Growing hunger for raw land

Unimproved property can be cheap, but financing poses challenges

As 2009 limped to a close, down in suburban Miami, beleaguered homebuilder Lennar Corp. sold a 9-acre parcel of raw land for $2.3 million. The property, located in the city of Kendall, was, according to press reports, originally acquired in 2003 for $15 million, but I assume Lennar executives were just happy to get the property off corporate books, where it sat as a non-revenue-producing asset.

The deal was notable because the market for raw land has been relatively quiet over the past three years despite best efforts to make something happen. Beginning around 2007 a number of investment groups began raising capital for raw land, which had been aggressively accumulated by REITs and individual investors during the boom years, but became toxic to corporate accounting during the bust.