First, you need to understand the exact dimensions of the parcel of land you are evaluating. Next, call the local zoning department and ask them what the designated building setbacks are for the property in question (building setback requirements are very common, and are imposed as a way of giving order and consistency to the buildings in any given area). When you take these setbacks and regulations into account (relative to the size of this parcel of land), is there still enough room to build something worthwhile – or does it render the property useless? I've come across several properties that were designed (albeit, unintentionally) to be too small and after factoring in the setbacks – you can't build anything on them at all, leaving them virtually worthless!
Great article. This is actually the first time I am learning about all of this. I bought my first property (that I currently live in) in 2012 and I am interested in investing in more property and generating passive income. My question is, once the property is purchased how do you ensure that it sells? I’m assuming that the only way to generate income from vacant land is for someone to build property on your land. If there is no interest in that land it could possibly turn into a loss.
Comparables for land can be trickier than for home sales in your area. Although the assessor's valuation on your taxes can provide a starting point, consider factors like whether your property has utilities to the property line, views, zoning and any preapproved building plans to determine its worth. Location is always one of the most critical factors. In San Francisco's Pacific Heights area, for example, a buildable cul-de-sac lot of less than 4,000 square feet can sell for more than $9 million.
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.
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.

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.
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.

I just ran across this post from over a year ago. Great general info! There are also local websites, specific to certain cities or regions that will advertise your property for free. In my current area of Utah, the best site is KSL.com, associated with a local newspaper. When I advertised in Southern California, Craigslist was the best free site. In some areas, nothing beats a small flyer on a physical bulletin board at the local convenient store. The best advice in this article is the CONTENT and the PHOTOS. Nobody will find your property without the right search terms, including proximity to local landmarks and features by name! - Don't just say "near lake." Put "easy walk to Fish Lake." Once a potential buyer finds your ad, the photos can reel them in. A photo of dirt and a few trees is nice but perhaps you can include a pic of you in a hammock between 2 trees or by a campfire or fishing in the nearby stream. Buying land is often much more about emotion than a list of cost vs. benefits. If it is a rural building lot, show photos of nice, nearby cabins or homes that help a buyer visualize the potential. Also remember to list other components that might make your deal stand out like owner financing or lease with option to purchase.
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.
Do you have land that you would like to sell and are unsure of how to progress? We welcome your call, whether it's to sell or buy land. You can be sure of a helpful and professional approach. We utilise the latest software and systems to source and sell land, enabling us to assess land parcels quickly and appraise the planning potential for most sites, saving you time and money.

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.
Great article. I’m having trouble finding information, as most of it is about buying and constructing right away. I’m looking for information on how to buy a rural piece of land 2-10 acres where I can camp on it for a couple of seasons to get the best site to build a little summer/fall shack to get away on the weekends. So I won’t be building right away, just ‘squatting’ on my own land for surveying purposes, see where the hottest/sunniest spots might be, etc. Do you have any advice on what regulations/restrictions I might come across? Is this a “depends on” on kind of thing, meaning, different counties/townships all might have different rules? Thanks again.
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."
I’m so happy that you mentioned to send out letters to your neighbors that say you are planning on selling your place. My sister had the worse time trying to sell her place. She put ads online and in the newspaper, talked to real estate agents, and tried other methods. It wasn’t until she sent letters out to her neighbors that she got a response. All in all, don’t give up! You’ll find someone to buy your place one way or another!
I just purchased 5 acres in a rural setting for half the assessed value (the assessment seems a bit high) as an investment. The advice I’ve received to increase the value is have it surveyed, sub-divided into 2 lots, and get a perk test done for both lots. Does this make sense to you? What about others ways to increase the value, such as putting in a gravel drive, running electric, or wells? It has good road frontage, and utilities are at least at the corner of the property.
As for pricing, your suggestion of $20,000 x 98 seems high for a sliver of road frontage to add a turn lane. Granted, you have the right to try to sell your property for whatever you think it is worth (unless it is a government taking for market value, or if you just don’t own the property in the first place), but that does not mean someone will buy it if it is overpriced. The developer likely has other options. Usually valuations in a situation like this are based on an appraised (or negotiated) value per acre or square foot, and then a survey determines the precise size of the sliver of land that is being conveyed at that rate.

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Great article. This is actually the first time I am learning about all of this. I bought my first property (that I currently live in) in 2012 and I am interested in investing in more property and generating passive income. My question is, once the property is purchased how do you ensure that it sells? I’m assuming that the only way to generate income from vacant land is for someone to build property on your land. If there is no interest in that land it could possibly turn into a loss.

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.
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I am a relatively new real estate agent and just got a land listing. This is a great article with many helpful strategies for selling land. I think selling land can be a bit intimidating because most sellers have such high expectations that you will sell their land for them quickly and it usually takes much longer, as you pointed out in your article. Thank you for the great information!
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