REtipster features products and services we’ve used, tested, and think you’ll find useful. If you buy something featured here, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.
Have you ever wondered what a parcel of vacant land is worth?
I’m not talking about what the seller or their listing agent has it listed for, but what it’s ACTUALLY worth.
If you have ever dealt with vacant land in the real estate profession, you probably know what a dilemma this can be.
And sometimes, it can be a BIG problem because the conclusions you draw about a property’s value will affect everything else in the process…
- How much you can offer for the property.
- How much you can list and sell it for.
- How quickly the property ends up selling.
- How much profit you’ll make on the deal.
- What kinds of properties you can pursue in the first place.
- How much financing (if any) you can get for the property.
- If you add improvements, how much of a depreciation write-off you’ll be able to get.
The way you determine any property’s market value is an extremely important part of how every deal comes together. If you get this wrong, everything else can fall apart.
So how can you come up with a solid, educated, reasonably accurate valuation for vacant land?
How can you NOT lose sleep at night, wondering if you made a huge mistake overpaying for a property?
Land Valuation is a Complex Issue
Finding the value of a vacant lot may seem straightforward, but the issue is anything but simple.
Unlike most types of real estate (houses, multi-family properties, commercial retail, farmland, industrial, you name it), vacant land is a VERY challenging type of real estate to value, because:
- These properties aren’t producing any income, which means the Income Approach can’t be used.
- These properties don’t have any improvements, which means the Cost Approach doesn’t work either.
- It’s usually very difficult to find similar properties in the same market that have sold in the past 12 months… which means the Sales Comparison Approach (the only relevant valuation approach) is very tricky to work with.
In most cases, we have very little information at our fingertips, which makes the process extraordinarily difficult.
Heck, most professional appraisers don’t even know how to value land this with any real accuracy, so how are WE supposed to figure it out??
Finding and Using Comps
Back when I got started in the land business, websites like Zillow and Realtor.com used to show practically ZERO sold comps for vacant lots in each market, but over the past few years, these websites have gotten a lot better at providing this kind of data in the markets where comps are available.
Of course, having more comps available doesn’t automatically fix the problem, but it does give us a lot more data to work with.
Even when there aren’t sufficient comps to work with, every market will have more “For Sale” listing that can be used. Of course, these numbers aren’t nearly as reliable for valuing land because it’s just the seller’s opinion, which is rarely a reliable source of truth, but these listings do give us a vague idea of what people think their properties are worth, and we can compare these numbers to what properties are actually selling for on a per-acre basis, and figure out how much variation there is between the two.
Between the sold and for sale comps we have available, it’s becoming more and more feasible to look at the information in each market and draw some better conclusions about what properties are actually worth and how those numbers fluctuate based on property sizes, and which towns and subdivisions they’re in.
But even though the information is there, it still takes a lot of time to look at the numbers and draw accurate conclusions about what the data is saying (and if you’re not an analytical, left-brained person, it’s this could be a very challenging task).
What Can Price Boss Do?
Not long ago, my friend and fellow land investor Howard Zonder told me about a new pricing and valuation tool he’s been working on for the land business.
He showed me how it worked, and he said I could play around with it for free (mainly, so I could tell YOU about it), and after using it for a few days, I think it’s kind of a big deal, and it could be a MAJOR help to other folks in the land business.
This video gives a high-level overview of how it works…
Note: You can get a $100 discount if you use coupon code RETIPSTER during the checkout process (as noted in the video above).
While I can’t claim to be a Price Boss Expert yet, I have had a chance to run through several valuations and get a good feel for what it can do.
All things considered, this calculator is an amazing piece of work.
At the time of this writing (early 2019), I haven’t seen any other tool that even comes close to what Price Boss can do.
Granted, the quality of information this calculator puts out is only as good as the data you put into it (the same way any calculator works). The more data you can feed into the front end, and the more “random” that data is from your market, the more accurate and reliable your results will be.
I don’t think you’ll ever get to the point of having 100% guaranteed accuracy… but you can do a much better job of closing the “gap of uncertainty” when you have something like this at your disposal.
Also note – this video review is very high-level in nature (I skipped over all the details on how to work with Craigslist, LandWatch and other websites. If you want to see even more details on what this thing can do, Howard has several tutorials that explain more about how the calculator works (he’ll get into a lot more of the tidbits that I don’t have time to mention here):
- Scraping Craigslist with Price Boss
- Scraping LandWatch with Price Boss
- Scraping Zillow with Price Boss
- Custom Comps with Price Boss
- Sorting Through Comp Data with Price Boss
- Analyzing Comps with Price Boss
- The web scraping ability with Zillow, LandWatch, and Craigslist is a MAJOR value. This kind of thing takes a long, long time to do manually, and the spreadsheet does a beautiful job of finding and sorting the relevant data into a format that is usable, while also allowing you to find and remove the data that shouldn’t be included.
- The scatter graph (on the Offer Analysis tab) is very useful for visualizing property values and understanding where the clusters are based on size and price. The ability to view the graph on an individual subdivision basis is even more helpful, especially if you have plenty of comps available in the subdivision or town where your subject property is located.
- It seems to have been designed first and foremost, to figure out appropriate prices when sending out blind offers (because it’s ultimately built to be integrated with LandSpeed, which also utilizes the blind offer approach), but it can also be used as a way of finding more accurate values for a single property.
- The tool isn’t idiot-proof. The average user will need to spend a few minutes watching the tutorial videos (which are provided) to make sense of it. You also need to be smart about how you’re using it and where you’re getting the data from. On the same coin, the tutorials and customer support are available if/when you have questions or get stuck on something, so these learning obstacles are certainly overcomeable.
- It’s possible that outlying properties can skew the valuation results (landlocked properties, or properties with a particularly good or bad location, or wetlands, etc). Likewise, you need to apply an appropriate discount rate to the properties that are listed For Sale, or that can also cause a misrepresentation. However, with the scatter graph on the Offer Analysis tab, it’s fairly easy to identify where these outliers are so you can eliminate/ignore them.
As I was using Price Boss, there were several little tweaks and improvements I suggested to Howard (many of which he made almost immediately)… but if there’s one thing missing that I think would be a HUGE help, it would be for the tool to have a way to track the difference between what properties are selling for on a per acre basis and what properties are listed for on a per acre basis.
Of course – you can do this yourself by looking at the number manually (that’s what I’ve done for years), but if Price Boss had this functionality built into it, this would make it MUCH easier to figure out what discount rate should be applied to all of the For Sale properties (so those numbers aren’t skewing the rest of the data one way or the other), and it would save users a ton of time too.
The Price of PriceBoss
Price Boss is currently available as a Lite version and a Pro version.
The Lite version is a $47 one-time payment and it comes with none of the LandSpeed integration and none of the web-scraping capability (which, honestly, is where most of the value is).
The Pro version is a $497 one-time payment (or $397 if you use coupon code RETIPSTER at checkout) and it comes with all features unlocked (I’m using the Pro version in the video above).
There is a free trial with the Pro version, so you can give it a whirl before you pay for it, to make sure you actually know how to use it before you lay out the money.
Both plans also come with a $20/mo subscription that will give you access to support and product updates. You’ll have to sign up for this by default, but you do have the option of opting out (if you’re someone who hates spending money).
What’s the Bottom Line?
Ultimately, I think Price Boss gives users the ability to come up with much more accurate, reliable, data-driven pricing and valuations based on the size and subdivision/city split. This is WAY more dynamic than just offering $____ (insert your favorite shoot-from-the-hip number) per acre for everything in a given county, regardless of size or location.
There are always huge variations in what identical-sized vacant lots will sell for, even within the same county, and if you just sent out a flat number-per-acre on a county-wide basis, you’re going to throw away a lot of deals.
Of course – you can still do it this way, and you’ll probably still get deals (this is how most people have sent blind offers for years, and it works)… but there’s a good chance you’ll get a lot MORE deals if you improved this part of your process.
While it does require a bit of learning, this really is the most well-made calculator I’ve ever seen in any niche of real estate investing, let alone the land business. It offers a great deal of help in dealing with a very real problem that all land investors have to deal with. Every other land valuation method I’ve seen to date (talking to realtors, looking at dozens of comps on Zillow MANUALLY, even getting an appraiser’s opinion) only gets you part of the way there at best.
I honestly think this does a better job than even most appraisers would do – because (as most appraisers will tell you), they have very little data and don’t have any real solid basis on how to come up with values for most parcels of land. I wouldn’t say Price Boss gives you 100% certainty either, but it gets you a heck of a lot closer, with the ability to utilize a lot more quality information in an organized fashion than all the other methods will.