Yesterday, my offer for 60 acres of land in Northern California was accepted, which brings my nearly two year long search for land to a close, barring, of course, any issues before escrow closes.
Most of you might have some familiarity with buying or choosing houses, but probably don’t know much about buying undeveloped vacant land. When I started my search nearly two years ago, I didn’t know much about buying land either. I didn’t know where to look, how to look, what to look for, or even how to physically locate a piece of land. In the following 3 posts, I’ll share what I’ve learned in the process:
Part 1: How to look for land
Part 2: What to look for
Part 3: How to physically locate a parcel
How to look for land
Once you’ve decided you might want to buy some land, how do you go about finding land to buy? In my pursuit for land, I used 2 primary avenues: online, and directly through a realtor.
- Finding land online is deceptively convenient, but surprisingly ineffective and unreliable. There are a lot of real-estate listings online, but many/most of them are tailored to houses, condos and apartments. They might let you search by the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you want, but not how many acres you want. I did find a couple of sites that listed a lot of land and offered search features useful for finding land, namely: LandsOfCalifornia.com and UnitedCountry. Most smaller realtors these days also have websites, but unless you know of a realtor in the area in which you’re looking for land, it’s hard/inconvenient to search in those smaller sites. And even if you know of a realtor in the area, they’ll only list a fraction of the land that’s available. So if you wanted to just look for land at a certain price point “somewhere in Northern California”, there’s no site that I’m aware of that’ll actually give you a comprehensive list.
But let’s say you do find listings of land that seem interesting. Your troubles won’t stop there. The sites I mentioned earlier will provide a way to get in touch with a realtor for a specific listing. I’ve sent maybe 20 or so requests for information on listings, and rarely got useful responses. Some responded with brochures of property in their area that didn’t appeal to me. Some didn’t respond at all. Some snail mailed me brochures about their county. Only in 3 or 4 cases did a realtor respond to me personally, and specifically about the listing I was interested in.
- Going through a realtor can also be ineffective/frustrating. Unlike houses, by definition, vacant land is spread out over a huge area, so it seems like realtors don’t have a very comprehensive grasp on what’s on the market. Even with access to MLS, they can’t seem to run a query like “vacant land over 40 acres for under $1k per acre in Shasta, Tehema, Lassen counties” (for reasons I don’t quite understand). And of course, many realtors don’t deal with land, so they can be completely clueless as well. On the other hand, I had a very good experience with a realtor in Burney, CA who spent an hour and a half with me looking at maps and telling me about the area, about zoning, about the market, what to look out for, etc. But she didn’t know about the land I ultimately made an offer for, even though it was only a few miles from the two she did list. In other words, they can be a treasure trove of information, but when it comes to actually finding land that matches a certain criteria, they seem ineffective despite their best intentions. Having said that, if you have a general idea of where you want land and have the time to just drive through all the towns in the area, one effective strategy might be to simply stop at every real estate office you see and inquire personally. It’s slow, and requires lots of driving, but is probably the surest way to actually get a comprehensive view of the market.
So, one way or another, you’ve gotten a list of land for sale. Now how do you decide what’s good and what’s not? I’ll talk about that in the next post.
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