The downside to fighting a real estate development


Reader Question: My family was fighting a real estate development 20 years ago. We own 60 acres of beautiful land in the midwest. A sister owns an adjacent property. We are landlocked on three sides, and our access is a one-lane road. Back then, the neighbor who owns the three sides wanted to develop and sell lots for homes. Our brother joined with other neighbors and sued to prevent this. They won and developed the property. When they planned it, they created a narrow strip at the edge of their entire property. The strip cut off our access on three sides. We have been trying to sell the property and have asked the homeowners and the neighbors to give us access. No luck. The value of our property has gone down. What can we do to gain access?

Monty’s Answer: A specific opinion would require a healthy understanding of history, the documents, and the people involved. When your brother joined others and sued to prevent the development, it slowed the development process down. It also cost the developer extra money to win the right to develop. I suspect that is the reason for the “payback surprise.”

Here are some general thoughts

  1. Have you offered to pay a substantial amount of money to the neighbors for the release of the “payback surprise?” If you have not, that may be the easy solution. Before you do that, you need to understand your costs to improve and the future lot values.
  2. Meet with the land surveyor who platted the subdivision, with the idea of hiring him to lay out the most likely plat for your property. You want this vision on paper, without all the detail and surveying required to create a recordable plat. At the same time, ask him if he would act as an intermediary to make a deal with the neighbors to remove the “payback surprise.” The land surveyor may also have an idea for how to lay the property out without additional access. Plus, they would also know if the law has changed.
  3. If you are not interested in taking the time and going to some expense to get up to speed, have you approached the neighbors to learn if they are a prospect? If you are correct that the “payback surprise” is the impediment, and they have the power to remove it, they also may be the best prospect.
  4. Before you put this plan into action, consult an experienced real estate attorney. Bring the documents, and ask what they think you can do to solve the issue. Make sure you consult with an attorney whose practice includes a large percentage of real estate cases. Here is an article about how to go about finding a good real estate attorney.

You want to have a well-thought-out plan that makes sense after you have determined the development costs. The irony here is that the same reason you fought it years ago is why they are fighting it today.