Wednesday, March 27, 2019

How Not to Buy Real Estate in Second Life

(This entry was originally posted July 25, 2016 and has been updated)

An English teacher once told me "Write what you know about" so I figure I'm probably an expert on "How not to buy land"

I started out renting on part of a large island estate, and then rented a lot in a themed community. I bought my first Mainland in Green, and didn't realize at the time that being able to dig a hole down to the water line wasn't something you could do everywhere in Second Life.

Later I tried to make money in virtual real estate by buying small parcels, fixing them up, and reselling them for a profit. This is called 'flipping'. Along the way I made every mistake in the book. I eventually realized that I wasn't going to get rich that way, but  I had a lot of fun and did eventually learn to avoid some mistakes.

First, don't ignore free in-world advice.

Resident Lindal Kidd gives lectures on real estate at Oxbridge in Caledon, so check their schedule and take her class. I learned a lot from her. She also has a lot of good information on her website (use "Land" in search on her page) that is expressed much more elegantly and clearly than mine.

Don't confuse 'virtual' with 'real' land. 

With virtual real estate you are buying the right to use a parcel as long as you are willing to pay the monthly fees, and as long as the servers hold out.

Try renting before you buy.  

Are you ready to stay for the long term? If you are not ready to become a Premium member you can rent a variety of properties from estate managers or land managers. Once you've become Premium you may choose a Linden home or you can purchase a parcel on the Mainland (I won't be talking about buying whole islands or sims - By the time you're ready for that you won't need this article - I hope.)

Don't confuse renting with paying tier

When you rent you are paying an estate manager or property owner who is in turn paying tier to Linden Lab. If you buy a small parcel on Mainland you will pay tier directly to Linden Lab after you have paid the former owner (or the Auction House) for the property.  I won't go into the ongoing debate about "rent or buy" - just know that the land owner may be able to charge you less for rent than you would be paying in tier if you purchased the same-sized property on the Mainland. Big property owners get volume discounts.

Note that the first 1024 square meters is "bonus tier" that Premium members will not be charged for. If you click "buy land" you will get a message telling you what your new tier level will be. You can also add "what if's" to the tier chart to get an idea of what your new tier would be in case you might press the "Buy" button by mistake, but be sure to change everything back when you are through, so that the Lindens don't charge you more. Be sure that the circled checked marks your actual tier level. With the increased prim allowance, you can put a decent house on that size parcel.

Note that there is no sliding scale - you buy one square meter over your level and you are in the next tier level. (This is why you will find little parcel slivers all over Second Life made when someone realized "I'm not using all my prim allowance, so why don't I hack off the back 40 and reduce my tier?") Also note that you are charged for the most land you own at any time during the tier period, so don't think you can buy that humongous piece of property and re-sell it before tier time and not have to pay tier on it. The rates for large "islands" or sims separated from the Mainland are different, and I'm not going into that there. There are also some discounts for land held by groups.

Don't forget that you don't actually 'buy' land from anyone but Linden Lab, what is sometimes listed as a "buying" charge for a rental is actually more of a security deposit.

Don't forget to read all the rules and covenants before you rent.

If you buy land on the Mainland there aren't a lot of rules and that can be a mixed blessing. That means that you can practise building and not worry about some home-owner's association sending you a nasty letter, but it also means your neighbor can build anything he wants to as well.
Rental land usually has more rules or covenants, so read the rules before you rent.

Don't forget to find out more about the person you are paying for the land - is he or she actually listed as the owner, or did he just put a box down on some vacant land?

Don't think "Property values are sure to go up." 

Supply and demand determines the market and unfortunately, there is currently a drop in the demand for the less desirable virtual real estate. This means that if you just want a parcel to place a skybox, you can probably find property for less than 1L per meter. Here are some of my ideas on why that may be: 
  • There just aren't as many residents as there used to be in the boom years when Linden Labs was making new continents like crazy - some former residents have moved on to the next big thing . When Second Life started there were few competitors, but now, according to  Hypergrid Business, there were 277 OpenSim grids alone, and a few of them offer free land or other benefits in order to get customers. (I did rent a parcel in Inworldz for a while - but it just wasn't the same as Second Life).
  • The advent of sculpted prims and mesh means you need less land because you don't need as many prims to build.
  • Many merchants who used to have stores inworld have moved to "Marketplace Only" to save expense and effort.
  • Talk about "Sansar" has left a lot of people uneasy about the future of Second Life.

Good land, in a desirable location, still commands high prices.

Don't be too reluctant to buy a higher-priced property. 

A bargain parcel is no bargain if you end up hating it, but paying a little extra for something you love is certainly worth it.  Property prices change, but the same-sized parcel will affect your tier the same way no matter where it is on the Mainland. That landlocked 1024 surrounded by neighbors with ban line, security orbs, and strange political views is going to cost you the same tier as a 1024 on a protected-view beach with nice neighbors.

Don't think "I can fix this terrain with a little terraforming" 

The odds are good that you won't be able to terraform very much, if at all.

From the Wiki:  "Most mainland can be raised/lowered by 4 meters (+/-)

Land in Bay City, Boardman, Brown, De Haro, Kama City regions, Nautilus City regions, Nova Albion regions, and Shermerville regions cannot be terraformed at all, nor can land around Linden Homes.

A few very old mainland regions like Da Boom have a terraform range of 40 meters (+/-) but even that has its limits (more on that in another article.)

Estate Owners/Managers on private islands may set terraform ability to a maximum of 100 meters (+/-) but most of them limit what their tenants can do."

All of the above are the reasons that terrain prostheses are so popular. (In my opinion, a lot of them are very ugly.)

Don't think: "Well, the terrain is a little dull, I'll just plant a little grass"....

Trust me, don't choose terrain you can't live with, because you probably can't change it. If you are an estate owner you can choose your terrain textures, but most of us are stuck with what we have.  You may be able to alter things a bit with some minimal terraforming, (see above) but you are limited by terrain. Each region was originally created with four textures, but the heights at which one terrain changes to another vary so that the whole place doesn't look like a layer cake. 

These were my terrain options on a parcel in Chartreuse. Using Firestorm, I went to World, Region / Region Details/ Terrain. Most of the options are blacked out because I'm not an estate owner or manager, but you can see that water height on this parcel is 20 meters. You also see the four default textures for the region and with a short search you should be able to find these same textures in your Library in case you want to do match an object with the terrain (Like make a camouflaged roof for an underground room.)

Terrain chart for land that can be terraformed a bit

Texture on terrain dropdown, and same texture in Library.

If you really want a lawn - there are at least two solutions: there are gadgets that allow you to make sculpties that can be textured to cover your land, or you can just do the "rezz a big prim and texture the top" thing.  I happen to like JVTEK LandMap, for sale on the Marketplace. It works best on smooth flat surfaces.

Don't buy a parcel without checking to make sure that the seller hasn't put a small square of land in the middle that he is saving to sell to you later - at a higher price.

Don't buy a parcel just because you've fallen in love with the house and the landscaping. 

This was a wonderfully landscaped little island with a cute
cottage that was for sale. 
I derendered the water, the house, and the landscaping to
see what I would get if I bought it "Objects not included". 
The red lines are property lines - I enhanced them to make
them easier to see. 

If the "About Land" reads "objects not included" then all you are getting is the land.  If you've ever gone real estate shopping in real life you know that sellers 'stage' houses by doing things like picking up clutter, putting an apple pie in the oven, and setting up the furniture so the place looks like it should be in a magazine. When you buy the property in real life you won't get the apple pie or the fancy furniture, but you probably will get the house and the landscaping. In Second Life, if the property is for sale "Objects not included" you just get the land, and you need to try to imagine the property as you will get it. Take advantage of the seller's expertise and take photos and write down the name of the objects and their creators so that you can duplicate what you see. Some of those 'stagers' are geniuses.

Note that if you are considering rental, you need to be clear on what will be included with the rental. Some landlords may offer you a choice of homes and furnishings, others just make everything disappear once they have gotten your payment. Always check with the landlord first, and don't make assumptions.

If you are buying or renting a parcel that says "Objects included" make sure that all objects are set to transfer and are transferred to you before you set up auto return. Check twice, buy once.

Don't buy a parcel with "house included" without checking the house first. 

I may be the only person in Second Life who has ever done this, but I once bought a piece of land that came with a nice house that ended up disappearing.  I wasn't there a lot but when I was I kept seeing an odd text message in one part of the living room. Finally I tracked down the cause - the house had been set down but hadn't been completely rezzed! When I finally completed the rezz I tried to modify the house and parts started to disappear. By that time the name of the seller on my transaction history had timed-off & I was too embarrassed to ask Linden Lab for help.  I guess the next "Don't" would be

Don't forget to write down the name of the person and/or group you are buying the property from.

Oh, and if this is your only property be sure to set "Home"; if this is one of several properties be sure to make a landmark so you can remember where it is...(You can look in your Account Information if you forget). Also, go through the permissions carefully and be sure to set some kind of auto-return time after you are listed as owner of any "Objects included". Check "allow public access" unless you only want access for members of your group - otherwise everyone else will see banlines and new friends may consider you rude if they decide to stop by.

Don't forget to check out the traffic in the neighborhood 

While it is nice to be in a popular area you don't want so much traffic that you can't get in to the sim when it is too crowded.  A lot of traffic may be good if you want to open a store, but in a place where most people teleport the term 'foot traffic' is meaningless. Here is a screen shot of a 'for sale' parcel next to a popular establishment. Search statistics indicate that the place next door has traffic of 15142.  What I find interesting is that the little 512 plot is going for 25,000 when it is landlocked and the only way to get there is through teleporting or by flying.  The land entrance to the popular establishment is also on the other side of the sim and there is no way to get there unless you go around by the road. The odds of someone going to the popular establishment and then seeing the little shop behind it are probably very slim.

Property for sale next to popular establishment.

Don't forget to check the property around the parcel. It is also a good idea to just sit on the parcel for a while until everything nearby has had a chance to rezz. Also, what looks like a vacant lot may turn out to just be land under "Zaza's BoomBoom Skyroom."

If the parcel infromation tab tells you that most of the nearby parcels were recently claimed, then that might be an indication that someone bought a larger piece of land and split it to sell it. I've seen large parcels of oceanfront split into multiple 512 parcels that made me think of a miser cutting cake. 

Buying land near parcels that have been set with "0" auto return can be a problem because griefers and squatters look for parcels set with "0" return. They even have gadgets that tell them how to find "rezz land". Linden Lab has been very good lately about setting empty land to zero, but private property owners sometimes forget.

Land near Metaphysical Bridge that was left with 0 
return. Someone not the property owner has put up a
wall of animated monkeys, and someone who is not
the owner either has tried to cover the animated
monkeys with a sheet of plywood. Yes, I notified the
owner some time ago about this. Perhaps she likes

Land near Infohubs may or may not be good, but if you plan to build on ground level you should be prepared for occasional visits by newbies.  I also tend to steer clear of properties where the neighbor has banlines and/or security orbs. I would like the neighbors to get to know me before they ban me. You can make banlines visible by clicking 'show banlines' under 'World' settings.

Don't forget to check "Advanced", Highlighting and Visibility, and Highlight Transparent to check out the neighborhood. Also, derender water (Under Advanced/Rendering Type/Water - be careful when you do this) is a good tool for seeing underwater terrain (and for finding interesting things the Moles have hidden on the sea bottom). 

Here we see that what looked like clear sailing included an 8000+ parcel of private land with a ten-second security orb.  Checking further, I found that there is a only one small clear channel through which you could sail through several sims until you reached some protected water , but you would have to be a good navigator. I tried following the channel by using the world map, but ran into quite a few ban lines and two 10-second security orbs.
Looks like clear sailing from here!

Here I derendered water to show the property lines -
The property owner on the right has an 8000+ parcel
with a ten-second security orb. 

Here is where you find "Highlight Transparent"

After "Highlight Transparent" (fortunately the spheres are phantom).

Don't buy or rent property from any company that has put a large "sky sign" over the map, or from a company that has large domes hovering so close to the ground that they show up on the map.

In my opinion these are people who have absolutely no aesthetic sense and who don't love Second Life - otherwise they wouldn't ugly up the map with their signs and objects. A lot of them also have ban lines and security orbs around their parcels so that the large graphic has no purpose, because someone who was not already renting from them who tried to teleport there would be promptly booted. I guess it is just their way of marking territory. Also, if you buy land near a large dome that is hovering less than 300 feet from the ground, you may get shadows on the ground, and then of course you have to look at their builds....

How sweet, a giant heart

Underwater view from an abandoned parcel next door to one
of those ugly skysores* - the base is a mishmash - 
what looks like an old piece of privacy screen(we're underwater
here, folks), some giant rocks, and otherwise shoddy construction.
Above water isn't much better - just a big "privacy screen". - some "Heart"

*you find a lot of abandoned parcels near this kind of thing...

Here's an ugly dome on map view. 
Up close - you can see some of the base pad sticking out -
what this person has done is put up a stack of mega-domes
so that each renter can have "a whole sim". 

If you lived below this ugly thing, this is what you would
have to look at. 

You can guess that I hate flying domes.

Don't forget to find out whether you are buying land or water.

You may prefer to live on or under water, but you should check anyway. I have this funny thing about wanting to put my virtual feet on the virtual ground. 
From below, you can see that most of the 'land' is just above water.

From above it looks like a sandy plot.

Don't forget to check the shape of the parcel

Sometimes it is hard to see the property lines, so you can go to "World", "Show More" and then "Show Land Owners". Land for sale will show up as a bilious yellow, land that is not for sale will show up as red, parcels you own will show up as bright green, land that is up for auction will show up as purple, and SL Public Land Preserve Land will show up as a sort of blue/green. I have actually travelled around with this setting turned on, but after a while my computer starts showing me some interesting patterns, so I don't recommend doing it for too long. Also note that it takes a while for the landmaps to change color, so you may arrive at what looks like a yellow or purple parcel only to find it has already been sold.

Most land descriptions are accurate -  but if you are planning on sailing from your front dock be wary of lots that seem to be on the water but are described as "Beautiful sunset view". Which leads me to my next topic...

Don't confuse "water land" with "The Great Nothing".

The Mainland Continents are bordered by varying amounts of sailable water. In some areas (Like the Blake Sea) there are many sailing sims, in other area the land may just be cut off at the edge of what I call "The Great Nothing" (others call it "The Void Ocean"). Both sailable water and The Great Nothing are colored blue on the map, so you need to check to make sure.
It sure looks like water.
With water derendered, the Void Ocean shows up
as black.

When true water is de-rendered, you will see one of the landscape textures.

Standing at the edge of The Great Nothing

Don't get confused by "Off-Sim" objects.  A few talented builders have managed to figure out ways to project the image of things like rocks and waves past the edge of the sim, but it takes skill. Always wade out to make sure.

Even if you determine it is sailable water, check to see if there is a clear path to sail.

Don't be afraid to buy land through the Second Life Auctions.  

Any Premium member can bid on land, and there are usually a few 512 and 1024 parcels up for bid. Also, if you find an abandoned piece of land that you really think you like, you can ask Linden Lab to put it up for auction and you can bid on it when it comes on the list.

The auctions are now also offering "Person to Person" auctions on their Auction Site. You may also find listings in the land section of the SL Forums, the Marketplace, and in 'the classifieds'. Note that some of the land listings in the Marketplace that say '0' Lindens, are just referring you to their main land office. There is no free lunch. I have also found that if you have your map in 'Search' mode and click on a sim you can get a listing of what is for sale there.

Don't go shopping for land when you are hungry or sleep-deprived

Don't ask me what parcel I bought while researching this article. Maybe I can raise mountain goats on it.  

Don't automatically avoid odd-shaped or vertical parcels. 

Building on the side of a mountain or on an odd-shaped lot can be challenging, but there may be advantages. I saw a parcel in Mimas where the owner had a sliver of land on one side that was just wide enough to put a stairway to the nearby road.

Vertical land can also have its advantages. A build on the side of a mountain may give you a nice view. The property shown was only 1168 square meters, so I'm guessing that land in Second Life is determined "as if" the land were flat, just like in real life. Time to be creative!
On the map.

Viewed inworld with "Show Property 
Owners" viewer option. Photoshopped
to show edges more clearly. 
Here is the view from that lot - very nice!
Don't not buy a property because one of the neighbors has rezzed something you don't like. 

"De-render" is your friend. If you can derend it temporarily, you can blacklist it permanently. Now, I wasn't able to de-render that big blue dome thing, but I was able to permanently de-render a political poster on one of my neighbor's builds. (Don't do this too much, or you will be bumping into things.)(3-27-19: I've been trying to de-render my neighbor's ugly cube, but de-render doesn't seem to be working today. Worth a try, though.)

Added 7-28-16, thanks to information from a SL forum member:

Don't forget to check the number of avatars allowed on the Region if you are planning on having parties or hosting events.  

Contribution by Aethelwine:

"One additional problem you might want to mention land buyers look out for if they are wanting to have parties are the numbers of avatars allowed on the Region. Homesteads have 20, Estate managers on private estates can set an avatar limit that will often be 100 or reduced to 60. Mainland the avatar limit is generally 40 people, but some sims have the setting reduced to 30 for whatever reason and that can be a nasty surprise you find out after purchase and when you are wondering why your guests can't get in to your party it is a bit too late."

Some useful terms:

Double prim - On Mainland Bay City and some areas near the Welcome Area have double the prim allotment. These lots are usually more expensive. On private estates managers can also set land up so that renters have more prims than they would on a normal lot of the same size.

Protected - this usually means that you have a road, or a piece of protected land on one or all sides. Being next to a piece of abandoned land is not 'protected' because the land could be put up for
auction. Being next to Linden 'Maintenance' land is more safe.

From Prokofy Neva:

"I would add a few other basics:
-Take off "water" on the "Advanced" menu while also checking off "see property owners" and "land borders" under "world". This way you can see what is hidden under water instantly without worrying about "transparent".
 - Don't buy near sim seams. This can cause havoc at times when you rez things that might temporarily may need to go beyond the border of your property. Ditto Linden protected land. While Linden land adds value and helps the view it can also be a problem sometimes.
- Take off "volume" on the "Advanced" menu -- unscrupulous land dealers often put strange builds or boards on the land that might hide the fact that a 16 m or 32 m parcel is still owned by them after the sale of the bulk of the parcel which they may then try to extort a price from you for to "save the view". Have had this happen EVEN WHEN I took off volume so look with "midnight" on to see the parcel borders carefully.
- Check all your neighbours' claim dates. Neighbours with claim dates for years or even just a year are a sign of happiness with that area, whereas if they are all new, you can be in an infestation of land flippers or a place that has some hidden problem like a club in the sky where 40 avatars take up all the slots every night.
- Yes, look in the sky -- go to world/map, type in the number 4096 in the coordinates and then "fall" through the sky to see what is above you -- it might be in the view or be a club or some problem
- Don't buy land with nearby problems that you think you will get a neighbour to "fix". They almost never do, and asking them may inspire them to make it worse."

Thank you to everyone who contributed. 

How I Bought My Most Recent Parcel

When I came back to Second Life I chose to become a Premium member. I wanted a base, and I considered choosing a Linden home, renting, or buying a parcel on the Mainland. I checked listings in various places, and I cammed and teleported around the edges of several continents. In the end I chose a 1024 parcel on the east coast of Satori, with an unobstructed ocean view, and some maintenance and abandoned land on three sides. It's not perfect, but it could have been worse. (More on this later).

Here's a nightmare further south:
The yellow squares represent land for sale.

I went to investigate the 1536 parcel on one edge. It was advertised as "Unblockable view", and that, of course, was correct, because it was on the edge of The Great Nothing. I checked several of the other plots that were for sale and found that most of them had been purchased by one company on March 4th of this year. Apparently a large parcel had been acquired and then split up for sale. All the parcels on the right two-thirds of are actually on plats above water. This is one of my pet peeves, because not only do the folks who thought they had 'waterfront' land not have access to sailing water, no one else can sail past because the Lindens sold parcels right up to the edge of The Great Nothing.

The new passages on the north of Jeogeot give me hope that they may be realizing that it is a good thing to provide lots of places for residents to sail.

End of rant.

Added: I found a good video on "How to Buy Land in Second Life" by Mangrovejane. 


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