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.
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).
Undeveloped land without significant zoning limitations is open to a variety of uses. Reach out to all types of buyers who might find the land appealing. This may include home builders, private individuals looking for land to build on, park or camp developers and environmental groups that want to keep the land undeveloped. Reach out to the owners of adjacent land to see if they want to add to their property. Advertise in different publications and websites, not just in local real estate magazines targeted at people looking for new homes.
Selling lots is not like Field of Dreams, where “if you build it they will come.” You need to make sure there is a market for lots in your area and at a price that makes sense. Determine the size, layout and other requirements that are expected for new lots to be marketable. A good real estate agent with expertise in land can help you with this. You also may be able to get some advice from builders – reach out to the ones who are active in your geographic area and in the price range for new homes that would likely be built on your lots. Getting their input could be the key to successfully subdividing marketable lots.
"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.
I've seen a number of properties that are virtually useless due to their size and shape. I remember on one occasion, I came across a parcel of land that was 5 feet wide and 900 feet long. I've also seen properties that were 10 feet by 10 feet. If you see a parcel of land with an odd shape, use your common sense. If you can't think of a legitimate use for a property with its given dimensions – you'll probably want to think twice before buying it.
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.
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For most commercial properties, the best way to do this is by ordering a “Phase I Environmental Report” (many banks will automatically require this because it affects their collateral). This report will identify if there are any “Recognized Environmental Concerns” (RECs) on the property that you need to worry about. If you neglect to do any environmental due diligence, the liability for any existing environmental contamination on the property could ultimately fall on your shoulders – making it very difficult and expensive to sell the property in the future.
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.
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.