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.
Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News. Since joining the Consumer Advice team in 2015, she has focused on breaking down the homebuying and selling process, as well as reporting on trends in the real estate industry and their effect on the public. Thorsby previously worked in research and communications for commercial real estate information company CoStar Group, and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, where she worked for the student-run newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at dthorsby@usnews.com.
I’m sure it could be done. I actually live in a subdivision that started exactly like how you’re describing back in the 70’s. I think it can be a pretty big speculative gamble unless you’re absolutely certain that there’s a huge demand for what you’re creating… but if you end up being right, you could easily make millions (depending on how big of a project you’re looking at).
One of the best ways to do this is by using Google Earth (which is free) and the topography map from Earth Point (which is also free). With Google Earth, you can search for your property (using the address or coordinates) and zoom in using your mouse buttons and the control/command and shift keys on your keyboard. This will allow you to tilt the earth so you can see precisely where all the hills and valleys are in your area. 
Say, the property is going to cost you $150 per square foot to build and you expect a return on your investment at 10 percent. So, 1,000 square feet at $150 equals $150,000; which means you expect to get $15,000 back after your expenses, including management fees and debt service on the property, and some reserve. "Although in today's market, the return on investment is less than 10 percent and more like 6 percent. Calculate the most you are willing to pay the seller based on the outcome of your cost analysis," Veissi advises. Once you have done all of the analysis and appropriate planning, he says, you still need a contingency. You can think you have it nailed down and all of a sudden something crops up, unsettling your plans, he explains.

In addition, landowners may more readily find buyers for smaller subdivided parcels that are more affordable than one larger piece of land. Try to understand the market’s needs. Completing the lot subdivision up front saves the purchaser the time, effort and risk of doing it themselves, increasing the salability – and often the value – of the overall property.

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.


Steve, my son in-law has 10 acres of land. About 13 miles from a town & we have talked about me living on a small part of the land he would need to subdivide about 2 acres to me. But if he does sell me these aces. I want to make sure that he gets the land back can the land be in both our like a car title. & being I am getting older it would be nice to live close to one of my family members. & I love to out country. Jane
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).

I am currently listing a 10 acre piece of vacant land, which is zoned R-1, in Hesperia, California. The seller states the property can be zoned commercial. I spoke to the planning department and they stated it is zoned residential. My client is totally convinced they are wrong and it can be switched if someone pitches a commercial rezoning presentation. What is your take on this?
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.
As for what type of land can be used for horses – you’d probably have to call your county or municipality planning & zoning office and ask them what the zoning would have to be for this particular use. Once you know the answer, it’s pretty easy to generate a list of these land owners with a service like AgentPro247 (as I describe in this blog post). You could then send out a direct mail campaign and try to find deals on this type of property (at least, that’s why I would try to do if it were me).
Especially when I'm buying vacant land out-of-state, my first line of business is to understand the topography of the property. There are many, many places around the world that have very unpredictable elevations, cliffs, mountains, valleys, ravines and more. In many cases, the topography of the land can have a huge impact on the build-ability of a property. For the same reasons you can't build a house on 90-degree cliff, you should be doing some preliminary research to find out where your property is located, and what the lay of the land is.

Very interesting read. I am looking at some desert land in both NV and AZ. They are between 40-80 acres each. My budget seems to afford places that either have an old well, or power at the lot line, but not both. Which utility do you feel is initially more critical to have of the two? I know adding a solar system or having power brought in is very cost prohibitive, so my thought was to go with the power on the lot. I figured I could always have water trucked in and stored in a tank since the properties are easily 2WD road accessible. I figure that buying property with an old well may be worthless and not worth the price increase of the property. And I have been reading that drilling a well is a gamble. Thanks in advance for some insight.
I am currently listing a 10 acre piece of vacant land, which is zoned R-1, in Hesperia, California. The seller states the property can be zoned commercial. I spoke to the planning department and they stated it is zoned residential. My client is totally convinced they are wrong and it can be switched if someone pitches a commercial rezoning presentation. What is your take on this?

LANDFLIP is doing a superb job for my clients. I am a land broker in Alabama and I have been very impressed with the response I have gotten from advertising with LANDFLIP. The format of the property display is concise and informative...just what customers are looking for. I make sure all of my clients properties are displayed on LANDFLIP. A great product from great people.


If you’re looking at a vacant lot in the middle of the desert or near the top of a mountain with nothing around for miles, you will probably want to verify with a professional that water will be accessible if/when you need it (and if your only option is to have it hauled in by truck, you'll want to get an idea for how much this will cost on an ongoing basis).

Hi Giselle – all of the properties I’ve bought have been SUPER cheap, so I’ve always just paid with cash. I have done plenty of seller financing when I’ve sold properties, but not so much when I’m buying. However, what you’re saying could certainly be a feasible way to get properties without taking out a hard money loan – you’d just have to find a seller who is willing to work with this kind of arrangement and then hold their hand to make sure they understand the process and that everything is being done correctly (paperwork, recording, processing of payments). There are a lot of additional moving pieces when seller financing enters the picture, but for the right deal, it could absolutely be worth all extra effort.
A type of local council zoning covers every home in a suburb. This is a planning instruction that tells developers and planners what can be built on different parcels of land. For most houses, the zoning is low-density residential – this means that only houses can be built on this land. But in some areas, high-density zonings are more common, or even mixed-use zonings. And zoning can change, if the plans for your suburb change. When a piece of land moves from low-density to high-density zoning, it has increased in value for a developer.
This whole subject always fascinates me, because it’s a pretty difficult question to answer. Even most appraisers don’t really know what they’re talking about when it comes to valuing land… a vacant lot’s true value is usually a very elusive number to nail down. You may want to see this blog post for more details on how I look at it: https://retipster.com/valueofland
You will need to advertise an email address and phone number for people to contact you so you can field additional questions about the property. Most often, people will want to know if the property is free and clear of any liens or encumbrances including back taxes. They will want to know if there are any other closing costs, Home Owner Association Fees and other details regarding the property. Always be direct when dealing with your customers. If you don't know the answer simply say you don't know and that you'll find out or direct them to the appropriate resource. Typically a surveyor or the local county can help them with what they are looking for.
Hey Seth, as always great article! I found the free online marketing ideas (like posting on Craigslist) especially creative and helpful. Thanks so much for helping me through the stressful process of selling my home. Since you asked what other creative tips I’ve found–I read this eBook in my research and found it so helpful that I thought I’d post it here in the chance that it could help someone else. Here it is: https://www.homelight.com/sell-your-house-online-ebook
After identifying your likely buyers, try to think like them so you can focus your message to convey what they need to know about your property. Have information ready about schools, shopping and other nearby amenities. For developable land you can be prepared with zoning information and insight from local authorities about the location and capacity of water and sewer service. Each property is different, so customize your information for your situation and your targeted buyers.
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