Building Trust, Buying Land

Finding suitable land to build on is tough. But finding it is only half the challenge. Convincing people to sell that land to one buyer and not another is the other half of the challenge.

“There used to be land suitable for four- to 10-lot subdivisions before the 1960s, but the only lots left now in many areas are teardowns,” says Joseph Grignaffini, president, Grignaffini Construction, Wellesley, Mass. “Because we’ve been in business for so long, we get first whack at a lot of what comes up. Private individuals come to us because of our reputation.”

Grignaffini loses out on quite a bit of land as well, he says. But luckily, the builder doesn’t need more than a few lots each year. If he can’t buy the land for $100,000 less than what his competitors are willing to pay for it, Grignaffini would just as soon lose it than spend the extra money. “It makes our projects look that much better because the other builder has to cut on quality so the house ends up at a price level that will sell.”

Being a design/build firm that builds custom houses, some of its customers want additions but Grignaffini advises against it. “We can give them what they want more efficiently by tearing down and building new than through remodeling. You have to evaluate whether it’s worth putting on an addition or doing a teardown.”

Once Grignaffini identifies available land, it’s time to convince owners to sell. The ability to show owners exactly what Grignaffini will build on their land, and exactly what it will look like, and how it will blend into the neighborhood is the strongest tool Grignaffini has. And it works.

“With a teardown we are considerate of the remaining neighbors. We make sure that we contact neighbors and let them know we will preserve large trees, and make the new house conform to the neighborhood style so it does not stick out. When we design the house, it’s important not to take a stock plan and plop it in the neighborhood.”

It helps Grignaffini’s chances of purchasing a piece of land that the company can buy the land with no contingencies. “The deals get closed right away. Someone selling their house will sell it at a lower price for an all-cash deal. Plus they know they’ll leave with neighbors who are not mad at them for leaving the neighborhood with an eyesore,” he says.

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