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How Do You Market Undeveloped Forested Empty Lots?

Published: 14/08/2017

Trav on the Northern Oregon Coast says:

I'd love to hear how other photographers plan and shoot undeveloped, forested lots. I am in the Pacific Northwest, and shoot many wooded properties near the ocean. The drone isn't a fantastic asset, and I tend to shoot ground-level images on overcast days to avoid intense dappling.

How do you approach photography (and video) when faced with dense lots and no structural features? What time of day do you like to shoot? Any awesome examples?

As someone that has shot vacant property, and both bought and sold vacant land I have to say that drones do provide a great way to photograph vacant land because:

  1. Buyers don't care all that much about what the trees look like from the ground. This may be important in a few rare cases.
  2. Rather, they care about the location of the land in relation to other features; ocean, lakes, streams, hills, and other houses.
  3. They care about where the boundaries (property lines) are.
  4. They care about the land contours. Is it flat? On a hillside? Etc.

It used to be that the only way to get a sense of #2, #3, and #4 above was to use Google Maps or Google Earth but nowadays drones provide a great way to get good stills of vacant property.

What I do is get an aerial view of the property, look up the property lines from the local tax records site, and draw in the property lines on the aerial map.

The big problem with vacant land is communicating to the buyer exactly what it is that's for sale. Nothing does this better than an aerial view with the property lines drawn on the map.

The image above (click on it to see a bigger view) is a multi-million dollar property on Seattle's Eastside (near Issaquah, WA) that was marketed and sold with only this photo. This was before drones were available but if I were selling it today I'd be tempted to add a drone video to the marketing.

Larry Lohrman

6 comments on “How Do You Market Undeveloped Forested Empty Lots?”

  1. My objectives are water, pumps, tanks, septic, electricity, power poles, utility box, gates, fences, utility building, survey markers, building site, views, lakes, streams, hills, cliffs, water edge, shot sun streaks through trees, always have big blue skies, intersections to property, property entrance, nearest neighbors from where home can be built, aim straight up to get groves of trees, trails, animals. I have done many in Del Monte Forest, Santa Lucia, Big Sur, Arroyo Seco.

  2. I'm out in the desert and one plot of land often looks the same as another. Presently, it costs more to build where I am than the current price for an existing home, so if an agent calls about an uninteresting plot of land, I'll recommend they not spend the money on having me come out. If it's a view lot in the local mountains, that's another matter and I'll work to show the views more than the land itself. If there are utilities, I don't see any marketing value of doing any more than marking where they are on a map of the parcel. Community photos might be in order too.

    A problem with unimproved land around me is that it is very inexpensive so there isn't much marketing budget for the agent. Many plots don't have water, sewer or power adjacent to them so it's a big pile of money before the foundation is even put in. I believe that it isn't against the law yet in California to live off of the grid, but I know in some states, it's required or The Man® will come and take you away in irons.

  3. In addition to what Dave said, always looking for features to make it stand out. Definitely keep eye open and aware of surroundings as on one occasion told realtor not to follow me as saw a water moccasin on the trail near the river. At times reminds me of my childhood 'exploring the woods' and at other times using nature photography skills - both of which support the awareness of the surroundings. One of the few times I use a long telephoto and have gotten nice pictures of hawks. This isn't limited to the vacant property, but also developed property that has undeveloped/uncleared sections where I saw that snake as I followed the path through the woods to the river. Another property saw mounds of dirt and realized that was the owner's private shooting range. On one 10 acre property that happened to be my listing, I challenged myself to get the maximum 25 photos and a tour and succeeded! Part of it was easy as it was two adjoining 5 acre tracks fenced and the adjoining neighbor leased as horse pasture - very spirited show horses so had to advise people not to independently 'walk the property' or feed the horses, making a tour even more imperative. I even had a flock of wild turkeys going through the pasture. The tour mixed stills and video, including a large county park 2 miles away supporting equestrian, hiking, kayaking, and mountain biking in generally segregated areas and served as an amenity to the property. And yes, I did use Google Earth to draw an overview of the property lines, including the setback to the rear portion to allow access if sold separately. In summary...just have to expand your vision and use what is presented to you.

  4. As Larry Gray says above, "expand your vision and use what is presented to you."

    I like to wander around the lot, lost in thought, waiting for something to catch my eye - and something always does. I once spent a good half an hour following a couple of butterflies and captured the shot I was looking for. I like the dappled shadows that a forested lot presents. I always take a shot or two of how the lot is connected to the surrounding roadway(s). And always look for a view shot, i.e. what you can see from the property. In many ways it is like walking a home and searching for those interesting compositions.

  5. I think Jeff Griggs, above, has the right idea. Those posted videos convey virtually everything you need to know in just a couple of minutes' time. In fact, I'd like to reach out to Jeff to put his workflow on paper with some instructions to go by. Count me in to purchase that one. He has done a World Class job in my opinion.

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