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.


Sell your land to a speculative investor. Many areas have investors that will buy just about anything as long as it is cheap enough. These investors can close quickly, but will frequently offer you a very low price for your land. That's how they're able to move so fast -- they're getting a great deal. Investors usually won't require you to finance the land for them.
Know what the land is zoned for. From the beginning, you need to have a clear understanding of what this land is zoned for. You don’t want to discourage buyers by keeping them waiting until you have the answer, and you definitely don’t want to mislead a buyer with incorrect information. It’s better to be honest and then refer the buyer to information about changing land classifications and zoning exemptions.
Ideally, you should employ a realtor and real estate attorney that know what restrictive covenants there are and what you can and can’t build on that piece of property, says Veissi. "But you still may need to do some grunt work. Find out how the property is zoned." Zoning ordinances and regulations are laws that define how you can use the property. Depending on your needs, will you have to change the zoning? For instance, if the property is zoned for an industrial warehouse or office building and you want to build a retail outlet. Also, zoning ordinances will typically limit the total height of a building or require a certain number of parking spaces for a commercial building. Opposition to zoning changes by local residents or other invested parties can be fierce—time consuming and costly.
It was a very simple process. Even though everything was done remotely, it was just as good as if I was standing in front of the person doing the deal. Paperwork was received really shortly after I spoke with Jake. We got it all signed, sent it back, and shortly thereafter we received the money. Everything was done very simply and it was very easy to do.
Whether you are working with a real estate agent or not, we absolutely encourage you or your agent to target your marketing to the right types of buyers. Adding a development parcel or lots to a general real estate listing site, or even MLS, just doesn’t get your property the exposure you would want to builders, developers, investors that are actually looking to buy this type of property.
If you find items during your review that may be problematic, you and your attorney should evaluate them carefully to find a solution, or see if you are able to get title insurance that provides specific coverage to protect you and ultimately your buyers. But never ignore a tricky restriction or convince yourself that it won’t be a problem. Beware, even the pros can get into trouble if they become too wedded to their grand plans. You may get away with bypassing restrictions for a while, but doing so can cost you down the road – especially when trying to sell or finance the property. We’ll describe more of these real-world risks in the second article.
If you have created a land contract, you’ll also need a memorandum of land contract. This is, essentially, an abbreviated legal document that references the main contract created. This simply serves as a public notice that the buyer is interested in the property without you and the buyer having to disclose and record the entire land contract. Because the deed of the property will not be filed until you’ve received full payment on the purchase price indicated in the contract, this memorandum will be filed with the county and the city to serve as a record that the buyer is interested in the property.
I have a home on a lot that is large enough to be subdivided. I met with the city to discuss subdividing and they said that each lot needs a 20′ street frontage (currently I only have a 20′ street frontage. They said that I can subdivide if I put in a drive tract to the subdivided section. However, they would consider the drive tract a road and as a result I would need to remove an attached carport because the rules indicate that a house needs to be 20′ from a road. The only reason that I need the drive tract instead of a typical driveway was to create the 20′ street frontage.
In terms of an investment – I only buy land when I’m getting it for FAR below market value (which basically guarantees that I’ll be able to sell it some day for more than I paid for it)… and it doesn’t sound like that’s necessarily what’s happening here. If you think you’d be able to use it for something that would increase the overall value of your current property, then it may make sense… but if not, then it may not make the most sense from an investment standpoint.
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.
Alternatively, you could talk to the county health department about doing another perc test – just because it failed once doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible (though it is a fair indication that you won’t have much luck). You could also try investigating some alternative septic options, like building a mound septic system. I don’t have any experience with these, but it could be worth your while to investigate it further.
That's tricky. It is not as easy to find a buyer for land as it is for a residence. Not all buyers have the resources or the vision to do a project like that. I would say try marketing to a builder that will put something on it, or try marketing to those that would like to build. First, and most important is location. What is in the area. Is it a highly sought after residential area, is it a commercial area. Know what your zoning is, and who this piece of property would appeal to. You have to have some kind of a vision for who it would suit in order to know who and where to market it.
Hi Dave, thanks for stopping by. You’re right – it’s very hard for me to give you any concrete opinion on this (because there are a lot of factors to weigh with any piece of vacant land). I’d say if you’ve looked at all the potential downsides and established that there won’t be any issues from that end… and if you’ve got a fairly decent idea as to what the property is currently worth (and you’re buying it for a price that is significantly BELOW that number), then sure – there probably is a fair chance that you can make money on it.
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If you are dealing with a single lot being subdivided into two or three residential lots, you may be able to handle this by working with a few real estate professionals that will help you in the process. Be thorough during your due diligence and planning so you can evaluate whether subdividing is feasible and makes financial sense. (More on this in a minute.)
If you are familiar with ANY of the situations listed above, you are not alone and we want to help. We invest in properties all over the United States and WE WANT TO MAKE AN OFFER ON YOUR PROPERTY. We are not real estate agents and we are not asking you to list your property with us; we want to buy your property now and we are prepared to pay cash for it.
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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