Excess and surplus land (and why the difference matters)

Is it excess or surplus land? And why does it even matter? Let’s talk about that today while looking at a real life example of a lot that is currently being divided.

Excess Land: This is when the lot is larger in size and the extra land (or excess) can be sold separately from the existing lot. In other words, a portion of the lot can be broken off from the rest, sold separately, and have a different highest and best use from the rest of the lot.


Surplus Land: This is when the lot is larger in size and the extra land (or surplus) cannot be sold off separately. This means the “surplus” doesn’t have a separate highest and best use. The larger size is simply extra land that still might have some value, but it can’t be used for a separate purpose from the rest of the lot.


Why does this matter?

1) Real Estate Jeopardy: Next time you’re on Jeopardy you’re going to sound like an expert when the category is land.

2) Assuming Value: It’s easy to assume a larger lot is always more valuable, but we have to ask if we’re dealing with surplus or excess land because it could make a difference in the value. At times we see a large lot size and get distracted like we’ve seen a bright shiny object. But can the land be divided? What can it be used for? Does the parcel shape help the lot be useful for buyers? And what have comps with larger lot sizes actually sold for too? 

3) The Bottom Line: Here’s the big deal. A larger lot that can be divided might be worth far more than a larger lot that cannot be divided (thanks Captain Obvious). For instance, the lot in the example above is located in the Curtis Park neighborhood and the extra space in the backyard is considered excess land because it CAN be divided and have a separate highest and best use. This backyard is currently being split by Keith Klassen in order to build two new homes. Anyway, this reminds us how important it is to talk with the local planning department to see what possibilities exist for extra space on a lot. We might see something big and assume it can be divided, but can it really? What does zoning allow? Moreover, is it realistic for the property to be divided right now? Remember, just because a lot can be divided doesn’t necessarily mean its going to happen in the current market. For instance, imagine values are tanking and new construction has stopped in the area. In a market like that any excess land might not command much of a value premium. But in a market where values are up and construction is happening, there is a higher probability of the lot being worth far more because it might be split.


I hope this was helpful. There are many other things we could discuss here, so let’s kick around some ideas in the comments.

Questions: Anything else to add? Any stories to share? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your take.

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The myth of the one-mile radius in appraisals

It’s often believed that appraisers need to use comparable sales only within a one-mile radius. But that’s not really accurate or a good methodology for valuing a property either. Appraisers should really use competitive sales located in the neighborhood or a similar neighborhood – regardless of whether they are located within one mile or not. Besides, has there ever been a neighborhood in the shape of a one-mile radius anyway? That would be interesting.

The Danger of a One-Mile Radius: Take the following image for example in the northern portion of Oak Park in the Sacramento area. If I were to search for comparable sales within a one-mile radius of the red dot below, a return of sales from all sorts of neighborhoods would come back. Portions of Med Center, Elmhurst, Curtis Park, West Tahoe Park, Midtown and East Sacramento really don’t compare well with the location of the house (red dot) despite being within one mile. This example shows very clearly how inaccurate it can be to simply use a radius to measure a real estate market.

One Mile Radius for Comps - Sacramento Appraiser

Lender’s One-Mile Guideline: It’s true that most lenders have guidelines wanting appraisers to stay within a one-mile radius, but there is actually no official “one-mile rule” from Fannie Mae that appraisers have to follow. Of course, in a tract neighborhood with ample sales, there probably isn’t a good reason to use comps outside of one mile anyway, so that’s why lenders issue their own guidelines to say appraisers need to stay within one mile. But the appraiser can definitely travel outside of one mile if need be. Check out the video below (or here) on Fannie Mae’s guidelines for distance in appraisal reports:

Which comps should the appraiser use? Ultimately appraisers should utilize sales in competitive neighborhoods – whether those are inside or outside of a one-mile radius. Where would a typical buyer consider making a purchase instead of the subject property? That’s a critical question to ask when defining the boundaries of a neighborhood. In the case above, it would be highly important to stay as close as possible to the red dot in the photo, and not cross the freeway either because a typical buyer looking in Oak Park would not simultaneously be looking in Curtis Park, Elmhurst or other portions of Tahoe Park due to price differences. By the way, New York appraiser Jonathan Miller has an outstanding post entitled “What is a Comp?”

Why does this matter?

  1. Appraisers: Appraisers need to select the best comps in their reports.
  2. Not Bound: It’s important for everyone to know that unique properties, major fixers, historic homes, rural homes and oddballs are not bound by a one-mile radius.
  3. Resale Value: Sellers and investors need to understand the neighborhood and how appraisers are going to view the subject neighborhood too in order to gauge resale value. Be careful not to base your price on a superior tract nearby outside of your neighborhood boundaries. Check out a post on the importance of knowing your neighborhood boundaries.
  4. Giving Comps to Appraisers: When agents give “comps” to appraisers while at an inspection, it’s best to give properties that are actually located in the same neighborhood or at least deemed competitive in a similar neighborhood (as opposed to nearby sales that meet a certain price level). Moreover, the “comp” should really be similar enough that the buyer would have theoretically considered it as a replacement instead of the subject property. I had an agent give me “comps” recently and one sale was located 7 miles away from the subject property. While the subject property is a bit on the unique side in a standard subdivision, the sale 7 miles away was in a totally different and superior market – and therefore not similar at all.
  5. Zillow and Online Sites: Zillow has value for what it is, but doesn’t always understand the importance of tight neighborhood boundaries. See a previous post on Zillow and comparison to actual appraisals.

Any thoughts?

If you have any questions or Sacramento area real estate appraisal or property tax appeal needs, contact me by phone 916-595-3735, email, Facebook, Twitter or subscribe to posts by email.

The scoop on the value of neighborhood trees

I read a short article last week entitled “City Trees and Property Values” (pdf) by Dr. Kathleen L. Wolf after hearing a representative from the SacTree Foundation speak at a Realtor event. Dr. Wolf’s research shows that trees generally increase property value. Her study indicated a 2% price increase for a property with a mature tree (greater than 9 inches thick), 3-5% increase for trees in the front yard, and 10-15% increase for mature trees in high-income neighborhoods.

While initially some of her stats seem startling, I do think she is right that trees add to the overall value of a property. This doesn’t mean a house is automatically worth 2 or 9% more due to having the tree set-up she mentioned, but trees generally do yield a value contribution. In an objective sense, trees add worth due to boosting energy efficiency due to shade, while there is also a subjective element where they tend to increase curb appeal among buyers. It’s hard to ignore that some of the most highly priced and sought-after streets in the Sacramento area are lined with enormous trees. Think the Fabulous 40s, Curtis Park, Land Park or Arden Park to name just a few. Granted, these streets typically have very large and well-maintained houses too, but there is no mistaking that a canopy of mature trees stretching along a particular street tends to give a very positive impression to buyers in the market for that street in comparison to others. Agree? Disagree?  

Here is a video of Jacobe Caditz with the Sacramento Tree Foundation speaking about the benefit of trees last week at the Sacramento Association of Realtors.

What do you think? How have you seen trees or a lack of trees impact real estate value? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you have any questions, or real estate appraisal or property tax appeal needs in the Greater Sacramento Region, contact Lundquist Appraisal by phone 916-595-3735, email, Facebook or subscribe to posts by email.