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How can I buy land that's not for sale?

E.g., how to approach the owners with a proposition to buy?



1:50 am on Jun 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I'm getting married in October, so in order to have a place to come home to after the honeymoon, my bride-to-be and I are trying to find a house, or better yet, some land to build on.

The trouble is, land for sale is scarce in my neck of the woods. But there's a lot of empty, "idle" land around here, and I can't help feel that some owners would be willing to sell if they knew somebody would like to buy.

So the question is, how does one go about choosing a piece of property, approaching the owners, and negotiating a deal, when the land in question isn't up for sale in the first place?

Has anyone here every done this, and if so, how is it done?

Thanks for any ideas,



5:46 am on Jun 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I think this is a bad idea.
The market is made with people who wants to sell and people who wants to buy. In a market with low prices, where most of the owner are waiting until it raise again, you must add something to your offer to keep them to the market. And, talking about land, it can be a good bunch of dollars.

Or just go to the properties and nail a wood with a calling card with a message like "I'm looking for some land to build my house. If you are interested in selling, please, call me at 555 2345 345. Matthew."


1:08 pm on Jun 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I have bought land that was not for sale myself and I have friends and associates who have done it. Each situation is different. I don't think it is a bad idea.

Like trying to hire someone away from their job, you don't typically ask, "Want to work for me?" Instead, you say, "I have an opening in my shop. If you know someone who is interested, have them give me a call."

You need to know the person with the land. If you don't, get an introduction. Land is ALWAYS an emotional issue. And, of course, so is money. Land and money is gasoline in a matchbook factory. You think dating was tricky? This is no better, maybe worse because it lacks a lot of the fun parts, like dancing.

You are not going to like hearing this, but finding a worthwhile piece of land at a good price and cutting a deal takes a lot of time, especially in a case where there is not a big market. So, forget having a place by October. Instead, start looking now and think about October 2010. Maybe. (Nuts. You're having to act mature and reasonable already.)

Another point: You "officially" want to the land because you love THEIR piece of land. Not because you want to make an investment, or it is all you can afford or you just think it would be cool... Yeah, this sounds as if it might drive up the price, but remember, you've got to get them to sell in the first place. So, you need a date to dance, but you don't tell the girls your asking that you need a date to the dance. You want to spend time with HER. If you don't do this, it's going to be difficult to have a conversation. And, there will be a time later to get serious about the price.

The young married hook is great. Most likely you'll be buying from someone who was where you were many years ago. They got some help from strangers. And, that brings up another point: If the sellers are a couple, pay attention to both. If the wife doesn't like you, the husband isn't going to sell it to you.

Be polite. Don't bring up your real estate needs first either. Talk about the weather. Your truck. The dog. Their lovely home. The great trees..., boy, my wife and I would love to have a place to call our own like this...how did you find this place?...Wow, that was smart...

Finally, and this is most important, get your financing in place first. First, look over recent real estate deals and get a realistic idea about prices. (Zillow.com is OK, but talk to some real estate pros as well.) THEN go talk a couple of bankers and lay out your financial situation. Do not trust the web alone. But, figure out what you can spend and stick to it. Keep in mind that it is likely that the land will not appreciate in value much for several years and could even go down in price. (This is new.) Just because the bank will lend you the money does not mean you can afford it--only you and your bride know your budget. And, you both have surprises for each other in that regard. (Trust me on this.)

I'll end with some good news. With the current economy, there are more land owners who are interested in seller financing. Indeed, this can be a major appeal in selling. They hold the note on the land and earn 5 percent. So, you don't pay, they get it back. Just keep in mind they are likely to sell the note in a few years. Not that you should care.

Good luck.


2:11 pm on Jun 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Thanks for the ideas - now I guess it's time to start driving around and finding some landowners to talk to! ;)


7:56 pm on Jun 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

How timely, I've been wondering about a similar situation recently. There is a house in my neighborhood where the owner, an elderly woman, passed away a little over a year ago. The house has stood empty ever since.

Recently, the city placed a "Substandard Building" notice on the front door. Seems that local teens had broken in the back door and were using the property to throw parties. (My neighbors and i couldn't keep our curiousity in check, we went in the open back door and found huge piles of cans and bottles, cigarettes had been put out in the walls and carpet, and a fire had been built in the kitchen.)

Anyway, our whole neighborhood is concerned about the property that is looking worse every day. It is officially condemned by the city and no one can live there until it has been cleaned up. The downside is that the owner had placed the property in a trust before passing on, and no one (including the city) can find who is managing the trust. I guess you can keep that completely private if you want to.

Is there anything that can be done to get in touch with the owner of a property if it isn't listed publicly? Can the property just sit there in perpetuity?


7:52 pm on Jun 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

arieng, first and foremost, as you start this process, get a new notebook and always make a record of who you talk with; even the most minor chat. Note the time and date and get the right name and, in a nutshell, what was said.

Now, do you really want to buy it or just see it fixed up? If the latter, you can really help the process by getting the details together and talking up the property among those who do buy distressed properties.

Call the city, check the tax records. (Remember to take names; even the person who answered the phone. Someone is paying the taxes on it or will be soon. (If not, soon it will belong to the city.) The city pros are the ones you need to talk with. Get in touch with the department that did the "substandard" labeling on the building; they will be eager to help you help them. Make it clear you're going to fix their problem.

And if they don't seem eager to help, talk immediately to your local elected city official and explain that you and your neighbors expect a high level of cooperation is solving this civic problem from the city employees.

It's likely to be a lawyer. If there is a trust, that means there is a will. That's good news. Soon it will move from the trust to the heirs.

Meanwhile, do your homework, starting with Zillow. Then find a trustworthy pro who invests in real estate. They might not want to buy it, but they will know people who will.

Who knows? Maybe you'll get some real deal. Unlikely. But, you can have some fun digging around and making things happen. If you don't do that, it could sit around for years. Ug.


3:31 pm on Jul 2, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Wow, weeks! That is some amazing feedback. I'm taking your advice to the letter. Truly amazing, thanks a million.


8:51 pm on Jul 2, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

arieng, you are doing a good thing.

Automan Empire

11:59 pm on Jul 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Weeks gave great advice! Bravo.

I would DEFINITELY recommend going after a property you like even if it is not for sale. I'm not sure what your jurisdiction is, but in my area you would go to the county registrar-recorder's office where the property tax rolls are kept. That is kind of a whois for every parcel of land in the county. The recorder can also let you know if the property is scheduled for a tax delinquency auction, another nontraditional way of buying properties, with various players already competing with you in the niche.

Take a subtle, personal approach. There are already people and companies sending out form letters and slick, brash postcards to owners delinquent in their property tax.

Be sure to have money in the bank and financing in place before you embark, otherwise you're wasting peoples' time, including yours. Save as much as you can in the meantime, fixer-uppers can gobble unbelievable amounts of cash upfront, especially once city code enforcement has it on their radar.

In the case of this property on your street, arieng, board up the unsecure door yourself and mow the lawn. Enlist the neighbors on the block to keep an eye for parties and call the police at once. It can be good to unite the neighbors to fix the place up in the meantime, but not in such a way that any of THEM start to want it themselves. ;) If the city has to clean it, THEY are likely to record a lein and begin an ownership interest in the place- more competition for you. This type of approach works on your own block, but can backfire if you do it as a stranger coming in, as with a distant rural property.

It's a buyer's market right now, good luck!


2:23 pm on Jul 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Automan said;
Be sure to have money in the bank and financing in place before you embark, otherwise you're wasting peoples' time, including yours. Save as much as you can in the meantime, fixer-uppers can gobble unbelievable amounts of cash upfront, especially once city code enforcement has it on their radar.

Well said. This cannot be stressed enough. People have one of two reacatons. 1) Oooo, I can't buy. Or 2) Hey, I'm in better shape than I thought. Good luck


7:53 pm on Jul 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Do all diligent research into the desired property BEFORE putting money on the line. There are reasons why some apparently desirable properties are not sold/built out... EPA, for example. Clear all encumbrances! Get a realtor! Get a lawyer!

That said, there are "forgotten" properties which sit idle and have not been considered for market because those owners just haven't thought of it...until an offer is made. At which time those who have done their homework in advance will have the best opportunity to succeed.


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