There’s pushing dirt, and then there’s pushing up daisies. One of them connotes fun and profit. The other … not so much.
But cut through the morbidity to the underlying truth—cemeteries contain a lot of dirt, and a burial plot that you can reserve as your final resting place is a real estate investment in its own right.
It’s a niche, to be sure. And let’s not kid ourselves—”dead dirt” is a macabre niche. However, believe it or not, it can be a profitable niche, with one of the lowest barriers of entry for women looking to cut their teeth in the dirt-pushing business.
You just have to reconcile with the “death” of it all.
We’ve all heard the joke about the only two inevitabilities in life—death and taxes. Women who push dirt know all about taxes. But everyone avoids the topic of death. Buying life insurance, writing our wills, picking burial vs. cremation … it’s unsettling to think about. Happy Hour sounds much more appealing.
Let’s take a deep breath and make some people with it, even if it’s just temporary peace. Happy Hour will still be there after we’re done.
Cemetery plots are just pieces of dirt that you can buy—or at least, buy the rights to. In that way it’s no different than a house, a lakefront plot, a commercial strip mall, or any other piece of dirt you can buy or lease the rights to. It has a cash value … and that cash value may change over time.
That means that with dead dirt, you can do what every real estate investor does—buy low, and sell high.
The Basics of Cemetery Plot Investing
The first thing to get a handle on is which cemeteries in your area even allow this kind of transaction. You are looking for cemeteries that allow plot owners to:
● Buy “pre-need.”
● Resell their plots to third-party buyers.
Not every cemetery has both of these policies, so this will narrow down the list of prospects at the outset.
“Pre-need” means you can buy the plot before there is a body to put in it. Some people reserve their dead dirt years in advance. This can help alleviate the pressure of funeral expenses from their heirs.
Death is expensive, with burial costs ranging from $6,000 to $10,000 for the average family. Buying a plot years “pre-need” could not only allow future decedents to absorb some of those costs when they are earning at their peak; but since dirt tends to appreciate, they can also “get in at a good price.”
About appreciation … like all dirt, the value of dead dirt responds to supply and demand. Cemetery plots range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
Location, location, location. Plots in New York City or San Francisco may fetch eye-popping prices, while plots in depressed rural areas may go for pennies. If plots are in short supply, prices will experience upward pressure. If new cemeteries open, or if existing ones are largely empty, prices will experience downward pressure.
Amenities matter too, just like in residential or commercial real estate. Plots by trees or water, plots with impressive views, or secluded plots may be in high demand and fetch higher prices.
Finally, cemetery plot prices can respond to the number of people who pass away. It’s worth noting that the largest generation in the U.S. ever, the Baby Boomers, currently range in age from 56 to 74. None of us wish death on anyone, but facts are facts—cemeteries could face extra demand in the next few decades.
Other factors come into play, though. Deterred by the cost and a challenging economy, many people are rejecting burial in favor of cremation, which is less expensive. Other people may favor or oppose cremation from a cultural or religious perspective. Cultural attitude toward burial vs. cremation may vary by location and demographic. There’s a lot to consider.
Dead-dirt investing has the advantage of a low barrier of entry—you can get in for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, without taking on a massive amount of debt.
The biggest disadvantage is that you can’t collect rent on a funeral plot … but there’s also little or nothing to manage. However, there may be upkeep expenses. Make sure to check whether or not the cemetery charges an annual upkeep fee. Remember, there’s no rental income to offset it.
Buying from Plot Owners
Every real estate transaction has a seller. So who is the seller in a dead-dirt transaction?
Cemeteries often have inventory you can buy directly from them. However, if their policy allows for resale (and remember, we need them to if we’re going to invest in their dirt), some plot owners may have listed their plots for sale … possibly at a discount. Some of them might be “don’t-wanters” or “motivated sellers,” as dirt-pushers sometimes call them.
You might find these plots listed for sale on Craigslist, or on a bulletin board at the cemetery or on the cemetery website.
As with other real estate niches, several specialized websites exist for the trading of cemetery plots, including gravesolutions.com, finadagrave.com, and thecemeteryexchange.com. You can even advertise your interest in buying a cemetery plot on craigslist or the above websites.
What makes a person a “motivated seller” of a cemetery plot? Many of the same motivators that apply to other types of dirt, including:
● Financial Straits. The cemetery plot may be one of a number of assets that a person experiencing hard times may need to liquidate for cash.
● Divorce or Remarriage. A couple that purchased side-by-side plots may be motivated to sell after the marriage goes south.
● Relocation. People moving out of the city, state, or country may no longer like the idea of a final resting place so far away.
Networking plays a huge role in finding real estate deals. In the case of dead dirt, you might consider networking with cemetery managers, divorce lawyers, moving companies, and clergy. Wouldn’t that be some cocktail party?
Selling your Plot for a Profit
Every dirt investment needs an exit strategy, too. So who will you sell your plot to?
You can list your plot for a profit right away if you like. If you got a good deal, a quick flip may be possible. Decedents that left insurance policies or funeral expense provisions may not care so much about the price they pay for the plot—especially if you invested in a desirable plot with a view, shade trees, etc.
Other heirs may be looking for a discount. If you bought your plot at a fortuitous time, rising prices may enable you to sell your plot at a discount from the cemetery’s retail offerings … and still make a profit. You will also be helping a bereaved family save money at a difficult time.
Flipping cemetery plots is a real estate niche that has decided strengths and weaknesses. However, if you can make peace with morbidity, it can be an excellent way to get into the pushing-dirt mindset and get some skin in the game with very little money at risk.
So call a few cemeteries, walk the grounds, get a sense of their prices, how full they are, which plots or sections are the most desirable and most likely to be in demand. Then grab Happy Hour with friends and reconnect to the joy and gratitude that comes from being alive