There is no other single aspect of homesteading
which more completely captures the homesteaderís imagination than the
selection and purchase of land.
Sometimes however, on the way to acquiring the ideal
tract of land, many folks, for whatever reasons, wind up owning the
less-than-ideal parcel that needs to be sold before naturalistic nirvana
can be achieved.
Whether you inherited a piece of property that doesnít
mesh with your goals, discovered that you simply need to live in another
part of the country, or even if you bought a piece of property and later
just fell out of love with it, selling land, particularly in todayís
market, can appear to be a daunting task. The amateurís first
reaction is usually to list with a real estate agent and hope for the
Now, far be it from me to discourage using an
agent. This certainly is the easiest way and not necessarily the least
profitable or most expensive, especially in a booming market. In a
market such as todayís however; more of a murmur than a boom, listing
your property with an agent may subject it to comparisons with dozens,
perhaps hundreds of other listings, all competing with yours in features
If you have unimproved land to sell, you may also find that the majority
of agents are more interested in selling more expensive improved
properties where they stand to make much larger commissions and get
fewer ticks, so your
forty acres of woods may get short shrift when it comes to exposure to
the market. This wouldn't be such a big problem were it not for
the fact that these days, more and more brokers are insisting on
exclusive listing contracts that obligate you to pay them a commission
even if you sell the property yourself to the fellow next door.
Thatís why you may want to tackle the job on your own.
These days, you can set your land apart from the crowd by
marketing and selling it yourself. Since the advent of the
internet, itís easier and more effective than ever, and the phrase "for
sale by owner" has a particular cachet about it that buyers like.
Many buyers assume that they'll be saving the sales commission by buying
directly from the owner. Of course, you're probably assuming that
you're saving the sales commission by selling it yourself. Which
of you is correct depends on how you handle your sale.
EVALUATING YOUR LAND
The first step is to decide on your price. The
timid choose a price too low, and the foolish pick one too high. What
you want to do is find the right price that will yield a reasonably
quick sale, but not generate a stampede of tightwads to your door.
To determine, or appraise the value of land, you
need comparables. Using the internet, finding these is easier than itís
ever been, although there are also a few new pitfalls.
The best places to find your comparables are the
places where you plan to advertise. In a moment Iím going to recommend
that you advertise on the internet, so you shouldnít be surprised if
thatís where I recommend you gather your comparables as well.
In choosing comparables, you want as many tidbits
of information as you can find Ė thatís the primary reason why the web
is the best source, because the people writing the advertisements there
arenít usually paying by the word - although you'll find that they can
be infuriatingly vague..
Here are the basic things that must be considered
when appraising land:
Size: the fact that you find 80 acres, or 8,000
selling for so much per acre tells you virtually nothing about what your
8 acres is worth, so ignore it.
Rather, classify your property somewhat like this:
is it from 0 to 3 acres? 3 to 8? 8 to 15? 15 to 40? Of course it canít
be all that cut-and-dried, but remember to only compare your rural property to
others of about the same size Ė nothing has greater bearing on the value
of land than size, except, to a degree, location.
Please note that I am NOT going to repeat the old
saw about the the three most important things to know about real
estate. Unless you spent your formative years in a cave, youíve already
heard it enough times to make you wish you hadnít.
Iíll assume that, as an adult who can read and
operate a computer, you already know that the price of your 40 acres in
western Kansas has very little to do with the value of New Yorkís
Central Park, but you do need to make a distinction between a property
thatís a thirty-minute drive from a city and one thatís two hours
Iíve found that most people draw an invisible line
at a thirty-minute commute whether theyíre commuting into L.A. or
Additionally, you shouldnít compare land from
outside your region. West-coast prices arenít applicable to West
Virginia, and vice versa.
Okay, that takes care of the broadest
measures, letís assume youíre looking for comparable land to your
forty acres in rural Tennessee, we next start to evaluate the features
of the land.
Water: Lake or river
frontage is more valuable to most people than a non-navigable stream,
which is more valuable than a spring, which is more valuable than a
pond, which is more valuable than no water at all.
Soil and Terrain: Most
homesteaders will prefer a mixture of hill and valley, but level
agricultural land is usually more expensive than hilly ground.
However, if your property is smaller, say less than eighty acres, there
will probably be a better market for the mixed terrain that includes
level bottomland and forested hills.
Improvements: A modern
water well is worth more than it costs to drill. In the Ozarks, for
example, where the typical well costs around $6,000, I generally value
them at $10K.
Access: While few in
number, there are still some properties that donít have legal access Ė
that is a deeded access easement, or frontage on a public
road. This is what is known as ďlandlockedĒ property and it is of
considerably less value. If you see an extremely low-priced piece of
land for sale, it may be a bargain, or it may just not have legal access.
Curing this may be fairly simple, but donít count on it. If it
were an easy matter it would likely already have been fixed. In most
cases, legal access will require a deed from the neighbor youíre crossing, and folks
tend not to like to sign deeds unless they get something in return.
Utilities: Electric and
phone. Check whether your comparables have or donít have the same
utilities that your property has. If not, and all other things
are equal, price yours ahead of those that don't have what yours does,
or behind those that have what yours doesnít.
Buildings: This article is
intended to address land-only sales. Obviously, if your land has
buildings on it, those can add significantly to the value. If the
buildings are of any value, this is, a livable house or a barn or shed
in good repair, this may be harder for you to estimate or to compare
with others, but I canít be of much help other than to suggest you
compare the number of rooms/bedrooms, the square footage and the
general condition and appearance. If the buildings are of marginal
value, give them appropriate ranking, however as advice to a potential
seller of real estate (Iíd tell a potential buyer something else)
donít discount that shack or hovel too severely. A lot of buyers seem
to feel somehow assured if thatís a structure of any kind on a
property. It seems to be less intimidating than starting with empty
woods, so if it doesnít leak too badly and isnít going to fall down in
the next few years, you may consider bumping the price up a few
After youíve researched all your research and compared
all your comparables, itís time to decide on your final price.
Actually, this is the easy part: you bring all your
comparables together and rank them Ė a spreadsheet like Excel is good
for this. Put the price of each property in Column A, the ďsortĒ
column, and a brief description of the features in Column B.
Now put yourself in a buyerís shoes. Right away, you
can see whatís a bargain and what may be overpriced. The idea is to price your
property as a happy median between the two extremes.
Now that youíve arrived at your price, youíre ready to
put your property in front of the world. To do this, the first thing
you need is a web page.
Now, I suppose you could HIRE someone to make a page
for you, but frankly, if you can read well enough to get this far in
this article, youíre perfectly capable of making your own.
We make all the pages for Homestead.org on our antique
software, MS Frontpage 2003, but to be honest, Iím not wild about
it. It wasnít free, so whatever Microsoft replaced it with wonít be
either. Nowadays all of my favorite software packages come for the
same price: free. So Iíd check out whatís available at tucows.com or
software.com. You can also make a tolerable web page using Microsoft
Word, however, if youíve never made any web pages before, youíll
probably also be needing web-space to put them on and you can
find both web-authoring software and web-space available cheap or free
with a little thoughtful Googling.
Once youíve got the mechanics taken care of, all you
need to do is collect absolutely everything you can think of that will
describe your property, which may included, but will not be limited
to, a written description, lots and lots of
photographs, perhaps taken in different seasons, information about the
local area, last yearís real estate taxes, maps and perhaps a .pdf or
.jpg copy of the survey, if available.