The acquisition and improvement of land is a large-scale operation and requires large amounts of capital. This has created methods of land acquisition that gives the developer access to and control over a large enough tract to make development economical without requiring an initial outlay of all of the capital necessary to acquire such a tract.

From the point of view of the landowner, the disposal of a large tract at a good price may require a formula that will encourage the developer to commit improvement and development money for part of the tract that will build future value into the entire tract.

This may be accomplished by the following:

  • The developer sets up a master plan that sets forth the general scheme of development and submits it for the approval of the owner.
  • The developer and owner enter into an agreement setting forth the acreage prices for the entire property.
  • Owner and developer agree on the number of years over which the full development is to be completed.
  • To protect the owner against freezing of his property, the developer firmly commits to buy a predetermined number of acres each year.
  • If the developer fails to meet this schedule, the owner is released from his commitment.

A Development Agreement     

Another way of handling the problem is for the developer to share the net profits from the land development with the landowner. This can be done by a “land development agreement” in which the developer agrees to perform the platting, the laying out, the installation of lot improvements, and the promotion of the subdivision. The landowner agrees to accept a percentage of the sales price of each lot, with a fixed minimum guaranteed. For example, the developer agrees to pay net to the landowner 25% of the sales price of each lot sold, with a minimum of $50,000 per lot.

With this kind of arrangement, it is important to protect the landowner from finding his land cluttered up with liens left by a subdivider who became insolvent. The landowner should consider confining the developer or subdivider to a small tract of land at a time and give him “rolling options” to acquire additional parcels at intervals over a period of time. Failure to keep up with this purchase program results in loss of future options. The land that has been optioned but not purchased is not subject to liens against the developer.

A Liability for Not Proceeding

In one case, a jury found that a village breached its contract with a real estate developer calling for the village to acquire property and convey it to the developer for construction of apartment houses and a shopping center, all conditioned on obtaining financing from HUD. The village repudiated its explicit undertakings, to acquire and convey property to the developers. HUD had granted the main application and was in the process of considering the other grants involved, so the village could not back out of its promise. [Heritage Commons Partners v. Village of Summit, 730 F.Supp 821, (ND Ill. 1990)]