Buying Vacant Land and Lots in California

As the preeminent backcountry brokerage in San Diego County, helping our clients sell and buy land in California is our bread and butter. The land in San Diego is particularly desirable because of the versatility, mild climate and fertile soil often available. That being said, there are a multitude of considerations when purchasing vacant land and lots for sale in California. Financing, zoning, access (easement), and permits can affect the outcome when buying land for sale in California. 

A Client’s Question about Finding Vacant Land for Sale: 

“We are looking for a lot of acreage, suitable for a farm, multiple buildings for dwellings, and animals. Land that already has the foundations for our vision would be excellent. We are looking to have a farm/ ministry where people could stay to just get away, or if they preferred, a place to learn the fundamentals of growing your own food, caring for animals and offering a wide range of activities and classes like beekeeping, cooking, horseback riding, yoga, the list goes on…. let me know if you have any questions and thank you for your help.”




Hi C,

An intended use and development property will be restricted by county zoning regulations. Any deviation from the county zoning ordinance will require a significant investment of money and time to obtain any variance to the zoning designation of a particular property.  Moreover, there is no guarantee of the outcome. I’ve outlined some approaches to buying vacant land below. 

Here are the Four Primary Approaches to Buying Vacant Land For Sale in California

1) Purchase multiple contiguous lots

As mentioned above, you may be able to build a main dwelling, accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and junior accessory dwelling unit (JADU) on each lot.  

Accessory Dwelling Unit San Diego


2) Purchase a larger parcel of land and subdivide

In this case, you would subdivide into smaller parcels to basically accomplish the same as option 1 offers – multiple lots each built out with one primary dwelling, one accessory dwelling and junior dwelling. However, the process of subdivision is complex, and requires substantial time and money for permitting and development. 

3) Acquire a parcel(s) and get a Special or Major Use Permit

A Special or Major Use Permit may allow you to build multiple dwellings; however, this process is also complex, and requires substantial time and money. Once a property is identified, an Initial Consultation with the County of San Diego will be the first step in determining the viability of this option.

Developing a property without existing improvements also involves a significant amount of time and monetary resources due to environmental and site compliance.

San Diego County currently allows on most legal parcels one primary dwelling unit, one accessory dwelling unit (must be 50% the size of the primary dwelling up to 1200 SF) and one junior accessory dwelling unit (allowable if the property is your primary residence; up to 500 esf). This will be dependent are many variables such as required setbacks, slope and County building restrictions. 

4) Purchase a property that is already built out and/or current use is in line with your objectives

This will likely be the least expensive option from a total project cost standpoint.  The cost to develop vacant land is generally more expensive than purchasing a property that is already developed with improvements in the current market.  

Knowing your overall time frame and total budget for the completed project would allow us to better assist with your search and research.

Please let me know your thoughts, time-frame and budget (including how you intend to finance the project as this may impact which properties meet your criteria). 

Best Regards,

The RHR Team

Still have Questions about Vacant Land and Lots for Sale in California?

Check out our Land For Sale page to browse listings and watch Donn Bree’s 5 tips to buying vacant land.


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