Investing in vacant land may sound boring, on the surface. But the simplicity and stability that comes with owning the right piece of land – purchased at the right price – can far outweigh the variety of problems that come with any other type of real estate investment. In this episode of The Agent of Wealth Podcast, Marc Bautis is joined by Brent Bowers, a vacant land investor and coach. Bowers started investing in real estate in 2007, beginning with single-family homes, then multi-family homes, and finally to the kind of real estate that doesn’t involve tenants, termites or toilets: Vacant land. Bowers now generates passive income as a vacant land investor, which gives him the time and opportunity to help aspiring real estate investors the ins and outs of purchasing and selling vacant land.
In this episode, you will learn:
- How investing in land differs from investing in single family or multifamily homes.
- Why someone already investing in real estate may want to consider investing in vacant land.
- How to locate vacant land property owners, and vacant land buyers.
- How to determine the value of vacant land.
- And more!
Disclosure: The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity and content. It is not a direct transcription of the full conversation, which can be listened to above.
Welcome back to The Agent of Wealth Podcast. This is your host, Marc Bautis. On today’s show I brought on a special guest, Brent Bowers. Brent is an investor and coach with a focus on buying and selling vacant land. As an army officer with eight years of service experience, Brent was spending a great deal of time away from his family. He began investing in real estate as a way to support his family, while also having more time to spend with them. In a short period of time, Brent was able to expand his business, hire a team and spend more of that quality time with his family. Brent, welcome to the show.
Hey, thanks for having me Marc. We have a bit of a similar background, so I’m excited to talk to you.
Great. Yeah, I’m excited about this topic. My listeners tend to have an affinity towards real estate investing, and I like the angle you take with vacant land. When people think of real estate investing, they typically think about single-family or multi-family investment properties. It’s good to discuss other avenues. So, start us off by giving some background of how you went from an army officer to a vacant land investor.
Sure. Well, I love the name of your show – The Agent of Wealth. A lot of people think wealth translates to an abundance of money, the ability to buy whatever, whenever. For me, wealth isn’t about money. Yes, it takes money to live, but for me wealth is time freedom – or financial freedom. I don’t need to have tons of money sitting in the bank, but I want to have enough money coming in to take care of my expenses.
The vacant land business has given me so much wealth, because the notes generate financial freedom for me.
As far as my background, I did eight and a half years in the military. During that time, I was told what to do, where to be and when to wake. I only slept in my own bed for about half of that time. I had no freedom, time or wealth. I mean, I was paid okay – I had allowances for things like clothing and hair – but I was not doing life on my own terms. So that’s why I’m excited to be talking about wealth today.
Brent Bowers’ Journey From The Army to Vacant Land
My interest in real estate began in 2007 when I got my real estate license and purchased my first property. It wasn’t the best timing, because the 2008 recession followed. I was taking advice from real estate brokers with 13-14+ years of experience, and they were quitting the business. So guess what? I decided I should quit too.
I looked into joining the military, and ended up in basic training by the time I was 24-years-old. It was quite a humbling experience, because at that time I had a real estate license, owned an investment property, owned a second business and was married – but even I had to start all over again.
Well I’m sure that was a great learning experience. Like you mentioned, wealth means different things to different people. What was it that clicked for you, leading you to want to create a passive income?
I’d say it was a progression of realizations that I didn’t necessarily know were happening at the time. By the time I got my real estate license and purchased my first property, I was already an entrepreneur, but I had a long way to go.
Back in 2007-2008, I was driving clients around – in my car – for literally a week at a time, helping them find properties. This was back before agents did background and credit checks on clients… things have changed quite a bit since then. But I was spending so much time working, but just couldn’t pay the bills.
I made the decision to join the army because I knew there would be a set income involved. At that time, I was always thinking, ‘What are ways I can make money?’
Two deployments to Afghanistan and some years later, I was back in the United States, at school. This was 2013, the Army actually sent me to school… Anyway, I bought a house right next to the college and started doing something called house hacking: I rented out all rooms but mine, which produced enough money for me to live there for free. That kickstarted some excitement around entrepreneurship again.
Then I bought another rental property, and started wholesaling houses. I just kept going and going.
Eventually, I met the woman of my dreams – who is now my wife. We had our first child very shortly after getting married, and that’s when things started to click. I realized that I wanted to stay at home more.
So, I set a goal to build my real estate business up enough to earn at least $8,000 a month in passive income. I wanted to be financially prepared to leave the military. I ended up generating that passive income with houses, haphazardly, and then vacant land.
I got into vacant land by mailing vacant land owners on the tax delinquent list. Once I did that, my phone blew up. I did a couple deals in a short amount of time, and the second deal ended up giving me a passive income of $400 a month. I was hooked.
In about six months, I was making almost $6,000 a month. I realized that if I continue investing in vacant land, I’ll have a passive income of $100,000 a month in a few short years. So I just kept pushing, and before I knew it, I had that conversation with my wife about leaving the military, and I did.
So you mentioned passive income. When I think of real estate passive income, I think of rental income, whether that be in single-family or multifamily properties. What does that look like on the vacant land side? How does passive income with vacant land work?
What Makes Vacant Land Passive
The income is passive because I’m not doing anything – no work – to the land. I’m getting the land at a crazy discount and finding a buyer to finance it to. Most of the time, I want the buyer’s down payment to be large enough to get my investment out of the property. Then I create a mortgage note.
Now, does that always happen? No. But in the beginning I needed the down payments to be large enough because I didn’t have discretionary funds.
How Investing in Land Differs From Rental Properties
Vacant land is truly passive because the buyers aren’t calling me saying the toilet stopped working, or the roof is leaking, etc. Remember, I do have rentals. I actually have 20-something properties that aren’t passive. For those, I have to put a property manager in place. And let me tell you, I can practically set my watch knowing something will break every nine months.
Yeah, I’ve heard all about it. For vacant land, what does the end buyer look like? When you purchase at a discount and find a buyer, are they making the purchase with intent to develop it? Or are they doing the same thing you are – holding and selling later down the road?
I look for the end buyer that wants to keep the land. Typically, it’s the kind of person who will use it to camp or get off-grid.
Before I hoped on this podcast, I was working with a student named Sean. He has a piece of land in the mountains of North Carolina that’s worth $25,000 grand, and he bought it for $5,000 – that’s a five times return. So he has a huge margin of safety on this piece of land. He was telling me, “Brent, the land is off-grid. There’s no cell phone service… I think it’s going to be hard to sell it.”
I said, “Wait a minute and think about this. The world has changed with COVID. We’re all working from home, so we’re always connected, and we can never get away from work. What if you marketed that off-grid land – with no cell phone service – as a way to escape the digital leash.” I feel confident he will sell it, and that’s how he will find a buyer. It’s the type of person that wants to get away for a couple days, and it will only cost them something like $199 a month.
I have people all the time approach me and say, “I’ll pay you what you paid for it.” I don’t want that – I want to finance it, creating a note, and get a passive income on it.
Are you looking for motivated sellers? The question that comes up is, “how is he able to buy something for $5,000 that’s worth $25,000?” How are you able to get the land for such a deep discount?
How to Find Motivated Sellers
Correct, I’m not paying retail for the land because I’m selling it for retail. And because I’m seller financing it, I have to have a big enough margin of safety to make a profit on it. So, yes: I’m looking for motivated sellers. These are people that have a problem or a challenge that I can solve.
Perhaps they inherited the land some years ago.
Perhaps they can’t keep up with the taxes.
Perhaps they want to get rid of it, but don’t know how.
That’s the type of seller I’m looking for.
Makes sense. You mentioned selling vacant land for retail. How does a seller – or even a buyer – find equivalent comps for vacant land? How does someone really know what tha land is worth?
How to Determine the Value of Vacant Land
Just like with residential homes, land is listed on platforms like Zillow, Redfin and even some specifically for land, like LandWatch.com. If no nearby vacant land has been sold in the last 30 days, check out the last 60 or 90 days.
What’s important is that it is an apples-to-apples comparison. If I’m looking at 1.25 acres in an area, I want the comp to be within about a mile of that 1.25 acres, and I wanted it to have sold in the last six months.
Are there certain characteristics of land that you specifically filter or look for?
I want to make sure that land in the nearby area is selling. And before I pull the trigger and close on a piece of land, I make sure I have two things:
- A buyer lined up.
- A realtor who has walked the property.
Now that realtor should be a land specialist, someone who has actually sold land in that area.
I’ve almost closed on some parcels of land that I feel super confident in before having a buyer lined up. I’m talking about land that is being sold for $10,000, with nearby comps being sold around $50,000. But in those instances, there’s almost always something that realtor flags.
Maybe it’s accessibility: There’s no roads that lead to the land… Things like that. Realtors are your eyes on the ground.
When I first got started investing in raw land, I bought properties within a two and a half hour radius. That’s a huge radius, but you can get to them on a weekend if you need to.
For the first 10 or so parcels, I drove to them myself. But once I started making mistakes, I stopped looking at the land myself and now I send experts to look at it.
Are there better locations in the country than others, or are there opportunities everywhere?
I recommend starting within that two and a half hour radius, but I believe there’s opportunity anywhere there’s land. Granted, there are better places than others. I love Texas, Florida and Arizona right now.
If you look at a North American migration map, you can see where people are moving to and from. Go where the demand is at. If you get any sort of a discount, you’ll be able to sell that land fairly quickly.
That makes sense. I know you’ve given some tips so far, but what’s the best way for someone to start? Is it by looking at that map and finding land in one of those areas?
How to Locate Vacant Land Property Owners
I’ll tell you exactly how I got started. I hired a virtual assistant who went onto the local tax delinquent lists and separated all of the vacant land properties from that larger list. She collected the addresses and the property owner’s name, and put them on the list. It was a very monotonous and time-consuming project, but produced incredible results.
We mailed all of those property owners a postcard – there were 687 total. That really got my phone ringing.
Because the current owners were behind on their taxes, there was a motivation. Come to find out we were actually mailing the county-held tax lien list. What does that mean? Basically, tax lien investors didn’t even buy it last year because the land was inefficient or non-accessible, non-buildable, etc. I didn’t know this at the time – I was learning as I went – but that’s why my phone exploded.
Like I mentioned, I did two deals within two weeks. Each one of those deals netted me over $4,500. Now, that’s not huge money, but it was life-changing for me at the time.
So, I recommend getting started by finding a list of landowners (use Priced.com or PropStream.com) and mail 20 letters or postcards a day. And don’t stop. It’s about getting that pump-prime.
Remember: Your goal is to get the land at a discount.
How do you market for buyers?
How to Locate Vacant Land Buyers
I found my first 10 buyers on Craigslist. Now, a lot of buyers come to me – probably from my online presence and presence on podcasts.
Nice. So you also coach people through this process. Do you have some kind of a blueprint created that your students follow?
Yes, I coach through Wholesaling Inc. I’m super proud that I’m their land coach. With Wholesaling Inc., it’s not just coaching: it’s the blueprint, the coaching and the support.
Basically it’s an online coaching platform that’s set up as modules. In each module there’s videos and action-driven steps. I do support calls once a week with the students, to offer support and answer questions. There’s also a support group, which is open everyday.
There are books and seminars on vacant land investing, but having the support to see it through is really unmatched in my opinion.
Other Tips for Vacant Land Investing
Yeah. Reading a book is great, but a lot of people struggle on the implementation and the execution. For vacant land, is it cyclical in terms of profit? At times, are there better opportunities than others?
I feel there are busy months, but as far as cyclical I don’t think so. It’s important to note that the U.S. is in a building boom right now, because we’re about 6 million houses short, due to the recession. Because there’s a massive demand for housing right now, vacant but buildable lots are going quick. Vacant land investors can get those other contract quick, and builders can then turn them into housing.
There’s also people who don’t want to compete in the housing market, so they’re building their own houses.
There’s always going to be opportunity for land, because all real estate starts with land.
What are your tips for someone who wants to get started in vacant land investing but still has that 9-5 job?
Time block. Back when I was in the Army, I had to be on post by 6:00 AM. So, what would I do? I would start my day at 4:00 AM. If you’re not a morning person, do it at night.
Yeah, that brings up another question. We’re talking about time, but what about capital? Does someone need to have capital saved up to get into this? What are some approaches that have worked for you and your students?
There’s so many ways. Capital, traditional lending, lending from a family member or friend, etc. I know a lot of people who have seen success in borrowing funds from their family members, because it makes everyone a profit.
A parcel of land is worth $30,000, but an investor is buying it for $10,000. They ask their Cousin Eddie to give them a loan for 6% interest on $10,000. Then, they sell that land for what it’s worth: $30,000. The buyer gives them a down payment of $1,000, and they owe $399 a month at 9% interest. That investor is borrowing money from cousin Eddie at 6% on $10,000, but getting 9% on $30,000.
It’s just an arbitrage. That’s all it is.
Earlier, you mentioned that you have hired a virtual assistant. What other professionals are necessary for buying and selling vacant land?
A realtor and a virtual assistant, for sure. Remember, I started small. I hired a virtual assistant to manage that direct mail campaign, but they also helped with looking for buyers – posting on Facebook and Craigslist, that kind of stuff. The first virtual assistant I hired was located in Argentina, and I paid her $5 an hour. She was brilliant enough to come up with other ideas, like adding a frequently asked questions section to the website.
As I mentioned, a good realtor is important. Also, start talking to your local bank. Ask them what kind of funds they lend. Most people think banks don’t lend on land, but you need to ask.
Yeah, that makes sense. So, we’re just about out of time. Brent, I want to thank you for being on The Agent of Wealth. You provided some great information on vacant land investing. How can someone reach out to you with questions or to find out more information?
I have a YouTube channel, Brent Bowers. You can also visit the website I mentioned, wholesalinginc.com/land. On that site, you can schedule a call – I’d love to talk to your listeners more, and see what their specific goals are.
Awesome, we’ll link to that in the show notes. Thank you to everyone who tuned into today’s episode. Don’t forget to follow The Agent of Wealth on the platform you listen from and leave us a review of the show. We are currently accepting new clients, if you’d like to schedule a 1-on-1 consultation with our advisors, please do so below.