Land Buying FAQ

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-= Disclaimer =-

  • This article is my opinion. It is not necessarily backed by Linden Labs or anyone else.
  • I welcome feedback on the article, and am especially keen on constructive suggestions. I will however ignore flames, trolling, personal attacks, etc.
  • This article is intended to be very helpful, useful, insightful and generally good, however it is offered 'as is' and I do not guarantee that it is any of these.
  • This article is meant as a supplement for the existing knowledge base article at which covers the same topic.

-= Angel Fluffy's buying/renting land FAQ =-

Q1) Why do I need land?

Put simply, land is space for you to put stuff so that other people can see it and interact with it. If you want to put stuff down that other people can see and interact with, then you will need land to put it on. The stuff you put down is up to you - it can be anything you own, make yourself or buy from someone else. The most common uses for land are houses (a private space for you and your selected guests), stores/malls, and 'public attractions' such as parks or places where special events happen. You can use SL just fine without ever owning land, however land does increase the number of things you can do by giving you a little space to call your own and use as you see fit.

Q2) What types of land are there?

There are various ways of sorting land. One such way is climate. In terms of climate land can vary from grassy fields to snowy mountains, from sandy beaches to rocky deserts. In this FAQ though, I want to focus on one particular way of sorting land - in terms of the rules that govern what you can/can't do with the land, and in terms of what the land costs. I'm doing it this way because I figure that land in SL is a luxury commodity, like most virtual goods. I think people typically decide how much land to buy in SL based on a combination of what they can afford and what will allow them to realise their dreams.

So, I'm going to break down the land in SL according to the rules that govern how you use it, and how much it costs. There are two big categories of land with very different rules and costs. They're called 'mainland' land and 'private estate' ('island') land.

Q3) What is the difference between land on a private estate, and land on the mainland?

The difference between them is that 'mainland' land is run on powerful computers (called "servers") which Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life) owns and runs, whereas 'private estate' land is run on servers which residents in SL (such as myself) lease from Linden Lab. Any resident can lease one or more servers from Linden Lab, and run them pretty much as they see fit. Together, the servers that are leased are called a 'private estate'.

So, the mainland is run by Linden Lab, and private estates are run by whoever leases them from Linden Lab.

Q4) What is the difference between buying, and renting?

When you buy land you pay money to buy it first, and then you also pay a monthly fee (usually called "tier") to Linden Lab (if you're on the mainland) or the estate owner (if you're on a private estate). When you rent land, you don't pay money to buy it, but you do pay a monthly fee for each month you're renting it. Again, this fee is paid to Linden Lab (if you're on the mainland) or the estate owner (if you're on a private estate).

The important things to note here are :

  • Buying land is cheaper in the long term than renting land, but does require you to pay a lot more up front.
  • If you are buying land, always check if you will get your money back when you move out (like a deposit) or if you have to re-sell the land to someone else to get back the money you paid for it.
  • If you are renting land, always check how long you can keep renting it for. Sometimes, rentals are for fixed periods, and sometimes they will keep on billing you until you cancel the agreement.
  • If you are on a private estate, you need to know who the estate owner is, because this person is responsible for looking after you and collecting money from you. To find this out, right click the land, select "about land", go to the "Covenant" tab, and look at the name next to "Estate Owner".

All in all, I would suggest that buying is better than renting, so long as : A) you trust the person you're buying from. B) you trust the estate owner the parcel is on, and have confirmed with them that the sale is OK C) you plan to be there for a long time, AND you are ok with having that money tied up in SL until you resell the parcel later. D) you can really afford the up-front cost of buying the land. If A or B above is not true, find a different place with sellers / estate owners you trust. If C or D above is not true, I would suggest that you rent instead.

Q5) Should I get land on the mainland, or on a private estate?

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Which one you should go for ultimately depends on what you want from your land.

Estate owners can change pretty much everything on their estates. Here are some examples of some of the things they can do :

  • increase or decrease the number of prims a parcel can have on it
  • set the sun to any time of the day or night, and/or stop it moving
  • ban people from being able to enter the estate at all
  • terraform as much as they like, anywhere, even on land they have sold to someone else
  • set the limits as to what renters/landowners can do with the land they rented/bought, such as if they can allow push-guns on their parcel, or how much they can terraform
  • generally set the rules that people on the sim live under, and enforce these rules as they see fit
  • give certain other people (called 'estate managers') the powers to do some of the above things

As you can see, estate owners have a lot of power to change things for the good or for the ill. For example, they can give you extra prims for free, or they can take away prims from a parcel after you have bought it. They can set the whole sim to midnight briefly for your grand opening.... or they can keep the sim in darkness all the time. They can ban griefers from the whole estate, so they can't just sit outside your parcel and harass you, or they can ban *you* if you break their rules. They can use their ability to terraform to correct problems on the sim and remove eyesores, or they can literally bury your house. They can set rules which are fair and prevent your neighbours causing you problems, or they can take your land away from you for no reason and with no refund. They can use their ability to delete/return objects to return ugly things left on the prim, and to delete the 'toys' griefers use to lag/crash the sim.... or they can just delete everything you own and there's nothing you can do about it. They can appoint an ass to be an estate manager who causes you problems.... or.... they can make *you* an estate manager so you can sort out pretty much any problems on the sim yourself. In short... living on a private estate can be the best experience in SL, or it can be the worst experience in SL. It simply depends... on how nice your estate owner is and how well you follow the rules they set. I've known estate owners who have given land worth many hundreds of dollars away free as gifts. I've also known estate owners who have deleted hundreds of dollars worth of other peoples' property for no good reason.

It all depends on the estate owner really. If they're nice, living on a private estate can be wonderful, and if they're nasty it can be a nightmare. Most estate owners are neither especially nice, nor especially nasty, they are just 'fair'.

The mainland on the other hand is much more constant. It doesn't matter much if Linden Lab like you or not. The rules for use of the mainland are very clear. They're more limiting in many cases, but they're also more clear. My personal point of view is that the best land is private estate land with a kind and helpful estate owner, and the worst land is private estate land with a mean estate owner. Mainland falls in the middle. Of course, I'm highly biased here because I'm an estate owner who used to own land on the mainland before I moved to private estates, and I like to consider myself a *nice* estate owner. Bias or not though, it's still what I believe after owning land on both private estates and the mainland, then spending a few months in the land business.

That said, I always advise newbies to go for the mainland, for two reasons : A) Linden Lab offer HIGHLY discounted parcels of land for newbies called 'First Land'. They are an amazing bargain - I have never seen anything near this good value on a private estate. Read for more details on this. B) Buying/renting land on a private estate requires you to know how good the estate owner is. Newbies often find this hard to tell, because they don't actually know how to check if the estate owner is a nice/fair person or not. Some unscrupulous estate owners might take advantage of their ignorance, so it is safer for them to get mainland, especially if they can get first land. There are definitely things you can do to make sure you get a good estate owner though, such as : A) Asking them to provide a reference of at least one person who really loves their service. A good estate owner should have lots of happy customers. B) Ask around other people you know, to see if they know anything about this estate owner. Some of them may have heard stories about them. Always check out stories/rumours you hear - don't just assume they are true, but do follow them up to see if there is something substantial there. C) Compare their prices against what other estate owners charge. If they are substantially different, then ask *why* they are different. If they are higher, ask what justifies the extra cost. If they are lower verify that they offer the same features as the more expensive alternative, and are not cutting corners. D) Check that they have a written covenant (a document which should list what they charge and what their rules are if you live on their servers), and ask how long they have been in business. There is always some element of risk involved with getting land on a private estate. You can hugely reduce the risk by checking out the estate owner and their company first, but there is always some risk. Personally I think so long as you check out the estate owner and they seem like a good person (not just profitable, but actually nice and kind) you're unlikely to get burned. On the other hand, if you don't have time to check out the estate owners because you need land right now this minute, or you're totally averse to taking any kind of risk whatsoever even if doing so can get rewards, then I suggest the mainland is better for you.

The risk associated with private estates is exaggerated. People get far more worried about it than is justified, I think. There is some risk but provided you do a little research you can greatly reduce the risk.

I personally suggest private estates give a better experience to the person with land on them than the mainland does, so long as the buyer is willing to do a little research and pick decent estate owners.

Q6) So, overall, what sort of land would you suggest?

- Hide quoted text - Have you had land before? If not, you should get first land on the mainland, as IMHO that is the best option for newbies wanting to own land. Are you able and willing to check out the various different private estates, what they offer, and how trustworthy their owners are? If not, you should get a parcel on the mainland. Can you do without any of the special features that private estates offer, like themed areas (such as a theme for furries, a tropical island theme, or parcels with especially high prims)? If you can't then obviously you *may* need to go to the private estates if what you want isn't possible on the mainland. If none of the above apply to you, then it comes down to choice of what you value more.... are you prepared for the adventure of a private estate, which can be complicated, challenging at times and more risky, but where you can get much more freedom, or do you want the consistency, simplicity and reliability of the mainland?

Personally, I'm for the private estates, so I'm biased, obviously, but I do believe each choice is a valid one. There are plenty of people who just play SL one or two days a week and really don't want to spend the time finding a private estate that is right for them. Similarly there are other people who simply hate having to live by anyone else's rules at all, no matter what the rules are, or who hate depending on other people. These people choose the mainland because they see estate owners as scary "big brother" figures, and it is probably a good thing that they do. They're happy there, whereas not only would they not be happy on private estates but some of them would probably also make the lives of other people unpleasant by violating the rules of the estate.

The choice is also slightly effected by your preference in terms of renting or buying. Rentals are better on private estates, because the estate owner can deed the land to your group (they can do this safely because they can always take the land back after you leave), whereas this is not possible on the mainland (nobody but the Lindens can take back parcels on the mainland once they are sold). So, if you're a renter, renting on a private island makes more sense as you get more control of your land that way.

Buyers on the other hand may put a lot of money into their investment in land, and worry that the estate owners on private estates could steal their land out from under them after they paid for it. Frankly I've never seen an estate owner do this, though I have heard two stories of it happening. I think that so long as you go with a trustworthy estate owner, it won't happen, however nobody wants to be worried all the time, so I suggest that people who still have this as a serious worry use the mainland instead.

Q7) Any other things I really need to know?

Yes. There are two 'recent' news items that are relevant about land.

First is that on Nov 15th, Linden Lab increased the price of each new private island bought from $1250 one off and $195 per month to $1675 and $295 per month. The effect of this is that a whole bunch of people ordered islands in that time, and they're coming online in December, 2006. This means that there will be many new estates and many new estate owners. Thus, competition may well force estate owners to cut the prices they charge, so there may be some deals to be had. On the other hand, there will also be many new estate owners who don't have the experience necessary to run an estate well. So, overall I'd suggest being a bit more careful than usual, shopping around and giving increased priority to the personal testimony of the people who have lived on the estate you are considering living on.

The second major news item is that Linden Lab has announced it *might* raise the tier prices charged on mainland land. If it raises them in line with the raise on private estate prices, then they will jump about 50%. The raise is estimated to be in the first half of the year of 2007. That is why there is so much mainland for sale right now - people are moving away from the mainland because they fear the impending price rises. Existing private estates won't be affected by a price rise from Linden Lab until at least the end of 2007 though. All in all, there is a bunch of land on the market right now. People are getting *out* of land because they fear price rises. This means you can pick up some good deals, but I would urge caution - don't buy more land then you can afford as prices may rise, and beware newbie estate owners if you're getting land on a private estate.

There is also a trick or two you should know.

The first trick is about how to tell if land is on a private estate or not. If you're on the land, you can go to 'about land' using the pie menu and look up the covenant tab. The information there will tell you if you're looking at a private estate area or a mainland area. If you're just browsing the land sales listings, then the 'show on map' button helps - just click it to find the area for sale, and zoom in/out to check if it is part of the big mainland continent or not.

The second trick is negotiation. The smaller the company you are dealing with, the easier it is to negotiate. You can't negotiate with big companies like Linden Lab, but you can with your neighbour next door who is thinking of selling his parcel. Trying to negotiate with a big company or established land dealers isn't productive, as you have virtually nil negotiating power. On the other hand, negotiating with individual people, especially people you buy parcels from, is a good idea if you have the time to do it. You can save yourself money that way. If you can't negotiate then you can at least send feedback ( e.g. telling a big company they charge too much) but it is up to them whether they should listen to this feedback or not.

End of FAQ, thanks for reading this, hope it helped you. -Angel