Why in the world would a landowner hire a land agent when doing a deal with a neighbor or adjoining owner? That seems like the most slam dunk deal that any landowner could find himself in. Let’s address a few of the reasons why this can be a good idea.
Dave Milton, president of AlaLandCo, and I have had a running discussion throughout 2011 about becoming a trusted advisor for our clients. Our desire is to be more than just an agent, but to be the go-to source of information for anything pertaining to land. At AlaLandCo, we do not merely “hock” land; we offer solid advice about ways to improve any land transaction for our clients. So this article is in that vein of thinking.
Sometimes Neighbors are not so Neighborly- Ever hear of the Hatfields and McCoys? For 23 years these “neighbors” from Kentucky had an all-out war, sparked by a pig that had crossed from the land of one family to the others. Everyone in the land business has heard stories of deals gone sour between adjoining owners. Hiring an agent to help navigate the trouble spots in a land deal can save lots of frustration if a problem arises. One of the biggest potential icebergs for sinking a deal is when a landowner is selling a property that he does not know has a problem with the title, boundaries, or something for which he was honestly unaware. In my experience, problems arise in nearly all real estate transactions. It is the response to that issue that determines whether the deal will have a successful outcome or not. People do not naturally respond well to problems that may affect their pocketbook. Having a good agent to steer the negotiation can help avoid a costly shipwreck.
The Dirt is in the Details- I had a client that sold 40 acres along a state highway to a friend of his. He owned 120 acres, sold the front 40 to his friend, and kept the 80 acres in the back. 5 years after that transaction he decides to sell the remaining 80 acres. In the original deal, he did not reserve an easement in the deed to get to his back property. The “friend” is now reluctant to have people driving by his house and wants to make sure he controls who his new neighbors are. He has held the 80 acres hostage for two years, and the seller is reluctant to sue his “friend”.
A good agent would have advised his client on the front end to reserve an easement for ingress and egress. At that time I guarantee the easement would not have been a barrier for the buyer to agree to. After the ink dries, everything becomes subject to renegotiation. Other similar considerations would need to be given for water and mineral rights, shared fences, boundaries and a host of other potential snags. Settling these on the front end will help keep thing amicable for parties on both sides of the fence.
You have a Scapegoat- This past month I was hired by a landowner to help negotiate the purchase of tracts that touch his property. We made strong cash offers on two adjoining tracts, but were unable to reach a meeting of the minds on either. We offered more than the fair market value of each, but neither of the adjoining owners were willing to accept those terms. The point is that they are all still neighbors after the failed negotiation attempts. Now when they pass each other on the road or in the local café they can be neighborly. I was the go-between and any frustration or disappointment was dumped on me, not the other owners. This paves the way for making a successful offer in the future. If there is a breakdown in negotiations it is easier to throw the agent under the bus (figuratively I trust) and be able to have a peaceful co-existence.
But an Agent Costs Too Much- I would ask a broker or agent to work for you in this sort of transaction for a reduced fee. Most will be agreeable. In a situation where the agent does not have to go out and secure the buyer or seller they are more likely to agree to work for less money. I stress to my clients that I do not earn my money advertising or showing land. I really earn my money once the contract is signed and bringing the deal to a successful close. A good agent will make or save you more money than they cost.
If you still don’t buy into my concept, think about what happens in many do-it-yourself projects. How many times do you wish you had paid the plumber, accountant, mechanic, or dentist to do something properly out of the gate instead of living with regret over a leaky faucet, noisy car, or ragged smile?
As a landowner, you should find a broker or agent that can be your trusted land advisor. Wear them out asking advice, current sales information, or any question you can think up about land. Then when the time comes let them help you make money and save grief in a land transaction. You will be well-served by having a quality land professional in your corner, even when dealing with an adjoining owner.