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Is there a more significant and powerful acquisition than purchasing a massive segment of earth? Whether it’s a trophy ranch of 250 acres or a mega-ranch consisting of tens or hundreds of thousands of acres, vast properties are where more and more elite-level buyers are investing their resources. Look how the list of America’s largest landowners bears a striking resemblance to the Forbes list of the country’s wealthiest individuals.
Ranch, forest, farm or wilderness, there are numerous reasons why those who can afford it are attracted to colossal parcels: to provide privacy and an opportunity to explore a range of uses and recreational interests; to create a memorable “base camp” for extended family; to create a legacy asset to pass to future generations; to capitalize on its resources; or for the purposes of conservation and responsible stewardship. They can also be highly beneficial additions to portfolios.
“High-net-worth buyers see them as opportunities to diversify into hard assets,” says Bill Fandel, Vice President and Managing Broker at Telluride Sotheby’s International Realty. “There’s stability in them as an investment. It’s a tangible asset that can be used and enjoyed.”
It takes more than great wealth, however, to successfully purchase and maximize a monumental property. Here are a few factors to consider when shopping immense acreage:
Choose the right location
No amount of land is worth owning if it can’t be accessed or easily enjoyed. For most buyers proximity to a destination market or natural attraction, such as the ocean or a ski resort town, is going to enhance the value of the land and the lifestyle. Distance to airports or private airstrips, not to mention provisions and hospitals, should also be taken into consideration.
Savvy buyers often look for properties adjacent to public lands, a scenario that can radically enlarge the holding—500 acres abutting a national forest can effectively increase the size of the purchase tens of thousands of acres. And while it may seem elementary, views, climate, security, privacy and character of the land must be ideal to provide a lifetime of enjoyment.
Determine what the land will be used for
The purpose of the land will also dictate the place. Is this a private retreat for hunting, fishing or hiking? Will it be and equestrian property, or used for philanthropic or conservation purposes? Is the land intended to be profitable through harvesting natural resources or, increasingly, grazing livestock? An explicit intent of how and why the land will be utilized will ensure that buyers are searching in the correct environment and properly examining the land’s features.
Know the upkeep
Some buyers mistakenly think once the deed is signed they can let their acquisition sit. But mega-ranches and other enormous plots of land usually require diligent upkeep and improvements. Fences, invasive animals, utility protection, fire mitigation, undergrowth clearing, noxious weed eradication—these issues and countless others require ongoing attention.
Timbered properties may need less oversight, but farm and equestrian purchases in particular demand large, specialized operations. Prospective buyers should find out if the property has a manager or staff that oversees it and consider extending their employment. These are the people most familiar with the water, utilities, systems, recreational components, irrigation and all other land peculiarities.
Make sure the infrastructure is in place
Closely examine the quality of the property’s existing infrastructure. Are the roads navigable year-round? Are the gas, electric and water lines in good repair? If you plan on building on the site, are there convenient utility systems that can be tapped?
Getting an undeveloped parcel of real estate up to a livable condition can add an unexpected layer of expense. Trenching an electric or gas line several miles into the heart of a property, for instance, can seriously elevate costs. Be ready.
Control water and mineral rights
Water rights are not a paramount concern in the Southeast or in many parts of the U.S. but carry great consequences in others.
“The quality of water rights adds or subtracts significant value to properties, particularly in the American west,” says Fandel. In dry areas it is critical to understand how a property accesses both potable and irrigated water. There may be cases where large landowners must sacrifice, by law, water to neighboring properties during droughts.
Understanding mineral rights, and what lies beneath the surface of a parcel, is equally crucial. Be certain no other entity is legally entitled to drill, frack or mine on land you buy.
Clear the title
Many of today’s largest land acquisitions are assemblages of various smaller parcels, which, if past propriety is murky or tangled, can lead to future legal complications. Take extra care to verify the titles are clear to ensure that no outside agency can make a claim against your investment.
Fandel says some large land holdings that come on the market are trading for the first time since they were homesteaded in the late 1800’s. In these cases clear titles can be a concern and assessing the state of the property can be difficult since some continuously held private land might not have kept time with changing regulations. What’s there? What’s buried underground? A sale can be the first peek behind the curtain, so to speak, in five or six generations. Take caution.
Essentially, Fandel says, “You want to understand the history of ownership behind these big properties.”
Article provided exclusively to Sotheby’s International Realty, LLC. by Derek Duncan