Tips

Five reasons your land isn’t selling (and what to do about it)

For sale by owner sign in front of some land

.Well hello, dear reader! Let me guess – you’re here because you own some land, right? And maybe you’ve even tried selling your land unsuccessfully – or at least you’re considering it? Or maybe your land is on the market right now, but you’re not getting the interest or offers you think it should.

Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place. Over the years of buying and selling land, we’ve encountered and overcome numerous obstacles. Along the way, we’ve made many mistakes, and learned a lot of lessons – hopefully we can help you as you look to sell your land.

I’m passionate about land. I constantly think about it. How do we go about buying it? How can we sell it? Can we get some benefits from conservation, or from making improvements? What can we build on our land? What will the county let us do? The town?

All these factors impact the attractiveness of your land to potential buyers and impacts the price. And often, by crafting better stories around these factors, you can sell your property for a premium.

Now – for the meat of it. In this post, we’ll cover five reasons we’ve seen why land may not sell, or is on the market for much longer than you wanted. We’ll also give some practical tips on how to address them.

This is a little different than our post with tips on maximizing your land value, but it’s in the same vein. So – on with the important part: why your land isn’t selling and what you can do about it.

1. No one knows you’re selling your land.

Issue: In order to buy your land, said buyer needs to be able to find out that it’s for sale. If the people who are looking at buying land aren’t seeing it in the usual places, the only people likely to give you an offer on your land  are investors like me. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but I assume you’re here as you’re willing to do the work to get the maximum value for your property.

Solution: First, make sure it’s listed on the Multiple Listing Service (or MLS), which then will get it hopefully showing on Redfin, Zillow and Realtor.com. How do you get your listing on the MLS without using a realtor who already has access? Well, you get a flat fee service to list it for you (usually $80-100 or so). A couple examples of this are Brokerless.com and Beycome.

Depending on how much your land is worth, and how much you’re willing to spend, getting it on the Land.com sites (Landwatch, LandsofAmerica and Land and Farm) may be worth the cost.

2. Lack of physical access = More uncertainty = Less dollars.

Issue: If a buyer can’t access a large portion of your land (or see pictures of it), the uncertainty about what they’ll find later on might keep them from making you an offer altogether — but if not, will significantly reduce what they’ll be willing to offer you for it.

Solution: Spend a couple thousand dollars (or more, if you can justify it) to bush-hog the front of the property and clear at least a small path into the property. Without this, someone is left to wonder how wet it will be once they do. The more uncertainty that exists with a piece of land, the less someone is willing to pay for it. How do I know? We’ve bought a lot of land, and had several surprises. Most of those surprises have been bad, but a few good. And in most cases, the fear of the unknown means that you’ll get less money for your land due to the additional risk that comes with uncertainty.

Case in point: we recently purchased almost 20 acres inside of Nacogdoches, Texas. The topo maps all showed a gentle slope, but the reality on the ground was that with erosion, the grade was much steeper in places than was shown. We still bought the property, but we knew what we were getting into. We’ve had to pass on several properties because there was just too much uncertainty with them, and the cost to clean them up and enable us to find out all these details were just too high. Uncertainty and risk has killed many a real estate deal.

3. Absolutely no access (landlocked) = even less dollars

Issue: Lack of access is a significant deterrent for buyers. If your land is landlocked or hard to reach, it becomes less appealing.

Solution: Work on securing legal access to your land, whether it’s through an easement or by improving existing pathways – it’s worth it. This investment can significantly increase your land’s marketability and value. We currently own a 300 acre landlocked property we bought last year and are working on getting legal access to it.

Not having any access whatsoever to your land can reduce the value up to 75% or more. Many states allow you to get an easement by necessity – this can cost a lot of money,

4. You’re asking for too much money.

Issue: You may be expecting someone to pay more than your land is worth. Sorry. I had to say it.

Solution: Adjust your expectations based on demand and the market. Assuming your property is visible to the right people, price is now by far the biggest tool you have to sell your property quickly. It’s all about supply and demand – if your property is priced too high, there just won’t be any demand. You may have to drop your price to an appropriate number that people are willing to pay.

I’ve often said that I have no idea what a piece of land is worth. Really? Well, that’s true, but incomplete. It’s worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Many people will say that land just goes up in value, which, over time is mostly true, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. I often see landowners who bought property at a peak (often in the 2007-2008-ish timeframe) who expect to get what they paid and then some for it – which very often can be the case, but not always. In some areas during the run up to the global financial crisis in 2008 (think, Florida, California — the states in red in the image below were in many cases the hardest hit), and even from 2020-2022 in places like Texas, specifically my hometown, Austin, real estate prices got inflated and many folks overpaid for it at the time. If you pay at or over what the long term market trends will support, it may take a while for you to recoup what you paid. I know this may be hard to hear, but it’s the hard truth. To clarify – I said, long term market trends.

Anytime the price of an asset goes parabolic, use caution. I’m not saying it won’t continue to go up like that – trends can often go on for much longer than we expect. But the adage goes “the trend is your friend…until it’s not.” The “until it’s not” part is the key.

Map of real estate market appreciation values between 1998 and 2006

Map of real estate market appreciation values between 1998 and 2006 – the markets in red appreciated over 80%

By AltiusBimm at en.wikipedia – Based on Image:Map of USA with state names.svg, GFDL

5. It Has Problems

Land with environmental issues, zoning restrictions, or unclear titles can be tough to sell – sorting these out or at least knowing more information about them can help tremendously. Let’s take these each separately.

Issue 1: environmental issues: we’re not talking about global warming here, we’re talking about issues like hazardous chemicals in the soil from previous usage, pesticides, or even naturally occurring substances like anthrax (no kidding, look up the Anthrax Triangle).

Solution: Oftentimes you can spend money to clean these up with environmental remediation, which, as we’ve talked a lot about, may be worth it if there is significant value you can get by selling your land.

Issue 2: Zoning and municipality restrictions: First off, you’d need to know which municipalities have have jurisdiction over your property – which determines what you can do and what you can put on your property. If you’re within city limits, you may have to comply with city laws and regulations, as well as county and state.  These rules directly impact how we can use our land, what structures we can build, and ultimately affect the value of our property.

For example, if a city has you zoned as single family residential, and you try to put a warehouse on it, it’s very likely the city will prevent you from doing that. But this is where it gets complex. States, counties, towns, villages, etc sometimes have conflicting statutes – so trying to determine who has the ultimate say can get complicated.

Case in point: the State of Texas is known for limiting restrictions that cities can put on land use. Just last year, the Texas legislature almost passed a bill (it ultimately failed) to restrict cities from restricting accessory dwelling units, or ADUs (garage apartments, mother-in-law suites, etc) in an effort to alleviate housing shortages.

Solution: There will always be some type of restrictions on what you can do with a property. The key is knowing who has the jurisdiction over it, and what the laws say. A great place to start is often with code enforcement officials or permitting offices at your county or city to find out. They can look up your land and help guide you figure out who you should talk with. And if you want to do something you can’t – there are always ways around it, such as applying for variances, or getting in touch with planning boards to help get approval. When all else fails (or before you even begin and you want the easy, but not always cheapest path) — contact a land use attorney or land use consultant who can help you. Oftentimes they will just advise you on the basics for free. By knowing, for example, that you would be able to put a five story apartment on your three acres of vacant land, you can significantly increase the price someone is willing to pay for it.

Isue 3: “Cloudy” titles: “Real property”, or real estate, requires having a very clear knowledge of who owns the property. To know this, you must have a clear “chain of title”, meaning, knowing who sold it to the person who sold it to you, and knowing the person who sold it to them before, and so on all the way back. Having a title with problems can call the ownership into question, and make it difficult to impossible to sell a piece of land. This is the reason title insurance exists – the job of the title company is to research the title history and “insure” that it’s clear, and no one else has a claim to the land.

For example, let’s say “Ted” has 10 acres of land, and owes $1,000,000 on a mortgage for it. Ted sells it to you for $500,000, signs a deed and hands it to you, and you hand him the $500.000. That would be all fine and dandy except that the Ted didn’t tell you he had a loan, and now you can’t find Ted — oh, and he stopped making payments on it. Now you have a problem on your hands. The lender wouldn’t have let Ted sell it, and they still have a “lien” on the property, allowing them to foreclose and take it back since it was collateral. This is why you get title insurance – they would have researched and identified that there was a loan and stopped you from buying. And if they somehow missed it? Title insurance would kick in and get you your money back for their mistake.

Solution: If you’re buying a piece of land over $10,000, buy with title insurance. It’s not cheap, but the more expensive the property, the more critical it is to protect you.

Solution: Address any legal or environmental issues before listing. Obtain necessary surveys, clear any title disputes, and ensure compliance with local zoning laws. Being upfront about any limitations will also help in finding the right buyer.

Time to wrap it up

No one said real estate, especially land, was easy. Each piece of land is so unique – even tiny 1/10 acre lots has it’s own complications. But people pay to have other people do the work. And the easier you can make it on your buyer, the more money you can get for your land. We’ll work on expanding these out into additional deep dives in the coming weeks.

Remember, every piece of land has a story that needs to be told – and it’s someone’s job to tell it. We may be a little too passionate about land – but that’s what we do. All day. Every day.

I also get that you may not have the interest in or time to do all this – but maybe you do? Regardless, our goal is to help landowners like you get rid of your unwanted land — even if you decide not to work with us to buy your land.

About Haystack Land Company

We started Haystack Land Company with the core value of “integrity above all else” in mind, and it reaches into everything that we do. Our goal is to do right by our customers, business partners and providers — and to treat them with the care and respect that every individual deserves.

We buy vacant land, hunting land, recreational land, timberland, farm land — any kind of land, all over the United States, including Texas, New Hampshire, Ohio, Upstate New York, including the Finger Lakes, Catskills, Adirondacks, Central New York, Western New York, the Southern Tier and the North Country.

If you own vacant land and you’re interested in selling, go here to submit your property and we’ll get you an offer within 48 hours.

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