With bank loans difficult to secure for vacant land, buyers basically have two options: 1) pay cash or, 2) seek seller financing. In fact, vacant land sellers financed approximately 17% of California land purchases last year in the $50,000-200,000 price range.
So where can the savvy buyer go to find land for sale where the seller is willing to finance the deal?
Craigslist is a good place to find seller financed properties. This is in part because there are many For Sale By Owner (FSBO) listings. First choose the geographic area you’re interested in on Craigslist and then head on over to the HOUSING > REAL ESTATE FOR SALE section. Although a misnomer, the HOUSING section is the place to find all real estate, including vacant land.
To search for seller-financed properties, enter terms like the following into the search field:
- “seller financing”
- “owner financing”
- “carry” (picks up phrases like “seller will carry the loan”)
- “OWC” (abbreviation for Owner Will Carry)
- “OMC” (abbreviation for Owner May Carry)
- “contract” (identifies sellers who say they are offering a “land contract”)
- “bank” (picks up phrases like “no bank needed”)
- “finance” or “seller” (picks up phrases like “seller will finance”).
- “financing” (picks up phrases like “seller is offering financing”)
- “terms” (picks up phrases like “seller will consider terms”)
- “motivated” or “submit” (identifies properties where the seller is “motivated” to sell, or where seller is inviting buyers to “submit” any offer)
Here is an example on how to search for land on Craigslist using the search term “carry”:
Try experimenting to find the search phrases that work best in your geographic area. For example, in a rural area a search on “carry”, intended to capture listings that say “carry the loan”, may also pick up unwanted listings that mention the “carrying” capacity of wells, or the number livestock the acreage will “carry”. On the other hand, this might never happen in an urban area where there are no livestock and few wells.
Also be aware that searching on a word like “carry” might capture listings that contain phrases you certainly don’t want such as “seller will NOT carry”. Consider also that a search on something like “financing” will not pick up postings that say, “seller will finance” (because “financing” and “finance” are not the same word). However, a search on “seller” will pick up both “seller financing” and “seller will finance”.
Get creative with your search and see which terms and phrases works best in your area. Whatever you do you will still have to sift through a collection of ads to find those gems.
As one example, a search the search for “carry” on vacant land in Sacramento California yielded 29 results.
The national website Zillow is another place to find seller financed land.
To find owner financed properties, enter terms and phrase like those mentioned above, e.g., carry, OWC, into the Keywords search field. This will identify only those parcels that have these terms/phrases in the paragraph remarks of the Zillow listing.
Below is an example on how you might search for land in Los Angeles County California if you were seeking property paragraphs that contain the keyword “financing”:
Beware, however, that this search strategy will fail to identify certain parcels. It will not identify parcels where the seller is in fact offering financing but the listing agent, when originally entering the listing into the MLS, entered that detail in the special financing or terms field of the MLS, but did not enter that information in the paragraph field in the MLS. Financing database fields are not syndicated from the MLS to Zillow so you cannot search them in Zillow. (See the section below on how to search them directly in the MLS.)
The above search of Zillow on Los Angeles County in California yielded 60 potentially owner-financed parcels for sale.
For a comprehensive search of all owner-financed land listings represented by Realtors in a certain geographic area, ask a real estate agent to search the MLS for you.
Start by considering location. There are many MLS systems, each specific to a different geographic location. Most Realtors belong to one local MLS so be sure to find an agent with access to the particular MLS that that has the most comprehensive coverage in the geographic location that interests you. For example, if you’re interested in San Diego County land do not ask a San Francisco area agent to help you. Ask an agent who specializes inSan Diego County. The Realtor can search for owner-financed land meeting all of your criteria.
Below I describe search strategies for three popular MLS systems in California and Oregon, the CRMLS, Metrolist, and the RMLS. I won’t link to them because only a Realtor can search these fields in the MLS. However, it might help you to understand the MLS fields related to seller financing so that you can discuss MLS search strategies with your Realtor.
In the California Regional MLS (CRMLS) in southern California a Realtor could search the field named “terms” using the strategy: TERMS=Owner May Carry OR Owner Will Carry. The difference between “may carry” and “will carry” is probably obvious – “may” means that the seller is not fully committed to offering financing and has a preference for cash. Whether such a seller will carry the loan or not depends on the details of your offer. “Will” means that the seller is likely to carry with acceptable terms and may even prefer to carry the loan compared to receiving cash.
To expand your search and find even more properties try: TERMS=Owner May Carry OR Owner Will Carry OR Submit. “Submit” is ambiguous and can mean any number of things. It sometimes means that the listing agent has not discussed the possibility of carrying with the seller but the listing agent thinks that there is a chance that the seller may carry, e.g., because the seller is an investor and there is no mortgage on the land. Listings that say only “submit” may or may not be worth your time to investigate depending on how motivated you are to identify such properties or enlarge the pool of your prospects.
When searching for vacant land in the CRMLS, the Realtor will use the Land/Lot detail search form. Although detailed, the “terms” field does not appear on this form. Down at the bottom of the form the Realtor can add the field. After the Realtor has added the field, she can search it.
For example, a search of CRMLS on Riverside County in California yielded 796 owner-financed parcels of land for sale. Wow, that’s a big number!
In the Sacramento-area MLS, MetroList, the database field called “terms” can be searched to identify properties where the seller will carry the loan.
This field can be found under Additional Criteria. Search on TERMS=Owner Financing. Or to enlarge the pool search on: TERMS=Owner Financing OR Creative.
As one example, a search of MetroList on Placer County in California yielded 81 owner-financed parcels for sale.
The largest MLS in Oregon is the RMLS. To find properties where the seller may carry the loan, use the field “Terms”.
Using the Advanced MLS Search, add the field “Terms” to the search page. From the Terms menu, choose both “OWC2nd” which stands for “Owner will carry a second” and “OWNCONT” which stands for “Owner will carry a contract”.
For example, a search of the RMLS in Lane County Oregon yielded 140 owner-financed parcels for sale.
Land-specific websites such as LandsofAmerica do not contain all land listings syndicated from the MLS. On the other hand, they have many listings that are not in the MLS, e.g., For Sale By Owner.
To search, scroll down to Additional Filters and check the “Owner Financing” box.
For example, a search of LandsofAmerica on Siskiyou County California yielded 5 owner-financed parcels for sale.
On LandandFarm you can select the box “Seller financing” to limit your search.
A search of LandAndFarm on Fresno County California, for example, yielded 19 owner-financed parcels for sale.
Land Investor Websites
Many investors purchase land at tax sales at low prices and then re-sell the parcels at somewhat higher prices. One example is DesertLand:
For example, DesertLand has 10 parcels available in the greater Joshua Tree California area, all with seller financing.
To find other land investor websites, try searching Google on “real estate” “land” “owner financing” “<your state>”.
Some Realtors indicate on their website when seller financing is offered on their own listings. For example, at Land22 Real Estate we have special pages on our California and Oregon websites devoted to all seller-financed properties that we have for sale:
Bank financing for vacant land is scarce and many buyers do not have all cash. Even buyers who do have all cash may wish to finance a portion of their land purchase. Buyers seeking seller financing can investigate these sources to locate land offered by owners who may be willing to carry the loan.