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Have you ever wondered what a parcel of vacant land is worth?
And no, I'm not talking about what the seller or their listing agent has it listed for – but what it's ACTUALLY worth.
If you're in the land investing profession, you probably know this is a dilemma we've always had to deal with.
And it's a BIG problem.
Why? Because the conclusions you draw about property's value will affect everything else in the process…
- How much you offer for the property.
- How much you list it for when it's time to sell.
- How fast the property ends up selling.
- How much you end up selling it for.
- How much profit you make on each deal.
- What kinds of properties you choose to pursue in the first place.
The way you determine a property's “market value” is an extremely important and influential part of how your business ends up working. If you get this part wrong, everything else falls 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 offering too much or overpaying for a property?
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 valuation approach that's even remotely relevant) is very challenging and time-consuming to work with.
In almost all 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 do this with any real accuracy – so how are YOU supposed to figure it out??
New Developments in the Industry
Now, I've noticed over the past few years as I've been perusing for “comps” (if you can call them that) on sites like Zillow, these online platforms have started to show a lot more “sold” comps in the various markets they serve.
I remember back when I got started in the land business, these sites used to show practically ZERO sold comps in each market, so the fact that we're able to find more information is a big step forward.
Of course, this doesn't fix the problem, but it does give us a lot more data to work with.
There have always been plenty of “For Sale” properties in most markets. These numbers aren't nearly as reliable valuing land (because it's just the seller's opinion, which is almost never based in reality) – but they do give us a vague idea for 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.
With all the new data we have available now, it's becoming more and more feasible to look at the information in each market and draw some vague (at best) conclusions about what properties are actually selling for 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 any real, accurate conclusions from what the data is saying (and if you're not a very analytical, left-brained person, then just forget about it).
Introducing: Price Boss
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.
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).
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.