Updated: Oct 17, 2018
Tax sale lists, expired real estate listings and the names of owners listed on tax records will reveal who might be anxious to unload their vacant land. These lists and records are easy to obtain and should be curated if you desire to target properties not currently listed with a broker.
Of course, the best way to tell that someone wants to sell their land is by seeing a sign or internet listing that says, “For Sale”. But there is some truth in the old saying, “everything is for sale”. Maybe not “everything”, but certainly more than what appears obvious.
In my experience, land that transfers because of death, through an estate or by intestate succession (without a will, usually to children), often is ripe for a sales transaction. The heirs or beneficiaries do not have the same attachments to the property and have divergent interests.
So, how do you identify properties that are held by an estate or by heirs to an estate? With estates, the tax records usually specifically state, “Estate of . . .”. However, depending on the complexity of the estate, the land usually passes to the heirs in less than a year – meaning that the estate business in closed and the estate no longer holds the property.
To identify such land, simply by looking at real estate records (and not death estate records), I look at the last names of the owners. When a property is owned by two or more people who have dissimilar last names, there is a good chance the owners are siblings. While this is not an exact science, three dissimilar last names make the likelihood high.
If – in looking at tax records – you see that Mary Jones, Karen Smith and Mark White own a piece of vacant land, then you can bet that they inherited the property from their mother or father. You can also bet that they will not be using the property together and might be interested in selling.
To view property tax records statewide, go to New Jersey Assessment Records Search. Punch in your desired county and municipality, then the Block of your target area. This will reveal a list of every property within a Block. Vacant properties show up on the list and will not contain a street number.
Since you will want to dive deeper into the information, click the link “more info” next to the property listing. Once on the property page, three sections down under “Sale Information”, again click “more info”. This will take you to the page that summarizes the sales transaction, which tells you the names of the grantees (buyers or beneficiaries of an estate).
Another method of identifying prospects is by looking at tax sales. Every municipality in the State of New Jersey conducts “tax sales” each year so that the tax collection rate stays close to 100 percent. At a tax sale, the municipality auctions off tax certificates, which represent unpaid real estate taxes. These tax sale certificates earn interest. If the taxpayer does not redeem the tax debt and interest, then the holder of the tax sale certificate is permitted to foreclose.
Fortunately, the clear majority of taxpayers get out of their economic slump, redeem the tax debt and save their property. But the fact that they landed on a tax sale list suggests that the land is a burden – that they may want to sell.
If that is true, why wouldn’t the property be listed? It may have been listed in the past, and that is why the third best way to identify land for sale is to examine expired and withdrawn real estate listings. This information has the potential of turning up some hot prospects.
The Pinelands Commission applies such an onerous standard for development that many owners and potential buyers just give up on seeking approvals. The bar is set high and this is part of the Commission’s wick-n-nod plan to preserve land at landowner’s expense.
But with the right tools and information and a lot of patience, many gems can be found and approved. So, if you are looking for the right property and don’t see it listed on the market, ask your realtor to run a list of “expired” lot listings. I would go as far back as five years.
Most sellers don’t just change their mind about selling. Often, they cannot sell or get the right price because buyers want certainty when investing in a future homesite.
Tax sale lists, expired real estate listings and reading tax records can show you who is motivated to sell.