Finding land for sale is not like finding a house. Houses have addresses posted right on them. You can Google the address, get in your car, and easily drive to a house. Locating land is more difficult. Typically, vacant land parcels will not have an address.
Realtors who want to be successful at selling land must provide two things to help buyers: 1) Clear directions, and 2) Good maps. This blog post is about the first of those two critical items. I explain how to compose good driving directions.
The Audience for Driving Directions Has Changed
I know you’re wondering, why are buyers going on their own to see land for sale anyway? Isn’t it the Realtor’s job to take the buyers there and “show” them the land? Is the Realtor being a lazy-ass? I know that’s what you’re thinking. I’m a mind reader.
We’ll here’s the scoop on that…a little bit of history…
Back in the day, Realtors hoarded listing information in thick Multiple Listing Service (MLS) books. The only way for a buyer to get directions to a property for sale was to call the listing agent and make an appointment to see it. And that’s just the way Realtors liked it because it made the phone ring.
As the MLS moved from books to the Internet, Realtors started entering their directions into online databases. Still, only Realtors had access to the MLS at that time so the audience for directions was other Realtors. Listing agents got in the habit of writing driving directions in a kind of short hand, using phrases and abbreviations familiar to all local Realtors who lived in in the area and were “in the know”.
Today in 2017, Realtors are no longer the gate-keepers of the land listing information. It’s all over the Internet: Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, everywhere. Further, with land, unlike houses, there’s no door to unlock. Land buyers have realized that they don’t need, or even want, a Realtor along just to take an initial look at land. Buyers jump in their car, unaccompanied by an agent, and go for a Sunday drive to look at land for sale.
A lot of buyers do not even call the listing agent so the agent has no opportunity to show them the land even if they wanted to. The buyer just heads on out to the land.
Wise listing agents will adapt to the times and understand that the audience for driving directions has shifted from other Realtors to the potential buyer.
The buyer might be coming from 100 miles away or she might be in town from Shanghai on a business trip. Thus, buyers may be unfamiliar with the area. So those brief one line directions that used to be fine for an audience of local Realtors will not work anymore.
It’s time for Realtors to stop writing those confusing directions that only the agent who’s lived in the City for 30 years might understand and start writing thorough directions so that any intelligent buyer who can read can visit the land on their own if that’s what they choose to do.
The Basics: How To Write Good Directions to Land
Good directions begin at the beginning. Remember, Agents, most buyers will not be coming from your home or office. Start by asking yourself, who is the likely buyer for this land? What is the location those buyers will be coming from? For example, when selling desert land in Palmdale California, perhaps most buyers will be coming from the Los Angeles city area. When selling rural land in Hood River Oregon, perhaps most buyers will be coming from the Portland Oregon area.
Next identify the major artery that buyers are likely to travel on. If you anticipate that buyers may be coming from some distance away, this artery may be an interstate or highway. If you think buyers will be more local, this could be a major thoroughfare or street. The first word in your directions should be the word “From”:
“From Hwy 1…”
“From Interstate 5…”
“From Martin Luther King Blvd…”
The next thing in your directions will be an exit or a turn. However, even though you have given some thought to where buyers may be coming from, recognize that you’re uncertain about that. So, this means you are uncertain which direction the buyer will be travelling on the initial major artery, and therefore also uncertain whether they will be turning left or right off that artery. For example, the buyer may be approaching from either the north or the south on I-5. So, when they exit I-5, it’s not clear whether they should turn “left” or “right”. However, it is clear whether they should turn “east” or “west”. So, on this first turn off the major artery use the directions east/west/north/south:
“take exit 999 and turn west on…”
“take exit 999 and turn east on…”
“turn north on…”
“turn south on…”
After that first turn off the major artery, all subsequent directions should be “left” or “right” rather than north/south/east/west. This is because most people lack an internal compass and so understand left and right better. Plus, from this point on it will be clear what direction they are approaching from.
“Turn right on….”
“Turn left on…”
After giving a series of left and right directions, your directions will eventually put the buyer at the street the parcel is on. Now be sure to mention which side of the street the parcel is on:
“The parcel is on the left side of Elm Street.”
“After Maple curves to the right, the parcel will be on the right.”
Take Advantage of the Addresses of Nearby Homes
The land you’re selling probably does not have an address. Even if it does, that address probably does not appear posted on the dirt. Thankfully, the land is near some houses that do have posted addresses. Take advantage of them!
When writing directions, indicate that the land you’re selling is “after, and adjacent to, 1234 Main Street”. Or “across the street from 2345 Main Street”. Or “behind, and adjacent to, 3456 Main Street”. Or “between 4560 Main Street and 4580 Main Street”. Or “as you face the house at 5678 Main Street, the northern border of the land will be 1000 feet to the left.”
Here are some real examples:
“From I-84, take exit 5 toward OR-213/82nd Ave. Turn right on NE Multnomah St. Turn right on NE 82nd Ave. Turn right on NE Fremont St. Turn slight left on NE 91st Ave. Turn right on NE Rocky Butte Rd. The parcel is near the top of the hill on the left. It is after, and adjacent to, the house at 3145 NE Rocky Butte Rd. Take the maps.”
“From Hwy 210 take exit 78. Take Del Rosa Ave N north. Continue onto Quail Canyon Rd. Parcel is on the right. It is before, and adjacent to, the house at 1394 Quail Canyon Rd. You will see the yellow gate across the driveway. Park next to the yellow gate at the bottom of the paved driveway near the street and walk a few yards up to the land. Take the aerial map.”
“From Hwy 49 turn left on Sutter Ione Rd. Turn right on Spanish St. Turn right on Badger St. Turn right on Allen Ranch Rd. The parcel is on the left. It is after, and adjacent to, 110 and across the street from 141 Allen Ranch Rd. Take the aerial map.”
Refer to Landmarks
Use landmarks to orient buyers. Anything unusual that sticks out can be a landmark. These include houses, barns, commercial business signs, intersections, colored flags, fences, and even a pile of rocks! Landmarks give your buyers confidence that they are on the right track. You want them to think to themselves “Hey, there’s that red barn mentioned in the directions, I must be in the right place!” or “Yeah, there’s that tall white PVC pole marking the SW corner that was described in the directions, now I can really tell where the land lies from here!”
When giving directions, you might say “Turn left on Conifer Street at the red barn.” Or after passing the geodesic home on the right, go 3 more blocks and turn left on Mission Rd.
On the land itself, you might say things like “There is a white rail fence along the west border.” Or, “the row of mail boxes is near the northeast corner.” Or “the river marks the north boundary.” You get the idea.
Here are some actual examples:
“From Hwy 49 west of Loyalton, turn left on Sage Rd. Continue driving on Sage Rd past the first intersection. At the second intersection, at the dome home, turn right on right on Moss Dr. Before the big log home, turn right on Woods Ln. Parcel is at the end of Woods Ln at the top of the hill. Woods Ln is a dirt road with small rocks. It can be driven with a four-wheel drive. Half way up is a wide spot in the road where you may see my sign with an arrow. I parked there and walked the remaining couple blocks or you can drive the whole way if you want to.”
“From Hwy 101, turn west on Seabird Dr. Parcel is on the left/south side of Seabird. Look for the mailbox on the left marked 1152. The parcel is on the left, between that mailbox and a row of tall trees, close to Beachloop Dr. A pink flag appears to be close to the southeast corner. Take the aerial map.”
“From I-10 take Hwy 62, Twenty-Nine Palms Hwy, to Joshua Tree. When you reach the US Post Office on the left at the lighted intersection, there is a fenced-in parcel on the right. This parcel for sale is to the left of that fenced parcel. Take an aerial map.”
“From I-5 exit and take E 30th LCC exit. From E 30th, take the Spring Blvd exit. Drive south on Spring Blvd. Turn right on Firland Blvd. Turn left on Shasta Loop. Turn left on Spring Blvd (again). Turn left on E 43rd Ave, a dirt road. The parcel is on the right. It is between the addresses 2420 and 2620. You will see white signs posted for these addresses so parcel will be easy to find. A stake with pink ribbon near the street marks the approximate northeast corner of the parcel for sale. Parcel is not exactly rectangular and boundaries in aerial map are only approximate.”
Don’t use abbreviations that buyers may be unfamiliar with such as “PIQ” (agent-speak for “parcel in question”). Abbreviations such as Rd, St, Ave, and Hwy may be OK but don’t use L for left and R for right unless you absolutely must because there’s so little space in the MLS database field. Never abbreviate street names or place names. Avoid all abbreviations if you can.
Find Directions Online
Fortunately, it is not necessary to compose your directions from scratch. Directions are available online from Google, Mapquest and Bing. Grab online directions from a reasonable starting point to the land and then edit them into a paragraph.
Here’s how I do it using Google Maps: First, I enter the starting point and the ending point. The starting point will be where I think most buyers will be coming from, e.g. “Sacramento CA” or “Medford OR”. The ending point will be the land. After Google produces directions for me, I cut and paste the directions into a word processing file. Using the tips mentioned above, I edit my word processing file into a paragraph so that it is very succinct and clear. Then I cut and paste that paragraph into the MLS and other marketing venues.
For the ending point, if the land doesn’t have an address, you could enter longitude and latitude. In lieu of that, you have two options: One option is to enter cross streets of the nearest intersection. A second option is to identify the address of a property that is near or adjacent to the one you’re selling and enter that as the ending point. The goal is to trick Google Maps into giving you directions to somewhere nearby. Then, when editing the directions that Google produces down to a paragraph, you’ll have to revise them because they are not exact directions to the land itself.
Do a Practice Drive to the Parcel Using the Directions
I write directions before I even visit the parcel for the first time. That way, I have something in my hand to test out to see if they’re clear when I go out there to photograph the land.
When you’re on the ground it is common to notice that street signs are different from the street names online. Or signs may be missing entirely. You may find that your directions are incorrect in other ways too. You might get the great idea to include things such as “Turn left on Country Ln after the sign for Serene Vineyards on the right” and the like. Based on your insight, go back and edit your directions to match what you see in the real world.
Think of writing directions as an iterative process, not a one-time thing. Even after writing the best directions I can possible write, and posting them in the MLS live to the world, I sometimes find that additional editing is needed. One time I found that buyers were confusing Fremont St with Upper Fremont St and arriving at a house with a similar address rather than the land for sale. So I edited the directions later to shout “Upper” Fremont. Or you many discover later there are two turnoffs for Huckleberry Ln that you didn’t know about and buyers are confused about which turnoff to take. Or maybe buyers are blocking the neighbor’s driveway as they park to walk the land and the neighbor doesn’t like that so you need to instruct buyers where to park in your written directions. When you get feedback, edit your directions online so that they’re clear. When you know better you do better!
What to Do When There are No Street Signs
Sometimes one of the streets on the route to your land will have an official name in Google Maps but when you get out to the rural area on your practice drive, you will see no posted sign for that street.
When writing driving directions, if the street has a proper name, use it. However, in your directions, acknowledge that there is no street sign there so that buyers driving to the land will not be confused when they get out there and see no sign posted. For example:
“Turn left on Rattlesnake Rd, a dirt road with no sign.”
You can also add distances so that buyers will know how far they must drive before turning on the unsigned road. For example:
“Turn right on Sycamore. Drive 8.2 miles on Sycamore and turn left on Rattlesnake Rd, a dirt road with no sign.”
Addresses posted on houses can also come in handy in this situation:
“Turn right on Sycamore. After passing the house at 8765 Sycamore, turn left on Rattlesnake Rd, a dirt road with no sign.”
Streets with signs are also useful even if you don’t want the buyer to turn there:
“Turn right on Sycamore. Pass the Gopher Rd intersection then turn left on the next street, Rattlesnake Rd, a dirt road with no sign.”
Remind Buyers to Take the Aerial Map
At the start of this blog post I mentioned that agents needed to provide two key things to help buyers locate land for sale: 1) Clear directions, 2) Good maps. Now that you are an expert at writing good directions buyers will flock to your land listings. But when those potential buyers get to the land, on their own, a choice they made, they will inevitably want to know where the boundaries and corners are.
That’s where the aerial map comes in. If you’re a Realtor, you will post one in the MLS and online of course. But in the directions, which is what we’re talking about now, be sure to remind buyers to take the paper aerial map with them. Why? Because there might not be any cell phone reception in that area when they get there so they may not be able to pull it up on their smart phone when they’re standing on the land. That’s why.
Final Exam for Agents
Realtors, here’s your final exam. Don’t worry it’ll be fun. It’s only one question, multiple-choice. Which of the following voice mail messages would you like to receive?
a) “Hi, it’s Friday at 4 pm and I was wondering if you could meet me out at that $50,000 parcel you’re listing 2 hours from your office and show me where it is?”
b) “Hello, I’m out here in this rural area looking for your vacant land listing and I can’t find it. I was on the paved road then I turned on the dirt road and then I curved left and then I crossed some railroad tracks but I have no idea where it is and I don’t know the name of the street I’m on. I’m leaving this message Sunday morning at 7:30 am. Can you call me back on my cell phone right now and give me directions on how to find it?”
c) “We drove by your parcel last weekend. Thank you for writing such clear directions, not all Realtors do that and my wife and I really appreciate it. Well, the land is super awesome and we want to submit an offer. Will you help us?”
As an agent, of course you prefer “c”! So, take a moment to write clear directions!