How Do I Find Out Whether a Vacant Lot's Owner Will Sell?

There's no "For Sale" sign up, but might the owner be willing to sell the vacant property anyway?

By , Attorney

For people hoping to build their own home, but would ideally like to do so in an established community, a vacant lot might seem ideal. Often, however, the ones you'll see look ignored or abandoned; definitely with no "For Sale" sign. How can you find out if the owner will sell it?

Check Local Government Land Records

Your first stop is the town hall for the area where the vacant lot is located, or its online portal.

The assessors' office should be able to provide you with information about the land, including its street address, number of square feet, street frontage, annual real estate taxes, the town's assessment of the land, and last sales price.

They should also have maps or plans that will locate the land for you and give you its size and dimensions.

In addition, you should be able to get information about the property's owner from this office, most likely the name and mailing address. With that, you can probably track down a phone number or other contact method online.

Contacting the Vacant Lot's Owner

With the owner's contact information in hand, you can write to or call the owner. You'll be expressing interest in purchasing the land and asking whether the owner would be willing to sell it. If the owner lives next to the vacant land, or in the same town, consider asking the owner if you could stop by to introduce yourself.

Before contacting the owner, however, you might want to research the current market value of the land, so that if the owner responds by saying, "Sure, for the right price," you'll have an idea of what the right price actually is.

Figuring Out How Much the Land Is Worth

Start by checking with a few brokerage firms that are active where the land is located to see whether the land you want to buy happens to be listed. (You'll likely find this information on their website.)

Broader-based services that provide estimates of current market values, like or Zillow, might be helpful as well. However, their estimates could be outdated or based on minimal, publicly available data.

You can also work backwards from the estimated current market value of nearby houses, if that's the only information that's available to you. As a general rule, the value of the land is 25% to 30% of the value of the house, depending on the town in which the house is located.

Most owners are flattered when people express interest in buying their homes or land, even if they have no present intention of selling. Thus you needn't be diffident about approaching a landowner. You never know: your letter or telephone call might nudge an ambivalent owner toward becoming a seller.

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