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Everything You Need To Know About Subdividing a Property

Average Costs, Zoning and More

Most homeowners decide to subdivide their property for one of two reasons: to sell part of it off for profit or to divide the property among family members. Real estate investors frequently subdivide properties to increase the value of the land.

There’s no universal process for subdividing a property. The rules and laws vary from one state, city, town or district to the next, and it’s up to local officials to approve the request. Generally, the decision is based on factors such as the location of the property, local zoning laws, the size and shape of the property, the location of any homes or buildings on the property and access to services such as water and sewer.

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How to Subdivide

The first step is to call your local planning, zoning and/or development office to get specifics on how the subdivision process works in your area. Some cities, towns or districts post this information on their websites, so you can try that first. This step should give you an idea of whether your property qualifies for subdivision.

Next, you’ll need to hire a surveying and/or engineering firm to survey the property and draw up a plat. A plat is a map of the surveyed land that identifies property boundaries, access rights-of-way, flood zones, easements and the like. A surveying firm will also be able to provide feedback on whether your property is eligible for subdivision; however, even if there are issues, you can still move forward with the process.

Now it’s time to submit your application and wait for a response. In most cases, the application must be submitted with a plat map, certificate of title and an application fee (but check with local officials first to be sure). In some areas, the planning board or a similar council will decide whether to approve the subdivision during a routine meeting. In other areas, the issue must go to a public hearing.

Note: Even if your property does not qualify for subdivision, you might be able to get approval by filing a planning or zoning variance or waiver. Most planning and/or development offices make exceptions where reasonable. Talk to local officials or your surveyor to inquire about the process for granting exceptions.

Subdivide a Property

Cost of Subdividing

Just as there is no standard process for subdividing, there is no standard cost. The cost depends on myriad factors, including surveying and platting costs, local application and/or hearing fees and required improvements to the property. The cost is also determined by the number of new lots you’re creating: Subdividing one lot into two is much cheaper than subdividing one large piece of property into dozens of lots.

  • Local fees fall in the range of $500 to $10,000, depending on your location and the number of lots you’re creating. There’s almost always an application fee, and in many areas you’ll be on the hook for at least half a dozen fees, including hearing fees, recording fees, review fees and tax map updating fees. On average, budget about $500 to $1,500 to subdivide one property into two. Plan to spend more like $2,000 to $10,000 to divide your property into more than two lots.
  • Most surveyors charge by the hour, although some have flat fees. You can expect to spend anywhere from about $500 to $2,500 to have a small- to mid-size property surveyed and platted. For a large property, the price could reach tens of thousands.
  • Required improvements to the property can skyrocket the total bill. Most subdivision approvals come with several stipulations that must be met before you sell the property, including creating access to roads, sewer and utilities. These improvements often add $10,000 to $30,000 to the total bill. For large subdivisions, the cost can be much higher.

Tips

  • If your state, city or town offers surveying services, inquire about that before turning to a private firm. In most cases, state or municipal surveying services are less expensive.
  • Leave the bigger projects to the pros. If you have a huge piece of land that can be divided into more than three lots, you’re better off working with a real estate developer. Large subdivisions are beyond the scope of most homeowners.
  • If local official or a surveyor says your property is ineligible for subdivision, consider consulting an attorney who specializes in zoning laws. You may be a good candidate for a variance or appeal. Even if you’re not running into roadblocks, it’s never a bad idea to consult an attorney to guide your through the process.
  • Keep in mind that you can increase the total value of your land by dividing it into smaller lots. A three-lot subdivision is far more valuable than a two-lot subdivision. However, you should be careful not to make the lots too small. If the average lot in your area is a half-acre, quarter-acre lots may not be desirable.

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