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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How much is that extra lot size really worth?

I was asked a great question the other day about how much a larger lot is worth, and I wanted to share the conversation in case it’s helpful. Any thoughts?

Question: Does lot size play a big part when you determine a home’s value? Say for example the subject home is exactly the same in size and floor plan as a comparable home, but the lot size is 5000 sq. ft. bigger on the subject home. Will that give the subject home a lot more value compared to the comparable home?

larger lot - sacramento appraisal blog

Answer: A larger lot can add substantially to the appraised value, but how much value is really based on what larger lots have sold for in the neighborhood compared to smaller lots. If you can find some homes with larger lots and compare them to homes with standard-sized lots, that will help give you a good sense of what the market is willing to pay. Sometimes you’ll notice a very large difference in price depending on the lot size, but other times the difference might not be that much, which is why it’s important to consider the following:

6 things to keep in mind about valuing a larger lot size:

  1. Image purchased at 123rf dot com and used with permission - 14688774_s - smallerLocation of extra space: If the extra 5000 sq ft is in the front yard, that might not be too valuable. How many buyers want a really large front yard to mow?
  2. Small dent in total lot size: In some neighborhoods an extra 5000 sq ft might make no difference at all because the extra space might only be a dent in the total lot size. For instance, an extra 5000 sq ft when considering three acres is only 4% of the total lot size, and that’s likely minimal in the eyes of most buyers.
  3. Adverse location of lot: If a lot is located on a busy street or has some other adverse location, this can definitely impact the marketability of the larger size since buyers might pay less of a premium for the larger site.
  4. New construction premium: Builders often charge a tremendous lot premium for larger lots, but the resale market might not recognize and pay for that same premium. An owner might say, “I paid $100,000 extra for this lot when I bought it,” but that does not mean the market is willing to pay an extra $100K when the house sells on MLS a few years later.
  5. Utility of lot: Remember if the additional lot size is not usable because of zoning, an easement, vernal pools or some other issue on the lot, the extra space might not add much value.
  6. Double the size double the value: Keep in mind lots do not typically double in value when they double in size. It’s similar to an XXL shirt not selling for twice as much as a small t-shirt despite being nearly twice the size. For example, if one acre sold for $100,000, you probably won’t see 5 acres sell for $500,000. Each additional acre will likely have a lower price than the initial $100,000 per acre. This is the law of diminishing returns.

larger lot backs railroad - sacramento appraisal blog

As you can see, a simple real estate question can sometimes stir many issues. In fact, this post could easily be twice as long. Just remember when you are dealing with a lot that is larger in size for the neighborhood, pay attention to previous similar sales (be sure the lot has similar utility and zoning). You’ll need to crunch data and do research, but on top of that it will be important to get in the mind of potential buyers to understand how the market would respond to the larger lot size.

Question: Anything else you’d add? Comments are welcome below.

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