I have written about real estate a great deal over the last several years. Like everywhere else in the country, Bulloch County and the surrounding area have gone through a boom and now a significant slowdown since 2003.
Most news stories, including mine, have focused on the deterioration of residential and commercial values. Very little has been written about land values - in this case, agricultural land that is primarily used for farming, timber production, or recreational use.
Southeast Georgia has been a hotbed for this type of land sale for a number of years. I thought it would be interesting to get a sense of that market place, and what has happened to the value of agriculturally zoned land.
I enlisted the expertise of both local forester, appraiser, realtor, and land broker James B. Lanier, Jr., as well as local realtor and land broker Jason Williams. Lanier is an owner of the Land Management Group and Lanier-Brookins, Inc. in Brooklet, and Williams is the owner of Plantation Properties and Land Investments in Statesboro.
In 1974, Lanier opened the first full time office in this area for forestry consulting and real estate appraisals. "Like other types of real estate, there is a definite trend with this type of property," Lanier said. "With the decline in the construction industry, the majority of the recreational buyers are out of the marketplace now."
Lanier is referring to buyers who purchase large tracts of land for the purposes of hunting, four-wheeling, etc. "These folks were buying land to play on which really inflated the price for a number of years," Lanier said. "That buyer was typically from Florida or the Atlanta area. We don't see that buyer much right now. In fact, many are trying to sell the tracts that they bought during the boom."
Williams said that he has seen the same thing. "Folks that I sold land to are now having me list it for sale," he said. "They just can't afford to hang onto it any longer. I really started to see that type of demand slip in 2008. Just like that, it went away."
According to Lanier, the land that has seen the biggest drop in value from its previous "high" is timber land. "The recreational buyer was driving timber land sales and the price," he said. "Also, the large paper companies have divested many of their land holdings opting to purchase cut timber versus owning the land and having the timber cut. When you take into account the value of the timber that can be cut and sold on a tract of land, the cost of the dirt can now come out to less than a $1000 an acre."
Williams said there are many land investors, including real estate investment trusts, buying parcels in the marketplace now. "These large investment groups are pulling their money out of stocks and putting it into land," he said. "They aren't going to overpay for it, but they are clearly very interested."
Lanier said this is one of the most unique times that he has seen since entering the business in the early seventies.
"I feel that this is the greatest opportunity for land ownership now than I have ever seen in my working lifetime," he said. "Of course, there is an exception to every rule, and one must be prudent with their investments, but when you look at what is on the market, and the price that land is going for, it is just an unbelievable time."
Lanier said row crop/farm land has been somewhat of an exception to the rule. "With the price of commodities where they are today, good row crop land has been able to hold its value," he said.