When you put a home up for sale, it’s not difficult for prospective buyers to picture what they’ll do with it. They can easily imagine watching the sunset from the patio, their kids or grandkids using the backyard slide, transforming one of the bedrooms into a remote-work office.

But getting buyers to picture how they’ll use a plain parcel or plot of land is much more difficult. How difficult varies, depending on whether it’s an empty lot in a populated neighborhood or raw land in a bucolic area.

In either case, though, selling land successfully requires doing some prep work to figure out what the “highest and best” use of the land is and then getting potential buyers to see the potential.

How does selling land work?

The easiest plot of land to sell is one that already has a clearly defined purpose. A lot in a subdivision requires little imagination. If the neighborhood is already built up, buyers can clearly see what types of homes they could build for themselves. An empty commercial lot is similarly somewhat easier to sell when surrounded by examples of other businesses.

When selling raw land, though, guiding your buyer’s imagination and proving to them that their desired use is possible is the key to making the sale — and netting the most on it.

Preparing to sell

With raw land, you’ll want to find out the zoning for the area, and if possible have it up-zoned to a more valuable purpose.

For example: If you have a plot of land currently zoned for low-density residential housing near a university or downtown, try to get that land zoned for higher-density residential housing or mixed zoning. That may attract a developer looking to build a multi-unit building with commercial offices on the ground floor and apartments on the top.

Getting topographical surveys, estimates from utility companies, renderings and projected income calculations can all help your land sell for more. Show potential buyers what is possible and how they’ll recoup their costs.

If you’re willing to provide seller financing, determine the details before listing your property. Finding a local lender who will provide land loans and work with buyers for your specific property can also help you sell it faster.

Listing the property

Once you’ve figured out the highest and best use of your land, it’s time to list it in a way that attracts buyers. Where you list your land will depend on the potential use. If your land could become residential housing or commercial real estate, then contacting local real estate investment groups is likely to connect you with potential buyers. If your land is more suited to agricultural uses, contacting nearby farms to see if they’re looking to expand is a great start.

Working with a real estate agent experienced in the type of land you have can help you figure out where best to list your property. Just like with selling a home, you’ll want to demonstrate your land’s best features. If you have surveys, drawings, or income estimates, include them in the listing.

Closing the deal

If you’re working with a real estate agent they’ll negotiate on your behalf, but if you’re not, it’s a good idea to hire a real estate attorney to draw up and review the contracts.

How is selling land different than selling a home?

Selling land and selling a home both require you to own property, find a buyer, negotiate the sale and close on the transaction. But how each of those steps is executed can be very different.

While investors are becoming more common in residential real estate — real estate analytics firm CoreLogic reporting that investors bought a record high 28 percent of all single-family homes in the first quarter of 2022 — most homebuyers are still, well, humans looking for a home.

By contrast, people buying land are almost always investors of some sort. They don’t need artfully staged pictures of living rooms they can see themselves in, they need to see how their investment could perform. How and where you advertise to them is very different.

The due diligence period for buying land is also typically much longer. You can avoid some of this long process by preparing estimates and surveys in advance, but you can still expect to close much faster on a house than you can on a land sale.

Do you need a real estate agent to sell land?

You technically don’t need a real estate agent to sell any real estate, but you don’t get what you don’t pay for. Just like a real estate agent can help you sell your house by knowing how and where to best market it and negotiate offers, they can do the same to help you sell your land. Of course, you’ll want someone who specializes in empty lot or commercial sales.

A real estate agent can help you “understand the area’s future development plan and zoning, and [has] the capability to showcase the highest and best use and return on investment to the buyer,” says Karen Hatcher, CEO of Sovereign Realty and Management, a firm headquartered in Atlanta.

Tips for selling land

  1. Work on zoning: “It’s best to have the seller have the land rezoned. Up-zoned if needed to the highest and best use to maximize the price,” says Hatcher.
  2. Get surveys done: If you’re selling a large plot to become commercial property “get full topographical surveys done [to] eliminate the need for long waits and having to keep your property off the market while [buyers] determine feasibility,” says Kristen D. Conti, real estate broker and owner of Peacock Premier Properties in Englewood, Florida.
  3. Show ‘em the money: “Have a conservative financial pro-forma and optional development renderings completed so the developer can see the potential ROI,” says Hatcher.
  4. Prepare signage: “It may sound silly in this day and age but a fabulous large easy to read sign is extremely important, [with] visual aids and some important facts about the lot to draw the attention of buyers,” says Conti.
  5. List on specialized websites: Some sites are more geared to land than others. Loopnet.com, Landflip.com, LandandFarm.com, HomeandLand.com, LandofAmerica.com are among the favorites that Conti cites. “I’ll focus more on some than others depending on the property,” she adds.