accommodate about 45 lots. The lots would be sold, with houses built, for a minimum of $750,000 each. Would you say there a rough guide, as to what percentage the cost of land should be for each lot sold? Obviously, the lower the cost of the acquired land, the better for the developer, but I’m just wondering if there is a ‘rule of thumb’ in the business. For example, no more than 25% of a lot’s sale price should go towards the cost of the land? I am not looking to push the buyer to their break-even point, but I want to get a fair price too.

Do you know if the developer had a local brokerage do the sales for the project you mention? You might want to contact the developer, but I'd also suggest you speak with a Realtor first to get a market analysis for the value of your property. Then decide if you want to put your property on the market or if you want to explore contacting either the developer or the owners of properties adjoining yours to see if there is interest.

"I've seen both buyers and sellers do this to try and gain some type of advantage in negotiations," says Robert King, a land agent with AlaLandCo; a native of Clay County, Alabama, he has over 10 years experience in marketing and selling property. "It rarely, if ever, works, and absolutely serves to drive the parties further apart." Also, don’t make a laundry list of everything that is wrong with a property you are trying to buy, cautions King. "You must like the property, or you would not have spent all that time figuring out everything that is wrong with it. That just puts the seller on guard and creates a personal barrier." When you impart your wealth of knowledge of all of the property's shortcomings to the other party, you are not likely to make a friend of the seller, says King. You want to be on friendly not adversarial terms with anyone you are negotiating with for the land deal.


My only real complaint with Zillow is with their video feature. While I'm certainly glad they provide ANY options to add video (unlike most of the free listing sites I've come across), I'm not a huge fan of their 2-minute self-shot video option. It's not easy to show a property in it's best light in under 2 minutes and/or by only using the camera in your pocket. It's unfortunate that they don't offer the ability to upload or embed a higher-quality, better-produced video. If they added this option, it would be a MAJOR improvement to their FSBO listing platform.
Calculate all of the costs to bring the land up to the condition you would like. What is it going to cost you to build out the property? That is the cost of acquiring the land, the entitlement, the cost of construction of the land, the cost of marketing to people to build it up if it is a retail space, plus the cost it takes to secure any money (i.e., loans)? You also have to factor in a reserve for costs associated with things such as air conditioners, wall coverings, and so on, says Veissi. "Those things have a shelf life, so, they are going to take x amount of time before they need to be replaced." 

Thanks for the article Seth. Very informative. Vacant land is one of those types of property I’m coming across in my search for good deals on houses. I’ve been a little brave offering people a cash offer for their lot. Only to find out later the parcel has a myriad of challenges. (Most of which could be dealt with-time and money, but still not worth it). Thankfully nobody took the deals yet. I have learned a lot and gained more understanding. I am closer to getting raw land at a great price that is build-able! Articles like yours, helps guys like me, stay focused and saved from troubles! As we know the bigger the challenges and unknowns the higher the risk-and the payday. Tread carefully.
Additionally, the land contract should indicate how many payments will be made, their due dates, grace periods (if applicable), fees for late payments, and how the buyer should deliver each payment. Under a land contract, buyers are usually treated just like a property owner, and will be responsible for paying property taxes, insurance, and any utility bills associated with the land use.
Consider your own needs when pricing, and understand how pricing could impact buyers’ interest. When selling real estate, you sometimes have to choose between getting the highest price and possibly selling quicker. Plus, your pricing may be influenced if you need to sell for financial reasons. In addition to your own situation, pricing your property ultimately requires an understanding of the land market as a whole, why people are buying lots or land in that area and who these people are. A good real estate agent with land expertise can help greatly in this process.
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