When my daughter, Gabriella, came to me about becoming a real estate investor, I was thrilled. I’ve been buying, rehabbing, and re-selling homes for a couple of decades and have secretly hoped that one of my kids would show some interest in the family business. Though Gabriella knows what I do, and that I love doing it, she said the tipping point for her was that she’d recently read about Syracuse Land Bank properties for sale. She was especially interested in how the Greater Syracuse Land Bank was set up to help restore blighted neighborhoods by selling the properties in its inventory at a discount for buyers to renovate. She’d never before considered how investing in real estate could serve the community in addition to providing for the family. Now that the idea was there, she couldn’t let it go. So, she wondered what I thought about the land bank and if purchasing their properties was the best way to go for people like her who want to make an impact and not just a buck.

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How to Buy Syracuse Land Bank Properties for Sale

As Gabriella discovered, the Greater Syracuse Land Bank was established to help rehabilitate blighted neighborhoods by returning rundown, under-utilized, vacant, and abandoned properties to good use. The Land Bank does this by absorbing distressed properties into its inventory, then selling them to buyers to renovate. Homes are brought back to code and made livable, property values go up, and the local tax base stabilizes—a significant step toward expanding the services that local governments can provide toward further revitalizing the area.

The Syracuse Land Bank has acquired over 1,400 properties to date and sold more than a third of those. Most of its inventory comes from the delinquent tax foreclosure process. But, it also obtains properties through bank foreclosures, donations, and purchases. And, because of the typically poor condition of these homes, they’re listed for sale at a discount to incentivize buyers to take their rehabilitation on. So, if you’re in search of an inexpensive New York real estate investment opportunity—as well as a way to improve the condition of certain neighborhoods—the Land Bank could have what you’re looking for.

Of course, to buy a Land Bank property, you will have to get approval from the Board of Directors. To start the process, you’ll need to fill out an application and submit it with all of your supporting documents to the Board at least two weeks prior to their monthly meeting. The Board will consider the purchase of multiple properties, so be sure to list every home you’re interested in as well as a proposed renovation schedule and all relevant costs for each. Also, many of the properties already come with a scope of work that must be completed by the buyer. So, it’s imperative that you review these details where available and include them in your proposal in order to be considered.

Unfortunately, not all Syracuse Land Bank properties are for sale. Although you may see signs indicating ownership by the Land Bank posted on a property, always double-check its availability on their website. There, you’ll find an up-to-date list of houses and multi-family units for sale, the contact information for the real estate broker handling each transaction, whether or not a scope of work has been created for a property, and any additional instructions for submitting your offer.

Note that the Land Bank will scrutinize every aspect of your application, so do put your best foot forward when you apply. They don’t counter offers and they don’t always award a property based on the highest bid. Instead, they’re looking to ensure that you have experience buying and renovating property, that your development plans fall in line with their vision of rehabilitating the community, and that you’re willing and able to fulfill their terms of sale. They’ll also be looking to see whether or not you intend to live at the property or if you work for the government. Owner-occupiers and public employees get first dibs on the homes. And, to encourage them to apply, the Land Bank offers these buyers additional discounts. So, if you want a chance at grabbing one of these properties to help grow your real estate portfolio, don’t chance it by playing “chicken” with the Board by submitting a sloppy or sub-par offer.

That the applications of owner-occupants and public employees get first consideration for Syracuse Land Bank properties isn’t the only snag you could hit when trying to buy one of their multi-family units or single-family homes as investment property. You’ll need to agree to an enforcement mortgage too—even if you pay for the property in cash. The purpose of this lien is to hold you to your development plan. And, it won’t be discharged until you’ve met all renovation criteria and received a Certificate of Adequacy from the Land Bank, a Certificate of Inspection from Code Enforcement, or possibly both.

Should You Buy a Syracuse Land Bank Property?

The cost and time to renovate one of these properties, assuming your bid is accepted and you agree to all sale terms, can also be a bit extreme. So many of these homes have been sitting empty for years, falling further and further into disrepair. They often become so dangerous to even enter that they’re considered a serious liability. This is part of the reason why the Land Bank allows up to 12 months for the completion of repairs and will sometimes grant extensions upon request. But, all the time in the world to bring what could be a potential money pit back to good use won’t help you realize great returns. If your renovation costs end up outpacing your estimated returns or you’re faced with having to try to sell your investment property during New York’s harsh winter season, you might wish your application had never been approved.

And, finally, though the Syracuse Land Bank does clear a lot of the red tape from its properties, much like the Cook County Land Bank in Chicago, it makes no guarantees that you’ll receive title insurance or a vacant property. So, it’s possible you’ll uncover unresolved encumbrances later down the line that prevents you from selling your property and evicting your tenants. The Syracuse Land Bank does make an effort to deliver homes with fewer complications than other county land bank properties. But, their efforts don’t always add up to a good deal, no matter how little you might have paid for a house at the outset.

All that said, overall, I think the idea behind the Greater Syracuse Land Bank is a good one. Renovating decrepit, even dangerous, properties as a means of restoring safety and vitality to troubled neighborhoods is an honorable mission. And, for real estate investors who want to do their part to save the world, there’s no better place to start than right here at home in Syracuse. But, think of the impact you could make if you purchased property directly from distressed homeowners before they lost their homes in the first place. You’d save their world too.

You Could, and Should, Buy From Distressed Homeowners Instead

As an independently owned and operated HomeVestors® franchisee, I have the distinct opportunity to buy homes from individuals and families in need of financial reprieve from a distressing situation. There are multiple reasons why homeowners fall behind on their financial obligations and the upkeep of their properties and, if they had their way, they’d prefer help sooner rather than later. Distressed homeowners can connect directly to local franchisees who may buy their “ugly” house at a fair price that leaves the homeowner with their dignity and, sometimes, a little extra cash.

How do motivated sellers find HomeVestors®? If you’ve seen any of the “We Buy Ugly Houses®” billboards or television ads, or heard the spots on the radio, you already know. What you might not know is that this ad campaign is so successful that HomeVestors® franchisees have already bought over 140,000 homes nationwide since 1996. In my book, that’s a lot of homeowners saved.

Would you like your property investments to make an impact and not just a buck? Then, contact HomeVestors® about becoming an independently owned and operated franchisee today.


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