Sight Unseen

Dear OzarkLand,  I need to stay in Poughkeepsie until my cat graduates from Obediance School. Is it okay if I Buy Land Sight-unseen? - Uncertain

Dear Uncerntain:

We make a lot of sales this way, even though we're not particularly wild about the concept. Perhaps you've noticed that saying you shouldn't by land this way is one of the very few things that all the anonymous know-it-alls on internet forums seem to agree on. Even more remarkable than that is, in this instance, they have a pretty-good point.

However, that doesn't stop people from doing it, and the reason we have always made these sales, and will continue to do so, is one that you may have encountered before: there's money in it.

There's also plenty of hard feelings in it if the seller does it wrong. Having people ticked-off at you may not matter so much when you're selling land for cash, but we finance the vast majority of our properties (something like 97%) for a full 15 years, and this doesn't work too well for us if, when the buyer finally gets around to visit his land, he doesn't see what he's expecting.

That presents quite a challenge on this end of the transaction, because we do a national, (occasionally international) business, and what, for example, may be a "good road" to someone from the interior of Alaska may be a lot different than what that phrase would mean to someone from Manhattan.

Now, personally, and in bleak contrast to the advice I'm about to give, I've bought land sight-unseen on several occasions when time was of the essence, and so far have never had great reason to regret it.  That's because I do my homework. I avail myself of two principle sources of information:

A. Maps: Some clown actually tried to sell me the side of a mesa in Arizona once. All I needed was a topography map of the land to show that the whole property was just a few degrees off from being straight up and down. I guess you could use it for a billboard, except it was out in a remote section of desert. That was back when you had to order topography maps from the USGS through the mail; nowadays, the internet provides us with all the maps and aerial photography you'd ever need to get a very realistic idea of how any property lays, subject to the date of the image.

B. Recent Photos: (Notice that I said "recent".) Whoever said, "photos don't lie" may have been lying, but you can still get a lot of good information from them if you know what they don't show so well. For example, when a property has a pretty bad access road, you may assume that deep ruts and ditches don't look nearly as bad  in a photograph as they actually are. When we have a challenging road to sell, I always try to find the worst spot and photograph that, however, it never looks as bad as it really is.

Those two things actually cover most of what I need to know; what they don't protect me from is the seller being a total crook who isn't telling me that the property was just timbered last week, or that there's a huge garbage dump in the middle of the property. Since I always have to buy property for cash, I could get hurt pretty badly this way. Luckily (for me) most of the people I buy property from are either neighbors or old clients, and if they don't fit into either of those categories, I make sure that they don't get all the cash until I've seen the property.

That brings us to why buying land from Ozark Land Company is one of the safest transactions you'll ever make, and I've got 7 reasons why:

  1. Each monthly payment you make to us amounts to approximately 1/100th of the total value of the sale. It takes literally years before we even break even, so in order for things to go smoothly for us, we need to keep each customer happy for at least 15 years.
  2. I was born five miles from where I'm sitting now, 18 miles outside a gossipy little town in the Ozarks. I've been selling real estate since 1973, and my company has been selling and financing land we own since 1982.
  3. Our goal is to provide you with as much timely and accurate information as we possibly can, and you don't even have to register with us, or get on the phone to beg for it. Everything we know about the property is, to the best of our ability, to be easily found on our website, free and open to the general public. That includes the legal description of the property and samples of ALL of the contracts and deeds we use for every sale. Compare what we provide with what you find elsewhere: often precious little; then ask yourself why that is. 
  4. Part of providing you with as much information as possible includes giving you driving directions to the property. While we agree to sell to you sight-unseen, we'd really much, much, much rather you'd visit the parcel BEFORE you make an order. Since you don't need us to show you the land, we never know whether you've seen it or not unless you tell us. That means that we have to assume each buyer will be investigating for themselves before they order, which helps keep us honest. 
  5.  We don't do high-pressure sales. We don't do ANY-pressure sales. We'd like you to buy our land, but we own it free and clear, so if you don't buy it, somebody else will. Back when I was a real estate broker, even before there was a local multi-list, I was in constant competition with other brokers because if I didn't sell one of my listings, someone else would, and any advertising or leg-work I'd put into that particular property was gone for good. Furthermore, losing a sale commission meant the loss of a few thousand dollars I was counting on to pay the rent and feed my family. Doing business the way we do, if we lose a sale it only means delaying the receipt of one monthly payment until such time that it does sell.
  6. Our entire company consists of only five people, my wife, myself, and three of my children, all of whom have as much interest in the company doing well long-term and staying out of court as I do myself. When I was a broker, my salesmen had no share in the company at all, and every effort they made was to get their commission pronto and move on to the next deal. Some of them could become downright desperate if they needed money badly... imagine how that could play out. These days, I've told all my people this: "if you shade the truth in order to make a sale, then the client will probably find out about it sooner or later, and then we have a problem. Whereas, if you tell the client everything about a property, warts and all, then the problem you didn't want to tell them about becomes their problem and not ours. For example, if getting electricity into a property will be difficult to impossible, and we make that clear from the onset, then the only people who'll look at that property are the folks who want to be off-grid and, presumably, know what they're getting into."
  7. We offer everyone our No-fault Exchange program, which is this: (quoting from our contract) 

"In the event that you should become dissatisfied with this property, for any reason, Ozark Land Company Incorporated hereby grants you the right to trade your equity in this property, (equity being defined as the total amount paid as of that date, less interest) for an equal equity in any other property then offered for sale by Ozark Land Company Incorporated at the value listed on the Ozark Land Company Inc. website:

PROVIDED THAT: you are current in the installment payments and other obligations of this contract, that the property is clean and in essentially the same condition as when this contract was made, and that you have not exercised this right in a previous contract with Ozark Land Company Incorporated. Should you choose to trade for a property whose value is less than your equity, you have the option of forfeiting the overage or trading the overage for equity in an additional property or properties. Ozark Land Company Inc. will not refund equity in cash. You may trade equity in one parcel for equity in two, but you may not trade equity in two parcels for equity in one. If you have not personally inspected both your current parcel and the one you wish to trade to, the destination parcel or parcels must have been on the market for at least one week."

That's pretty fair, don't you think?

There are probably a few more, but these come from the top of my head just now.

So, okay, almost everything I've written above makes it sound as if we really want you to buy property sight-unseen. We very much do not. However, we recognize that some folks have some very real reasons for not being able to see a property right now, however they want to start building up equity as soon as they can. So, if you're in the service, out of the country, or unable to travel long distances for whatever reason, then we're happy to sell you property anyway. 

Here's what we're NOT SO HAPPY WITH:

We're not happy with people putting down a monthly payment so nobody else can get the parcel, then going out to inspect it whenever they get around to it. That's not fair to us, or to the people who play by the rules, and if you do this and don't go through with the deal, we WILL NOT REFUND YOUR MONEY. We put a lot of effort and expense into getting each property ready to sell and advertised on the web, so when people do this, it can cost us quite a lot of time and money, to say nothing of the people who visited the property only to return home and learn that someone else had bought the property while they were out doing due diligence, so please don't do it.

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