How to Negotiate a Land Deal
Buying a piece of property is a give and take process. The seller quotes a price and the buyer counters with a lesser price or seeks certain concessions. Negotiations take place until both parties see eye-to-eye and agree on the terms. If both the buyer and seller believe a good deal was made, then negotiations were successful.
Maurice "Moe" Veissi, president elect of the National Association of Realtors says that the first step in negotiating a fair land deal is to make sure that it’s a clinical, not an emotional purchase. When it comes to a land purchase it is not unlike buying a car, he says. For example, would you purchase a new car without knowing what it is you want, what price are you willing to pay, and what the average purchase price is for the car you are eyeing?
"When you walk into a dealership you have a pretty good idea what you want to buy and what your budget is, whether it's $20,000 or $50,000," explains Veissi. "Some people walk out owning a car that they can't afford (and getting financing terms that are not favorable). Often that is because they bring emotion into the buy." In addition, you need to hire professionals with a good track record—an engineer, appraiser, realtor, and real estate attorney. You will avoid a lot of headaches once you start negations, he adds.
There are several considerations that go into buying a piece of property, the greatest of which is of course what the land is going to be used for? Is it to build office space or a retail shop? How critical is traffic flow among cars and/or pedestrians. What kind of competition is in the surrounding area?
Before you head to the negotiation table, ask yourself what you are aiming to achieve out of the land deal. In particular what are your wants versus your needs since the two are comparably very different. As with the car buying scenario, you may want drive an Italian two-seater sports car but you really need a four-door compact vehicle.
Here are five tips to help you land the best deal for the property you want to buy.
1. Review the property.
The asking price may not always be the agreed-upon purchase price. You may try to negotiate a lower price upon review of the current title of land for sale. In reviewing the property, look at the vesting deed (available from the county clerk's office) and the appraisal, advises Veissi. Real estate property interests are usually conveyed by a deed. Sometimes people sell or transfer partial interests in a property. Check the deed to see if there are any easements or rights that have been granted for use of the property without having to own the property. Either the seller or buyer (even both) may order an appraisal. Ask the appraiser for a like property analysis, Veissi suggests. Meaning, request to see a list of like properties that have sold in the area and compare those prices to see if the asking price for the property you seek is reasonable.
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2. Obtain a copy of covenants and restrictions.
Ideally, you should employ a realtor and real estate attorney that know what restrictive covenants there are and what you can and can’t build on that piece of property, says Veissi. "But you still may need to do some grunt work. Find out how the property is zoned." Zoning ordinances and regulations are laws that define how you can use the property. Depending on your needs, will you have to change the zoning? For instance, if the property is zoned for an industrial warehouse or office building and you want to build a retail outlet. Also, zoning ordinances will typically limit the total height of a building or require a certain number of parking spaces for a commercial building. Opposition to zoning changes by local residents or other invested parties can be fierce—time consuming and costly.
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3. Do a cost analysis.
Calculate all of the costs to bring the land up to the condition you would like. What is it going to cost you to build out the property? That is the cost of acquiring the land, the entitlement, the cost of construction of the land, the cost of marketing to people to build it up if it is a retail space, plus the cost it takes to secure any money (i.e., loans)? You also have to factor in a reserve for costs associated with things such as air conditioners, wall coverings, and so on, says Veissi. "Those things have a shelf life, so, they are going to take x amount of time before they need to be replaced."
Say, the property is going to cost you $150 per square foot to build and you expect a return on your investment at 10 percent. So, 1,000 square feet at $150 equals $150,000; which means you expect to get $15,000 back after your expenses, including management fees and debt service on the property, and some reserve. "Although in today's market, the return on investment is less than 10 percent and more like 6 percent. Calculate the most you are willing to pay the seller based on the outcome of your cost analysis," Veissi advises. Once you have done all of the analysis and appropriate planning, he says, you still need a contingency. You can think you have it nailed down and all of a sudden something crops up, unsettling your plans, he explains.
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4. Don’t create problems.
"I've seen both buyers and sellers do this to try and gain some type of advantage in negotiations," says Robert King, a land agent with AlaLandCo; a native of Clay County, Alabama, he has over 10 years experience in marketing and selling property. "It rarely, if ever, works, and absolutely serves to drive the parties further apart." Also, don’t make a laundry list of everything that is wrong with a property you are trying to buy, cautions King. "You must like the property, or you would not have spent all that time figuring out everything that is wrong with it. That just puts the seller on guard and creates a personal barrier." When you impart your wealth of knowledge of all of the property's shortcomings to the other party, you are not likely to make a friend of the seller, says King. You want to be on friendly not adversarial terms with anyone you are negotiating with for the land deal.
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5. Make a fair offer.
There may be some back and forth with the seller. You may offer a lower amount than the asking price and the seller in turn will counter with an offer higher than yours. The key is to head to the negotiations table with your well conducted research in hand. Don’t waste time playing games or questioning the seller’s integrity, warns King. "If you educate yourself about the market, you can determine if an offer is a good deal or not. You won’t get taken for a ride."
Settle on a price that is acceptable to both parties. But don’t exceed the price you initially set as your maximum amount to pay. No property is worth paying more than you can afford. "Decide what a transaction is worth to you. A property may be worth more in value to you than the actual appraisal. Take the emotion out of it and deal with it in terms of dollars and sense," confers King. And, "don't be afraid to walk away from a deal, just do so with a handshake and a smile and do not burn that bridge."