Selling Land

How do you price property today?

I know of two separate sellers, each of whom is marketing a tract of more than 5,000 acres. Each is priced at about $1,500/A. I think fair value for each is in the $700/A range. That’s not a low-ball number. It’s how I pencil out the assets. And maybe I’m being generous.

The stock market is down 40 percent over the year. It continues to decline. The Dow is down about 2,250 points in seven days. The economy is stronger than this paniced market, but is being tugged down by weakening sales, tight credit and a dozen other factors.

The stock market appears to have decided that the $700 billion in federal money will not put a floor under the fall if it’s used as Secretary Paulson testified he plans to use it. Op-Ed articles in the WSJ and other papers have presented alternatives that deal directly with stopping foreclosures, refinancing mortgages, capitalizing banks, etc. I’ve yet to see a proposal for ending credit-default swaps and unfathomable derivatives, which together, as much as anything else, set us up for this mess.

My own uneducated sense of this is that we will work our way into a recovery, one property at a time, with one buyer and one seller finding a price. If sellers don’t budge from inflated valuations, all the liquidity in the world won’t get buyers to buy.

Everyone is waiting for the pain to stop.  I don’t think we reverse this trend without pain being spread widely and deeply. A price set six months ago won’t work today. Each seller has to fight this fight with himself and his lender. It will be ugly and hurt a lot. A property that is overpriced by 100 percent needs to come down 50 percent.

Brokers are encouraging their clients to drop 10 or 15 percent. Recent WSJ ads are coming down by 25 to 30 percent or more. I’m interested in what brokers on both the seller and buyer sides think about this predicament, which has ensnared us all.

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About the author

Curtis Seltzer

Curtis Seltzer is a land consultant, columnist and author of How To Be a DIRT-SMART Buyer of Country Property, available at Curtis-Seltzer.com where his columns are posted. He also does commentary for Virginia public radio. His new book, Land Matters: The “Country Real Estate” Columns, 2007-2009, which includes 14 commentaries on CD.

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  • Sir
    Comparing the stock market to timberland is like comparing apples to oranges. Timberland historically does not have the inflated values that the stock market does. Starting with 2000 timberland in VA (just the land) was averaging $800 per acre plus the timber value. By 2005 timber land values (just the bare land price) increased to an average of $1500 per acre and some folks were selling at $1800 per acre an increase of over 100% in 5 years. As recently as six months ago VA timberland bare land prices were at $1100 per acre plus timber values, showing already a 30-40 % drop in bare land prices. I would argue that bare land prices have and are coming down. I will also note that as of last week there is an increase of interest in investing in realestate especially timberlands. There is a lot of money out there in cds, banks ect.. that has been pulled out of the stock market and is looking for a good investment that can be trusted. Conservatively priced realestate timberland ect..is being looked at.

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