10 Tips for Developing Raw Land

Wouldn't it be great to own some land like this? Yes -- once you know how to avoid the pitfalls.
Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Thinkstock

There's something about standing on your own private acreage and letting that soil sift through your fingers; a feeling of pride, independence and security as you survey your personal property. You're a landowner!

But besides pride, there are plenty of good reasons to buy raw land. Price is one of them. You can find reasonably priced raw land parcels across the country. This is particularly true in rural, less populated areas. And while financing for a raw land purchase is harder to obtain from your bank, you can often get it through the seller at below-market rates.


Raw land isn't a bad investment either. If you purchase the right parcel, it will continue to appreciate. Raw land investments don't fluctuate as much as your stock portfolio either.

Then there's the earning potential. If you develop your raw land, it can increase in value in a short time. You can convert it into a recreational facility. Rent it as farmland. Build housing or a hotel. Developing your raw parcel can increase its value by three to five times its original price [source: Hanlin]. That is if you do it right and avoid the pitfalls. Read on to learn some tips for developing your raw land.

10: Plan for your land

You've decided that you want to buy some raw land, but what will you do with it once it's yours? Do you want to raise cattle? Build your dream home? Use it for a retirement investment? Or develop it so you can quit your day job?

Before you start the buying process, it's best to determine exactly how you want to use the raw land and when you want to buy it. A little planning will help you choose the parcel that's right for your stated purpose. For example, land purchased for hunting would require enough wildlife in the area. If purchased for fishing, you need to locate streams and lakes. If you want to use your raw land purchase for investment, at what point will you consider your investment a success?


Planning isn't just for your benefit. It's also important if you intend to apply for financing through your bank. The lender will want to know this information before granting loan approval. A development plan with blueprints can help to justify the loan.

9: Understand the drawbacks

Although investing in raw land can be lucrative, there can also be a downside. Raw land cannot be depreciated and there are few tax advantages associated with it [source: Auito].

Purchasing raw land is considered a long-term, illiquid investment. Even if you begin developing it immediately, it may take a long time before you reap any profits. Selling it fast is usually not an option.


There is also a risk of losing money on the resale of raw land. This is particularly true if you choose poorly or fail to fully evaluate the parcel. Unforeseen events such as a slowing economy can also affect your sales price and how fast you can sell it.

Negative cash flow can be a problem. Investors sometimes find that they owe more for the land than they are able to generate as income. Others plunge in head first, spending more than they can possibly get in the resale.

Banks consider raw land purchases to be speculative investments. They often generate little income and the cost of development can be high. If is often better to see if you can get financing through the property seller. Typically they will accept a lower down payment and provide financing at a lower interest rate.

8: Consider the factors that affect value

A stream on your property can increase value by 100 percent.
Stephen Schauer/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Value is sometimes hard to determine, although there are some sure factors that affect it. For example, an oddly shaped parcel that makes development challenging can be a detriment. So be careful to review the exact size, shape, width and depth of the property you are considering.

Location is a top factor. Corner lots with easy access to roads and parking are prime candidates for development. Easy access to sewers, drinking water, natural gas, electricity and telephone service should also be considered when selecting the location of your raw land purchase.


Trees add value to your land, as do streams. In fact a stream on your property can increase its value by as much as 100 percent in some cases [source: Auito].

Good drainage is important, as well as contour and grading. A good view, however, can be a double-edged sword. It can add value, but also be costly when you develop the land. You could pay up to 30 percent more for roads, utilities, water, sewer and building foundations when you develop land high up on a hill [source:Auito].

And of course the environment affects value. Climate, air quality, water supply and the presence of hazardous materials can help determine the worth of your raw land.

7: Be prepared for potential problems

The raw land may look beautiful, but be sure to search for problems hidden beneath the surface, literally. Buried toxic waste in leaking underground storage tanks, old wells and septic systems, underground pipes and cemeteries are all potential problems. And while you might see the rocks above-ground that need to be removed, you might not see the huge boulders lurking below that could prevent you from digging a basement for your new home.

If your land parcel is close to a river or stream, do your homework to make sure it isn't part of a flood plain. You'll also want to check with the area government to ensure there aren't any unknown moratoriums on the books that prevent development of your land at all.


6: What's the environment like?

Beware of buying land too close to a landfill. The smell might make you wish to move.

No matter how you intend to develop your raw land, you'll want to know it has the basic necessities and a comfortable environment. Smells from landfills or other industry could dampen the fun at your water park. Noise from airports or traffic might compromise a gated subdivision. And trash cluttering the land would definitely ruin the ambiance of your weekend getaway.

If there isn't a power plant within a reasonable distance, you will have to pay the cost of running cables across public lands to get hooked up. Depending on your financial resources, this could be a deal breaker. Be sure to call the utilities and find out before you buy.


You'll also want to know if there is sewage disposal or if a septic tank is required, and whether there is trash pick-up or must other arrangements be made. Other important services include police and fire protection, hospitals, schools, churches and mail delivery.

5: Calculate the total cost of your purchase

The cost of your raw land purchase isn't the same as the sales price you pay. The sales price is only part of it.

You'll want to determine the yield, or what you can get from the developed property. That will require additional outlays of money for property surveys, environmental impact studies, fees, permits, engineering services and soil tests.


And once you've determined that your property has potential worth, you'll also have the actual development costs. These can include tree removal, grading and clearing, the building of access roads, payments to bring utilities to your land and expenses involved with drilling a well or installing a septic tank.

Before you buy, make sure you have the financing to cover the sales price and beyond. Lenders usually won't lend you more than 50 percent of the land's purchase price. So, you might consider part-seller and part-bank financing [source: McLinden].

4: Thoroughly investigate the land parcel

Getting up close and personal with your potential raw land purchase is a good idea. Pick up a survey of your land and walk it to locate ponds, streams, trails and fence lines. Take photos and find the boundaries of your property. Be sure to look for any signs of hazardous waste.

Research the area. Is it growing or losing population? Talk to regional development agencies to get information about development forecasts, planned roads, utility extensions and building costs. Also look at the land parcels around you.


Research your land. Find out what the land last sold for and check with area zoning departments to verify how your property is zoned. If it is zoned agricultural, what crops can be grown and what livestock are allowed? If it is residential or commercial, find out if there are restrictions regarding the types of buildings allowed.

A thorough investigation of the raw land will be well worth it. The more you research, the fewer surprises you'll have later.

3: Make sure you love it

Above all, buy a piece of land that makes you happy.

Before you invest your hard-earned cash, make sure you like everything about the land and that there aren't any reasons you wouldn't want to buy it.

The seller knows the property best and is a great source of information. Ask her how long she's owned the property, why she's selling it and about other key issues, such as taxes and financing options.


Visit with the neighbors. Ask them questions about the property and what they like and dislike about the area. Doing so will also allow you to get to know them so you can determine if they're the kind of neighbors you want to be around.

Experience your property by camping on it for a night or two. This will help you alert you to any issues with traffic patterns or noise levels.

2: If you don't know, hire someone who does

Buying or selling raw land can be an extensive process and going it alone isn't for everyone. A real estate agent can be a big help. She'll know the region and how the real estate market is priced in the area. She can help you find a suitable place, negotiate a reasonable price and make arrangements for the transfer of the property.

A realtor can also explain real estate terms and processes. For example, you might want to know more about obtaining an option to purchase, which gives a land developer the right to buy raw land at a set date at a set price by making a non-refundable deposit. A real estate professional can also provide you with information on the Entitlement Process, which involves getting government approvals for land development [source: Hanlin].


A real estate attorney can also be helpful. He or she can check to make sure the land you want is free of pending court action, that the seller has clear title to the property and that there are no access issues.

1: Know the right time to develop

Think twice about developing your own apartment complex when others in the area are already going up.

Timing can be everything when developing raw land. Changing demographics, a shaky economy or other uncontrollable factors must be weighed. Building a new apartment complex when there is a housing surplus doesn't make sense. Nor does spending money to develop your parcel when already-developed land is easily available at a lower price.

If you already own the land, it might be best to wait until there are changes in the market or the economy picks up before developing. If you haven't yet made your raw land purchase, be willing to walk away if the time isn't right. Don't get so attached to your land parcel that you make the wrong move. There will be other days -- and other parcels -- available.

Develop Raw Land FAQ

Can raw land be financed?
Banks generally consider raw land purchases to be speculative investments, so they may not be willing to finance them. Your best option is likely seller financing, as they may accept a lower down payment and offer a lower interest rate. You can also look into local lenders or a home equity loan as options for financing a raw land purchase.
What adds value to raw land?
When purchasing, factors such as water sources, good drainage, trees and landscaping, size, shape, and location all add (or reduce) value. Property improvements that add value include utilities, developments such as hotels or houses, or renting it as farmland.
Can you live on raw land?
Since undeveloped land doesn't have utility connections, you can live on raw land in an off-the-grid style. However be sure to check local and state laws regarding what type of dwellings are permitted, as this may limit what kind of home you can live in on the property.
What are the stages of land development?
There are four general stages you'll go through: raw land, pre-development and entitlement approval, development, and post-development/income producing.
Can you build on raw land?
You can generally do whatever you want with your raw land as long as it falls within zoning and environmental laws. Building will require plans and permits, so consider meeting with a real estate attorney before moving forward.

Lots More Information

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  • Auito, Dan. "Getting Raw Land." (February 2, 2011) http://www.reiclub.com/art/print.php?article=getting-raw-land
  • Bad Credit Mortgage 411. "Commercial Land Loans." (February 2, 2011) http://www.badcreditmortgage411.com/raw-land-loans.html
  • Century 21 All Aces Realty. "Land." (February 2, 2011) http://www.manateecountyhomes.com/Web/AR293005/WebForm/index/5787?IDXSESS=rg38eb4r9mv1jqa1p5lis6a7h2
  • Grella, Craig. "Residential Land Development - Part 1." The Bigger Pockets. October 9, 2009. (February 2, 2011)http://www.biggerpockets.com/renewsblog/2009/10/09/residential-land-development-part-1/
  • Invest in Real Estate. "Buying Raw Land for Development." December 15, 2010. (February 2, 2011)http://www.investinrealestate.info/2010/12/15/buying-raw-land-for-development/
  • Jaben, Jan. "Environmental audits and expertise have become industry necessities." National Real Estate Investor. Page 30. August 1991 (February 2, 2011) http://find.galegroup.com.remote.scccld.lib.mo.us:8080/gps/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T003&prodId=IPS&docld=A11281946&source=gale&srcprod=ITOF&userGroupName=scccld_main&version=1.0
  • John Hanlin.com "Land Development Process Step-By-Step." (February 2, 2011) http://www.johnhanlin.com/Raw_Land_Development_101.html
  • Lurz, Bill. "Don't give up on developing land." Giants. Volume 4. Issue 20. Page 7. Oak Brook: November 2008 (February 2, 2011) http://remote.scccld.lib.mo.us.8080/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1604515191&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientld=48491&RQT=309&VName=PQD
  • Pacific Northwest Properties. "Development Costs on Vacant Land." (February 2, 2011) http://www.free2b.com/Area%20Information/development_costs.htm
  • McLinden, Steve. "Beware getting raw deal on raw land." Bankrate.com (February 2, 2011) http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/real-estate/20050402a1.asp
  • Seruga, Tony; Seruga, Yoanda; Bishop, Yolanda. "Developing Raw Land." Article Garden. (February 2, 2011)http://www.articlegarden.com/Article/Developing-Raw-Land/101257
  • Weisser, Richard. "What You Should Know Before Buying Land for Development!" Coweta Fayette Realty (February 2, 2011) http://www.cowetafayetterealestate.com/Before_you_buy_land_for_development.htm