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Land investing is a lot like any business in that, you won't be able to start one (or operate it properly) without covering some basic costs.
When some new investors get into the game, they quickly come to this realization and it hits them like a ton of bricks.
Understanding the costs of starting any business is one of those “common sense” things everyone should carefully analyze before getting started… but at the same time, if you've never actually run this kind of business before, it's hard to fully grasp what it will take to start doing deals and making money.
Here's the good news. Comparatively speaking, the cost of becoming a land investor is MUCH less than most other real estate investing businesses… but even though these expenses are far less than most opportunities, the costs still need to be dealt with. It would be shortsighted to put one penny into this venture without a clear understanding of what it takes to get the engine running.
In this blog post, I'd like to give you a detailed rundown of what you should expect to pay for as you're getting into the land investing business. It's important to note that many of the things I mention here are helpful, but not essential. With this in mind, I've broken these into a few different categories…
- Category 1: The Essential – These are the costs that (in my opinion) you simply cannot avoid at the outset. You don't have a business if you don't pay for these things.
- Category 2: The Helpful – These are the items that (in my opinion) can be extremely helpful in this business. If you're determined enough to make it work on a shoestring budget (and you're willing to do a lot more heavy lifting than would otherwise be necessary), it is possible to survive without them. I wouldn't want to work without these things, but exceptions can be made if you have no other options.
- Category 3: The Eventual – These are the things that (in my opinion) are a great idea to invest in at some point, but you don't need them right away. These are great tools and resources for the long-term health of your business, but they aren't a prerequisite to making money.
What kinds of things must be paid for to start your business and make money?
I cannot see any alternative to paying for these products, services, and tools.
In the same way that human beings need air and water to live, land investors will need these things to start and continue operating their business.
To help add more clarity, I'll also include some of the corresponding costs I've paid for each of these things (keep in mind, you may be able to find a better deal somewhere… these numbers are just from my experience).
Without getting educated, there is simply no knowledge of what to do or how to do it.
Luckily, if you have no idea where to start, some growing resources on the internet can help you connect the dots without a massive financial investment.
If you've been following this blog for some time, you already know there is a TON of free information available on this website. If you're determined to scour this space and digest everything, it is enough for you to get started. Several people have done 5-figure and 6-figure deals simply by following the advice. While a paid course will be very helpful, don't feel like you NEED to do this to succeed… because with all the information out there today, if you have the will, and if you're okay spending a lot of time looking for the right answers, there's a way.
If you're looking for more of a tailored, step-by-step guide that cuts to the chase and gets to the heart of how to run a land investing business, it may also be in your best interests to simply pay for a course that will shorten the learning curve and help you get on the right path immediately.
I've been through all the courses on the market today, and I can verify that they all bring some important contributions to the table, and each has its strengths and weaknesses.
Regardless of which way you learn the basics – one thing is certain; some education is better than no education. I've seen people charge into this business (usually after hearing one podcast episode or reading one blog post), without a clear vision of what they're doing, and it usually doesn't end well for them. Don't underestimate the power of knowledge. It pays to get educated, and the information you put in your head can be the most valuable asset you'll ever own because it has the potential to help you create limitless wealth.
Cost: There are different pricing models for the courses available right now, just like variations in the quality and depth of the information presented.
- If you want to make a one-time payment for a course, the price range for most courses ranges from $1,500 to $2,500. Some courses will occasionally be priced lower, but that's usually because there is a plan to give you some of the information and then sell you more stuff after you buy the course… so be aware of this ploy when you see it a ‘huge discount' on the regular price of a course.
- If you want a group or one-on-one coaching (the most expensive option) instead of buying a course, the prices range from $6,500 to $50,000. Unfortunately, the price is not always the best indication of quality; I've learned this first-hand after paying for various coaches in my career. Pick a coach based on who you trust, not assuming that a more expensive plan will deliver the most value.
Keep in mind… all of these options are worthless if you don't implement what you learn. On the same coin, all these options are worth hundreds of times more than the cost if you put the knowledge into action.
Unless you want to print your home address on the thousands of mailers you'll be sending out to total strangers – I would strongly recommend renting yourself a private mailbox from a storefront shipping service like the UPS Store, Pakmail, or a P.O. Box at your local post office or even a digital mailbox service like Traveling Mailbox or Earth Class Mail.
While it's technically possible to get started without this, I consider it one of those “must” items (and if you ever get an angry seller who shows up at your address with no warning, you'll understand why). This is an important element of your business infrastructure, and in terms of privacy, safety, and organization, it will pay for itself many times over.
Cost: I pay $144 per year to rent a mailbox at a Pakmail location near me, and it works great. I've seen other prices ranging from $100 per year to $300 per year, depending on the area and the mailbox size (among other things).
You could also go with a “virtual mailbox” service like Traveling Mailbox (be sure to check out this review that shows exactly how it works). With services like these, you can get everything scanned to you electronically without ever leaving your computer. If I were starting over from scratch today, I would almost certainly use this method.
When you're starting from scratch, direct mail is a prerequisite to finding motivated sellers. Any other alternative requires WAY too much time, effort, and money on your part. In today's world, when you're starting with no pre-existing pipeline, there is simply no more efficient method of finding deals than to get sellers contacting you through direct mail.
Cost: The cost of direct mail can vary widely, depending on whether you choose to send out postcards or letters, along with the types of materials you use for your mail piece, the type of postage you decide on, and which direct mail service you decide to work with. At the cheapest end, I've seen prices as low as 0.46 cents per unit, and at the highest end, I've seen prices of up to $1.00 per unit… though most letter campaigns I've done have ranged in cost from 0.59 cents per unit to 0.80 cents per unit.
When you run the numbers on a site like Rocket Print or ITI Direct Mail – you can get a quick idea of what the cost will be with each service, based on what type of mailer options you choose and how many units you decide to send out.
When using a delinquent tax list, I usually have to send out at least 500 mailers to see any real results. When I'm using a more general list of landowners from a service like DataTree, I have to send out closer to 1,000 mailers to get a worthwhile close rate… so the type of list you're using can have a big effect on how much mail you'll have to send out. Just for some quick numbers, 1,000 postcards at 0.46 cents each would cost $460 and 1,000 letters at 0.80 cents each would be $800.
To start utilizing direct mail, an even more critical part of the equation is to obtain a list of motivated sellers – and there are different ideologies on how to do this.
Method 1: One option is to contact the county treasurer's office and request their delinquent tax list. This is the strategy I've followed for many years – and while this approach isn't without its challenges, it is an undeniably effective way to get in touch with many sellers who have a strong motivation to sell now and sell cheap.
Method 2: An easy alternative to the county's delinquent tax list is to work with a data service (like DataTree or PropStream). These services can provide lists tailored specifically for the types of properties you're looking to acquire in most markets around the U.S. In most cases, it's not possible to filter these property owners by their delinquent tax status. However, on the same coin – this will also allow you to reach a larger number of people who may still be motivated to sell, even though they aren't necessarily “tax delinquent.”
Cost: If you decide to pursue a delinquent tax list from a county, you can find prices all over the board (assuming the county will even comply with your request in the first place). Some counties charge per parcel, and others charge a flat price for their list.
I've usually paid between $100 – $300 for a good county list. Some will charge far more than this, but I would never pay more than $500 for any single list, simply to avoid putting too many eggs in one basket. If you're lucky, you may find some counties that will provide the list for less, and if you're really lucky, you may even find some counties that will provide it for free (I wouldn't plan on this, but it is possible).
Alternatively, if you're getting your list from a data service, there is a wide range of prices you can expect to pay.
When you've gone through all the motions listed above, it will eventually be time to buy your first property. Again, the acquisition cost will depend entirely on the property, and how much you're willing to invest upfront.
When I was getting started, my funds were very limited, so I went after as many tiny deals as I could find (properties I could buy for less than $1,000, and then re-sell for 3x – 4x that amount).
The first property I bought was $331 and within two weeks, I sold it for $1,900… if that gives you an idea.
Of course, if you decide to go after bigger fish, you can pay infinitely more for a property (if you have the funds to do it), and as your purchase price is around 10% – 30% of the property's true market value, you should be able to justify most deals.
Cost: For the typical, cheap lot (plus all closing costs), I've bought many properties for $500 or less. However, this number can increase much higher if you decide to pursue some of the more valuable properties in your market. Note: If your goal is to specifically target these cheaper properties and ignore the bigger ones (or vice versa), you'll probably find it easier to specify this in your list if you work with a data service instead of the county's delinquent tax list.
The cost of holding most vacant lots doesn't amount too much – but it can be expensive if the property is situated in a home owner's association or has an unusually high property tax bill.
Most of the properties I've owned have had an annual tax bill of less than $100 (unimproved land is usually quite cheap), but on occasion, the cost has been higher… so it's important to understand what your holding costs will be BEFORE you buy a vacant lot.
Cost: For the typical, cheap lot, with no unusual assessments or associations, it's rare that I see a tax bill in excess of a few hundred dollars per year (and in many cases, the cost is $100 or less). However, this can vary in different markets around the country.
Also, realize that you'll only have to pay this bill if you hold the property for a longer period (12+ months). If you buy a property and sell it within a few months, it's entirely possible you won't even have to pay the property taxes.
The cost of selling vacant land is usually nominal (if not free), but in some cases, additional costs can come into the picture before you finally get paid.
However, if you use a paid selling site like LandWatch or enlist a realtor's help, you'll have to pay a few more bills before you pay yourself.
Cost: If you're working with a real estate agent who specializes in land, most of them will charge a flat fee of $1,000 – $2,000, or anywhere from 6% – 10% of the property's sale price, which can take a sizeable bite out of your profit. Working with realtors for land isn't something I've done much of myself, but if you can find a good one, they can be worth their weight in gold (and worth their price).
If you use a title company or attorney for the closing, the costs will be higher (usually around $500 – $1,000, depending on the state and the closing agent), but also keep in mind – it is possible to structure your purchase agreement so that the BUYER pays all closing costs… so these costs don't necessarily have to come out of your pocket in every scenario.
If you don't use a realtor AND close the transaction yourself (which I only recommended on ultra-cheap deals), you can save a lot of money this way. However, there will still be some costs to cover in the closing process (like recording the deed at the county and/or paying property transfer taxes – which should be less than $50 for most cheap lots).
Keep in mind, if you do close in-house, you can always charge your buyer a “document preparation fee” to cover your incidental costs in the transaction, so you don't necessarily have to foot the bill.
These are the things I would certainly recommend paying for… but at the same time, I have to acknowledge that it is possible to survive without them (if you have absolutely no extra room in your startup budget):
Something I would strongly recommend (preferably, before you do your first direct mail campaign) is to get a solid, reliable, cloud-based phone system – not only because it will give you a separate business number (so you don't have to give out your personal phone number to the world), but it will also allow you to create a detailed, customized greeting, set up extensions for the different functions of your business. It will give you the ability to send and receive fax messages when needed.
I've used RingCentral for many years, and I've been pretty happy with their service.
Cost: Most paid, cloud-based phone systems range cost $25 to $35 per month, depending on what features you decide to use (e.g., toll-free and/or vanity numbers) and how many minutes you need to use each month.
It is possible to get a FREE phone number through Google Voice. However, this option doesn't allow pre-recorded voicemail greetings longer than 1 minute, it doesn't allow any faxing capabilities, and it doesn't allow any extensions. Nevertheless, if your primary goal is to get a separate phone number without paying a dime for it, it's probably the best alternative to a paid phone service.
A good website can be an extremely valuable asset for any real estate business.
This powerful online tool can build credibility and help answer questions around-the-clock for people who are researching you. It can act as a marketing tool that finds new motivated sellers on autopilot and gets your properties sold. It's also a great way to keep your “virtual business doors” open to the public 24/7.
At the same time, I must acknowledge that you don't NEED websites like these to buy and sell properties. I know of a few land investors who have been running their businesses for several years and still don't have one.
Granted… they probably work harder than they need to (because a good website can do a lot of heavy lifting behind the scenes). Still, if you are adamant about not spending money on a website, rest assured – it is possible to survive without one.
Cost: If you're looking for the cheapest possible website option, you can set up a WordPress website with a high-quality theme like Winning Agent Pro 2 ($99.95), hosted through Bluehost ($3.95/mo), and it will make your site looks very sharp and professional. However, if you have no experience with WordPress, building your own site like this isn't the most user-friendly option. You may also need to hire some outside help from a freelance site like Fiverr or Upwork to make your site look just right (which can run you an additional $100 – $200, depending on the work you need done).
Alternatively, if you're looking for a much easier (and more expensive), turn-key system designed specifically for real estate professionals, both Pebble and Carrot have some great options to work with.
When making offers and closing deals on your own, you will need some basic forms and templates to get the job done.
While finding some janky, free versions of these forms on the internet is possible, I wouldn't recommend this. For a fairly small investment, you can get more reliable templates for completing your deeds, notes, land contracts, deeds of trust, and more from websites like USLegal or Rocket Lawyer.
Neither of these websites will provide quite the same level of quality as hiring an attorney (which will run you hundreds per hour), but if you want a good ratio of higher quality to lower cost, they will give you some great options to work with.
Cost: Most document templates can be purchased from USLegal for a one-time fee of $30 or less. Alternatively, with a monthly subscription to Rocket Lawyer for less than $40 per month, you can create and download an unlimited number of forms for whatever fits your needs.
Some things are great long-term tools to have in place, but it's certainly possible to get by for an extended time without them. Here are a few things I would recommend paying for upfront if you have the money… but they are NOT a pre-requisite to getting started.
Register Your Business Entity
Most legal professionals would strongly recommend running your business under a corporation or LLC. However, practically speaking, this isn't something that NEEDS to happen to start doing deals and making money.
The primary benefit of using a business entity is that it will help shelter you from legal liability. In the unlikely event that someone tries to sue you for something your business did, they wouldn't be able to reach past your business assets and touch your personal holdings (assuming you managed your personal and business finances appropriately).
Using a corporate entity requires a bit more sophistication and understanding from the business owner in terms of handling the accounting, using a separate business bank account, keeping up with annual filing requirements, and the like… so this is another thing to keep in mind.
In addition to registering your business entity, you may also want to consider filing for an assumed name if you're running two or more “arms” of your business (e.g., one name for buying and a separate name for selling). Furthermore, you may also need to register as a foreign business entity if you're doing business in multiple states.
Cost: The cost of registering a new business entity can vary greatly from one state to the next. Some states cost as little as $50, whereas others cost as much as $800 (which is if you're filing the paperwork on your own, which isn't always an easy process). If you're looking for a third-party service to help get the filing completed, services like Rocket Lawyer and ZenBusiness are also available, and these will typically add another $150 (approximately) to the cost of your registration process.
Logo & Business Identity
This is one of those areas that can be a lot of fun to think and dream about – but when it comes down to the “needs” of a startup real estate business, a fancy logo and business identity (e.g. – letterhead, business cards, etc.) is NOT something you'll need before you can make lots of money.
When I started, this was one of the first things I spent money on, but it should have been one of the last. A strong business identity can certainly add value to your operation in terms of building credibility and making your company look like a legitimate operation. Still, I definitely wouldn't let this get in the way of making real progress.
Cost: The cost of a good logo can range anywhere from FREE (if you're creating something more generic from Canva) to a cost of $299 (if you're using a site like 99Designs)… and everywhere in between. You can also find a lot of great help on websites like Fiverr or Upwork that can help on these types of projects, and many of the same resources can also be used to build out your brand identity (business cards and letterhead).
Many people forget that when you're running a business, apart from their personal finances, they'll also have to do some basic bookkeeping to ensure they're staying on top of their current financial situation and direction. It will also help you avoid a lot of stress come tax time.
The complexity of this accounting work is relatively simple in the beginning, and there are some free software options out there that can help, but when business picks up. You start doing a heavier volume, you'll want to have a more powerful system at your disposal.
Cost: I currently use QuickBooks in my business (probably the most widely used software among accounting firms), but if I were starting over from scratch, I would probably go with a system like FreshBooks or Xero. These options are available on a subscription basis for less than $30/mo.
The Final Tally
After outlining all the costs that come into play when getting started, here's the rundown of what you can expect to pay.
On the low-end, if you try to “cheap out” at every possible turn AND if the results all turn out in your favor, I think you could feasibly pay for all of your essentials and get your first deal done for as little as $1,205. Here's how I got that number:
Essential (Low End)
- Education: REtipster Blog ($0.00)
- Mailbox: USPS P.O. Box (~$200 per year)
- Direct Mail: 500 Postcards at .46 cents each ($230)
- List: DataTree, PropStream, or a Delinquent Tax List (~$200)
- Property Acquisition: Cheap Lot, plus all closing costs (~$500)
- Holding Costs: Annual Property Taxes (~$100)
- Selling Costs: Recording Fees and Transfer Taxes (~$100)
- TOTAL: ~$1,330
Note: In the scenario above, I assume that no errors are being made and everything is done perfectly. This is possible, but it's also not a reasonable expectation for most people. To give yourself room to make beginner mistakes, feel free to add a buffer of $500 – $1,000.
Helpful (Low End)
- Phone System: RingCentral, OpenPhone or Nextiva (~$150 per year)
- Website: Basic WordPress Site (~$100 per year)
- Document Templates: Basic forms from USLegal or Rocket Lawyer (~$100 or less)
- TOTAL: ~$400
Eventual (Low End)
- Register a Business Entity: Do-It-Yourself (~$100)
- Logo & Business Identity: Do-It-Yourself ($0.00)
- Accounting Software: Free Software ($0.00)
- TOTAL: ~$100
To simply get started – we're looking at approximately $1,330 to cover the essentials (and this is the best-case scenario). Furthermore, if you do ALL of the suggested items (and you use the cheapest options available), the total cost could easily go up to $1,830, just to get to the point of making money.
Again, keep in mind that this is assuming everything goes according to plan (i.e., get the right list, filter it correctly, buy a good property, advertise it effectively, find a buyer, and no other unexpected challenges come up). In the real world, this is never a guaranteed outcome in any business endeavor.
Even with this rock-bottom cost estimate, it would be wise to have more savings to fall back on in case things don't pan out the way you planned.
Now… let's look at how much these things could cost if you're willing to pay for some of the available luxuries and conveniences.
Essentials (High End)
- Education: Land Investing Masterclass (~$2,000 or less) and/or Coaching (~$6,500 or more)
- Mailbox: UPS Store Mailbox (~$300 per year)
- Direct Mail: $1,000 Letters at .80 cents each ($800)
- List: DataTree ($1,764 for the most expensive plan)
- Property Acquisition: Larger property valued at $20,000+ (~$5,000)
- Holding Costs: Annual Property Taxes (~$100 – $500)
- Selling Costs: Title Company or Attorney (~$500 – $1,000)
- TOTAL: ~$10,464 – $15,864
Helpfuls (High End)
- Phone System: RingCentral, OpenPhone or Nextiva (~$360 per year)
- Website: Pebble or Carrot ($1,188 – $2,388 per year)
- Document Templates: Basic forms from USLegal or Rocket Lawyer (~$100 or less)
- TOTAL: ~$1,648 – $2,848
Eventuals (High End)
- Register a Business Entity: RocketLawyer or ZenBusiness (~$200 – $1,000)
- Logo & Business Identity: 99Designs ($299)
- Accounting Software: Quickbooks, Freshbooks or Xero (~$252 per year)
- TOTAL: ~$1,551
As you can see – there is no shortage of options available if you're willing/able to spend more money.
Suppose you're flush with cash and you want to pay for some powerful tools and conveniences that will take some of the monotonous and time-consuming work out of your hands. In that case, you could easily cough up $10K – $20 (and even far beyond this) just to do your first deal… and in many cases, the profits from your first deal may not be enough to cover all your startup costs. This isn't necessarily bad, as long as you plan on doing many more deals beyond this.
When I got started, I had about $3,000 to work with – and I used a good chunk of it (though not all) to find and close my first deal.
In my case, $1,205 wouldn't have been enough to get me across the finish line on my first profitable deal.
All in all, I probably spent about $1,800(ish) before I finally got paid… which serves as a good reminder that even though it's possible (on paper) to make it happen with less, it's a good idea to have more money saved up to cover any cost overage. I needed it, and you may very well need it too.
In the business world, things rarely come to pass without some surprises. Sometimes the surprises are small, and sometimes they're much bigger, but it's always better to have a cushion to fall back on rather than no cushion at all.
Lastly, Remember This…
Whether you decide to spend a little or a lot on starting a land investing business – just realize that these costs pale in comparison to the vast majority of start-up opportunities in the world today.
Case in Point: When I worked in the commercial banking industry, I dealt with hundreds of start-ups that required financing.
Most of these new businesses (the smallest ones) required anywhere from $250,000 – $500,000 just to open their doors. This meant the owner would have to put down at least $50,000 – $100,000 of their cash AND go into $200,000 – $400,000 of debt before making their first dollar of revenue.
Even when these companies (e.g., restaurants, franchises, retailers, convenience stores, etc.) were open for business and operating at full capacity, most lenders still considered them “high risk.” Most of them were no more profitable than a thriving land business would be (which, by comparison – costs practically nothing to start).
The problem is, when most people are brand new to the entrepreneurial world, it's easy to get fixated on the WHOPPING few thousand bucks it will take to get started, and to be fair… I understand how this kind of investment can feel daunting. The average person doesn't have this kind of cash just lying around with no other good use in mind.
Just remember – if you'd rather try your hand at one of the more “conventional” business models out there, the barriers to entry will most likely be FAR higher than a land investing business.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with laying out more cash for a different type of business. I've seen many people go that route and succeed too. My point is simply that the cost of starting a land investing business (even when you take the most expensive route possible) is still WAY less costly than 99% of the business opportunities in the world today.
Given the options, I was a lot more comfortable pursuing a business that offered such huge profit potential, scalability, low competition, options for automation, and the ability to work from home in my spare time, all while getting started for such a small upfront investment…
…but that's just me.