Today I’m talking with Michael Leigeber, the Founder of LandSearch.com.
I first heard about LandSearch a few years ago when a member of their team reached out to me. Even back then, when I first saw the site, I thought it was pretty cool. Over the years, the platform has only continued to improve.
LandSearch is easy and intuitive to use, it’s designed much better than the other big-name land-listing platforms out there, and they've added some very nice functionality to the site that no other land-listing marketplace has thought of. I’ve even found some deals on this site before!
In this conversation, Michael will help us understand what this site is about, who it's for, and the unique value it brings to the market for land investors.
Links and Resources
- [VIDEO] Sell Properties Faster With AI: How to Use Chat GPT for Real Estate Listings
- 8 Land Investing Myths Debunked
- PRYCD Review: Is This the Best Way to Value and Price Land?
- SOLD! How to Write Real Estate Ads That Sell Properties Fast
- Uncover the details of LandSearch.com, the revolutionary online land marketplace, and how it changes the land investing game.
- Get a glimpse of the meticulous process of reviewing and approving authentic FBSO listings on LandSearch.com.
- Gain insights on best practices for land selling: pricing, location selection, and picture-perfect photography tips.
- Explore the unprecedented ways the pandemic has impacted the real estate market, particularly the spike of interest in rural land.
- Navigate the challenges of identifying and preventing fraud by verifying ownership in the land market.
Editor's note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Seth: Hey, everybody, how's it going? This is Seth Williams and you're listening to the REtipster podcast.
Today I'm talking with Michael Leigeber, the founder of LandSearch.com. So I first heard about LandSearch.com a few years back when a member of their team reached out to me. And even back then when I first checked out their site, I was like, wow, this is pretty cool. And I had used it a handful of times over the years, and I just kind of remembered the site in the back of my mind. And I figured, because it was so easy and intuitive to use and, in my opinion, designed much better than a lot of the other big name land listing platforms out there.
And I've actually found some deals on the site before I figured we should talk with these guys and figure out how does the site work, what does it bring to the table, how is it different from other land buying and selling platforms out there. And Michael is going to help us understand what this site is all about, who it is and isn't for, and what kind of unique value it brings to the market that may be of interest to all the land investors out there.
So, Michael, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Michael: Thanks for having me. I'm doing great, thanks.
Seth: So maybe you can just start by telling us the story behind the creation of LandSearch.com, like, what inspired you to start an online marketplace specifically for vacant land properties. What's your story behind that?
Michael: Sure, yeah. Well, my background is kind of a wide range of tech and marketing roles, and I co-founded a digital marketing agency just outside of Nashville. And we did a lot of work just in the outdoor space generally, but one of our bigger clients was one of the country's largest recreational land brokerages.
And from that experience of helping them grow their digital marketing and seeing what works for them from a brokerage side, and then the interaction with them too, at that time is kind of an independent LandWatch and CoStar sites. I just got a sense of some opportunities and it felt like land marketplaces were quite a bit behind residential marketplaces, and residential marketplaces still had a lot of room to grow. So I just felt like we could do something better, so I left my agency a number of years ago to focus exclusively on LandSearch.com.
Seth: What year was this when LandSearch.com became a thing?
Michael: We launched in March of 2020, and it took us a little while to kind of get the platform built and ready to go, obviously before that happened. But, yeah, we launched right at kind of D-Day for COVID and all of that fun stuff.
Seth: Yeah. And just looking at the site currently and how well it's designed and how well it's laid out, it seems, from what I know of developing websites, this has taken a ton of work to create what you have so far. Is that accurate? Do you have a big team and stuff? It just seems like a big undertaking to make something that's made this well.
Michael: It is a huge undertaking. We've done everything in-house. We're trying to kind of do it right. And because we're a small, lean team, we're able to try things out and explore opportunities for the user experience and how we kind of present data. And obviously trying to do that in a way that is relevant to land buyers and showing them some different things that you wouldn't see on kind of a typical residential marketplace.
Seth: To the listeners out there, if you haven't been to LandSearch.com, I mean, if you're at all familiar with Zillow or just the way that these websites have kind of been designed to work over the years, it's a pretty familiar looking feel. It’s a very simple design, it's a simple layout. There's not a whole lot of opportunities to get lost or confused. So I definitely encourage you to check it out if you haven't been there already.
And looking at this from the standpoint of a land flipper, which is not necessarily the same as just any general land investor out there, usually we're looking for super-cheap, discounted deals on the buy side. And then when we sell it, we're basically looking for something like LandSearch.com, like a really well-made website that has a decent-sized audience that can get it some eyeballs to look at the thing.
And it makes me think, when you put together a website like this, how do you decide who to prioritize? I mean, obviously the answer is both buyers and sellers. But if you're up against the wall and you have to decide the buyer is more important or the seller is more important? How do you ultimately decide, who are we trying to prioritize here?
Michael: Yeah, that's kind of one of those typical problems in a marketplace is the chicken or the egg problem. They call it supply and demand. And for us, we felt like to be competitive in the market in general, we definitely had to have a significant supply. People don't go and shop at mom-and-pop websites as much as they do Amazon. There's a lot of stuff on Amazon that you don't want to buy, but you go to Amazon because it's all there and you want to be able to see everything.
And obviously with land, there's so much inventory, it’s just kind of all over the place, rom land sellers and investors, obviously that's your audience. But then a lot of off MLS, commercial and agricultural, a lot of low-dollar residential might not be on MLS.
So we definitely have worked hard to build up that supply because we feel strongly that if you build up enough supply and a big enough audience, then obviously the two pieces kind of come together. But without that supply there's just not enough audience interest to keep generating more supply. So they have to come together at the same time and I think we've kind of gotten there.
Seth: Would you say it's the sellers then? Is that sort of who matters more? Because without the sellers there are no deals.
Michael: Yeah, the seller is definitely where we start. Without the sellers, without the supply, there's not going to be any demand. Definitely. Day one we launched our marketplace with hundreds of thousands of listings and zero visitors. But that was what was required to grow that user base.
Seth: And where do these listings come from? Does it come from the MLS or is it from private owners who manually get on there and just post it on your website? Or where are all the places they come from?
Michael: All the above. So I think right now we work with well over 500 different MLSs through different aggregation or directly with the MLSs. We have direct feeds from land brokerages that maybe a lot of their inventory is not on the MLS. And then we have an increasing number of land investors that some of them have enough inventory where they built out an XML feed for us and others are just manually posting individual properties.
So there's other partnerships, integrations, I mean, just like I was mentioning, there's just so much inventory all over the place in land that we have to get creative on pulling that all together.
Seth: So if I’m hiring a real estate agent to list my vacant land properties and sell them, can I just assume it's going to show up on LandSearch.com or do I have to say, hey, do something to make sure it shows up there?
Michael: Yeah, so it kind of depends on what MLS you're working with one way or the other. Probably your broker has to opt-in all of our properties, we don't steal anything, scrape anything, it's all kind of opt-in inventory. So your broker may have to opt-in or you may have a checkbox in your MLS system directly where you can say syndicate to LandSearch.com. It just kind of depends. So you'd have to let us know what your MLS is and we could tell you what your options are.
Seth: So I guess that broker might have to pay something extra to get on LandSearch.com if it's not already there or I guess it just depends on who they are.
Michael: No. So we don't charge anything to syndicate your listings to us by default, unless we don't support your MLS, or there are fees to kind of get things set up, or you're in a really small MLS that we don't support and we just don't want to kind of have the burden of those fees when it's really just your inventory. But I would say, for 95% of agents if not more, we'll have an option for you to syndicate for free.
Seth: And if I'm just a small guy, just one person, land investor, and I have one property that I want to list on your website by myself, without an agent or anything like that, is that free or does that cost money? Or what does it take to make that happen?
Michael: Yes, free. So you certainly have the option to pay us for promotion, and we would appreciate that.
But one of the things that really differentiates us from the other land marketplaces in particular is that we do give you the option to post for free. We feel like it's super important from a buyer's perspective to have as much inventory in one place as possible. Our goal is to have the most inventory of any land marketplace, and we're pretty close to that. So letting people post for free, just kind of lowering that barrier to entry is an important part of our business model.
Seth: When I go to your website and I click on Sell Land in the navigation bar, it shows me a little pricing page. There's Standard, which is free, but it says limited visibility on all your properties. What does that mean? Can you explain that a little bit?
Michael: Yeah, sure. Basically taking promotion out of the mix for a minute, we look at the quality and completeness of listings, and that's based off of all kinds of different criteria. Anything that could be relevant for land. If you fill it out and fill it out well, that's going to give you an advantage in our marketplace if you pay for promotion.
Essentially, when you hit a location or a tag or a type or some kind of entry point into the website, we're going to be showing promoted listings first, give or take. We give them a huge advantage as far as what that ranking, that default ranking looks like. And that would extend to other places on the website outside of property search, our agent directory, homepage, email, marketing, social media.
Basically, when you're promoted, we're all in for you and trying to kind of squeeze as much visibility to relevant buyers. So if you're selling a $20,000 piece of land and somebody's looking for a $10-million ranch, we're not necessarily going to try to push that on that person. But all things equal, we try to get extra exposure on those promoted properties.
Seth: When you mentioned earlier, if you fill out your listing and fill it out well… what does it mean to fill it out well? Are you looking for a certain amount of text in the description or just fill in all the blanks or what does that mean?
Michael: Yeah, I mean, we definitely have some guidelines around listing description length. I won't kind of get into the details on that because I don't want anybody to game the system. But we look for enough data to be helpful. We expect every piece of information to be geared towards the listing and add kind of helpful context so we score them based off of the quality of the images. Is there a video? And that may be a rare thing for a lot of land investors to have super high-quality original photography. We see a lot of land sellers that are maybe just kind of taking screen grabs from Google Maps and embedding captions and we don't allow that kind of thing to begin with.
So land sellers have a harder time just because maybe they're not on site and they just don't have a lot of information. Or maybe it's a piece of land in the desert and there's only so much that you can say about that. But we do try to kind of filter out, no all-caps, it’s got to be properly written, grammatically correct, and then including the baseline stuff. We expect an accurate location, as much like partial numbers, that kind of thing. And then we have a lot of attributes that we capture where you can kind of describe what is the current land use and if there are utilities available, that kind of thing. So just anything that you know about the property, you should fill out because it does impact your score.
Seth: Yeah, it makes me think of… I’ve got a buying website that's designed specifically for motivated sellers to find my website and submit their property information to me so I can then make them a discounted offer. And seeing over the years the different kinds of submissions I get through that, where I ask very similar questions to what you would probably ask when people fill out a listing. You know, like where's the property, what is your name, just very basic stuff.
And people are just astoundingly unintelligent or something and they don't pay attention to what they're doing. They can't even spell their own names when they submit it to me or the whole all-caps thing, or just misspelling everything, or incomplete sentences. When I look at the very reasonable simple stuff you're asking for, including things like latitude and longitude and driving directions, I can just see a lot of people screwing this up. Even though it's not that hard, they still would.
So how do you manage that? Like just human incompetence where they can't follow simple instructions, but you still need to present a good product to your buyers out there.
Michael: We haven't solved it for sure, and I don't think we will, but we've got little helpful tool tips and stuff throughout the process and direct people to rules and guidelines along the way. Like, these are the things that we allow in descriptions. These are the kind of media that we allow. Some people take the time to read the rules and some people clearly don't.
I would say, of the manual submissions that we get, maybe half or more get rejected and we try to give them very helpful rejection feedback, like, “These are the things that you need to solve.” And one of the things that we require is we need to be able to verify ownership. We see a lot of fraud even happens on the MLS with real estate agents. And so that's part of our kind of trust and safety layer that we need to feel good about the inventory and platform.
So whether we can't verify ownership through the assessor's website or there's significant issues with your listing, we'll give you a bulleted list of feedback. And that's very time-consuming, obviously, for us to kind of manually review each new listing that comes through manually. But we do that and most of the feedback just does not get addressed.
So it's an unfortunate thing. There's a value exchange here. Obviously we're offering to market your property for free and we do expect some level of investment from your side. Just giving us a normalized clean listing that fits in our marketplace. You may try to drop in a listing description that has all this sales jargon and contact information and different payment methods, just things that we don't want. We want your information split out into their respective fields. So there's a consistent experience if somebody goes from an MLS listing to a land investor listing, they feel the same. It's the same experience for buyers and that's difficult for some sellers.
Seth: Now this whole thing you sort of touched on the fraud issues that are becoming more and more prevalent and verifying ownership. How do you verify? I mean, you just ask for their name. Couldn't they just figure out what the name is and put it in there and then change everything else?
And this is not your fault. This is just the very antiquated way that we transfer real estate these days. There are so many opportunities to lie and cheat and steal from people right now. I mean, it's got to be a huge challenge, right? Like, how do you make sure people are not scamming others on your website?
Michael: Yeah, for sure. And ultimately it's buyer-beware. I mean, we can't be in control of that entirely, but we look at a lot of different things as far as just who's completing the submission. We look at their IP address, their threats or block lists or anything associated with that user, where are they posting from, even the quality of the listing and different things can be red flags.
So we look at the assessor's website, we compare that to the person that's posting their actual contact information. If we can verify that on other websites, obviously, if it's a land investor, it might be a business or something that we're looking at, trying to look at the reputation of that business. Especially the first time that you're posting as a land seller. We're kind of really digging into you as a company. Do you have a good reputation or a bad reputation and just deciding are you a fit for the marketplace.
But yeah, so sometimes we require people to email us ownership information, so it might be a deed or something like that, that they have to send us a copy of. And usually we get pretty good compliance with that on For Sale By Owner listings. Sometimes with land sellers, they just don't want to take the time to verify things and the assessor, it takes some time to kind of get that up-to-date. Sometimes it might be a recent purchase and sometimes land sellers reach out to us where they have a marketing agreement. They haven't technically bought the property and we have to see the contract on that. So it's really a one-by-one type thing.
And even on the MLS we'll get messages from people saying, “Hey, my properties for sale in your marketplace, take them down or you're going to talk to my lawyer.” And it's an agent that's actually representing that. So we'll contact the agent and let them know and they're usually pretty helpful in that process. But sometimes there’s a little bit more gray area, like I'm going through a divorce and my spouse doesn't have the rights to sell that. So we can't get in the middle of that. We definitely try to connect them with the agent and say, hey, listen, it's not just us, these are other marketplaces that's on the MLS, you need to work with the agent. And sometimes they have tried that, but they've failed and are reaching out to us. So it's a very difficult thing, case by case.
Seth: Now, I'm curious, what are you doing that no other land listing websites are doing right now? How are you unique exactly?
Michael: So I would say, first and foremost, just the scale of our platform, the growth. We have over 3 million visits a month right now and growing. We've grown about 65% over the last twelve months. So we're on our way to be the most popular land marketplace. That is our goal, as I mentioned earlier, just aggregating a lot of inventory that maybe other marketplaces aren't as aggressive. To just try to get all of that in one place, our business model in that you can post for free. I don't know if that really exists in another major land marketplace, I don't believe. That's something that's very different for us.
And when you do reach out to us for promotion, we feel like our prices are very transparent and fair. And then just from a user experience perspective, I think we're doing some things better. You go to LandSearch.com and it's really a map-centric approach and we got a lot of unique features as far as how we're showing those on the map. As far as down to the parcel level, we've got a parcel inspector. You can kind of really do a lot of due diligence just in search results, toggle different layers. You can see public lands, water features, floodplains, a lot of different things that we're doing to just add value for that person. We don't know if they're looking for a commercial lot or residential lot or AG or whatever that might be, but trying to add as much value, add information as we can, and extract enough structured information about that listing.
So we describe ourselves as a land and specialty real estate marketplace. And the specialty real estate side, it's really like, what does somebody want out of a piece of property? What are their attributes that are important to them? So that could be they're looking for farmland. That's pretty straightforward. But what if they're looking for a hobby farm or a homestead or a cabin or a tiny home or mobile home, whatever those might be. We've got a lot of really popular tags and attributes and trying to kind of draw that out of a listing, where maybe that's just in the listing description. So we have to really look at the context of that listing and understand, is this a tiny home? Does this have a cabin on it? Because we don't always get accurate information from the MLS.
So I think all that just together, just creating an experience that's built around the land buyer and the land seller definitely differentiates us from a residential marketplace. And I think even amongst land marketplaces, hopefully we're doing some things a little bit different.
Seth: Yeah, for sure. I know every land investor out there is probably very familiar with the struggle of a lot of the tools out there were, understandably built for house investors, because there's way more of those than there are land investors.
So sometimes the things that land investors are most interested in just don't exist on the platform, or you kind of have to back into it or use different logic to figure out what you're trying to figure out. So whenever you see something like LandSearch.com, where there's a lot of features in there that are unique to land people and they're there and available, it's super refreshing just to see like, wow, somebody actually understands the things we need to know about.
So I guess when I think about things like Land.com or LandWatch or other well-known land selling platforms out there that cost money (and sometimes a lot of money to post anything there), it sounds like one of the big competitive advantages is that you don't necessarily pay money, but you can still get exposure through your platform, which has a lot of people looking at it.
I mean, 3 million is huge. And just looking at LandWatch on SimilarWeb.com (according to that, which isn't necessarily spot on), but it looks like they're getting about 4.1 million views per month, which isn't that much more than what you're doing. And I also don't know how much innovation there is going on there in terms of making more tools available. And expanding the market and that kind of thing. Whereas you seem very much in innovation mode as any new company should be, which is good and really refreshing.
Michael: I think that's right. We don't have a sales team right now, period. And I know if you kind of look at our competitor, their team is probably mostly salespeople. And we really believe in product-led growth and we didn't come out of the gate trying to kind of go by the same playbook as anybody else, whether it's CoStar or other land marketplaces. Yeah, we're just trying to be different and kind of innovate and we've got a ton of stuff planned over the next couple of years. Our ultimate goal is really to just make land ownership more accessible. And a big part of that is kind of where we've started, which is the land marketplace itself. But a lot of people just don't understand the process. And obviously podcasts like yours and others help people maybe understand just kind of some of how all this works.
But if you're coming to our site, one of the biggest questions that we see in Leads is just like, how does financing work? Can I get a loan on this? That type of thing. We want to help people connect the dots from the discovery to the purchase, whether financing or not, and then through to improvement. Are there some things that you need to do as far as grading or digging a well or doing different services that are really land-centric? Not the kind of thing that you'd see on Home Advisor necessarily, but we just want to kind of take somebody from that purchase to the point where they're going to build a home or whatever they're going to do with it.
We can kind of connect the dots, and that's really what we are. We're an unmanaged marketplace in that regard. We don't get involved in the transaction at all. Leads go directly to the sellers, but we want to connect the dots through that entire journey.
Seth: I know there's a lot of different land flippers out there who have legitimately good deals that they've found at deeply discounted prices, and now they're trying to sell it at a smaller discount. So not full market value, but more than what they paid when they bought it. And trying to find these deals all over the internet, it just feels impossible because some people post them on Craigslist and others on Facebook, and others on LandWatch, and others on LandSearch.com and others on Zillow, and others have a broker to do it all for them and it's just all over the place. And some people don't list them at all. They just have a cash buyer's list that they email every time they have a new deal coming to the market.
I dream of having one central place where I can be notified every day or every week: “Hey, Seth, here's all the new great land deals out there!” But it's basically impossible because it's all over the place. And even if I joined, every single email list of every single land flipper out there. Some people don't maintain those very well and don't really use them. So in a perfect world, I could create this system where I can just get notified of all the stuff that's relevant to me. Like, “I want to know about deals in this state, in these counties of this size, between this dollar amount with these features. Tell me about them when they appear.”
Does LandSearch.com have anything like that where I can get like constant notifications of stuff that fits a very specific criteria?
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. So you could say, go to our listing results page, we've got a draw tool. So if you've got a very kind of complex search criteria, maybe I'm just looking for a piece of property in the Rocky Mountains. And unlike some other websites where they don't let you zoom out really far and do things, we know that land buyers are often looking at a very large range of geographies. So you can draw a shape and then you can start applying criteria to that, no more than this price, at least this size, these attributes, no HOAs. There's different filters that are very land-specific and then create a search for that.
And you can be emailed immediately, daily, weekly. It's kind of up to you how frequently you want those, but we send tens of thousands of listing update emails every day. A lot of those are saved searches and definitely that's something that we're trying to solve for.
Seth: How are most people discovering your website right now? It seems like on the selling side, if you've already got as many listings as you do, it seems like a lot of people already know about you or MLS feeds are sort of already plugged in. Maybe there's opportunity out there for individual sellers to be more aware of, you know, manually visit your site and post their listings.
So then that makes you wonder about the buyers who are coming to your website to shop for properties. How are people finding you? Is it just Google search or what are the biggest funnels where people are like, oh, LandSearch.com, I didn't know about this, and then they get plugged in?
Michael: About two-thirds of our traffic is new each month, so we got a third of our traffic just kind of comes back and they're creating accounts and really engaging with the platform. But for those new visitors each month, 95% of our traffic is non-paid in some way. So the vast majority of that is organic search. We get tens of millions of impressions on Google each month, so that delivers a lot of traffic.
And then we do some paid marketing. But really the lifeblood of any marketplace is going to be those non-pay channels and we do some things with social and referrals and stuff like that too. But it's really mostly people going to Google and they've got a very specific thing that they're looking for, whether it's land in a location, a specific type of land in maybe an area. Or that really granular, like long-tail type thing where it's I'm looking for a tiny home with at least ten acres in Arizona. So we've really built a platform around trying to kind of match the intent of that searcher with a landing page that really gives them what they're looking for.
Seth: Is there any way that you make sure that the listings are fresh and current and well-maintained? Like, I can just think of some people who would list a property and it sells and they just forget to take the listing down on LandSearch.com. Like, do you just automatically remove stuff after 30 days or something? Or how do you stay on top of that?
Michael: Yeah, I mean, basically at the MLS level, everybody's required to have up-to-date information. That doesn't mean it's always the case. We list leases and auctions and sometimes auctions would have expired and a lot of times those don't come off. So we have rules around that, like is the auction so many days in the past, we'll remove it.
But just for-sale properties in the MLS, we process those every couple hours, so at most it's generally that fresh. For Sale By Owner properties or anything that's directly posted, we send you an email on some cadence, I don't know exactly, but basically you have to go in there and click a link and say, yes, this is still accurate. Otherwise it'll come off after a certain number of days. So that's definitely a problem with a For Sale By Owner listing up, they might forget that it's on there, but hopefully we're sending them enough leads.
And sometimes that's how it happens is like, hey, I just got a lead on this, but I sold it last week and that's how we'll find out. But yeah, we definitely try to stay on top of that.
Seth: On the whole quality control piece, I know there's wide variations in quality that you probably get, as we mentioned earlier, even just in terms of the pictures that end up getting uploaded, if any. So do you have a human reviewing every single listing that gets uploaded, or is it only the ones that come from For Sale By Owner listings? It just seems like a huge task to stay on top of that.
Michael: It is a huge task, yeah. So everything that's manually posted is reviewed and we build up a certain level of trust at the seller level where once they've posted enough properties, some things are kind of relaxed as far as just how deep we have to look at the property. We certainly don't have to verify ownership at a certain point, if we kind of get to that level of trust with the seller. But yeah, we have to look at everything individually down to every specific image and read the entire descriptions.
I mean, it is time-consuming to do it and there's a lot of feedback involved that a lot of times goes unaddressed, as I mentioned before. But it's just something that, hopefully, once we get through the process on the first listing or two with a seller, like a land investor, for instance, they kind of get the gist of what our expectations are and generally moving forward, they do a much better job of meeting our criteria.
Seth: What would make you say, “No, this is not going on our website?” Like if somebody doesn't upload a picture, or if the description isn't there, if it's written poorly, or how do you decide? Like, “This does not pass the sniff test. You're not doing this.”
Michael: So we do require a description and it has to be a certain length or you cannot post it. You can post without pictures, but your quality score is basically going to be zero. I mean, it's just kind of a non-starter for us.
And then other things as far as just if you're not filling out parcel information or you don't select any attributes or there's just nothing else value-add in the listing, your score is going to probably be exactly zero. So when somebody goes to without sorting by price or anything, that's going to kind of override the default sorting on LandSearch.com, somebody's going to have to go to the last page to find your property.
So we do allow it. Sometimes photography is tough for land sellers and like I mentioned earlier, we don't allow screen grabs from different applications and tools and different things like that. If you have very flashy graphics with sales jargon and contact information, we don't allow any of that. So by the time that we tell you, you can't use these four images, that might have been the only four that you uploaded, so you're left with nothing. So at that point, take it or leave it. If you want to post without an image, we'll allow it, but it's certainly not going to get a lot of exposure.
Seth: Like if I've got a Google Earth screenshot with a little box over the parcel that I'm selling, is that okay? Or what kind of screen grabs are not acceptable?
Michael: So those are copyrighted assets. Google states very clearly that you're not allowed to use those. You can make an argument against fair use on those. So I wouldn't say that we are overly zealous when it comes to policing that, but we definitely don't allow the UI of the tool to be included. We don't want to confuse people that, oh, here's like a zoom button, or here's this panel, I can click on this in the image and it's confusing.
So we expect just really bare photography. You can definitely do like aerial shots and kind of show some context of some labels, but we don't allow somebody to embed like captions or sales stuff for watermarks or any of that kind of stuff. We expect it to be really geared around being helpful to the user, not trying to be promotional, and it needs to feel high quality. We score listings better with higher quality. We don't just look at other images, we look at what's the resolution is. Is there a dense concentration of a certain color that might indicate that it's like some kind of graphic instead of an actual photograph?
So we don't allow stock images. For instance, a lot of land sellers will try to upload, “Here's a park 30 minutes away,” or that kind of thing. We don't want your description or your images to represent anything other than the listing at hand. A lot of times the description will come in and it's just talking about the area and we want you to talk about the property. So it's definitely difficult sometimes on some of the listings coming from land investors.
Seth: Have you thought of any interesting ways to use AI in this process to make it easier to provide property descriptions or anything like that?
Michael: We have, we've explored taking the attributes outside of the description and letting ChatGPT generate those. And we've played around with it and it's interesting.
One of the things that we don't allow is redundancy from the description as far as just listing out, like here's the partial number, we've got a field for that, you need to put that there. But ChatGPT has done some interesting things as far as it will take those attributes and write it in a very natural way that does require a lot of investment in the other attributes. You have to have something to pull from. So we need to know that it's in the desert and that maybe it's got utilities or a septic system installed, some different things worth describing. Otherwise, there's not much for ChatGPT to go off of, but we are exploring that and probably in the future we'll have a auto-write description button, and hopefully it'll be used more as a starting point than this is just I'm going to let it generate and move on.
Seth: For anybody out there who is interested in how you can possibly use ChatGPT for this kind of thing. I've got a video I put together a few months back showing people how to create property listing and descriptions and headlines and all this stuff based on some basic information about the property that you can feed it, and then you can really explain to your heart's content what you want out of it. And it will give you a pretty good property description and it's not going to do this on its own. It needs some kind of prompting and it needs to understand what you want. But as long as you can do that, it's pretty cool.
So I'll include a link to that video in the show notes for this episode, retipster.com/165.
One thing I was noticing as I was going through the process of trying to post a property listing on LandSearch.com was it looks like you can list it as a For Sale, a For Lease, or a For Auction, which I thought was pretty interesting. So how does that work? It seems pretty straightforward if you're just listing it for sale. But if you're trying to do an auction, does that mean is it like eBay where the winning bid has to pay you through LandSearch.com? What happens to the deal after the winner wins it?
Michael: Yeah, good question. So we don't actually facilitate the auctions. So basically you have an option there for a bid URL. You're probably going to be using some third party if it's an online auction. If a real life auction, then you can put the address, the location, and time when that auction will occur.
Seth: Okay. And then if somebody wants to list their property for lease on your website, it's probably the same idea, right, where they're just listing it for sale, but it's just the intent is to not actually sell the property, but just to lease it out for a period of time?
Michael: Exactly, yeah, we don't facilitate any of that. But let's say if you have a hunting lease, you can say, “I want this amount per month, it's for this use, for this duration minimum, that type of thing.” So you can set up all the terms and conditions for the lease.
Seth: One thing I've noticed on different land selling websites that I know has kind of frustrated certain individuals is they'll try to list a property with owner financing and the terms of that deal will be one dollar down and then X number of dollars per month after that. And so the listing price for the property that they'll put on there is one dollar. So it shows up near the top of the list if people are sorting it from cheapest to most expensive. It's kind of a way to just gain possibly unwarranted attention because of how you're making it look.
But can that happen on your site? Or do people, since humans are reviewing this stuff, would they catch that and not allow that?
Michael: Yeah, I definitely wouldn't allow that. We expect the cash price, if you will, to be the listing price now in the description. You may have a higher price if owner financing is involved, and that's totally fine. But that's kind of the exception to the rule of us not allowing prices in the description at all. Yeah, we catch anything like that, we expect the price to reflect the actual purchase out the door as far as the cost of land is concerned.
Seth: I'm assuming seller financing is a somewhat common thing that you see, right? Is there like a box you can check to say this is with seller financing? Or could potential buyers sort properties by only the ones that offer owner financing or anything like that?
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. It's one of our tags and it's definitely one of our more popular tags. Those seller financing properties draw a lot of leads.
On that note, about 10% of our 340,000-odd listings are under $20,000, but around 20% of our leads go to that same set of inventory. So there's definitely a high demand for lower dollar properties. Half of our leads go to properties under $80,000 and that's where you see a lot of that owner financing. And it makes a lot of sense.
Definitely we don't get that information that comes through structured from MLSs. So we work really hard to kind of dig into the listing description and decide, is that actual owner financing? And if you think about that, there's a lot of different ways that somebody might say that it's owner financing and they'll use the same phrases in the context of we don't do this. So there's a lot that we have to take in to try to get those characterized correctly.
But when you're loading a property manually, absolutely, just a checkbox say, yes, owner financing is available.
Seth: Do you have any success stories from buyers or sellers using LandSearch.com or any creative ways people have used the website, like the filtering criteria to, I don't know, almost like a “hack,” for lack of a better word, to find opportunities that others might miss or anything like that come to mind?
Michael: I wouldn't say that necessarily anybody is exploiting anything that we don't want to happen. This week we're actually rolling out a whole new set of attributes that really get more fine-tuned than what we have now that would include things around land use and improvements. So if there's a waterfall in the property, if there are stables, if there's a creek (creek is our number one search term; we already have riverfront and beachfront and waterfront, but we don't have anything about creek).
So I think that's just one of the advantages of LandSearch.com in general, is that we really try to pull out characteristics that are really big buying factors for somebody. So when you're posting your property, it has to be current land use. So a lot of people come in there and say tiny home, mobile home, house, cabin, cottage, or whatever it is. And it's like just because you could build those things on the property doesn't mean that's appropriate. So it has to be kind of current land use. But definitely maximizing those will get you a lot more exposure on LandSearch.com.
Seth: Just to make sure I understand the difference between tags versus keywords. So like for example, the word “creek,” that is not an available tag that I can see. That's just like a word that somebody happened to include in the property description, is that right?
Michael: No, that is a tag now, that's kind of one of our new attributes. But before, people would just have to search for that. But you might get cities that have the word creek in the name of the city. There's so many false positives in that. That's why you really want to have that structured data to make sure that is what you're looking for.
Seth: Yeah, because I'm just thinking through that because, I know I've tried this on Zillow before, searching nationwide for certain property types or keywords in the description and that kind of thing. And I might be searching for “creek,” but they use the word “brook” or “stream” in their listing, not “creek.”
Is that a similar thing to I guess when I look at the keyword search option on LandSearch.com, is that how it works? Like what it's pulling from there? Is it the description or something?
Michael: We kind of accumulate a lot of different attributes. It might be legal description, name of the city, parcel number, MLS number, a lot of different things kind of go into that index for keyword search and we'll correct things like typos and stuff like that. So we look for similarity on words.
But if it's just a synonym, that's the kind of thing where we really have to have a structured field because we can say a “brook” and a “stream” and we kind of normalize those things into the intent of what it is. And that's really hard to do with keywords. And like I was saying, with owner financing, if you went to Zillow and searched for owner financing, you'd get a bunch that just say “no seller financing available.” You know, we can kind of avoid that.
Seth: I don't know if you have anything off the top of your head, but are there any particularly interesting or unique pieces of land that have been sold on your platform?
Michael: Yeah, we've seen things like land with unused missile silos from the Cold War and a lot of interesting, kind of off-grid bunker style properties and tree houses and yeah, just all kinds of interesting things for sure.
Seth: That's cool, man.
You probably saw this a lot once 2020 hit, and it sounds like that was when you first opened up the doors to start operating. But in 2020 that was a big year with a lot of stuff that happened for the real estate market in general. And land is no different in terms of, all of a sudden rural vacant land became a lot more interesting to a lot more people who were trying to flee the cities and get out of there. And as a result, prices went way up and sales volume went up and all this stuff for vacant land, which it was something that we just had never seen before.
Have you noticed any ongoing changes in the types of customers using your platform since the pandemic or have things slowed down at all? Have you just seen anything, any big waves in general as a result of 2020 and the fallout from that?
Michael: Yeah, like I said earlier, we launched March of 2020, so we don't really have a great baseline of what was normal beforehand. When we launched the marketplace, we had, I think just over 400,000 listings. Once things kind of got crazy with the inventory crunch, we were down to maybe close to 250,000 listings. We're back up to around 340,000 listings.
There was definitely an inventory crunch there for a little while and prices on particular types of property just got really expensive. If you look at a Google Trends search line, you can see that the real peak of interest in land generally is past and a lot of those were tire-kickers. But obviously with the decrease in inventory, there were a lot of purchases happening too.
And I think it's just kind of combination of a number of things, not just the work from home. Pre-COVID, I saw a survey recently that said 5% of people kind of could work from home all the time. That number is 35% now. So that represents tens of millions of people. And you add on top of that new ways to connect utilities and internet. So solar has come a long way and then we have things like Starlink for internet and the government is pumping tens of billions of dollars into rural internet right now. So for most white collar work from home people, you have power and internet, you can do your job, more or less.
So all that's going to come together, that opens up a lot of opportunities to move outside the cities.
Seth: I'm curious, I don't know how much concrete data you have on this. Of all the people who do really well on LandSearch.com, in terms of selling, like they list their properties and sell them fast or sell a lot of volume, do you have an idea why they do so well? What are they doing to sell them quickly? Is it good photos, good descriptions? Probably all the above.
But I guess what I'm getting at is are there any obvious best practices we should all be employing when we use a website like yours?
Michael: Yeah, I think first and foremost price and location. Kind of the obvious things, be on the middle to lower end of what's reasonable and you'll probably sell your land quicker than the rest.
But as it relates to just the listing itself, like we were talking about earlier with the quality score, the media is just kind of key, and I would say photography even more than videography or anything else, but just being able to really present the listing really nicely. And if it's a big tract of land, the drone aerial photography does extremely well.
And we capture analytics around individual image views. And in our search results view, you can actually cycle through all the images. So our job is to really try to inform people as much as possible before they even click into the listing. Because chances are, after you kind of see the price, the location, you've cycled through a few images, you can either say, “Yes, I'm interested,” or “No, I'm definitely not.” And if you're not interested, we have a little hide option. So you could hide that listing and it'll never show up in your search results again, or you can favorite it and then get updates and notifications on it.
So media is probably the most important thing.
Seth: I wonder, is there ever a time at which you're providing too much information? I think of this is going to be a weird example, but back when me and my wife got married, we had a wedding photographer and she gave us literally every single picture she took. And it was up to us to pick out the ones we like best instead of her just kind of picking, “These are like the 10% of the best, like the cream of the crowd that I think you should go.” And it was almost like, overwhelming, like, whoa, this is just way too much to even think of. Like, just whittle it down for me.
And I think about a land listing where it's like if you get a photographer who takes hundreds of pictures, I mean, there's probably a limit to how many you can upload anyway. But whether it's that or how much information you put in the description, does it ever sort of sabotage your success as a seller if you give people too much information, should you kind of whittle it down to, I don't know, the most important few key things, or have any thoughts on that?
Michael: Yeah, that's a good question. I don't know if we've run into it where it's been just an egregious overuse of imagery. We actually don't limit that. So on some large ranches where you actually have or you might have multiple structures and thousands of acres, you might need a couple of hundred images to kind of get through that.
And what we've found is, more times than not, when somebody starts a gallery, they finish the gallery. So it doesn't really matter if you get ten or 100 images. When somebody starts, they're probably going to see everything. So that's keeping them engaged on your listing and maybe opening up some ideas and thoughts about how they would use land.
As far as the description goes, we do see that a lot. And a lot of that's the case where the agent tries to attach a lot of boilerplate about “Here's about me, here's about nearby areas, here's all these different things.” As long as you're kind of sticking to relevant, helpful information on the listing, I think it would be hard to probably put too much in there, but it could definitely happen.
Seth: Do you have any insight on when people list their vacant lots on LandSearch.com and the thing just doesn't sell or it takes a long, long time, like it sits there just for months and months and months.
Do you have any insight as to what went wrong? Like did they not use good pictures or any pictures or is there any common thread where it's like, here's why this person didn't do very well because they didn't fix this problem.
Michael: Yeah, I mean, sometimes it's something obvious like it's landlocked or there's some issue. We got a message one time—we have a report functionality on listings—and somebody reported that this property was a former nuclear waste recycling facility. So there may be something that's just keeping you away from that property.
But I'd say nine times out of ten, it's just unreasonable pricing. And especially now, as kind of we're coming back down to reality, people are having to kind of reevaluate pricing and some people are okay if their property sits on the market for years and years, and maybe the right buyer will come along; they're not in a hurry. And a lot of times, especially with MLS properties, lower dollar, there's just not a lot of financial incentive for the agent to get out there and hustle. So they may not spend a lot of time on the description. There may not be a description or any attributes or barely a photograph. So that's probably partly the fault of the agent in that scenario.
Seth: Does LandSearch.com have any tools available to help people understand the value of a piece of land? Kind of like Zillow's Zestimate? I mean, whether you think that's accurate or not. Or anything, even a creative way to use LandSearch.com to understand comps and the market and that kind of thing, is there anything available or anything in the works that would be available in the near future?
Michael: Yeah, obviously just using LandSearch.com's primary search, you can just get a sense of comps in your area.
We have a price tool, so it's just LandSearch.com price and that's a popular kind of SEO destination for us where we show you how much acreage and price per acre and average price and stuff by state. And you can kind of filter some things and look at a lot of times people are looking at it to see where can you buy the most acreage, where is land the cheapest. So that tool can also kind of give you a sense of from an average price per acre perspective in particular, what does that look like? And we're working on letting you get to drill in deeper than the state level. So that should be more helpful in the future.
Seth: Yeah, I would think if there's any way to go and narrow it down by county or something. Are you familiar with PRYCD at all? P-R-Y-C-D. Ever seen that website? It does a lot of this stuff for you, using data from First American, just kind of understanding market values and stuff on a county by county basis and like, sales volume and I don't know, there might be a way to take those kind of tools and mash it up with LandSearch.com.
Michael: That sounds great. And just in general, I'll say that we're wide open to feedback and suggestions. And like I was saying earlier, we want to be kind of that tool that makes land ownership more accessible. So understanding like is this an appropriate price to sell or buy? Definitely a part of that.
So we're not touching the Zestimate stuff yet because we don't want to alienate everybody because that is a polarizing metric. But it's definitely something that's interesting.
Seth: I mean, it's already somewhat controversial for Zillow, just dealing with houses, which are fairly easy to value, but with land, which is much harder to value, I'd almost think you'd be asking for all kinds of trouble if you tried to do that.
But on the same coin, because it's such a tricky thing, people are hungry for answers. So I don't know, there's got to be a way to find this happy medium where you're not promising people any values, but you're at least giving them some vague pointers that point in a general direction. But I'm glad it's not my problem to figure out because it's hard to figure that out.
So what's next for LandSearch.com? You kind of mentioned a little bit earlier some of your roadmap ideas. Any big goals for the next year or anything that you're planning to get done relatively soon or anything come to mind?
Michael: I would say we're still just kind of focused on building up our audience. We're a young brand, just a little over three years old, so we're all in on being number one from a traffic perspective. So we've got a lot of just SEO projects and different things in place to try to get there. We've got a very well-established incumbent, so it's going to take some work to get there, but that's our goal first and foremost. But then we want to kind of extend that journey into financing improvement and beyond.
Seth: Awesome. Well, Michael, thanks again for coming on the show. It's been awesome to meet you and talk to you and learn more about LandSearch.com. If people want to check it out, they just go to LandSearch.com, right?
Michael: That's right.
Seth: And I can vouch for it. It's very easy to use. I've found deals and bought properties through LandSearch.com before, so I know it works. It's legit. And yeah, I think it'll be really interesting to watch this website over the next several years and see where it goes.
Michael: Thanks, Seth. We appreciate you having us.
Seth: You bet. Thanks again. See ya.
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