What Is Improved Land?

Definition and Examples of Improved Land

Man building a wife roof on a new house
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Improved land can include any number of upgrades that make the land more usable. A building is considered to be an improvement to land, but the term can also refer to something comparatively minor, such as that certain utilities or services have been made available to the parcel.

Land is a finite commodity, so it will always appreciate in value. As population increases, cities spread out and more land will be incorporated, zoned, and developed. Prices correspondingly rise as land is improved.

What Is Improved Land?

Improving land is the process of converting unused or differently used land into a construction-ready site for commercial, residential, or industrial building. It can incorporate a number of secondary design concerns such as drainage, excavation, paving, and zoning/land use that must be addressed as part of the development process. Raw, untouched land is considered to be "unimproved."

How Improved Land Works

The nature of the improvements made to land can have a significant effect on property tax assessments. The potential for utility hookups would have at least some effect, but erecting a home or warehouse on the property would result in a marked increase in assessed value.

Improvements made to any structure located on the land would also increase value and, correspondingly, property taxes.

Types of Improved Land

The majority of real estate agents and brokers work with one of three property types: vacant land, residential properties, or commercial properties. These types of properties account for the vast majority of real estate transfers.

You might want to narrow your focus as a new agent or broker to one or these property types. A study of the number of properties of each type in your area, along with their relative values, should indicate the possible financial rewards of working with them.

Types of Land Transactions

The top five types of raw land transactions are similar yet different. Ideally, some land will always stay in its raw state because there are many beautiful areas, but there are many viable ways to develop land and make it useful for the population and the economy.

Land brokerage types include:

  • Farms and ranches
  • Undeveloped land
  • Land that's still in the early stages of development
  • Subdivisions and lots
  • Assembling parcels

Requirements for Land Use

There are three basic elements involved in the control of land use:

  • The plan: Municipalities develop master plans for the use of their land, traffic, and commercial and residential areas, as well as community schools and parks.
  • Zoning codes: Zoning codes, laws, or ordinances are developed to specify what land uses and building types will be allowed in certain areas.
  • Zoning permits: Zoning permits enforce zoning ordinances. Permits must generally be granted for all uses and structures.

A county or municipality must first determine the accepted uses for vacant land in developing a plan for growth, as well as proportions for each use and rules for the implementation of the plan. Depending on the area, this might include using land for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes, or it might include parks and green belts, community facilities, or flood control.

Zoning codes, laws, or ordinances control many facets of land use, including what can be built upon it and how the structures can be used. They include:

  • Size of lots for subdivision
  • Types of structures, as in residential or commercial
  • Use of the land for agriculture, industrial, or other purposes
  • External appearance or style of structures
  • Density (how many structures/units can be erected in a given area)
  • Setbacks (how far apart structures must be)

Communities use zoning hearing boards to enforce, manage, and modify zoning ordinances. These boards grant zoning permits and perform other duties pertaining to zoning. They hear citizen complaints and suggestions concerning zoning ordinances. Many areas require applications to the board to use land in any way other than what it was initially zoned for.

Key Takeaways

  • Improved land is land that has been upgraded through any of a variety of means.
  • Land can be improved simply by changing zoning restrictions, or it involve a more considerable project such as erecting a building or establishing utility hookups.
  • Unimproved land might be completely undeveloped or in the early stages of development. 

Article Sources

  1. Municipality of Anchorage. "Zoning and Building Self Help." Accessed Aug. 5, 2020.

  2. Volusia County Building and Zoning. "Common 'Change of Occupancy/Use' Issues." Accessed Aug. 5, 2020.