What to Do After Inheriting Land in New York

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What to Do After Inheriting Land in New York

Bart Waldon

Inheriting land in New York can seem like a blessing and a burden. On one hand, you've just received a valuable asset that could be worth a lot of money. On the other hand, managing and selling land takes time, effort and know-how.

If you've recently inherited land in New York, don't panic. Here is an in-depth guide on what to do next and how to make the most of your new real estate investment.

Get Organized and Review the Paperwork

The first step after inheriting land is to get organized. Locate any paperwork, documents and information related to the property. This includes:

The deed that transfers ownership to you

  • Property surveys
  • Property tax records
  • Mineral rights documentation
  • Easements or right-of-way agreements
  • Water rights
  • Mortgages or liens on the property
  • Leases for farming, grazing, etc.

Review all the documents thoroughly. Make sure the legal description of the land matches on all paperwork. Also confirm that you are the sole legal owner of the property. If you inherited the land with siblings or other family members, verify who is listed as owners.

Getting organized will help you understand exactly what you now own and identify any potential issues.

Determine the Property Value

Before deciding what to do with inherited land, you need to determine its fair market value. There are a few options for valuing the property:

Hire an appraiser - Professional appraisers can survey the land and buildings, research comparable properties that have sold and determine an accurate market value. Expect to pay $300-$500 for an appraisal.

Consult local real estate agents - Experienced real estate agents can provide a free comparative market analysis, pulling comparable sales to estimate value.

Check Zillow.com - Search for the property on Zillow to see their "Zestimate" and look for comps in the area. Zestimates are not always accurate but provide a ballpark figure.

Review tax assessed value - Check with the county tax assessor's office to see the assessed value they have on record. Assessed value is usually lower than market value but gives you a baseline.

Take the time to get multiple estimates on the property value. This will help you determine listing price and understand what the land is truly worth.

Decide Whether to Keep or Sell the Land

Once you understand what you own and its financial value, you can decide what to do with the inherited property. Here are your main options:

Keep the Land

You may want to keep the land for personal use, long-term investment or sentimental reasons. Owning land can be enjoyable and provide security. Things to consider:

  • Costs - Calculate property taxes, insurance, maintenance and other costs to determine if it fits your budget. Land itself might be cheap but ongoing costs add up.
  • Usage - How will you use the land? Building a home, farming or recreational activities? Make sure the land is suitable.
  • Appreciation - Rural land values are increasing. Holding the land may lead to higher sale prices down the road.
  • Effort - Are you prepared to manage the land even from a distance? Unused land still requires monitoring and upkeep.

Sell the Land

Selling the land can provide a lump sum of cash for other investments or expenses. You don't have to deal with ongoing costs and liabilities.

  • Title issues - Confirm you have 100% clear title before attempting to sell. Pay off any mortgages, liens or easements that could hinder closing a sale.
  • Capital gains taxes - If you sell soon after inheriting, capital gains taxes will be minimal. But if you wait years to sell, you may face larger capital gains taxes.
  • Transaction costs - Plan for 5-10% of the final sales price to go towards real estate commissions, closing costs, legal fees and transfer taxes.

Take your time to weigh the pros and cons of keeping or selling the inherited property. Do some research before making a decision.

Handle Day-to-Day Management

For as long as you own the inherited land, you'll have to handle ongoing management responsibilities. Here are some tips:

  • Monitor the property - Even if unoccupied, periodically check for trespassing, dumping or damages. Keep the land cared for.
  • Pay annual taxes - You must pay annual county property taxes to avoid penalties or tax lien sale of the property.
  • Maintain liability insurance - Carry the right type and level of coverage in case of injuries, damage or lawsuits on the land.
  • Lease out the land - Generate income by leasing to farmers, ranchers, hunters or cell phone towers. Require liability insurance from lessees.
  • Address problems - If issues like boundary disputes arise, consult a real estate lawyer.

Managing rural land takes effort especially from a distance. Consider hiring a local property manager to oversee the day-to-day responsibilities.

Decide Whether to Subdivide or Rezone the Land

In some cases, you may be able to increase the value of inherited land by subdividing it or rezoning it for other uses.

  • Subdividing - You can split a large parcel into smaller lots. Work with the county planning office to ensure the new parcels meet codes and requirements.
  • Rezoning - Applying for a rezoning to commercial, industrial or residential may enable more potential uses and increase value. Zoning changes require county approval.
  • Consult land experts - Work with land surveyors, civil engineers, real estate attorneys and others to navigate the subdivision and rezoning process.

Subdividing or rezoning can be complex, requiring permits, plat maps and approvals. But it opens up more options to monetize the land.

Pay Off Any Mortgages or Liens

If there are any mortgages, deeds of trust, mechanics liens, judgements or back taxes on the inherited property, make paying them off a priority. Any encumbrances on title will impede your ability to sell or borrow against the equity.

  • Pay outstanding bills - If selling the land, the title must be free and clear. Use sale proceeds to pay off any debts.
  • Assume the debt - If keeping the land, you'll have to assume responsibility for paying off any outstanding loans.
  • Dispute invalid claims - If you believe any liens or judgements are no longer valid or enforceable, consult a real estate attorney to dispute them.

Clearing title issues and debts removes barriers to fully utilizing the land as an asset. Paying off mortgages and liens should be a top priority.

Market and List the Land for Sale

If you decide to sell inherited land, properly marketing and listing the property will maximize the sale price. Here are some tips:

  • Research sales of similar parcels to price it competitively. Overpricing leads to no activity.
  • Hire a broker to list the property on MLS and market to other agents. For vacant land, expect to pay 5-10% commission.
  • Promote the listing online by running Google and Facebook ads targeted locally.
  • Post "For Sale by Owner" signs along the property's road frontage and at access points.
  • Let neighbors and community members know the land is for sale to get the word out locally.
  • Be prepared to wait at least 6-12 months for the right buyer who will pay fair market value.

With the right broker and marketing strategy, you can successfully sell the inherited land for top dollar.

Negotiate Carefully With Potential Buyers

When buyers begin showing interest, be careful in negotiating the land sale. Here are some tips:

  • Set your price minimum but be willing to take slightly less for a quick, easy sale.
  • Be wary of buyers hoping for an extreme bargain. Ask for deposits and proof of funds to weed out false leads.
  • Inspect properties they own nearby so you understand the buyer's motivations and agenda.
  • Don't take the first lowball offer. Politely counter at a higher amount.
  • Consult a real estate attorney to review all purchase contracts before signing.
  • Require earnest money to be held in escrow until closing. This shows the buyer is serious.
  • Watch for red flags like offers well below market value or pressure to close quickly.

Carefully screening buyers will help you identify true motivated buyers and avoid being taken advantage of.

Close the Sale and Transfer Ownership

Once you accept an offer and sign a purchase contract, you'll work towards closing and transferring ownership of the land.

  • The buyer will arrange inspections and secure financing if needed during the contingency period.
  • A title company will handle the closing process including title search, document preparation, wiring instructions etc.
  • You may decide to carry back a seller-financed mortgage note on the property. This provides an ongoing income stream. But the buyer must qualify.
  • Final proceeds after real estate commissions, closing costs and payoff of any liens will go to you, the seller.
  • Submit the necessary paperwork to transfer deed title over to the buyer, making them the new legal owner.

Closing the sale wraps up the process of selling your inherited land. Be sure to save closing documents for tax purposes.

Utilize a Land Company to Buy the Property

Rather than selling the land yourself, an alternative is to contact a land company or land investors who will purchase your property directly for cash.

Benefits of selling to a land company include:

  • Cash offers - Land companies have funding available and can buy for cash quickly. No need to list the property on MLS and wait months for a qualified buyer.
  • No commissions - You receive the full offer amount rather than paying a real estate agent's commission of 5-10% of sale price.
  • Flexible closing dates - Land companies can often close within your preferred timeframe. There's less risk of buyer's financing issues delaying closing date.
  • As-is condition - Land companies will buy the property in as-is condition, taking over any clean-up or preparation for resale.
  • Simpler process - Much less paperwork and fewer closing costs. You can close with a land company directly through a title company.

Selling inherited land directly to an established land company simplifies the process, saves on commissions, and provides cash fast.

Seek Professional Help If Needed

If at any point you feel overwhelmed navigating the process of inheriting land in New York, don't hesitate to seek professional guidance. Here are professionals who can help:

  • Real estate attorney - For handling title issues, liens, zoning, disputes, purchase contracts and closings.
  • Tax professional - For advising on tax implications of selling the land or keeping it.
  • Land management company - For overseeing the land on your behalf including upkeep, leases and sales prep.
  • Land brokers - For pricing, marketing locally and bringing vetted buyers. They simplify the sales process for a commission.
  • Land investors - For buying the land directly from you quickly for cash.

Relying on professionals can relieve headaches and ensure you make the most out of inheriting property.

Final Words

Inheriting vacant land in New York can be an exciting windfall or a frustrating burden. By following this guide, you'll be prepared to handle the land wisely.

Get organized, determine property value, weigh keeping vs. selling, pay off any debts, market professionally, negotiate carefully and don't hesitate to ask for help.

With the right knowledge and approach, you can turn your inherited real estate into cash or create a valuable long-term investment you can enjoy for years to come. Careful planning and decision-making will lead to success.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What taxes will I owe on inherited land in NY?

If you inherit land in New York, you typically won't owe any income taxes on it, even when you sell it. This is because of the "stepped-up basis" rule. Your basis is the value that's used to calculate capital gains taxes. With inherited land, your basis is the fair market value on the day the previous owner died. So you can sell immediately and owe little or no capital gains. However, you will owe annual property taxes to the county where the land is located.

What happens if there are mineral rights attached to land I inherit in NY?

If mineral rights were reserved by a previous owner, those may still be in effect when you inherit the land. Any oil, gas, coal or other minerals under the surface could belong to someone else. Review the deed paperwork carefully. You may be able to sell or lease the mineral rights separately from the surface land. But this complicates the process. First try to reunite the mineral and surface rights.

Can I build a house on land I inherit in rural New York?

It depends on the zoning classification of the land. Check with the county to understand what types of usage are permitted. Rural land may be zoned for agricultural use only. You may need to apply for rezoning or a zoning variance to build a residential structure. The land must meet setback requirements, road frontage minimums and other codes. There also may be restrictions on well, septic system and utilities.

What happens if someone else is leasing the land I inherit?

If the previous landowner had leased it for farming, grazing, oil/gas drilling or other uses, that lease is part of the estate that transfers to you. Review the lease terms. You must honor the remainder of the lease period and provide notice if you plan to terminate it when the term ends. If rent payments are involved, work with the estate executor to start receiving those. Do not attempt to void a lease that was legally binding on the prior owner.

Should I sell inherited land “as is” or prepare/develop it first?

Raw, undeveloped land typically sells for less than if some level of preparation or infrastructure is added. For example, just clearing brush, grading access roads, surveying, platting, adding power lines and such can significantly boost value. But that requires time, money and effort on your part. Selling as-is saves you hassle but brings lower offers. Weigh costs vs. potential price gains to decide what level of development makes sense before listing.

About The Author

Bart Waldon

Bart, co-founder of Land Boss with wife Dallas Waldon, boasts over half a decade in real estate. With 100+ successful land transactions nationwide, his expertise and hands-on approach solidify Land Boss as a leading player in land investment.


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