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.

When some people look at the prospect of owning land, they get wrapped up in the dream of property ownership. The idea of owning a large tract of property can seem very appealing, even if it is of no practical use to them. This kind of trap is especially easy for people to fall into with land because it's a low maintenance property and doesn't seem complicated (even though there are a lot of factors to consider).


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.
This all boils down to how badly the developer needs your home, how much money he stands to gain by moving quickly and how robust the multi-unit housing market is. If the final offer falls a bit short of where you’d like it to be, factor in the negatives of staying: more construction noise, additional traffic and all the dough you’ll have to fork out to comfortably remain there. Realize, too, that condo prices, in particular, can be mercurial and turn on a dime if the greater housing market starts going south, which might give your buyer cold feet.

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.
Hi Cassie, sounds like an exciting opportunity! I might suggest that you call your local planning and zoning department. Tell them about the property and what you’re interested in doing with it. Ask them if they know of any particular issues you should be aware of. They should be able to help you check at least a few of these things off your list from the get go.
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.
Maurice "Moe" Veissi, president elect of the National Association of Realtors says that the first step in negotiating a fair land deal is to make sure that it’s a clinical, not an emotional purchase. When it comes to a land purchase it is not unlike buying a car, he says. For example, would you purchase a new car without knowing what it is you want, what price are you willing to pay, and what the average purchase price is for the car you are eyeing?

An open listing generally brings the same result to a landowner. If you engage several agents to help you sell your property, then no one is responsible for marketing and selling your property. By making it open to everyone, you essentially make it for no one. Why would an agent spend money advertising a property that they have no reasonable guarantee that will produce a return on their investment? When they do, sellers often get the impression that the agent has nothing to offer and is not effective. Good agents will not do that as a standard practice.


Investors look for future potential. A priority would be to look at a municipal developmeant plan to see if the property is within a plan area. Personally, I would never invest in land that is not already under a municipal area structure plan. If you want to take a risk, you could look for land that was in the obvious path of development and be prepared to hold the land for a very long period of time.
It depends on a number of factors, are you trying to find cash buyers for your land, what is your time frame to sell the land, and are you trying to get full market value for the property, and how much work do you want to do to sell it? Depending on your answer to those questions the method by which you decide to list and market the property is going to be different.
Like most free listing sites, the format isn't necessarily optimized for vacant land properties (like the kinds I typically sell), but it's certainly possible to work within the parameters they give you (Pro Tip: On the first step when they ask for an address… you can also enter in the GPS coordinates of your property, in case it doesn't have a registered address yet).

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.
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
Rezoning isn’t a quick process, and there are no guarantees. “Sometimes councils won’t rezone because the land is too fragmented and needs consolidation,” Coutts says. “It can easily take four to five years. Some landowners don’t have that time, so it can be a very daunting and upsetting process. You can see why they say ‘just sell it and let’s get out of here’. But if you can wait and manage the process effectively, the rewards can be considerable.”
Selling land is one of the most difficult real estate transactions to conclude. The seller must create an imaginary future for that land and market it to the appropriate buyers. This involves creative thinking on the part of the owner and the expense of illustrating the future use of the land in the form of flyers and brochures. Obtaining financing is difficult and requires the owner to be flexible on his price and terms if he wants to sell the land quickly.
There may be some back and forth with the seller. You may offer a lower amount than the asking price and the seller in turn will counter with an offer higher than yours. The key is to head to the negotiations table with your well conducted research in hand. Don’t waste time playing games or questioning the seller’s integrity, warns King. "If you educate yourself about the market, you can determine if an offer is a good deal or not. You won’t get taken for a ride."
Thanks so much for this article! I’ve run into a unique situation, where we found an amazing historic house that we’d like to restore, but it is currently listed as a vacant lot for sell with a shell house on it, rather than the house itself being listed. We know it’s not in a flood plain, the deed is unrestricted, and the home appears to have been lived in within the last 30 years so there is electric, heating, and plumbing. Any suggestions on potential issues we should be asking about before we jump in? We’ve never looked at land before, so we’re a bit overwhelmed by how much more complicated it appears to be vs buying a house.

I didn’t expect the transaction to go as easily as it did. But, to my surprise, the whole process went exactly as was promised. The representatives I spoke to were professional, and did everything they said they would to the tee. Now I don’t have to think about or pay taxes for a piece of property I don’t have any use for. If I had more land to sell to them, I would most certainly use Easy Land Sell again.


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.


Hi Marie – I think it depends almost entirely on how much you paid when you bought it, and how much you can sell it for (with or without any improvements on it). Improvements will often improve a property’s value, but not always. You need to understand what the highest and best use of the property is and THEN you’ll be able to zero in on what the property may be able to sell for based on how it will be used.


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.
A really rough guideline that alot of spot-lot developers use is that the land should be somewhere between 10 and 15% of the sales price of the home. So, if the homes on ten acres were selling for $1 million, the developers were likely paying $100-150k for the lots. The home on your lot would likely sell for substantially less given the smaller lot size, so expect less for the land sale.
I am searching for land also. I would like it to have a septic and well. I have been using zillow and landwatch.com. I have tried reaching out to real estate agents for help but they haven’t been very helpful. I was wondering would you be able to share how you find this property with elec, well and septic? Was it posted online or through a real estate agent, etc?
I have lived on this property for 20yrs. Its in Harrison county in WV, I have been trying to buy it for 20yrs. I have a doublewide on a permanent foundation, a 16×16 permanent building, a pool with a 40×60 deck around it, all underground utilities, septic tank with fields, and $10,000 road and parking to the house, THIS IS ALL INVESTED BY ME,, this was all on a verbal family deal , (a hand shake like in the old days, when your word actually meant something) and we were supposed to be the first option to purchase if sold , now they have put it up for sale, we have offered them $1,000 over asking, they have not accepted our offer, they have continued to keep advertising the property for sale, what are my rights as a buyer when this situation occurs as a buyer that has a dwelling on this property for 20yrs.
Hi Eric – that’s a good question. I haven’t done much work in that part of the country, but I know that (as you mentioned) there are workarounds for both water and power IF you’re willing to pay for it. I guess it’s just a matter of understanding which one would be more expensive to sustain over the long term, and then you’ll have your answer as to which utility is more important.
A Perc Test (also known as “Perk Test”, and more formally known as a “Percolation Test“), is a soil evaluation that tests the rate at which water drains through the soil. If a property doesn't have easy access to the local sewer system, a perc test is required to determine whether a septic system (the alternative to a sewer) can be installed on the property.
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.
I’ve taken this route plenty of times, but I was always making my decision from the perspective of an investor (to buy and re-sell the property quickly)… not necessarily as the end-user (i.e. – buying a property that I would actually live on), so if there are some specifics that YOU would want to see, then it may be worth your while to get over here are see it.

Even though Craigslist is clearly the winner in terms of traffic, it's not necessarily the most versatile medium. There are plenty of restrictions in place (like the inability to link to third-party websites and embed videos), however with the tools that are available – it's more than enough to inform buyers about what the property has to offer and drum up enough interest to generate some legitimate leads and sales.


Hi Chris, thanks for the comment. That’s a pretty subjective question (there are a lot of variables to consider), but I don’t see how it could hurt the value of your overall estate. The question is – what is the land actually worth? Is it worth more or less than $25K? One way to find out would be to follow the ideas in this blog post. As long as the property is worth substantially more than $25K (and assuming you actually want the additional land), it’s probably a worthwhile investment… but again – it’s impossible for me to tell you anything concrete without looking at everything (which I can’t really do).

I have lived on this property for 20yrs. Its in Harrison county in WV, I have been trying to buy it for 20yrs. I have a doublewide on a permanent foundation, a 16×16 permanent building, a pool with a 40×60 deck around it, all underground utilities, septic tank with fields, and $10,000 road and parking to the house, THIS IS ALL INVESTED BY ME,, this was all on a verbal family deal , (a hand shake like in the old days, when your word actually meant something) and we were supposed to be the first option to purchase if sold , now they have put it up for sale, we have offered them $1,000 over asking, they have not accepted our offer, they have continued to keep advertising the property for sale, what are my rights as a buyer when this situation occurs as a buyer that has a dwelling on this property for 20yrs.
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.
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.

My wife and I are thinking about selling our home and have been looking for tips to get it off the market quickly. I like that you suggest talking to building inspectors because they deal with large volumes of buyers on the market. Having connections is really important to get the word out so we might try talking to a few different real estate agents and contractors. Thanks for the help!
An open listing generally brings the same result to a landowner. If you engage several agents to help you sell your property, then no one is responsible for marketing and selling your property. By making it open to everyone, you essentially make it for no one. Why would an agent spend money advertising a property that they have no reasonable guarantee that will produce a return on their investment? When they do, sellers often get the impression that the agent has nothing to offer and is not effective. Good agents will not do that as a standard practice.
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.
The main problem you will be faced with when you go to sell land online is that you have to create an imaginary future for that land that the potential buyer will see and buy into. It is simply not enough to say “hey, I want to sell my land fast” you need to work with the buyer to create that vision of what the land can do for that potential new owner.
There are many reasons people decide that their vacant land has become a burden and they need to sell land fast. For some, they no longer have a need for it, and they would rather cash out of the property. For others it is the cost associated with paying the property taxes on the vacant land. Finally, some will sell because it wouldn’t be cost effective to keep it, and the value has dropped significantly when the bubble burst in 2008.
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