Sellers sometimes ask me what they can do to improve their land for sale? Land owners want suggestions that will yield a positive return on their investment. They want to spend $1 on an improvement and get back $2 on the price, that kind of thing. And they definitely want to avoid the hassle of spending $1 to get a return of $1. No point in that.
Based on 13+ years of experience in land sales, and no hard data whatsoever, I have noticed that some improvements really affect the price my clients get for their land. Other improvements, not so much. So here are my top suggestions on things that you can do to improve your land that might offer a positive return on investment:
Mark the Corners
Buyers just love-love-love to know exactly-exactly-exactly where the corners are. Aerial maps are useful, definitely. But there’s nothing like actual corner markers in the dirt to give buyers a sense of security that they know what they’re buying. However, don’t mark the corners yourself as that may open you up to more liability if they’re off. Hire a surveyor to do it.
Money saving tip: Don’t spend money on a new fence just so buyers will know where the boundaries are. If there’s no fence already it will generally not be cost-effective for you to install one now just to sell your land. Fences are too expensive and you may not get your money back on it. Plus, there are some buyers who will actually consider your fence a negative. They may not like the look of it and think it’s an eyesore. Just arrange for a surveyor to mark the corners in some highly visible way. Corner markers go a long way toward improving the value of your land and the ease of selling it.
Record an Easement
Many land parcels do not have legal access for ingress and egress. They’re not on a road. They are surrounded by privately owned parcels and there is no easement across the neighbor’s land. That is, they are “landlocked”. That dirt path you’ve been taking across your neighbor’s land to reach your parcel will not be enough for the title company to insure for access. When buyers see the title report, they may get scared and run away. So, take care of the situation before you put your parcel on the market. Talk to the neighbor, hire a surveyor, and arrange to record an access easement with the county.
Money saving tip: There is usually no need to bulldoze a road. My suggestion is to create legal access, not necessarily physical access. It’s a paperwork-thing not a dirt-moving-thing. With legally recorded access, the title company will probably insure for “marketable access”. That’s the main thing you need to get more money for your land.
Drill a Well
City folk, who are used to water districts providing the water that comes through their faucets, have a hard time wrapping their brain around the idea of buying a parcel of land with no district water. They imagine nightmare scenarios of buying the land and attempting to drill a well only to find no water. Further, they are unsure about the cost of drilling a well. So, take all of this uncertainty and fear out of the equation and drill the well for them. Provide a well report showing the flow in gallons per minute etc. (This suggestion to drill a well obviously applies to land in rural areas where there is no district water in the street.)
Money saving tip: I am not necessarily suggesting that you install expensive equipment on your new well. There is no need for that yet because you are selling the land, not building a house, and there’s no need to pump water anywhere. Plus, above-ground well equipment may be stolen. To get more money for your land what you need is a hole in the ground with well casing (i.e., a capped well) and a written well report.
Order a Perc Test for Septic
In areas where no sewer is available, a septic system will be needed. Buyers will wonder if the land has had a percolation test for septic and whether that test was favorable. Without a perc test, buyers will imagine scary scenarios where they buy the land and then find later that the parcel does not “perc” for septic. How will they ever build a house with no toilet, they wonder? How will they resell the land? Savvy sellers can take buyer’s uncertainty away and pay for a perc test in advance. Provide a perc test report. Then, charge more for the land.
Money saving tip: Bear in mind that any reports you have on the land, such as a perc test report, must be disclosed to buyers when selling your land. Regardless of whether the perc test is successful or unsuccessful, you must disclose. If the perc test reveals that an unusual expensive engineered septic system will be needed, sellers must disclose this too. Land owners should keep disclosure requirements in mind when considering whether or not to even order a perc test to begin with. You do not want to create a situation where you pay for the perc, get bad news in the perc, fail to disclose, the buyer purchases the land, and then the neighbor toddles over and tells the buyer about the failed perc test. Because then you will have a lawsuit on your lands. That will cost you lots of money in attorney fees. So, my two money-saving tips for sellers are: 1) Pay for a perc test prior to selling your land only if you are fairly certain the result will be positive, and 2) always disclose material facts to buyers regardless of whether they hurt you or help you.
Create a Clearing and Walking Path
Buyers like to walk the land. Naturally, they want to see what they’re buying. If your land is completely wooded, or if it has impenetrable brush, carve out a walking path. Cut back the vegetation to create unobstructed lanes in the vegetation so that buyers can reach parcel corners, which they will surely want to verify. Clear a larger location where a house might go. If there is a view, clear enough vegetation out of the way so that buyers can appreciate the panorama.
Money saving tip: Don’t clear the entire parcel leaving large areas of bare naked dirt. Many buyers like natural vegetation. While you might view that sage brush or yellow flowering gorse as just a nuisance, just in the way of walking and building, buyers might appreciate its natural beauty and view it as “god’s creation”. Buyers may want to decide which areas get cleared and which areas don’t and it will take years for natural vegetation to grow back. Also, when it comes to trees, be aware that there may be rules about tree removal in your area. So, don’t go crazy with your clearing. Just make sure buyers can walk the land, see one area large enough to build, and enjoy a view of distant scenery that is unobstructed.
Grade a Pad
If your land has a fairly steep slope, you may find that buyers lack insight into how they will build a house on an incline. The wonder if a flat area can be graded that is large enough for a house. They will want to walk on the parcel but they can’t because it is too sloped. So, reduce their uncertainty and grade a flat pad. Or tiers. Also create some kind of access to the flat area, like steps.
Money saving tip: Grading requires a permit. Without a permit you could be fined, so look into that first.
Haul Away Debris
Remove any debris that creates an eyesore. Examples include anything manmade such as old tires, a shopping cart, an old broken-down car, etc. Your land will photograph better. Plus. you will avoid the situation where buyers try to negotiate down the price in anticipation of having to deal with the debris themselves after closing escrow.
Money saving tip: Consider that there may be “good” debris and “bad” debris. What I mean is there are certain situations in which some kinds of debris are actually helpful in selling your land. For example, one time I was selling a parcel buried deep in a forested area. The seller had wisely cleared some open areas creating paths and meadows in the forest but he left a big pile of twigs and branches. He asked whether he should remove it? I advised him that the pile was actually helpful because it served to “mark the spot” where the land was located making it easier for buyers to find the parcel amidst all the trees. As another example, I was selling a parcel with an old fallen down rickety shack. This was actually helpful debris because it served to reinforce the idea in buyer’s minds that the land is buildable. After all, there was once a house there so it’s easy to imagine a house there again. As a final example, skilled photographers can use fallen logs and branches to add visual interest in the foreground when photographing an otherwise bland parcel of land. So, to summarize, save money by hauling away only “bad” debris. Discuss with your Realtor before investing the money.
Remove Negative Barriers to Entry
Take down those no trespassing signs. Remove the lock on the gate. Leave the gate open. Roll out the red carpet for buyers while your land is on the market. You want them to feel like they are invited and valued guests when they arrive at your land. Buyers should feel free to walk the land, unaccompanied by an agent, without worrying that they are not supposed to be there.
So, to Summarize
Land buyers love certainty and hate uncertainty. Anything you can do to reduce their uncertainty about the features of your land will likely yield a positive return on investment. That’s why things such as flagging corners and obtaining a perc test for septic are so helpful.
But don’t go hog-wild improving your land for sale. Invest only in those things that you expect to yield a positive return. Consider also that there are situations in which the best investment may be no investment. In some situations, selling land “as is” for whatever price it can fetch is the best option.
Your Realtor will be able to guide you on whether or not an improvement that you are contemplating will yield a substantially higher selling price and/or make the land much easier to sell.