Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 5: Debris, Overhead Wires and Other Unsightly Items Featured in Photos

It is fascinating how many photos used to market vacant land feature debris, garbage cans, overhead wires and other unsightly items.  Here are some photographs posted by other Realtors and sellers in their effort to sell land on the Internet:


It’ll be fun negotiating whether buyer or seller pays for the debris cleanup…Wait, never mind, there probably won’t be any buyers with photos like these.

Lot #3 listed for $499,000. Top of the private street


Debris photo 2


Debris photo 13


Debris photo 9


Debris photo 10


Garbage Cans

A dancing chorus line of garbage cans.

Debris photo 4


Utility Poles

Would you like the blue one, the black one, the red one, or the white one?

Debris photo 6



For sale:  power lines against gray smoggy sky.  Land not depicted here but included at no extra charge.

Debris photo 7

My eye is drawn right to the pattern in the blue sky below, away from the land for sale.

Debris photo 19

Debris photo 12



A toilet in the MLS to advertise a vacant land parcel?  I’m confused.  But hey if I drink a lot of ice tea on my way to see the land at least I’ll be covered!

Debris photo 8


Shopping Cart

One lonely contemplative grocery cart surveys the land, pondering whether to buy it.

Highland & Palm Corner


Tractor and Lawn Mower

Debris photo 14


Debris photo 16



Nothing says “safe neighborhood” like a close up of barbed wire!

Debris photo 17


Debris photo 21




Debris photo 18


Advice to Buyers:

If you’re interested in buying a parcel that has a lot of weird debris on it, take a moment to consider who will clean it up?  If you want the seller to clean it up before closing escrow, make sure that’s in black and white in your offer.  The California Association of Realtors standard land purchase agreement includes a box you can check in paragraph 12 that says (if checked) “All debris and personal property not included in the sale shall be removed by Seller by Close of Escrow”.

Or, if you are willing to accept the debris, you can leave that contractual box unchecked in your offer and use that as a negotiating point to get the price down.  For example, you might say to the seller’s Realtor:  “Gee, there sure is a lot of debris on this land.  I will clean it up myself but it will take a lot of time, and I will have to rent a truck and pay some people to help, and so with all that debris I obviously can’t offer full price….”

Regardless of which option you choose, to ask the seller to clean it up or to clean it up yourself, indicate in the contract who’s going to deal with the junk so that there’s no dispute later.

When you visit the land, also look for evidence of hazardous waste.   An example of hazardous waste would be an old oil drum that’s leaking.  If you find something like that, talk to the City or County about their rules for proper cleanup.  Ask the seller’s agent to make sure the seller discloses any hazardous waste that he may be aware of.  After all, you can’t see under all the debris or under the ground.  Again, if you discover hazardous waste, and if you still want the parcel, use it to negotiate a lower price.

Remember not all items left on a parcel are “garbage”.  Items left behind could include things that have value.  These include things like antique farm equipment or an old silver bullet air stream trailer carcass that might be sold to a collector on e-bay.  If the item is something that both buyer and seller want, such as a portable storage shed, remember to indicate in your offer what the disposition of that item will be.  Is it included with the land?  Or will the seller remove it?  If so, when?  Put it in writing at the outset.


Advice to Sellers:

Clean up your land before putting it on the market.  If you don’t, it won’t photograph well and so may not attract an offer.  Or, the buyer may ask for a low price to compensate for the debris.  It’s a better idea to clean it up before your agent takes photos.


Advice to Agents:

As a broker, don’t offer to haul away debris yourself.  That is so not your job.  You don’t do windows and you’re not the garbage man.  It is, however, within the scope of your services to refer the seller to one or more people you may know who will clean up the debris for a fee.

Advise your sellers to arrange to clean up their land just as they would clean up their house before putting it on the market.  Wait until the debris has been removed before taking marketing photos. If the items cannot be removed, and you still need to take marketing photos, it’s usually best to point your camera away from things that are not considered “real estate” such as shopping carts, lumber, garbage etc.

If you walk around to all corners of the parcel, you’ll surely find some angle that will allow you to omit unsightly stuff from the picture frame.  Also, before leaving the parcel to drive back to the office, check your photos in your digital camera to make sure that ugly items that are not “real estate” have not crept into the photo frames.

Strangely enough, there are times when you will want to include things that are not so pretty in your photos.  For example, a good way to depict visually that there is water available to the land is to photograph a fire hydrant or a water meter or a well.  To make it clear that electricity is at the property you might show an electric pole in the corner of one shot.  To demonstrate that the property is fully fenced, you might want to capture a glimpse of the wire fence along the side of one photo.  I have even been known to photograph large overhead power lines that obstructed the view as part of a “truth in advertising” effort because I did not want a bunch of buyers driving out to the parcel I was selling and the buyers getting all disappointed at the view when they got there after driving all that way.  I tend to do that when the negative issue is such a “debbie downer” that there is no way that any buyer could overlook the problem so I might as well photograph it and “get it out there” upfront.  Of course you will not want to feature unattractive photos like these as your primary marketing photo, just as the 5th or 10th or 15th photo in a sequence, something like that.  However, while you might strategically take photos of things that are not super cute or scenic, such as utilities, I can think of no good reason to photograph actual garbage, a broken down piece of equipment, or an old shopping cart.  Just get rid of it!

Just as you might advise a client to “stage” their house, also advise your sellers to “stage” their land and clean it up!


This blog post is part 5 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 4: Close-ups of Vegetation or Dirt

When there is no house on the land, it appears that some residential brokers don’t have a clue what to photograph.  From some of the photos I see, it seems that there are brokers who don’t appreciate the beauty of the land and don’t take enough time with their vacant land photo shoot.  It’s almost like they get out of their car, see dirt, vegetation and trees and say to themselves “Nope, nothing here worthy of interest…no granite counters, no crown molding, no great room with fireplace….so I’ll just point my I-phone at the nearest clump of weeds, push the button, and be on my way.”

With all the close-ups of soil, grass and trees in marketing materials intended to sell land, it’s clear that some agents don’t even have the insight to walk across the street from the land for sale and take a shot from a distance so as to capture the panorama.  It’s painful to look some of the close up photos of vegetation and dirt posted on the internet.  What were these agents thinking?   Do they care whether the land sells or not?

Here are a few cringe-worthy photos posted by other Realtors in the MLS and syndicated to publically available websites such as Trulia and Zillow:

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 1

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 2

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 3

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 4

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 5

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 6

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 7

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 8

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 9

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 10

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 11


Advice to Buyers

If the agent does not include any photos taken at a distance, and shows only close-ups of dirt and trees in their on-line marketing, you really have to wonder why that is?  Could it be that there’s a lot of debris on the land or an old rusty broken-down single-wide mobile home that the Realtor is trying to exclude from the photo frame?  If all the photos are close-ups of trees, is it because there is no clearing in the trees to build a house?  Be suspicious.  Think about it.

More than likely, however, there’s nothing wrong with the land at all and it’s just that the photos are bad.   If you’re interested in a piece of land where the marketing photos are terrible, be aware that no other buyer will be interested in this parcel.  So use this to your advantage and give the seller a low ball offer.  Your offer is likely to be the only one she has received!


Advice to Sellers

If your agent is posting photos like the ones shown here, you should get another Realtor.  Your land won’t sell if the photos look like these.


Advice to Agents

Step away from the tree!  Don’t point your camera down at the grass!  What I do is step back a distance and take a couple of photos.  Then I step back away from the land farther and take more photos.  Then I walk back even farther and take still more photos.  Afterward, I return to the office and look at all of them and pick the best.

A mistake a lot of agents make is that they think they need to be standing on the actual parcel for sale when they take a photograph of the parcel for sale.  This tendency leads to a lot of bad close-ups.  Instead, stand across the street and shoot toward the land.   Stand half way down the block. Stand at the top of a nearby hill.  Get creative.

When photographing a tree, try moving away far enough that you can capture the whole tree from the roots to the top branch.  Also try taking a photo with the tree along the left of the frame.  Take another photo with the tree on the right.  Finally take a photo of the land with the tree branch curving around the inside edge of the photo to frame the view.  Later, see what looks best and shows the land in its best light.

If the terrain allows, walk the entire parcel, to the back, to the left, to the right.  Take a large number of photos in many directions, from various angles.  The more pictures you take, the more likely you’ll find a few gems when reviewing them later.

Include some photos that are not all about dirt and vegetation.  For example, photograph the fence, the gate, the well house, the street in front of the land, the city-scape view from the land, the ritzy house next door, the sign at the entrance to the private community, etc.

Follow these tips and sell that land!


This blog post is part 4 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!


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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 3: Unreadable maps

OK so maps are not technically “photos”.  But they are images used to market land in the MLS and on other web sites.  Good maps are crucial in selling land.  They can 1) help buyers and agents locate the parcel; 2) show the zoning of the parcel in the context of the zoning of surrounding parcels; 3) reveal the terrain, for example in the case of an aerial map; or 4) show the shape and dimensions of the parcel.

The problem is that some folks post truly bad maps on the internet to market their land.  Here are some really goofy maps posted by other Realtors and sellers:


Parcel is helpfully marked in red, major arteries shown in yellow, but map is blurry and does not show street names

Bad map 1



The red check marks the spot but could you use this ambiguous map to locate the parcel?

Bad map 2


The tax identification number (APN) ends in -03 (in the circle) and the official lot number is 16 (sideways).  So far so good, but why confuse buyers with the extra handwritten 213?

Bad map 3


I presume they’re selling the one marked in red in the middle but what are those blue blobs, where are the parcel boundaries, and what street is this land on?

Bad map 4


Other agent thought bubble: “Who needs computers?  I’ll just lay this here paper map down on the kitchen table and take me a picture.  Oh dang it’s a little blurry and crooked, oh well….”

Bad map 5


Other agent thought bubble:  “So call me a rebel.  I mean who says north has to be at the top and handwriting has to be right-side-up?  I live by my own rules.”

Bad map 6


Other agent thought bubble:  Who needs a computer or scanner to create a map when I have a yellow highlighter and a camera?

Bad map 7


OK so I see the map of the city.  But where is the land you’re selling?

Bad map 8


Aerial maps can be helpful, but this one is too much of a close up view to allow buyers and agents to get a sense of the slope of the terrain

Bad map 9


Advice to Buyers

If the on-line maps are terrible, ignore them and go find your own maps on the internet.  Before you start surfing, first get all location information you can from the listing broker.  This includes address, parcel number (APN), and/or longitude/latitude.  Ask the agent to at least e-mail you a black and white plat map.  Armed with this information, you can then:

1)   Search Google or the Land22 site for a Geographic Information System (GIS) that covers the City/County where the parcel is located.  Enter the address or APN in the GIS system to locate the parcel.

2)  Enter the address or longitude/latitude into Google Maps, Bing Maps, Mapquest or ITouchMap to see the a location map, aerial map, birds-eye view map, parcel corners or to get driving directions.

3)  Print out the maps you find most useful and have a hardcopy in your hand when you go visit the land.  It is especially important to have a paper aerial map so that you can get a feel for the corners when you’re on the ground.


Advice to Sellers

After your listing broker posts maps on-line, review them to make sure they’re clear and helpful.  If they’re not, have a conversation with your Broker.


Advice to Agents

It just doesn’t look professional to lay a paper map down on a table and take a photograph of it.  The wrinkles in the paper will show and it will be obvious.  Try to find the same map on-line in a computer generated unwrinkled form.  If you must capture an image from a paper map, use a computer scanner to create a professional looking file that you can post on the internet.  Don’t just take a photo of it, the quality isn’t high enough.

Coloring a map with colored highlighter or a crayon is amateur.  It will appear to viewers that you don’t know how to use a computer.  Since the use of computers is critical to selling land that’s not the impression you will want to create if you hope to get listings and sell land successfully.

Every map you post should include a clear indication of where the parcel is located in the map.  Don’t post general maps of a neighborhood or city where the parcel is not even marked.  You can mark parcels with a boundary, X, check mark, circle or arrow.  If the parcel is unmarked, what’s the point of the map?

If street names are faint or missing, use your computer to edit the map image file and add text to show street names.

Clear maps of all kinds are readily available on the Internet.  There is no reason for a map posted in MLS marketing to be blurry.

Transforming an on-line map into an image that you can post in marketing materials requires some professional and technical skills.  The professional skills needed include things like a good design sense, the wisdom and experience to know what kind of map would be most helpful to buyers, and having a kind of empathy for the person reading the map.  Also essential are technical skills such as computer screen capture, cropping, and editing.  If you’re an agent who is great at selling land but these particular skills are not in your arsenal, get someone else to create your maps for you!  Convince your techno-wizard nephew to put down his video games long enough to help.  Or pay your teenage grand daughter to do it – you know, the one who wants to be a graphic artist?  Creating maps for marketing purposes is not rocket-science but you have to have the patience and skill to do it right.


This blog post is part 3 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 2: Photo Is Too Dark

Why do agents and sellers post dark photos on the internet to market their land?  Here are two examples of photos that I found posted by other Realtors:

Land In The Dark Photo 1

Land In The Dark Photo 2

Dark photo 3


Advice to Buyers

Before submitting an offer, it’s best to go see the land in person.  You will especially want to do that if the marketing photos were taken in the dark!

As an alternative, you can go for a virtual walk in the daylight from the comfort of your couch using Google Street View.


Advice to Sellers

After your agent posts the listing of your land on-line, review the photos.  Check to make sure they are not too dark or have other problems.


Advice to Agents

I doubt that the agents who posted these dark photos of their land listings set out to take photos in the dark.  Sometimes this happens due to bad planning.  For example, the land may be a long driving distance from the Realtor’s office or home…the Realtor leaves late and does not plan enough driving time…they get lost along the way or have trouble locating a rural parcel with no address…and end up motoring up to the parcel just as the sun is going down!  I have done this myself!  If this happens to you, the only solution is to congratulate yourself that at least you now know how to find the land (maybe after a few wrong turns) so now you can at least draft good driving directions.  But do come back another day to take photos in the light.

If you want to make absolutely sure that you only have to make one pre-marketing trip out to the land then you will want to allow 2-3 times the amount of time you think you’ll need and factor in extra time to get lost, get gas, pull over and answer your cell phone, etc.  Leave early so that you’re sure to arrive at the parcel when there’s still plenty of light regardless of how far it is from your office.

And while I’m on the subject of light, when planning the best time of day to take photographs, you might sit down and give it some real thought before you head on out there.  Stare at maps and contemplate which direction the sun rises and sets relative to the land and imagine in your mind which shot is likely to be the “money shot”.  What direction will you be facing when you take that shot?  Consider that direction when planning the ideal time to arrive at the land to take marketing photos.   For example, if the money shot will be facing west, you won’t want to take the photo facing a setting sun because that creates glare  - you might want the sun at your back – so go take the photo in the morning not the late afternoon.

Let’s face it, some land is boring.  If the land you’re listing is not super pretty e.g., flat desert sand, it might be best to take photos when the sun is not directly overhead.  This is because a rising or setting sun will create neat shadows on, say rocks and tumbleweed, and if the land is not all that interesting then the light and shadows will make it look more arresting.  Taking photos when the sunlight is at an angle will make the land look better.  As one example, during this time of year (October) you might prefer to take photos at 3 pm rather than, say, high noon.

If you do go out to take photos and find that you have arrived at the land in the dark, just go back to the land another day.  Don’t post dark photos on the internet thinking “it’ll be fine…buyers can sort of kind of make out the grass and trees and fence in the dark ….”   If you actually want to sell the land it won’t be fine.  Trust me.


This blog post is part 2 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 1: Cars Featured in Photos

Strange, blurry, dark photos of vacant land parcels are surprisingly common on marketing web sites.  Also common are photos of land that feature non-land objects such as cars, signs, and debris.  Some of these marketing photos are posted by real estate agents in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).  From there, they are automatically syndicated to sites such as to Zillow, Realtor, Yahoo, and Redfin.  Others are posted outside the MLS on sites such as Craigslist, LandAndFarm or LandsOfAmerica.  Once posted on the internet, these bad photos are viewed by potential buyers all over California, the United States, and the world.

So a girl has to ask:  If the purpose of these photos is to sell a piece of land, what were these agents and sellers thinking when they featured cars in their photos?

One of my favorite laugh-out-loud websites is  This site manages to walk the line between showing cringe-worthy photographic moments and educating Realtors and sellers on what not to do when taking pictures of real estate listings.  This site has mostly bad photos of houses so I thought I’d show you a collection of bad marketing photos that other Realtors or sellers have posted to sell vacant land.

This post is the first in a series of 10 posts on 10 sins in photos used to market land.  Check this blog in the coming weeks for more photographic sins!


Are You a Land Broker or a Used Car Salesperson?

It’s hard to tell from some of these marketing photos that I found posted by other Realtors.

Car lot A

Car lot B

Car lot C

Car lot D


Taking the Photo Out the Window of Your Car

C’mon, is it really so hard to park your car and step out to take the photo?  Did you think we wouldn’t notice that rear view mirror in the corner of the shot?

From Car A

From Car B

From Car C

From Car D


Featuring Cars and Car Parts in Photos

You got out of your car (!), good for you, that’s a start, but you still couldn’t manage to avoid including cars or parts of cars in the photo frame?

Cars B

Cars A

Cars E

Cars I

Cars G

Cars C

Cars D

Cars J


Taking the Photo Through the Glass of the Car Window

Ok so your front car window is cleaner than mine, I’ll admit it.  Nevertheless, taking a photo through glass will always be blurrier than taking it through fresh air.

Through Window


Advice to Buyers

If an MLS photo of vacant land is really bad, featuring cars for example, that doesn’t necessarily mean the land itself is also bad.  Remember, the cars will likely disappear after you buy the land and if they’re still there you can have them removed.

Also bear in mind that since no one else will be attracted to this land listing because of all the dumb cars featured in the photos, and the agent is probably getting zero calls on it because of their bad photos, you might be able to pick it up for a bargain price!


Advice to Sellers

If there are cars parked on the land you want to sell, move them off before your agent takes photos.  In fact, park the cars elsewhere the entire time your land is on the market for sale.  Just as you would clean up and “stage” a house for sale you should also clean up and “stage” land.  Put the cars somewhere else so that the land will look pretty.

After your agent posts the listing of your land on-line, review the photos.  Check to make sure there are no cars, rear view mirrors, fenders, or other unwanted objects appearing in the photos.

Some sellers have their own quality digital photos that they have taken of their vacant land.  If you happen to have an awesome photo, maybe taken on a beautiful sunny day before the cars were parked on the land, e-mail it to your broker for possible use in marketing materials.


Advice to Agents

Avoid including cars, or parts of cars, in your photos of vacant land!

Get out of your dang car to take the freakin’ photo!   This will allow you to avoid getting that pesky side mirror in the shot as you sit in the driver’s seat taking the photos out your rolled-down window.  Walk around and take multiple photos of the land from various angles.  Review your digital photos in your camera to make sure you got one or more good shots before you drive all the way back to the office.

If cars are parked on the land, walk around to the other side of the cars and take photos in a direction away from any cars so as to avoid including them in the frame.  Get creative with your angles so as to exclude the car(s) while still including the land itself.

I realize some agents and sellers might have mobility issues.  My dad was disabled my whole life, so I have sensitivity to this issue.  I understand that if you’re temporarily or permanently disabled, e.g., on crutches or in a wheelchair, it can be hard to walk from a parked car to the land, or walk around on the land you’re trying to photograph.  In this case you might get someone else to take your vacant land  photos.  And remind them to omit the cars from the shots!

Some caveats:  Oddly enough, there are actually some situations in which it does make sense to include cars in your photos.  They are:  1) When you’re trying to convey visually that there is a high volume of traffic in the street, e.g., for a commercial parcel where volume highway traffic increases the value of the land.  In a situation like this you might deliberately photograph the stream of cars in the street.  2) When you’re trying to show the location of a driveway in a rural photo and it can be hard for viewers of the photo to distinguish between the dirt land and the dirt driveway.  Use a car to mark the spot!   3) When the highest and best use of the land is actually as a parking lot or auto sales lot and it’s being sold for that purpose.   4) When it would be dangerous for you to walk around and take a photo that excludes cars, e.g., because the neighbors make you uncomfortable, or because the land is adjacent to a busy interstate with cars speeding by and there’s nowhere to park.

However, note that these situations are rare.  Cars and auto parts should almost always be omitted from photos of vacant land used for marketing purposes!


This blog post discusses sin 1 in a 10 part series of the top 10 sins in photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more bad MLS photos!

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The Seller Is A Big Ol’ Meanie! He Won’t Accept My Full Price Offer! Can He Do That?

Pouting Bratty GirlRecently I received a full price offer from a Realtor representing a buyer.  I was representing the seller.  My client declined the full price offer and gave the buyer a counteroffer that was higher than his asking price.

The reasons the seller made this decision are several:  1) He knew he owed substantial back taxes, but after receiving the offer he discovered the amount; 2) Land22 Real Estate had received considerable interest in the parcel and he felt he might have under-priced it in light of the response we received from our marketing; 3) After submitting the offer, the buyer’s agent called repeatedly and even said that the buyer might be willing to pay more, if we had a competing offer, for example.  The buyer’s agent had essentially “shown her hand” to me, the seller’s fiduciary.

So the seller countered over the asking price.

The Realtor representing the buyer went absolutely ballistic!  She threw a tantrum, sent me several flaming e-mails, and was generally very rude.  She implied there was some conspiracy afoot.

So while that Realtor is over there pouting, taking a time-out in the naughty girl corner, let’s talk, just you and I.  From this experience, it became clear to me that not all buyers, and perhaps not all agents, understand that it’s acceptable for sellers to decline full price offers.  Buyers and their agents may not grasp the reasons why a seller might do that.  Further, sellers may not realize the drama that they create when they counter over the asking price.  Time to Blog!


Does a seller have to accept a full price offer?

The short answer is “No.”

Real estate is not like shopping at the supermarket.  When you go to the grocery store and the item is marked $1.29 you can be confident that when you take it up to the cash register you will be allowed to purchase it for $1.29.  Even if the computer register makes a mistake and shows it at $1.50, for example, you can still talk to a manager and he will likely give it to you for $1.29 because that’s the price marked on the item.

Real estate doesn’t work that way.


So why does the price appear in the MLS if the seller won’t accept that price?

MLS systems were originally created by agents for agents.  They were not created by sellers to advertise their prices.  The listing is placed in the MLS by the listing agent, not by the seller.  So the MLS listing is not an offer to sell made by a seller.  The primary purpose of the MLS listing is to publish an offer of compensation by a listing broker, directed to other broker participants in that MLS.  By entering the listing in the MLS the listing agent is effectively saying to other agents “Hey, I have this listing.  If you bring me an offer from a buyer and my client accepts it I’ll give you part of my commission”.  The listing agent enters the price that the seller listed the property for into the MLS.  However, while the listing agent is holding a signed listing (service) agreement with the seller, the listing agent is not the ultimate decision maker on the price that the seller will actually accept from a buyer.  The seller is the “principal”.  The listing agent is not the “principal”.  The seller is the one who makes the final decision on the price he will sell for.


If a seller declines a full price offer, does he have to explain the reason why to the buyer?

No, the seller does not have to explain their reasoning to the buyer.  In fact, the seller does not even have to reply to the buyer’s offer at all, even a full price offer  The seller can remain entirely silent.

If the Realtor represents the seller alone, and does not represent the buyer, that Realtor is solely the seller’s fiduciary.  The listing agent does not have to explain to the buyer’s agent the reason the seller declined the buyer’s full price offer.  Of course the listing agent may well do this if she feels it is in her client’s best interest.  For example, if the seller wants the buyer to re-submit a revised offer the listing agent might explain to the buyer’s agent how the buyer might improve their offer.  However, there are times when the listing agent, acting as the seller’s fiduciary, will find it to be in the seller’s best interest to say nothing.  In that event, she will remain silent.


What are some of the reasons why a seller might decline a full price offer?

First, rest assured that the vast majority of sellers will gladly accept a full price offer.  Or, they may give a buyer a counteroffer on a couple of details in the terms but accept the full price.  However, there are reasons why some sellers may not accept full price.  Here are a few of those reasons:

1.   The seller may have received another written offer

Two OffersIn fact, the seller may have not just one additional offer but several.  The other offer(s) may be higher than your offer, lower than your offer, or the same as your offer.  Regardless, the seller is free to accept one offer, counter one offer, counter multiple offers, or decline all offers.  The seller can respond however he wishes.  There is no “first come first served” in real estate.  In practice, the way it usually works is that when a seller receives two or more offers, the seller will either accept the best offer or the seller will counter two or more offers creating a “bidding war”.  In the event of a bidding war, the parcel is likely to sell for over the asking price.

 2.  The seller may have received another verbal offer

Even if the seller does not have another written offer, his seller may have received a verbal offer from another potential buyer via the listing agent.  It could be that when the seller heard about this other buyer the seller decided not to respond to your written full price offer.   He may be hoping to get more from this other buyer who has floated a verbal offer.  It could be that the other buyer has not gotten around to putting that offer in writing yet.  The seller may also be planning to increase the listing price based on another verbal offer that he has received.

3.  The seller may be unhappy with the terms in the buyer’s offer

Offers are not all about price.  Offers consist of price and terms.  Sure you may have offered full price, but did you ask for a 120 day escrow period so that you would have time to come up with the money?  Is your offer contingent on selling your house in Bosnia?  Did you ask the seller to pay for all of the closing costs including your portion?  Did you say you were going to get a bank loan on vacant land with 10% down when the seller knows that virtually no such loans exist?  Did you ask the seller to pay for a perc test for septic, a well inspection, or a survey?  If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, the seller may be saying to himself “Give me a break.  I’m not even going to reply to this frivolous offer” even if it is full price.  Yes, the price is fine.  But the seller doesn’t like the terms.

4.  The buyer’s agent may have “shown her hand” to the listing agent

The agent representing the buyer may have inadvertently or deliberately disclosed to the listing agent the buyer’s extreme motivation to purchase or even the buyer’s willingness to pay more if necessary.  The buyer’s agent may have dropped into conversation that she thinks the parcel is a “good deal” or “very well priced”.  She may have called the listing agent incessantly asking if there are competing offers, or pressuring the listing agent for a response.  This is a “tell” that the buyer is very interested and is pushing her agent to get a response from the listing agent and seller.  When the listing agent represents the seller exclusively, and does not represent the buyer, that listing agent is the seller’s fiduciary and not the buyer’s fiduciary.  So the listing agent may advise her client, the seller, she believes the buyer may be willing to pay more than the asking price.  This advice may cause a seller to decline or counter a full price offer even when the seller has no other offers.

5.  The listing agent’s phone may be ringing off the hookPhone Ringing

If you are a buyer and you think a parcel is so awesome that you are motivated to offer full price, then it stands to reason that you are not the only person likely to be interested in this parcel at that price.  The listing agent may be receiving considerable interest in the parcel in the form of a high volume of phone calls and/or many e-mails.  The listing agent has likely shared this information with the seller.  The seller may take this as a sign that he can get more than his initial asking price for his parcel.

One time back when I was a new agent I had a land listing next to a housing development.  To me, this land looked like undesirable rocky desert up on a hill.  I assisted the sellers in pricing it based on comparable parcels.  However, after I listed it my phone rang every 30 minutes.  I couldn’t believe it!  Apparently, the residents of the adjacent housing development with a private water skiing lake and high end homes did not want anyone buying this parcel, developing it, and marring their serene hill views!  So they all wanted to buy it before a developer got hold of it.  Clearly, based on the volume of phone calls I was receiving, this parcel was under priced!  Yikes!  I contacted my sellers immediately and we increased the price sharply.  After that, the phone then rang about every day or so instead of every 30 minutes, as it should if a parcel is priced properly.  Then it sold at the new higher price.  Luckily we caught it before an offer came in but if an offer had been received at the original price the sellers would surely have countered it over the asking price based on the volume of calls.

6.  The seller may have had a change of heart on price based on reliable or unreliable new information

Unrelated to the actual response the listing agent is getting to her marketing, after signing the listing agreement at a particular price, the seller may discuss the price with his financial advisor Pandeep, his neighbor Mary Sue, or his favorite uncle Herb who used to sell real estate back in 1958.  New advice (reliable or unreliable) may cause him to change his willingness to sell at the price he listed his parcel at originally.  Wisely or unwisely, this may cause him to decline your full price offer.

7.  The seller’s confidence in the economy may have improved since he listed the parcel

It is unlikely that the actual economy for land sales would change in 3-12 months, the time-frame of a typical real estate listing.  However, while the economy itself may not change noticeably, the seller’s psychological confidence in the economy based on news reports could easily change in a period that short.

3d graph arrow blueI get sellers calling me all the time 3-6 months after I give them a price opinion asking me if I can now list their land for more than I told them a few months ago.  “Can I get more now?” they say; and then a few months later, “OK, how about now?”  It reminds me of kids in the back seat of car asking every 5 minutes “Are we there yet?”  “The economy is not improving that fast kids!  (No, we are not there yet!)  Call me in 2-5 years (not 2-5 months) and I’ll give you a higher price”, I say.

But what is relevant here, is not the reality of actual change in prices on land but consumer (seller) confidence in the economy.  If a seller priced his land 2011 in a terrible economic recession, and receives his first offer in 2013 he might think “The economy has improved since I priced my land back in 2011.  I believe I can get a higher price now or in the near future.”

Of course you and I both know that his property was OVER-priced in 2011.  That’s why he has not received an offer for two years.  Finally, the economy has caught up with his high 2011 listing price and he’s received his first offer from one lonely buyer.  But the seller may not see it this way and may decline to accept his first offer, a full price offer, in anticipation of further improvements in the economy.  I’m just saying.

8.  The buyer or the buyer’s agent may be acting like a jerk

Sellers do not want to sell their land to buyers who are acting like jerks or who are represented by agents who are acting like jerks.  An example of a jerky thing to do would be to submit a full price offer and then get angry, improperly threatening litigation if the seller doesn’t immediately accept the offer.   Any mention of the L-word for any reason is naturally a huge turnoff to sellers.  Sellers do not want to do business with buyers who seem litigious or who might create a complicated unhappy escrow experience.  As a pure business decision, reasons like these might prevent a seller from accepting a full price offer from such a buyer.



It’s illegal to discriminate because of race, sex, religion etc.  So obviously a seller should never decline a full price offer for any discriminatory reason.

Sellers who counter more than one buyer, e.g., over the asking price, must inform those buyers that this is a multiple-counter situation.  While sellers can generally remain silent on what they are thinking, the fact that they are countering multiple buyers is not information they can withhold.  The reason is, even if a buyer accepts the sellers counteroffer, the seller may or may not sell to that buyer because the seller has given counteroffers to more than one buyer.  If two or more buyers accept, the seller still has the opportunity to choose and countersign.  There is a spot to disclose that this is a multiple counter offer on the boilerplate California counteroffer form.

This blog does not pertain to the situation where a seller has already accepted full price offer (or any offer) from a buyer, there is signed written agreement, and then the seller wants to cancel.  That’s a whole different situation.

If you have a thorny problem on your hands and need legal advice don’t get your information from this Blog or any Blog.  Nothing in this Blog should be construed as legal advice.  If you need legal advice, consult an attorney, preferably a real estate attorney!


Advice to Sellers:

Yes, you can ask a buyer to pay more than the listing price.  But let’s face it, it’s just plain awkward.  It creates an undesirable drama between the seller, buyer, listing agent and the buyer’s agent.  As a seller, it’s far better to list the property at a price you are actually willing to accept.  If the price you are willing to accept changes, then talk with your Realtor immediately about modifying the advertised listing price.

Further, asking your listing agent to try to get you more than the listing price you originally contracted for is also awkward.  Such a request may create bad feelings between the seller and the listing agent.  Remember, the listing agreement you signed is a service agreement between you as a seller and your Realtor.  This means that the Realtor agreed to perform a service, spending her time and money, to find you a buyer at a particular price. That price appeared in black and white in the service (listing) agreement.   Your agent did not agree to spend her time and money marketing your property at some other price or any random price you might decide on at any random time.  Yes, she may agree to change the price slightly but just remember that was not the original deal!  You wouldn’t be too keen your listing agent contacting you after signing the listing agreement and saying “oh, by the way, I have decided to increase the commission”, now would you?

Also be aware that by countering over the asking price you risk causing the buyer to disappear.  There are some buyers who, upon receiving such a counteroffer, will think you’re an unfair meanie and will walk away just on principle, even if the higher price you are seeking is still fair.

Sellers should choose their listing price wisely to begin with after reviewing the pricing research provided by the Broker.  Make sure there is a meeting of the minds between all co-owners and the Broker before signing the listing agreement!


Advice to Buyers:

If you think a parcel is an awesome deal, it is likely you’re not alone in that opinion.  When you find a fabulous real estate opportunity, be aware that multiple offers are always a possibility.  The best way to avoid a bidding war is to write a “clean” offer.  That means you should offer full price and, in addition, offer 50% of all closing costs including title insurance.  To increase the odds of acceptance, write into your offer that the seller can choose the escrow and title company.  But the most important advice I can give you is this:  submit your offer quickly before anyone else sees the listing!


Advice to Agents:

If you are a buyer’s agent and you submit a full price offer on behalf of your client and get no response please don’t jump to the conclusion that there’s some conspiracy afoot against your buyer like the agent who inspired this Blog post did.  There are many reasons why a seller would decline a full price offer as I explain here.  Even if you get no reply, remember, a non-reply, while no fun for your buyer, is legal.  Further, note that the listing agent has a fiduciary responsibility to the seller, not to you or to your client and has no responsibility to tell you what the seller is thinking.  A seller could be declining your full price offer for any number of reasons and the listing agent has no duty to tell you the reason.  By flaming the listing agent, you risk creating ill will.  In your effort to be a good fiduciary to your buyer, please remember that being rude to the listing agent is not in your buyer’s best interest.  Just politely contact the listing agent to inquire about the status of your buyer’s offer.  Be careful about seeming too desperate and “showing your hand” because the listing agent may use that to her client’s advantage.  Monitor the MLS listing daily to see if they might have increased the listing price.  If you get the news that your full price offer is declined just ask your buyer if they want to submit a better offer.  Remember, you may see more and more bidding wars, declined full price offers,  and counteroffers over asking price as the economy improves more and more, so just take a deep breath and take it in stride.

If you are the listing agent, make sure your sellers know that they should only list at a price they are actually prepared to accept.  If the price they are willing to accept changes, encourage them to contact you immediately to discuss whether it makes sense to officially change the listing price.

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How to Find the Longitude and Latitude of Parcel Corners

Ocotillo Wells Parcel

Today I will show you how to find the approximate longitude and latitude of the corners of a parcel on the internet.  As an example, we’ll find the corners a remote parcel I’m listing in Ocotillo Wells, Imperial County, near Borrego Springs.  For all of you ATV riders, that’s next to the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area.

Step 1:  Go to the website ITouchMap

Itouchmap logo


Step 2:  Locate your parcel on the ITouchMap website

This is the trickiest part.  Suffice to say, you either need to have an address or have a mental-map of where the parcel is located to find it.  ITouchMap will not help you find the corners of a parcel if you don’t already know roughly where it is to begin with!

If you don’t have a clue where it is but you do know the parcel number/tax identification number (APN), try using a city or county Geographic Information System (GIS) to get a sense of the location.  GIS systems will typically not give you coordinates of the corners, however.  So after you get a feel for the location you’ll still have to return from GIS to ITouchMap.  (I’ll cover GIS systems in a future blog post.)

In ITouchMap, if you happen to have an address, just type that in.

If you don’t have an address, try typing in cross streets, city and state, e.g., Main St and Avenue A, Some City, CA.

In the case of my Ocotillo Wells parcel, I do not have an address, but I know this parcel is northeast of Hwy 78 and Pole Line Rd.  So here’s what I type in:

Hwy 78 and Pole Line Rd, Ocotillo Wells, CA

ITouchMap has apparently never heard of remote “Pole Line Rd” so it just blindly centers the map at beautiful downtown Ocotillo Wells, population approximately 50.

Now it’s up to me to move the map around to locate the intersection of Hwy 78 and Pole Line Rd a couple of miles east.  (Like I said, you basically have to know roughly where the parcel is in order to accomplish this.)

To help me locate the precise parcel, I also have a separate copy of the black and white plat map.  The plat map is not on ITouchMap.  (I’ll cover plat maps in a future blog post).  Further, I also know that the parcel number is APN 018-090-018.  Focusing on the last 2 digits of this APN, this means that the parcel I’m looking for is the one with the 18 in a circle on the plat map.

Plat Map

Now what I do is visual “pattern recognition”.   That is, I stare at the pattern of rectangles and squares in the plat map.  And I stare at the pattern of rectangles and squares in ITouchMap northeast of Hwy 78 and Pole Line Rd.   I compare the two patterns.  By doing this I can find the square parcel in ITouchMap that corresponds to my parcel -18 in the plat map.  In my case, I’m looking for a symmetrical square east of 4 long skinny horizontal parcels.

Itouchmap 2

Oh yeah, I’ve found the parcel I’m looking for!  If you’re still with me, the hardest part is over.

Now that I’ve located the parcel visually in ITouchMap, it’s time to find the longitude and latitude of the corners of the parcel…


Step 3:  Click on the first corner

To start, I click on the northwest corner of the parcel in ITouchMap.  When I do that, the longitude and latitude numbers pop up in their boxes at the bottom.  Cool!  I’ve found the coordinates of one corner!


Itouchmap 7


Step 4:  Click on the remaining corners

Now I click on the remaining 3 corners one at a time.  As I click on each one, I see the longitude and latitude pop up in their boxes on ITouchMap.


Step 5:  Write it all down

What I do now is change the view in ITouchMap to aerial or hybrid and print out a paper map of the parcel.  Or, if you have a better aerial map from a different source, print that out.  Then I get a big black marker and write the longitude and latitude of each corner by that corner.  I take this notated paper map with me when I’m out looking at the parcel.

But wait.  Which format should you write down?  Shoud you write down degrees, minutes and seconds, e.g.,

  • Latitude 33 degrees, 8 minutes, 35.9478 seconds
  • Longitude -115 degrees, 58 minutes, 25.8492 seconds

Or should you record decimal format, e.g.,

  • Latitude 33.143319
  • Longitude -115.973847

Be sure to check the format on the device you will be using in the field (e.g., the GPS in your car or on your smart phone) first before writing down the coordinates on the paper aerial map because you will want the format you write down to match the format you see “out in the field”.  You’ll be mad if you’re standing out in the heat or cold after driving 2 hours trying to do a mental conversion because you wrote the numbers down in the wrong format!

Another tip:  Remember to write down the negative sign in front of Longitude or you’ll end up somewhere in China …!


Step 6:  While you’re at it, get some extra GPS coordinates to help along the way

GPS in dashboardIn the case of the Ocotillo Wells parcel, I haven’t been to the parcel yet.  The closest road is Pole Line Rd.  So I when I’m out in the middle of the desert on Hwy 78, trying to find the turnoff for Pole Line Rd, looking at nothing but sand, it would be really nice to know the longitude and latitude of that corner because there may or may not be a sign for Pole Line Rd.  So I might use ITouchMap to find the GPS coordinates of the intersection of Pole Line Rd and Hwy 78.  I would write those down on my paper map.

I might also find the GPS coordinates of the point on Pole Line Rd directly west of the parcel because this may be the farthest I can drive without going off road.  Then I will know where to park my car to hike from or take photos from at a distance.  I would write those coordinates down on my map too.

Armed with this paper map, the GPS in my car, and a latte (oh wait, I forgot I was trying to be a vegan…let’s say a black coffee) I can now hit the road!



Some smartphones like the I-phone have latitude and longitude on them (but may not work in remote areas) and there are special map Apps you can get.  Hand-held GPS devices can also be used to locate corners.  And you probably have GPS in your car.  First though, you have to know the longitude and latitude of the corners you’re looking for.  Yes, there are Apps for everything and a lot of technology out there, but I don’t know any App or device that will read your mind and tell you what it is you want to find.  You basically have to know that already.

Without knowing that, it’s like going to Google and typing in “I don’t know what I’m looking for but can you help me find it?”  Google is smart but it’s not that smart!

So the purpose of this blog post is to explain how you can use ITouchMap first to find the approximate GPS coordinates of the parcel.  Then, when you’re out there in the wild, you can use your smartphone or handheld GPS device or GPS in your car to assist you in finding the corresponding corners.


How Accurate is Itouchmap?

I have no idea how accurate the ITouchMap longitude and latitude estimates are.  Personally, I would use Itouchmap for these purposes:

  • Locating the land so that I can photograph it for marketing purposes
  • Locating approximate corners to decide whether to buy (except in the rare instances where there’s some critical thing right near the property line that makes a difference in my decision to buy or not buy, e.g., a house possibly encroaching)
  • Locating approximate corners so that I can look in the dirt to find an actual survey marker in the ground
  • Minor boundary disputes with a friendly neighbor

I would not use ITouchMap for these purposes:

  • Figuring out where to put up a fence along property boundaries
  • Calculating setbacks to pour a permanent foundation to build a house
  • Major boundary disputes with an unfriendly neighbor

If it’s important, or if there’s a lot of money involved, or if there’s a legal dispute, hire a good surveyor!


Advice to Sellers:

Did Uncle Fred leave you a remote parcel in his will and you’ve never seen the land?  Fred may not be around to show you the corners but you can use the information in this blog post to locate them.

Did the title company discover a mechanic’s lien for grading on your parcel but you think it’s actually the adjacent parcel that was accidentally graded by the contractor?  Use ITouchMap to see an aerial map and find the corners.

Do you think the neighbor’s airstream trailer and “medical” marijuana plot are encroaching on your parcel?  Pull up an aerial map and locate the approximate corners and check it out from the safety of your home without encountering the sketchy neighbor in person.


Advice to Buyers: 

Do you want to locate the approximate corners of a parcel before submitting an offer?  For example, maybe you want to make sure that a parcel doesn’t fall off into the ravine.  Or that it does include the well house you noticed.  Or maybe you just want to find the darn thing.  You can use the information in this blog post to find approximate corners.


Advice to Agents: 

Do you have buyers calling you on your remote land listings asking for the “address” so that they can go see the land?  Ha!  Of course, you’re aware that the parcel is in the middle of freakin’ nowhere and has no address, only a parcel number (APN), but the buyer may not realize this at the time they call.

So now, using the information in this blog post you should be able to at least provide buyers with something a little more helpful:  The longitude and latitude of one point on the parcel or even all corners.  Also send them the link to ITouchMap.  Buyers can then view the aerial map.  This way they can understand why there is no address and it’s not a simple “drive by” parcel.


Now get out there.  Have fun finding those parcel corners and take lots of water!

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Fair Division of Cake Between Two Children (and the Relevance to Selling Land)

Cutting Cake Analogy for Shotgun NegotiationMost adults know intuitively how to divide cake between two children with a minimum of squabbles:  Little Johnny gets to cut the cake.  Then his sister Mary gets to choose which piece she wants.  The beauty of this strategy is that brother Johnny has no built-incentive to cut the cake in such a way that he can have the larger portion.

There is actually a name for this type of negotiation in the economic and real estate literature:  It’s called “shotgun negotiation”.

Unlike most types of real estate negotiation that I discuss in this blog, which are between buyers and sellers, shotgun negotiation is useful between two or more sellers or co-owners of one parcel of land.

Shotgun negotiation can be used when co-owners disagree on what to do with the land they own jointly.  For example, they may disagree on:

  • whether or not to sell their land now;
  • the price at which to list their land for sale;
  • which real estate firm to use;
  • whether to invest in developing the land

When co-owners disagree with one another, it’s best if they can try to negotiate and come to an amicable consensus.  The question is: what can co-owners do when negotiation becomes impossible, or even contentious, and all else fails?


Shotgun Negotiation

When the co-owners realize that they have reached an impasse and cannot make an amicable joint decision, sometimes the only solution to break the impasse is for one co-owner to buy out the other co-owner.  In this situation, shotgun negotiation is one way to achieve that goal.

Shotgun negotiation works like this:  One co-owner has the opportunity to set the price.  The other co-owner then decides whether they will 1) buy out the other person at that price, or 2) sell to the other person at that price.  Once the price is set, there is no negotiation on the price at all, period.  There is no back and forth negotiation – none whatsoever.  The beauty of this is that it happens in one shot and there is no long protracted negotiation!

Below are two examples of hypothetical situations where shotgun negotiation is used.


Example 1:  Three Cousins Can’t Agree on Whether to Sell Their Land

The Grandparents left some land to their grandkids Angie, Barbie and Cindi.  The three young women are cousins.  Each cousin owns 1/3 in interest in the land.  Angie wants her money now so she can travel to Europe this summer.  Angie wants to put the land up for sale with a Realtor so that she can cash out now.  Cindi, however, doesn’t want to sell now because the economy is so bad.  Barbie, the peacemaker in the middle, doesn’t care and will go along with whatever the other two decide.

Since Angie and Cindi can’t reach consensus, they all agree that one cousin, Angie or Cindi will have to buy the other one out.  Afterward, the cousins who own the land can do whatever they want.

They all agree that Cindi can set the price for 1/3 share and that Angie will then decide whether Angie will buy out Cindi or whether Angie will sell to Cindi at that price.  Barbie will keep her share.  Because the value of the parcel is fairly low, each cousin has the resources to buy out any other cousin if necessary.

Cindi feels the value of the whole parcel is $30,000 so Cindi sets the price at $10,000 for 1/3 share.  Angie, after doing some on-line research, feels that the entire parcel is worth only $26,000 on the open market.  So Angie feels that her cousin has slightly overvalued the 1/3 interest.  Angie wanted to sell it anyway so Angie gladly sells her share to Cindi for $10,000.  Cindi now owns 2/3 interest and Barbie owns 1/3 interest.

The remaining cousins Barbie and Cindi agree to hang on to the parcel for now and not sell it on the open market, just as Cindi wanted to do originally.  The shotgun negotiation is complete and Angie takes off for Europe with money in her pocket.


Example 2:  The Johansson’s are Getting a Divorce

Magna and Omar Johansson are getting a divorce.  Omar has liquid assets from his flourishing consulting business. Magna also has substantial separate inheritance funds.  So, each is in the position to buy the other out on the commercial land that they own jointly.  Both agree that Magna can name the price and the Omar can choose whether to 1) buy his wife’s 50% interest at that price or, 2) sell his 50% interest to his wife at that price.  They agree that after Magna sets the price there will be no negotiation on the price she sets.

After some thought, Magna decides that at a threshold price of $400,000 she is indifferent about buying or selling so she sets the price at $400,000 for her half.  Omar secretly feels his (soon to be former) wife has undervalued the property.  As agreed, there is no dickering.  Omar buys Magna’s 50% interest for $400,000.  Omar now owns the whole parcel and Magna has $400,000 additional in the bank.  The shotgun negotiation is complete.


When is Shotgun Negotiation Not Ideal?

Shotgun negotiation may be considered unfair when one co-owner is unable, or less able, to buy out the other co-owner because they simply don’t have the money.  For example, if one person sets the price at $100,000 and the other person only has $30,000 in the bank, then the second party does not really have an option to buy.  Their only option is to sell.  The second co-owner may perceive the negotiation as unfair.  So the shotgun negotiation approach may be ill-advised in situations like this for reasons of fairness.


Going First or Going Second

In a shotgun negotiation, would you be better off being the one to set the price or the one choosing whether to buy or sell at a price set by your co-owner?

Well, the co-owner setting the price has incentive to choose a price such that they’re indifferent between buying and selling at that price.  That is, they’d be equally happy either way.  Economists and decision scientists call this the “point of indifference”.  (To see why this is, think back to the child dividing the cake.  He has no incentive to cut the cake so that one piece is larger than the other.  So the child does his best to divide it in such a way so that he is indifferent between the portions.)

However, the co-owner who goes second in the negotiation, and chooses whether to buy or sell at a set price, will likely not be indifferent between the two options she faces.  This is in part because that co-owner may have different information on the value of the land and in part because they have different values and life-circumstances.  The second person will choose the option that they like best.  They will be happier with the option they select than the alternative that they did not choose.

It seems better to choose an option that makes you happier rather than be left with an alternative about which you are merely indifferent.  So it seems better to go second rather than first.


What I Like About Shotgun Negotiation

I’m almost always in favor of swift negotiation that ends with a definite resolution.  Don’t drag it out forever.  Get in; get out; get it done; that’s how I generally like to sell real estate.  And that’s what I like about the shotgun idea.  It’s fast and it gets the job done in one shot.

I find that protracted negotiation among real estate co-owners runs the risk of creating ill will that spills over into the seller’s personal life.  It’s usually just not worth it.  For example, co-owners getting a divorce might have to co-parent after their negotiation on real estate.  Co-owners who work together might still be employed by the same firm and have to work together afterward.  Co-owners who are family members might still see each other on holidays.  Do you really want to risk bad persistent feelings over a lot of negative back and forth negotiation?

Remember, the conflict over your land is just about dirt and money.  There are more important things in life!   So when it comes to the negotiation over your land, just get ‘er done.


Advice to Sellers

I am not an attorney.  In this blog I don’t pretend to give legal advice.  Rather, I offer some ideas that you might discuss with your legal and financial advisors.

If you own land with one or more co-owners and can’t work out a conflict, you might consider the shotgun approach to breaking the impasse.  You could have a written agreement with an actual “shotgun clause”.  However, even if you have no written agreement with your co-owners and you’re handling the whole thing informally, if you reach a roadblock in negotiation you could just sit down at the kitchen table and do a shotgun negotiation right then and there over milk and cookies (or, in my house, tofu and broccoli with cashews).


Advice to Buyers: 

If you are buying land with one or more co-owners, now is the time to start thinking about what will happen when you go to sell the land later.  Ideally you will make decisions by consensus.  However, you should consider now what will happen if you and your co-owners can’t agree at some point in the future on whether to sell, or what price to sell at, etc.

You might have an attorney draft an agreement between you and your co-owners now.  That agreement might include a shotgun clause that either party could invoke in the event of an impasse in negotiation regarding some future decision to sell the land.


Advice to Agents:

Have you ever had someone call you expressing interest in selling their real estate but their co-owners didn’t want to go along with the sale?  You might suggest that they consider a shotgun approach to resolving their differences.  Perhaps one co-owner could buy out the other co-owners.  The shotgun is one way to accomplish that.  Then the remaining owner(s) can decide whether or not to sell!

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Are Prices On Land Increasing Yet? A Tale Of Three Cities

The most frequently asked question I get is this one:  “Are prices on vacant land going up yet?”

Today, I will give you a glimpse of an answer to that question.  As you may know, Land22 Real Estate sells land in all California counties.  We have offices in Redding, Sacramento and Palm Springs.  So just for fun let’s look at these three cities.  To keep the playing field level, let’s investigate the same type of land – small lots less than one acre – in all of these cities.

For each city, and for each year 2006 to 2012, I searched the most relevant MLS for that city for lots under one acre that had sold in that year.  When searching for lots in city of Redding I searched the Shasta County MLS.  For lots in the city of Sacramento, I searched the MetroList MLS.  For the city of Palm Springs, I searched the Desert Area MLS.  I calculated the median average selling price for each year.  I also noted the number of lots that sold that year.

Here’s what I found for the three cities:


City of Redding
Year  Median Selling Price  Number Sold
2006 $135,500 40
2007 $125,900 43
2008 $57,500 17
2009 $114,500 10
2010 $43,500 19
2011 $40,000 10
2012 $35,000 16

From the table above you can see that small lots in Redding are selling for about one-third of what they used to sell for back in 2006 ($35,000 vs. $135,000).  And even though selling prices are lower, far fewer lots are actually changing hands (16 vs. 40).   Behind the scenes it may be that land sellers in Redding are sitting on the sidelines waiting for the economy to improve before putting their parcels on the market so fewer lots are available to be sold.  Clearly, we can see that in 2012 many land buyers sat on the sidelines. This could be because buyers are purchasing existing homes, rather than buying land to build new ones, because homes are priced favorably due to the economic recession.

So when you ask “Are land price going up yet?” my answer is:  No, prices on lots under 1 acre are not heading upward yet in Redding.



City of Sacramento
Year  Median Selling Price  Number Sold
2006 $135,000 121
2007 $111,000 66
2008 $192,000 10
2009 $34,750 32
2010 $35,000 33
2011 $26,500 36
2012 $28,950 62

Like Redding, median average selling prices on lots in the city of Sacramento also decreased between 2006 and 2012 (from $135,000 down to $28,950).  There appears to be a very slight uptick in prices between 2011 and 2012 (from $26,500 to $28,950) but this increase is so small it is barely noticeable.  There is a more substantial increase in the number of lots sold in the last year (from 36 to 62).  I wonder if this means prices have at least bottomed out in Sacramento.  But don’t get too excited:  $28,950 is still nowhere near the pre-recession price levels of $111,000 to $192,000 that we saw a few years ago in Sacramento.

I conclude:  Prices on lots under 1 acre lots in Sacramento have not increased markedly yet, although it appears that they may soon.


Palm Springs:

City of Palm Springs
Year  Median Selling Price  Number Sold
2006 $165,000 64
2007 $370,000 21
2008 $90,000 18
2009 $152,950 11
2010 $85,000 14
2011 $110,000 20
2012 $170,000 32

As you know, Palm Springs is known as a vacation and resort area.  But real people live in Palm Springs too.  Perhaps reflecting the mix of housing and lifestyles, selling prices on land in Palm Springs are all over the place and there is no clear trend on price.  The only clear trend is that the number of lots sold dropped dramatically from 64 annually to about half that during the recession.  Prices today are also substantially less than they were in the peak of 2007 ($370,000).  It appears that prices may be climbing recently from 2010 ($85,000) to 2011 ($110,000) to 2012 ($170,000).

I expect prices on lots under 1 acre in Palm Springs to increase in the next few years.


Caveats and Limitations

1)      In this blog post, I looked at only three cities and only lots less than 1 acre.  Prices and trends in every California city and county and every size of parcel are different.  It would be a mistake to generalize from three cities to their respective counties or the whole state.  If you’re interested in selling your California land, contact me and I will investigate prices for your specific parcel.

2)      Although all parcels discussed here are similar in size (0-1 acre), I averaged across all types zoning (commercial, residential etc.), all types of road access (paved, unpaved, none), all permutations of utilities (electricity + water, electricity only, no utilities, etc.) and every other land descriptor.

3)      I obtained data from MLS systems.  The MLS includes only parcels sold by Realtors and does not include parcels that sold in other ways.

Obviously the purpose of this blog post is to give you just a glimpse into patterns in land prices over time, not the full picture!


Advice to Sellers

After the question “are land prices going up yet?” the second most often asked question I get from sellers is “does this mean I can get substantially more for my land now compared to when I asked you about it a year ago?”  My answer is:  um, probably not, but it depends on what part of California you are in and many other factors.

Remember, even if you read in the newspaper that the economy is improving, and even if you see in the data a slight increase in average selling price, it is likely that there are still many parcels on the market that your parcel will be competing with that have not sold, due to the economic recession.  The price data shown here is for sold parcels.  However, you’re land is not in competition with those – after all, they’re off the market!  You’re in competition with many fine parcels available for sale so you need to price your land favorably compared to parcels that have not sold.

The economy is like a big slow moving ocean liner.   Even if you turn the wheel out there in the middle of the ocean it takes a R-E-A-L-L-Y   L-O-N-G   T-I-M-E for it to actually turn around.  It may be 3-5 years before you see a noticeable increase in the price you can get for your land even if you see reports on the television that the economy is improving today.

Some good news though:  Based on casual observation, not data, I have noticed that: 1) Phone calls and e-mails to my firm are on the upswing, 2) Hits on my website are increasing, and 3) Some of our firms more attractive listings are selling a little faster, sometimes with multiple offers.  This is partly a reflection of the slightly improved economy.


Advice to Buyers

If you’re thinking about investing in land, or buying land to build your primary residence or vacation home, you’d better get on it!  This is because prices may be going up in the next few years.  Sellers will be hearing news about the economy improving and getting a little firmer in their negotiation as time goes on.  The price you pay will be a function of seller psychology and consumer confidence and not so much a function of data.  My advice is to buy now.  Don’t dilly dally.


Advice to Agents

Buyers and sellers benefit from seeing not only “comps” but also trend data.  You might consider showing your buyers or sellers price trend data similar to the data in this blog post.  If the trend data you show them is specific to the type of parcel they want to buy or sell, all the better.  Buyers will be impressed by seeing just what a great time it is to buy compared to a few years ago.  Sellers will gain insight from seeing just how much prices on parcels like theirs have declined as a result of the recession.  They will benefit from understanding that prices on land have not, in fact, increased in most parts of California, contrary to what they may have heard.


So what is the answer to “Are land prices going up yet?”  My answer is this: “It depends on the area.  In general, prices have not increased noticeably yet.  However, prices may have bottomed out and they are likely to increase in the coming years!”

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Stand Out On Price: Omit The Negotiation Cushion

When pricing your land for sale most sellers think they need to decide on two prices: a listing price and a selling price.  The listing price is the one they present to the world.  The selling price is the one they have in the back of their mind as the price they would actually sell at.  The difference between these two prices is what I refer to as the “negotiation cushion”.

For example, if a seller is willing to sell at $80,000 he might price his land at something like $99,000 to allow $19,000 for negotiation.

Today I want to explain why this may be:

A bad idea.

Old school.

So 2007.

Here’s a quick summary on why:  We’re in an economic recession; other sellers are doing the same thing; it’s a big mistake to blend in with the crowd on pricing; to induce a rare buyer to submit an offer you need to list your parcel at a price that gives the illusion of being favorable compared to other parcels; one way to do that is to eliminate the “negotiation cushion”.

Having a cushion to allow room for negotiation made sense back when the economy was good and offers came in easily.  In a good economy you want to set yourself up to be in the best negotiation position when you receive an offer.  However, in the current bad economy when only a fraction of land listings actually receive offers because the ratio of sellers to buyers is so high, it makes more sense to focus on pricing your parcel to actually attract an offer.

So if there’s no cushion for negotiation, what should a seller do when a buyer submits an offer that is lower than their list price (i.e., lower than the price they’re willing to sell at)?  The answer is: now that you have the offer in hand you just hold firm on your price.  Give the buyer a written signed counteroffer at the asking price or extremely close to it.

Here are two examples to illustrate my point:

Example 1:  Seller Kumar

Consider seller Kumar.  He owns 5 acres north of San Francisco California.  There are 10 competing parcels on the market between 3 and 7 acres that are available for sale within 2 miles of his parcel so seller Kumar has a lot of competition.  These other parcels are similar to his and priced between $50,000 and $60,000.  Kumar is willing to sell his land for $45,000.  The question for seller Kumar is:  what price should he list his land at?

Suppose he took the traditional approach, added in a cushion, and priced it at $60,000 to allow room for negotiation.  This way if he receives an offer at, say $40,000, he could give the buyer a counteroffer at $45,000 firm.

The problem with this dated strategy is that if Kumar prices his land at $60,000 he is highly unlikely to receive any offers at all.  This is because $60,000 is at the top of the prices of competing parcels.

Now suppose that Kumar chose the strategy that I’m proposing.  Suppose he entirely eliminated the “negotiation cushion” and priced it at $45,000.  This list price is below all other similar parcels.  At $45,000, Kumar is likely to receive an offer.  That offer may be at $45,000 or it may be under $45,000.  It doesn’t matter what the offer is because Kumar’s goal is just to receive an offer, any offer.  (Remember, an offer is just paper, he hasn’t accepted it yet!)  Now that seller Kumar has an offer in his hands he is “in the cat bird’s seat” and can respond how he wishes.  For example, if the offer is below his asking price, Kumar can counter back at full price $45,000.  If the buyer accepts his counter, that’s great!  Kumar has finished his negotiation and achieved his goal of selling at his acceptable price of $45,000.  If the buyer does not accept his counter, Kumar’s land is still on the market at $45,000 and remains favorably priced so he is in a good position to attract the next buyer who comes along.

Example 2:  Seller Althea

Here is another example to illustrate my point.  Seller Althea owns one of three similar parcels in a commercial area.  The other two commercial parcels are owned by competing seller Beatrice and competing seller Candice.  Statistically, on average, one commercial parcel sells in this area annually.  How can seller Althea price her parcel to be the one parcel that is likely to sell this year?

Competitor Beatrice is willing to sell her parcel for $170,000.  She has her parcel listed at $200,000 to allow $30,000 for negotiation.

Competitor Candice is willing to sell her parcel for $170,000.  Her parcel is listed at $198,000 to allow $28,000 for negotiation.

Seller Althea is also willing to sell her parcel for $170,000.  However, she lists her parcel at $170,000 to allow $0 for negotiation.

Which seller do you think will attract the one lonely buyer that may come along in the next year?  You got it:  seller Althea!  What is that buyer’s offer likely to be?  It doesn’t matter.  If it’s less than $170,000, seller Althea will counter it at $170,000.  At least she snagged the offer while her competitors sat on the sidelines and watched with envy.

Remember the goal of this strategy is to appear to be priced at an attractive level in comparison with competing parcels and GET AN OFFER.  Nevertheless, I find that sellers have various fears about eliminating the negotiation cushion.  Let’s address these fears:

Fear of leaving money on the table

Sellers may be concerned that by listing their parcel exactly at the price they’re actually willing to sell it for they eliminate the possibility that they might sell it for even more.  For example, a seller with this fear might point out in the first example above that if seller Kumar lists his parcel at $45,000 he eliminates the chance of getting an offer at, say, $48,000.

This is a good point.  Kumar is seriously reducing the chance of getting $48,000.  However what Kumar is gaining, in return, is a dramatic increase in the probability of actually selling at his reserve price of $45,000 as opposed to not selling at all and getting $0.

A caveat though:  While in most cases sellers will not receive an offer over their list price, five of the 64 land parcels that I have sold in 2012 have had multiple offers, a bidding war ensued, and they did sell for over the asking price.  As two examples, this Lake County parcel priced at $124,000 sold for $128,000 and this Monterey Hills lot priced at $24,000 sold for $30,000.  So it does happen that parcels sell for more than their list price.

Fear of low ball offers

Sellers often comment that they want to add a negotiation cushion, artificially raising the price, because they don’t want to receive what they consider to be “low ball” offers.  Essentially they’re adding this cushion in an effort to trick buyers into submitting an offer that is closer to the price that they’re actually willing to accept.  These sellers have a strong psychological aversion to low offers and may even be personally offended by them.

My attitude is that all offers are good offers because they are simply invitations to negotiate, not the final selling price.  Buyers do not mean their offers to be criticisms of you or your land.  Set aside your emotions.  Just tell your agent to thank the buyer for their offer, whatever it is, and give the buyer a polite written signed counteroffer at, or very close to, your asking price.  If the buyer declines, just go back to sipping your latte without missing a beat.

Fear of standing firm on price 

My proposed strategy of eliminating the negotiating cushion only makes sense as step 1 if you’re also planning to implement step 2 of the strategy which is to stand reasonably firm on your list price after receiving an offer.  Sometimes sellers worry about buyer’s expectations and have this vague sense that they somehow “must” negotiate and come down substantially after receiving an offer because dickering is customary.  They feel they need to “play ball” with buyers.  Some don’t want to offend the buyer by standing firm.  Sometimes sellers worry that their own agent will insist that they lower their price during negotiation and they don’t want to argue with their agent.  Sometimes land sellers fear that the buyer will walk if they remain firm.

To sellers I will quote Dr. Phil:  “You wouldn’t worry so much about what other people thought about you if you knew how seldom they did.”  Don’t fret so much about everyone else!  If, after receiving an offer that is lower than your asking price, standing firm seems to be in your best interest then do that. If, upon reflection, you feel that negotiation is in your best interest then do that.  Do whatever is best for you at the time.

Advice to Sellers:

Consider eliminating that negotiation cushion in order to get your listing price down to a level where you can attract one of those rare offers.  Listen to your Realtor’s advice but make your own decisions.  And never let a buyer push you around.

Advice to Buyers:

Offer whatever you want on that vacant land parcel.  However, if a parcel is well-priced to begin with, consider the possibility that a seller might counter at, or close to, full price.

Advice to Agents:

When there are many competing parcels on the market, encourage your sellers to consider eliminating the “negotiation cushion” in the list price.  Explain that only a fraction of land listings actually sell in this economy and the purpose is to help attract a rare offer.  Let them know that they may still receive offers less than full price, but reassure them that how they respond to such offers is their decision (not yours).  They always have the option of giving the buyer a counteroffer at, or very close to, full price.  It’s their choice.  Explain that if they don’t eliminate the negotiation cushion they may never receive an offer to negotiate at all in this terrible economy.  That’s why it’s important!


Have you had any experiences negotiating with or without a “negotiation cushion”?  Send me a comment!

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