Open Lands: A Century-Old Doctrine & Your Property Rights

People just want to get away from it all.  Interest in owning land out in the country comes from the desire to hunt, fish, or farm in peace and solitude.  Big lots combined with few neighbors give people the privacy and security that they crave. 

Or so they might think.  Though landowners can keep private people off their land using trespassing laws, in many states the government may search the vast majority of private lands whenever they wish, and for any reason.  It doesn’t matter how many locked fences and “No Trespassing” signs the owner might put out.  

The reason?  A century-old legal rule called the “open fields” doctrine This constitutional error weakens every Americanproperty rights, but disproportionately hurts rural landowners.  Reform—whether through the courts or the legislature—is desperately needed to restore our basic right to be left alone.  

So how did it get to be this way? 

Many people know that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” as do all the constitutions of our 50 states.  When the Framers drafted the Fourth Amendment, they wanted to guarantee our right to be secure in, and on, our own property.   

And for a while that was how it worked.  Early Fourth Amendment decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the amendment broadly so that it could achieve its important purpose.  Moreover, government officials rarely had to traipse across private property to enforce the laws, making constitutional conflicts few and far between. 

But that all changed in 1920 with Prohibition.  As the manufacture and sale of alcohol became illegal, government agents started prowling around for illicit hooch and stills, including on private lands.  In one such case called Hester v. United States, revenue agents hid on someone’s land to see if they were selling alcohol and gave chase when they saw his son hand someone a bottle.   

The son argued that the agents’ actions violated the Constitution.  But in a cursory opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected that argument, holding that “the special protection accorded by the Fourth Amendment to the people in their ‘persons, houses, papers and effects,’ is not extended to the open fields.”  In one stroke, the Court categorically eliminated all constitutional protections for most of the private land owned in the United States.   

Hester’s narrow view of what the Fourth Amendment protects eviscerated Americans’ constitutional rights.  Worse, it was based on a false premise: that the distinction between [open fields] and the house is as old as the common law, a distinction that (if you read it) was actually about when private individuals could be charged with burglary, not about when government officers could intrude on private property.  Still, the damage was done. 

Hope sprang anew sixty years later, when the Supreme Court heard a case called Oliver v. United States, which asked whether Hester was still good law.  There was good reason to be optimistic:  In the years since Hesterthe Court had developed a new Fourth Amendment test that broke from Hester’s narrow approach.   

But bad facts make for bad law, and the 1980s had their own Prohibition—the War on Drugs.  So it was little surprise that, in 1984, the Court reaffirmed Hester, holdingin service of the War on Drugs and with disregard for the Constitution—that private property owners have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” on any private lands the Court deems to be an “open field.”  

So, what’s the problem? 

The “open fields” doctrine has been widely criticized, and for good reason.  Its narrow reading of the Fourth Amendment undercuts the amendment’s broad purpose, which is to make us secure in our own property.  Its statement that the common law justifies that narrow reading lacks historical support.  And ultimately, the doctrine makes it hard for anyone to feel secure, since it means agents could be snooping around unannounced at any point. 

These concerns have only grown more pointed in modern times.  In the old days, if the government wanted to search your land, it had to hire and send out officers to do the deed.  But modern technology has made it cheap and easy for officials to instead run their own digital dragnet.   

One way is through automated surveillance cameras.  Hunters often secure these cameras to tree trunks to learn more about nearby fauna.  But the government can just as easily use these cameras to learn more about you.  With this new technology, officials don’t have to hide in the bushes 24/7.  Instead, they can enter someone’s land, attach surveillance camera to a strategically placed tree trunk, and then sit back as it automatically takes and stores pictures of any activityany time of day.   

Sound creepy?  That’s what Terry Rainwaters thought.  Terry is a lifelong resident of Camden, Tennessee who owns 136 acres of land along the Big Sandy River. He lives there with his son, with whom he spends time hunting. Terry also farms the land and rents out a separate house on the property to a long-time tenant. Terry values his privacy, so he keeps his gates locked and posted with “No Trespassing” sign. 

In December 2017, Terry’s son was driving around the property when he saw an unmarked camera hanging from a string in one of Terry’s trees.  From its vantage point, the camera was able to capture images of people and cars moving past, of Terry and his son’s private activities, and even of the back of Terry’s tenant’s home.  They found a second camera set up nearby, with a tree branch cut to provide the camera with a clear view of the property.  A few days later, both cameras suddenly disappeared. 

It turned out that officers from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) had surreptitiously snuck onto Terry’s land.  As part of their mandate to “[e]nforce all laws relating to wildlife,” Tennessee law gives TWRA’s Executive Director (and, through him, TWRA officers) the power to “go upon any property, outside of buildings, posted or otherwise” to search for hunting violations.   

Terry has had a Tennessee hunting license for decades and has seen TWRA officers wandering around his property without permission several times in the past but had never encountered cameras before. Rattled, Terry spoke to other hunters in Camden, who told him that TWRA officers had trespassed on their land and installed cameras as well. 

What can be done? 

Terry and another Camden resident, Hunter Hollingsworth, grew sick and tired of TWRA’s warrantless snooping.  So, they joined forces with the Institute for Justice to sue TWRA in state court to bring it to an end.  Their lawsuit contends that, even if the federal “open fields” doctrine means TWRA agents could enter their property without violating the Fourth Amendment, they cannot do so under the Tennessee Constitution. 

This position has a lot of support behind it.  The Tennessee Supreme Court has rejected the “open fields” doctrine on several occasions as inconsistent with a free society that respects private property and privacy.  And so have other states.  The Mississippi Supreme Court, for instance, saw the decision in Hester and immediately rejected its reasoning on state constitutional grounds.  In more recent years several other states, including Montana, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, reached the same conclusion. 

That’s good for the citizens of those states, whose land would otherwise largely be without any constitutional protection. Sure, it means that officials have to get a warrant, but that’s what they are supposed to do.  And the lack of any horror stories coming out of New York, Montana, or elsewhere shows that respecting people’s property and constitutional rights need not come at the public’s expense.   

Terry’s case is a wake-up call, both to Tennessee courts and the nation more generally.  It asks the Tennessee Supreme Court to remind TWRA officials that, in the Volunteer State, “No Trespassing” signs apply to the government too.  And it is part of a larger campaign by the Institute for Justice to persuade courts around the nation, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to repudiate the “open fields” doctrine and restore the Fourth Amendment’s broad protections for all Americans. 

But the courts aren’t the only way we can restore our constitutional rights.  Legislatures can also help rein in out-of-control officials.  That is the objective behind the Institute’s model legislation, which requires that, absent a real emergency, officials either get owners’ permission or a search warrant before searching private property.  And to give that requirement real teeth, the legislation allows owners to sue government officials for any offense or damage that results from their illegal entry. 

Of course, no single case or single bill can fix the damage caused by Hester and the open fields doctrine, which has plagued us for almost an entire century.  But the fact that a mistake is long-lived does not make that mistake right.  Whether through litigation or legislation, it is long past time to restore our right to be secure on our own land.  Finally closing the door on the open fields doctrine will give us all the freedom to once again get away from it all. 

This article originally appeared as “Open Lands: A Century-Old Doctrine and Your Property Rights” in the Winter 2021 edition of Terra Firma Magazine.

About the Author

Robert Frommer is a Senior Attorney at the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit, public-interest law firm dedicated to strengthening Americans’ right to be secure in their persons and property. Robert has a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan and a Master’s degree in Economics from George Mason University.

7 Steps to Successfully Sell Land Online

Selling land can be tough. Many buyers do not have the foresight, time, or financial means to properly develop a vacant tract. This can limit the market to a very specific segment.

If you are struggling to find a buyer, consider the advantages of selling your land online. Not only does this put your land before the eyes of a worldwide audience, but digital technology allows you to showcase the land in a more flattering light than you ever could in person.

Consider the following seven steps to most effectively sell your land online.

1. Use Drones to Give Virtual Tours

Online real estate listings are not complete without drone footage. For land sales, in particular, aerial images are paramount. You simply cannot capture all of the land’s unique features online without giving buyers a thorough look from a bird’s-eye view. As such, hiring a professional in drone photography should be at the top of your checklist prior to listing your land for sale.

2. Make Buyers Aware of Development Prospects

There are practically no buyers out there who are interested in buying land just to own land. Sure, the age-old concept of buying land as an investment likely compels most people to consider purchasing land, but very few will be content in sitting back and passively hoping that the land suddenly becomes coveted in their lifetime. They will want to actively develop the land to speed up their return on investment.

Therefore, you should clearly highlight all of the features that your land boasts for development. Its proximity to trendy locations, prospects for getting utilities to buildings, and community plans for local expansion should all be featured prominently in your online listing.

3. Work with a Land Broker

All land brokers are real estate agents, but not all real estate agents are land brokers. Land brokers are specialized real estate professionals who focus on the sale and transfer of land. They have a detailed understanding of building codes and zoning restrictions–among a host of other specializations–and can be extremely valuable to you in formulating a plan on how to most effectively market your land online. RLI’s Find a Land Consultant tool is an excellent resource for finding land brokers and Accredited Land Consultants who can effectively guide you through a land transaction.

4. Know Your Goals When Setting a Price

The classic sentiment is that overpricing a piece of land can stall the sale process, as an exorbitantly high asking price can deter buyers from even making an offer they think you will consider. So if moving your land fast is your goal, then make sure you have a competitive price.

However, do not shortchange yourself if capturing a tidy profit is important to you. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing millions of Americans to relocate, with those in expensive cities such as San Francisco and New York looking for more socially-distanced spaces. Many in this demographic are scooping up properties sight-unseen to start a new life for themselves in the era of remote work, with your piece of land potentially fitting nicely into these plans.

5. Demark the Boundaries Clearly

Simply listing the size of the lot will not resonate with many buyers. They want to be able to see exactly what they are getting. Be sure to include specific lot line dimensions, with boundaries drawn into aerial photographs an excellent way to highlight the lay of your land.

6. The More Information, the Better

You can never be too descriptive when you sell land online. Videos, pictures, and detailed text should make it easy for online shoppers to find and comprehend what they are looking for. It is also important to remember that many buyers have their guards up against being duped online, so if there is anything about your land that may be problematic to some buyers, it is best to clearly convey that in your listing so that you do not waste time when a buyer gets cold feet later in the process.

7. Include Keywords in Your Listing

No matter how great your online listing is, it is all for naught if buyers cannot find it in the myriad properties that crowd their Internet searches. Therefore, research some keywords that buyers use when shopping for land online. Some popular keywords that many shoppers use in their searches include “private,” “lake,” “mountain,” and close to town.”

Conclusion

Selling land presents some challenges, but these difficulties can be effectively managed by creating an online listing. Not only does selling online get your land in front of a larger market, but it allows you to highlight key features of the property that would not stand out by placing a “Land for Sale” sign along the side of the road. By following the seven steps in this article, you have all of the tools you need to make your online listing shine!

About the Author

Skylar Ross is a writer for Land.us who specializes in topics related to land management, property investment, and real estate. He focuses on helping current and prospective landowners care for their land, discover investment opportunities, and be successful in land brokerage deals.

recreational land fishing

What First-Time Recreational Land Buyers Need To Know

The idea of owning your own rural property is an appealing one, and can seem like the process can be fairly simple. But if you’re buying land, especially as first-time recreational land buyers, there are several conditions and circumstances you’ll want to be aware of so that you can make an informed decision and avoid costly mistakes.

Considerations Before Purchasing Land

What Are Your Needs From The Property?

The first thing you want to decide as first-time recreational land buyers is what type of property you want and how you intend to use it. There are big differences between purchasing land for hunting deer or fishing versus purchasing land for camping or hiking on the property.

hiking recreational land

What Is Your Budget?

Another important consideration is determining how you will pay for your land. If you have the cash, great! Experts recommended paying cash for land if you have the ability. That’s because a traditional land loan is more difficult to obtain than a mortgage. Additionally, land loans almost always have higher interest rates, require a higher down payment, and are typically required to be paid off in 3 to 5 years.

Most Importantly, What Land Professional Will You Use?

Before anything else, you must find someone to help you with your land purchase. A traditional real estate agent likely will not have the experience required to help you with a land purchase. An agent that specializes in recreational land purchases will have the experience and knowledge needed to help you find the right piece of land. Using a qualified land broker can also benefit you when it comes to considering zoning laws and other legalities as well. With a good land agent, they will be able to help with everything else in this article to ensure your transaction goes smoothly and you end up with the right property to meet your needs.

recreational land dirt bike

The Land-Buying Process — Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t Expect to Make a Purchase Too Quickly

Buying land for the first time will likely take longer than you think. But that’s okay, because it isn’t a transaction you should rush into. You’ll want to take the time to work with a qualified land agent to thoroughly research each parcel of recreational land you are interested in and compare them.

It may take several months or longer before you find the perfect piece of land that checks all the boxes for what you really want. Lenders will also want appraisals, surveys, and environmental evaluations, adding to the length of time the process takes.

hunting blind

Don’t Pay More Than the Land is Worth

This may seem like an obvious one but there is more to it than meets the eye. You don’t want to pay much more than a particular piece of land is worth, right? Make sure to research what other parcels of land in the area are selling for and determine what the property’s appreciation potential is for both the short and long term. A qualified land agent can also help you with this.

Check Legal Access

In some cases, legal access to the property might not actually come with the deed — referred to as an easement, it is important that you are aware of what easements exist for the property you are interested in. Easements are common when the land you are interested in lies between two other pieces of property.

There might also be situations in which you would need to add a road, infrastructure, and utilities. Obviously, this can be extremely costly, and will need to be considered when formulating your budget to help you decide whether the property is a fit.

hunting bling recreational land

Check for Liens

If any liens have been taken out against the property you could be liable for the outstanding property taxes if they weren’t completely paid off by the previous owner. You’ll want a record that the property is clear of any liens before you decide to go through with a purchase.

Additionally, be aware of what your property taxes will be. Take a look at the property tax records for the last few years. This will give you a good idea of how much the taxes are raised each year so that you know what to expect to pay and how much they may increase in future years. High property taxes might have you changing your mind if the return on investment isn’t worth it.

Research

If you’ve narrowed your decision down to a few particular parcels of land, research them more thoroughly and visit them more than once. Have surveys and environmental testing performed. Check the zoning requirements to ensure that you can do what you intend to do on the land. Even if you only plan on building a house, not all areas are zone for houses that fall below a specific square footage.

You’ll also want to check for land drainage and soil quality. A parcel of land that is prone to flooding is not a good investment, and if you intend to do any hobby farming, you’ll want soil of good quality as well.

Use a Title Company for Closing

When it comes to closing the deal, title insurance is also important. When it comes to a land purchase as first-time recreational land buyers, the title company will typically have more experience than a real estate attorney who traditionally only does mortgages. Both your realtor and the title insurance company will take care of a lot of the paperwork for you and ensure that everything is completed properly.

Ready to buy your first recreational property? Start by finding a land consultant in your area!

hunting lease

Eight Tips for Taking Advantage of a Hunting Lease

As the overpopulation of public hunting land continues, an ever-increasing number of people are looking to hunt on private ground. This can be a lucrative way of earning income for landowners and gives renters access to premium hunting real estate.

For lessors and lessees alike, there are several things to consider before signing one of these leases. Eight tips have been listed below, along with explanations of how they apply to both sides of the equation (property owners and renters) in each case.

  1. Liaise with Trusted Local Agencies

Landowners might not know exactly how to go about finding the right tenants, and would-be tenants might not be able to find the right land to rent. While you should check local websites for available properties in your desired area, local authorities are also valuable resources of information.

For hunters, these offices will have up-to-date lists of the kind of game and terrain that all active lessees are offering. For lessees themselves, the district conservationists and county Extension agents with the NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service) are a convenient contact.

These conservationists and agents will be frequently liaising with property owners anyway and can be trusted to prioritize the best interests of the land – so all parties should feel comfortable with the contacts they provide.

  1. Do a Thorough Background Check

Both renters and owners should check out the other party as thoroughly as possible. As a lessor, you can ask your prospective clients for a list of references. Potential lessees can do the same thing – ask for the names of previous renters and get in contact with them.

In either case, find out what the prior tenants and landlords have to say before you commit to any agreements of your own. If you’re looking at renting the land, make sure you take a walkthrough first and see it for yourself.

You should also try to speak to any hunters or owners of properties that surround the perimeter of the grounds you’re interested in. That way, you’ll get a first-hand account of what the hunting season is like, and what kind of species diversity and size you can expect.

  1. Decide What Kind of Lease You Want

There are long and short-term hunting leases, each with pros and cons for both landowners and renters. Long-term agreements can be seasonal, annual, or multi-year, while short-term can be daily, weekly, multi-day, or related to special seasonal conditions.

Special seasonal conditions usually refer to hunting for the season, but with a very specific type of weapon (like a muzzle-loader, rifle or bow) only. Whatever the particulars are, long-term leases usually cost more at the time, but work out as less expensive per diem.

Long-term contracts are also less work for property owners, who might have to offer or find food and lodging for short-term customers. Everyone benefits from short-term agreements if they run into issues with the other party since the contract is concluded fairly timeously.

Landowners need to decide if the extra profits of short-term leases are worth the additional effort that will be expended, and renters have to be sure that they’ll get enough use out of the long-term lease for the savings to be worthwhile.

hunting tower on hunting land

  1. Negotiate Fees Based on Hunting Requirements

If you’re the owner, you need to consider what activities and specific types of vehicles will be allowed and for what prices very carefully. You want your rates to be competitive, but you also want to get the most lucrative deal for yourself.

For instance, if camping, fishing and swimming are also possible on your land, can you charge extra for each of them, or will that put potential hunters off? In which case, you could charge a single extra amount to permit all of these additional activities.

As a prospective renter, take a close look at your requirements. If you strictly want to hunt and are not interested in fishing or swimming, you might want to pay a lower fee for camping permission only. You could also pay less if you’re only interested in hunting certain species.

  1. Make Sure Availability is Transparent

Often, lessors retain the use of the hunting grounds themselves or to rent the land out to several different groups. Lessees need to decide if they’re happy with the dates they will have access to the area, and with the number of other parties that will have access to it at the same time.

To avoid ugly and potentially costly disputes later, the availability of the acreage should be very clearly set down. How large can each group be, for example, and which members of the owner’s family will be able to come onto the property?

  1. Outline Shared Duties on the Land

Once again, the shared duties should be clearly described and agreed upon to avoid any later disagreements. Shared duties here pertain to anti-poaching, conservation, habitat management, and herd management.

Having responsible renters to carry out some of these duties can be a huge boon for landowners, and for clients, these activities can be a way of negotiating a better price. As long as both sides are fair and respectful of each other, it can be extremely mutually beneficial.

  1. Put Liability Insurance in Place

In hunting, liability insurance refers to the coverage for both lessors and lessees and protects them from paying for damages when accidents occur. Policies can be purchased at very reasonable prices, and you should never enter into an agreement with anyone who doesn’t have it.

If you’re actively looking for hunting grounds to rent, take the time to get your insurance up to date – you’ll demonstrate your reliability, and many landowners won’t take you seriously or even consider signing a lease with you if you don’t.

  1. Discuss and Finalize Written Rules

The lease terms, conditions of renewal, rates, property description, shared duties, availability, and liability insurance should all be included in the contract that you sign. As should other written rules, including whether permanent structures can be erected, and accident protocols.

Written rules should also stipulate that local, state, and/or federal wildlife laws must be observed, and, importantly, the arbitration measures that should be carried out in the event of any disputes.

Essentially, you need to make sure that you get everything in writing, no matter which side of the table you’re sitting on. Just as anyone with large assets at stake who is getting married should get a prenuptial agreement, everyone signing a hunting lease should make sure their contract is iron-clad.

Author Bio: Ashley Wells is Editor at Hunting Locator. She is a passionate outdoors enthusiast and writer. With her trusty camper van, she’s on a mission to travel the remote corners and discover the hidden gems our world has to offer – one destination at a time.

house on land

Property Ownership: A Bedrock of the Economy in Troubled Times

It’s been a rough few months for the economy, and we could all use a little good news. For America’s millions of home and property owners, here is some: While retirement accounts and the stock market may have cratered, property values are hanging tough.

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) reported in May that the median existing-home price for all housing types was up 8%. And with a proper recovery and the right policies, there is a great chance that home values will remain fairly stable even as home sales temporarily fall while Americans shelter-in-place.

The pandemic also hasn’t stopped business activity outright like in many other sectors. A recent NAR survey of members found that one-quarter of REALTORS® had at least one client go under contract during the second week of April without physically seeing the property. Deals are proceeding with the growing use of new technology like remote notarization. Even those pausing their real estate transactions still plan to buy and sell once again within a few months.

Property ownership is turning into a financial pillar for many Americans during this crisis, and in a surprising show of alacrity and bipartisanship, Congress went to great strides to help protect that investment. For those who can no longer pay their mortgage, new mortgage forbearance rules allowed them to put off payments for up to a year without impacting their credit. Other new benefits like forgivable small business loans and unemployment assistance not normally available to the self- employed or independent contractors are helping them weather the storm. Congress deserves credit for responding in a bipartisan and lightning-fast way even if the roll-out of those programs was less than perfect.

property ownership land

If real estate is still viable, land real estate may be in an even better position to take advantage of changing social trends and shifting demographics. Increased time inside close quarters during the Coronavirus pandemic is causing some urbanites to consider moving toward the suburbs and even further, a recent survey shows. A survey from the Harris poll showed that nearly 40% of U.S. adults living in urban areas indicated they would consider moving “out of populated areas and toward rural areas,” compared to 29% of overall respondents. Anecdotal evidence from agents in Seattle and along the West Coast indicates that smaller cities in the region like Boise, ID, are becoming increasingly attractive. This demographic movement could encompass the development of new communities that cater to telecommuters and to new resort developments.

Developers will be searching for land that will enable them to build properties that enhance “community” but also cater to a buyer’s desire to spread out. Virtual tours of neighborhoods, homes, and land are among the new tools that are helping to facilitate the interest.

Of course, the pandemic may also create unknown economic dynamics that could negatively impact land and real estate markets in the future. Fears of COVID-19 could exacerbate the trend towards online commerce and away from greenfield brick and mortar developments. This could reduce the demand for large, new commercial developments.

There could also be severe long-term impacts on the agricultural sector. As we see growing levels of concern, recommendations for social distancing, reduced travel, avoiding crowds, and other protective practices to slow the spread of COVID-19, consumers will be making tough choices about food, eating away from home, and overall spending. This will likely have an impact on markets and prices. Concerns about the impact of the virus on the broader economy may have an even larger impact on dairy prices. Many countries of the European Union were already hovering just above a recession prior to the viral outbreak and this event is likely to push them over the edge.

“…it has never been clearer that property ownership is still one of the best and safest investments an American family can make.”

As supply chains and logistics are disrupted, the agricultural sector will continue to be impacted. We have already seen livestock euthanized and crops plowed under because of the inability to get these commodities to market. All of these trends could disrupt the farm economy for the long-term.

Despite the possible adverse impacts on land real estate markets, it has never been clearer that property ownership is still one of the best and safest investments an American family can make. Economic downturns and public health crises—no matter how severe— will never change this fundamental fact. But what has become even more apparent is that, during this crisis, home has become more important than ever.

This article was originally published in the REALTORS® Land Institute Summer 2020 Terra Firma Magazine.

Russell RiggsAbout the author: Russell Riggs, in his position with the National Association of REALTORS®, serves as the REALTORS® Land Institute Government Affairs Legislative Liaison in Washington, D.C., conducting advocacy on a variety of federal issues related to land.

Buying Land For Hobby Farming 101

Whether or not you consider yourself a green thumb, it isn’t too difficult to start your own hobby farm. Technically, all you need is an ample amount of land, a decent amount of farming knowledge – which you can acquire from experienced farmers and the Internet – and plenty of time and patience. However, if you don’t already have the land, you’ll need to find a good property to purchase with soil that is ideal for farming. A qualified land agent can help you with this task.

What is a Hobby Farm?

A hobby farm can be quite large — the USDA considers a small farm anything that is 179 acres or less. Additionally, while you can certainly sell some of the products from your farm, a hobby farm is not meant to provide you your main source of income. Essentially, the farm is run for your own pleasure, and can go a long way towards setting you up for a self-sustaining future.

It is important to note that a hobby farm is much different than a vegetable garden in someone’s yard. You will need to devote time and effort to keeping your farm operating, as well as considerable expense to purchase the land, equipment, and resources you need to get the farm up and running.

hobby farm kid with goat

Benefits of Hobby Farming

Hobby farms are growing in popularity as more and more people realize the benefits and seek to move away from crowded cities after experiencing the challenges of the pandemic. Here are some of the ways you may benefit from having a hobby farm:

Health Benefits

With a steady crop of healthy vegetables and animal products, you and your family will be able to eat healthier throughout the year. You can choose to make your food as healthy as possible by growing only organic crops.

Hobby farming is also hard work at times, and you’ll be sure to get plenty of exercise working on your farm, another health benefit.

Lastly, gardening and farming have always proven to be great activities for stress relief and relaxation, improving mental health as well.

Social Benefits

Aside from gaining a new network of friends who are also involved with hobby farming, you can interact more with the local community by setting up a stand at local farmer’s markets. A local farmer’s market can be a good source of extra income, and you’ll also likely gain a few steady customers that become friends as well. If setting up shop at a farmer’s market isn’t for you, you can also donate extra food to a local food bank.

Self-Sustaining Life and Agriculture

In addition to becoming more self-sufficient and less reliant on purchasing food thanks to a sustainable food supply, hobby farming is also great for the environment. And, it will help you save a significant amount of money as well once you are producing steady crops, as the more food you grow for yourself, the less you need to spend at the grocery store.

hobby farm produce

How Do I Start Hobby Farming?

The first thing you need to decide is what type of livestock you’ll want to have on your farm and/or what crops you’ll want to grow. Will you have chickens, cows, pigs, goats, or honeybees? Fruit trees and bushes? Herbs and vegetables that grow throughout the different seasons? Perhaps a combination of all of the above!

Once you decide what you want, the next step is choosing a parcel of land that is suitable for your needs. Your best source for purchasing viable farmland is to speak with a qualified real estate agent that has sufficient experience in finding and selling land, not just houses or buildings.

A qualified real estate agent with land experience can help you find a parcel of land with good soil health, and will also be able to help you learn about zoning laws, which can regulate what the land can be used for and whether you would be allowed to have livestock on the land.

Depending on what type of farming you plan on doing, you’ll also need to research what tools and equipment you will need, whether you need to design an irrigation system, and where you can acquire food for any animals you might have.

Before you jump into hobby farming, see how all of the above works with your budget. You may find that you will need to scale back your ambition if the cost of what you want exceeds your current available budget.

It is important to note that purchasing land is different than purchasing a house. A land loan often has higher interest rates and down payments, and must be paid back within 3-5 years. Speak to a qualified land agent to learn more about purchasing land to be used for farming purposes so that you can make an informed decision.

Happy hobby farming!

hunting tree stand

How to Buy Hunting Land

When you buy hunting land, you get to enjoy your private property without following another property owner’s rules. That opportunity has obvious appeal to anyone looking for recreational land. Knowing how to buy hunting land, however, isn’t the same knowing how to purchase a home. Before you commit to purchasing property, make sure you know how to buy hunting land that meets your needs.

Set a Realistic Budget Before You Buy Hunting Land

First, you need to know realistically how much money you can afford to spend on recreational land for hunting.

Most people don’t have enough cash on hand to purchase the amount of acres they would like, so they rely on lenders. Borrowing money makes it easier to buy property, but it also adds to the overall cost. Even though you spread out the payments over several years, you still pay interest on the money you borrow.

Another option is to buy hunting land with a group of investors through a land-owning partnership and share the property. This avenue can have many benefits even outside of the dollar savings.

Whether buying the land solo or as part of a group partnership, it’s always best to set a realistic budget before you even start looking at land. Then, you can make sure you are spending your time exploring the right options.

Do You Want to Earn Money From Your Recreational Land?

The good news is that you can potentially offset some costs when you buy hunting land. For example, you can charge a fee for other people to hunt on your property. Depending on the area, you may also generate income by:

Data also shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged some people to buy recreational land where they can find refuge away from crowded cities. As land values increase, you could profit from selling parcels of your land or renting to people looking for weekend getaways.

pheasant hunter

Know What Features Your Recreational Land Needs

When you visit properties, look for the types of features that attract wildlife. This may sound obvious, but you want to make sure you buy hunting land that already attracts the type(s) of game you enjoy hunting. Seek game signs such as deer trails, scrapes, rubs, and beds to see if the property shows sign wildlife use you want on the land. If you want to hunt deer, for example, look for a property that has enough thick wooded areas. Alternatively, purchase a property with access to a pond, lake, or stream if you enjoy fishing.

You should also consider the value of features that will make the land more comfortable and fun. You might prefer owning recreational land that already has certain features, like:

  • Housing where you can spend the night.
  • Tree stands that are well kept.
  • A barn or shed where you can store equipment.
  • Docks that let you fish in deeper water.
  • Trails that make it easier for you to explore your land’s beauty.

Features You Can Add After You Buy Hunting Land

Don’t write off a property that comes very close to meeting your needs. You can always add features to your recreational land after you buy it. Keep in mind that you can add some features more easily than others.

One great way to make your hunting land more attractive to game is by planting mast bearing or fruit trees, and/or adding food plots. Make sure you choose food sources that your preferred game love to eat. As long as you have the right soil, planting can require minimal effort. You can also add water troughs or ponds.

hunting buck

It’s also very easy to improve your recreational land’s value by adding trail cameras. You can use the cameras to show hunters, vacationers, or potential future buyers pictures of the land and wildlife on it. Photos also make great souvenirs that will encourage more people to visit your property. Photos taken with trail cameras are one of the best ways to increase the chances of selling your property for the price you want when the time comes.

“Trail camera photos and harvest photos are one of the top items that buyers of hunting land look and ask for when considering which property to buy. Our website analytics show properties with trail camera and harvest photos have a much longer view time and total number of views versus the ones that do not.  Purchasing a trail camera and a thumb drive to keep a history of the wildlife on your property is the single most cost effective thing you can do to improve the value of your property,” says Accredited Land Consultant Bob Stalberger, a land specialist in Minnesota with Whitetail Properties Real Estate.

Also, remember that adding features will increase the overall cost of your land. Include the cost in your budget and be careful not to spend more money than you intended. It’s considerably more costly to add large bodies of water, buildings, electrical lines, and wells to the property.

Focus on Convenient Locations

How far is it for you to drive to reach your recreational land? Are you willing to drive three hours? How about eight?

Buy hunting land in an area that you find convenient. Of course, convenient means something different to everyone so its important to determine how far is too far early on in the process so you don’t waste time looking at properties not in your desired range. If you have a demanding job in a metropolitan area, you might want to look for a relatively nearby location on the outskirts where you can spend the weekends. If you’re retired or work remotely, you might not mind making a longer drive to stay on your recreational land for a week or longer at a time – or even live there full time.

If you intend to generate income from your land, remember that most weekend warriors won’t want to travel very far to hunt. Focus your attention on hunting land as close as possible to major cities to get the most bang for your buck unless your planning to specialize in trophy hunting. It might also help to choose hunting land located near a small town where visitors can get supplies or have dinner.

Learn About the Neighboring Properties

Knowing about neighboring properties can help you decide whether land will make a good place for hunting. If your acreage is surrounded by farmland, then you probably don’t have anything to worry about. If there’s a community nearby, though, you should consider the possibility that your activities might not be allowed.

You should also talk to neighbors to learn about local residents. Are they the kind of people who respect private property, can you trust them not to trespass to hunt on your land while you’re away?

Find the right Agent

Not all agents are created equal and just because you might know a licensed real estate agent that is a friend or family member doesn’t mean they are experts in the land business. If you need help choosing recreational land that’s perfect for you, make sure to start by finding a land consultant who has the experience and expertise needed to help you find the perfect property to meet your needs. We suggest finding an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC).

invest in farmland

Why Farmland Is A Good Investment

While many current media stories relate the plight of the American farmer, savvy investors with long-term goals know that investing in farmland can actually be quite a lucrative endeavor. A sizable tract of open farmland can become something very profitable so long as you do your due diligence and enlist the aid of a qualified real estate agent who is experienced in doing farmland transactions.

What to Know Before Investing in Farmland

Purchasing land is not as easy as securing a mortgage for a home. A land loan typically needs to be paid within 3-5 years, and both the down payment and interest rates are higher than that of a mortgage as well. Experts recommend paying cash for a land purchase if you are able.

It’s also important to note that a farmland investment is different than a regular land purchase. You’ve got to have the knowledge and experience to be able to properly maintain the site for maximum profitability (or at least the ability to hire someone who possesses both).

If you plan on living on the land yourself, you’ve also got to be prepared for a significant lifestyle change and any environmental factors that could affect your crops. That being said, if you’ve got the fortitude and resources for farmland investing, there are a number of ways in which you could benefit from this type of real estate purchase.

invest in farmland

Benefits of Investing in Farmland

When you own farmland, you have several options for making a profit. The most common is, of course, growing and selling your own crops. An alternative to this would be leasing the farmland, saving you a lot of the work while still allowing you to reap some of the reward.

You aren’t necessarily limited to keeping the land for strictly farm purposes, either. Assuming zoning laws will allow it, there isn’t much you can’t do with your own private property. Just make sure to work with a qualified land agent so you know the property’s highest and best use so you can make informed decisions about it.

Farmland Is Exempt From Certain Taxes

If the land is utilized as a farm, the income you generate is exempt from the wealth tax. Additionally, mortgage interest on farmland can be deducted from your taxes.

Government Assistance

There may also be government grants available to you for growing crops and purchasing livestock, which could be another source of lucrative income.

money growth time

Why It’s a Good Time to Invest in Farmland

The rising food demand due to a growing global population is proving good for farmers. Subsequently, many nations are seeking to purchase large tracts of farmland to better supply their own countries with food at a reasonable cost.

As a result, farmland is a red-hot investment right now, and, according to Marketwire, has appreciated at a rate 2% higher than inflation since the 1950s.

Historically, farmland also offers higher total returns than many other types of real estate investments, and also exhibits a much lower level of risk. That’s because farmland continues to produce product that are in high demand and likely always will be: meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Additionally, even when the market is fluctuating farmland typically escapes such volatility and continues to appreciate.

While there is, of course, no solid guarantee that your farmland investment will yield amazing results through crops or property leasing, you still have the chance to build equity. Over the last decade farmland prices have nearly doubled in most areas of the country, giving you the opportunity to at least make a sizable profit simply by owning the agricultural land and selling it at a later date to another investor.

farmland

In Conclusion

Globally, farmland today is a $9 trillion market. Farmland has remained a solid investment option for over 50 years, with high returns and mitigated little risk. Additionally, because the market is often confusing and at times daunting for those without sufficient knowledge of how to navigate it, there is a lot of untapped potential for investors who take the time to properly research the market and retain the aid of a realtor with experience in farmland purchases.

Farmland also makes a great addition to any investment portfolio, as it has proven resistant to inflation and is a sizable asset that will retain its worth. Farmland investing can be quite costly from the initial outset, but if you aren’t intimidated by the costs or any other potential barriers, it can be truly worthwhile investment.

land home

Buying Land For Building A Home Versus Buying A House

Whether you’re considering buying an existing home or purchasing a tract of land on which to build a new home, both options require considerable research. Both options also have some important differences you should be aware of so that you can make an informed decision.

The Major Difference Between Buying Land For Building A Home and Buying a House

One of the differences between the two is how the loans are structured. Mortgages come in a range of options to suit your needs and budget, but there are much fewer options for purchasing land. Many land loans must be fully paid within three to five years.

Interest rates and down payments are also usually higher on land loans than on mortgages. A typical down payment can range from 20-50%. However, some banks will allow a lower down payment if you have an excellent credit score. Securing a lower interest rate is a lot tougher, though, as land only loans are riskier for the lender since there really isn’t any collateral, such as a home. Therefore, lenders are less inclined to offer lower interest rates.

One of the benefits of purchasing land with cash is that the amount you pay for the land can be used as a down payment towards your construction loan when you’re ready to start building your home. Lenders can also include your land purchase within your construction loan in some cases.

Most experts recommend purchasing the land with cash, if you have it. A land specialist can advise you on your options, and a financial advisor can assist you in liquidating assets or arranging finance options.

Reasons to Consider Buying Land

In many areas, today’s housing market is a rather competitive one. New homes are being snatched up before they’re even finished being built. Older homes can come with older home problems. If the current housing market just isn’t offering what you need, then purchasing land and having your own home built according to your specifications may be a much more viable option.

Buying rural land also affords you more freedom and less intrusion from nearby neighbors and costly HOAs. If you like the idea of being able to do more of what you want on your land without neighborhood covenants and restrictions, then once again, buying your own private land is probably a good choice for you.

building home

Important Considerations When Buying Land

You’ll need to figure out if your budget allows a purchase of land and building a home. Aside from construction costs, you’ll also have to consider additional costs including, but not limited to, permits, fees, land adjustments – if needed, and the cost of running water, sewer, and utility lines to the home. The guidance of a land professional is vital to this process.

How to Find Land to Buy For Building A Home

When seeking land to purchase, you’ll want to retain the services of a qualified rural land agent as opposed to a residential real estate agent. A real estate agent without the education or experience handling land transactions can end up either wasting your time, costing you a lot of money, or both. Start searching for a qualified agent near you or browse properties listed by qualified agents to get started. Be sure to interview the agents that you’re considering to confirm they’ve got the experience necessary to help you reach your goals.

land agent

The Importance of Using a Qualified Land Agent When Buying Land

A qualified land agent will have the knowledge and experience to help you maximize the value of your land transaction. Land agents will be able to provide you with important information, resources, and a network of land experts that a traditional real estate agent likely would not have access to in their role. Additionally, they’ll save you a lot of money because they’re well aware of the costs, paperwork, and legalities of a land purchase. Some of the other important ways a qualified land agent can help you include:

  • They’ll have information on zoning laws detailing what can and can’t be done on the land you wish to purchase.
  • They’ll have information on city ordinances you would have to adhere to.
  • They can help you hire a professional land surveyor should you need one.
  • They can help you estimate the utility costs for running water and electric to your new home.
  • They will have information on easements.
  • They can tell you if the lot you intend to purchase falls within a floodplain.
  • They can help you with permits before the construction of your home.

Below is a checklist with some suggestions for potential land buyers to be educated about when looking to purchase land for the first time. Please keep in mind this list is not exhaustive, and anyone considering to purchase land to build a home on should work with a specialized land consultant in their area before buying land.

Checklist For Land Buyers

  • Zoning & Permits
  • Special Tax Assessments
  • Easements & Deed Restrictions
  • Property Boundaries
  • Water Rights & Soil Productivity
  • Future Land Use Planning
  • Crop & Timber Yields
  • Well water quality and flow
  • Road & Driveway Maintenance
  • Fire & Ambulance Services
  • Electricity and High Speed Internet Options
  • Flood Zones
  • Past & Present Land Use
  • Adjacent properties’ land uses
  • Past Logging Practices
  • Surveys
  • Topography & Geo hazards
  • Property Taxes & Associated Deferrals
  • Hardship & Farm Help Dwellings
  • Financing Options for Rural Property
  • Market Valuations & Inspections
  • Sale Negotiations

Remember, as with any major purchase, it’s also important to do your own due diligence and use a qualified land agent, like an Accredited Land Consultant, to assist with your purchase. Ask plenty of questions, consider the value of nearby homes, and plan your budget accordingly so that you will have a better idea whether purchasing land is the right option for you. Rural Property is a segment of Real Estate that requires a different level of education and experience from the professionals that advise buyers and sellers.

The Road To Buying Your First Rural Home

The COVID-19 pandemic has convinced many people that they don’t want to continue living in urban areas with high population densities. Millennials were already starting to move away from cities, but the pandemic has piqued their interest and encouraged many to consider buying their first rural home.

If you plan to be buying your first rural home soon, you will need to do some research that makes the process easier. In many cases, buying a rural home, especially if it sits on a few acres of land, is different than buying a home in a city or suburb. The following recommendations should help you learn more about your options and choose a country home you’ll love.

Know How You Can Use the Land Once You Own It

Typically, rural land has fewer restrictions than urban and suburban properties. Don’t assume that you can do anything you want after buying your first rural home, though. Even if local laws let you set up a residential hobby farm, they may prevent you from owning certain animals or using specific farming practices.

Use this list of important questions to help you choose a piece of land that fits your expectations.

goat

Know What Features You Want From Your Rural Land

You should also look for features that will meet your specific needs and wants to get the most out of your property. For example, it makes sense to buy a rural home on wooded property if you want to hunt, hike, or use it for many other recreational purposes.

There are many potential features to consider before buying your first rural property. A pond or lake provides great entertainment for swimmers and fishers. Hilly land doesn’t suit many crops, but cows can enjoy it. A large plot of well-drained soil could make an excellent spot for a family garden or even growing produce for a farmer’s market.

Also, ask questions about whether the area has good broadband internet access. A poor internet connection can make it difficult to work remotely, enjoy your favorite media, and stay in touch with friends. Unfortunately, many rural areas have broadband deficiencies. Don’t assume you will get a fast internet connection just because the property has a town nearby.

Know What Types of Insurance You Will Need

In the city, most people choose standard homeowners’ insurance policies that cover hazards like fire, damage from storms, and personal liability. You may need more coverage for things like crop protection (if you plan to grow crops), additional liability insurance (if you plan to let people hunt on your land), and property insurance that covers other structures like barns and tractors.

Think about how you plan to use the property so you can get an insurance policy that keeps you protected.

rural home porch

Determine How Much Effort You Are Willing To Put Into the Home

Maintaining a rural home, and the land it is on, can take a lot of time and effort. Suddenly, you have much more to do than mow a small backyard and plant a few flowers. In addition to the usual maintenance that comes with owning a home, proper maintenance for your rural home could include:

  • Clearing acres of growth around your house or mowing a sizable lawn.
  • Establishing a fence line that helps you and neighbors avoid conflicts.
  • Repairing damage to barns, sheds, fences, and other structures on the property.
  • Tending to the plants and animals on your hobby farm daily, if you have one.
  • Managing common pests living on the surrounding land.
  • Clearing large driveways of snow if living in cooler climates.

You might also need to think about ways to keep predators away from your house, especially if you have children or small animals. A herding dog could help, but that means adding a furry member to your family, which comes with its own effort and expense.

rural home

Think About How Long You Plan to Keep the House and Land

Is this a property that you want to live on for a few years or several decades? The answer matters quite a bit. If you only want to live there for a few years, you probably don’t need to develop the property much. Instead, you could turn a profit from selling the raw land.

If you plan to spend many years in the home, you need to think more carefully about your wants and needs. Adding gardens, cottages, and other features could increase your enjoyment significantly. You could even set aside a section of the property for paying guests. Visiting the countryside can help city-dwellers de-stress, so you could use your land as a new income source by advertising your cottages as a vacation spot.

Hire an Accredited Land Consultant Before Buying Your First Rural Home

You don’t want to use a standard real estate agent when buying a rural property. Instead, you should get help from an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC). ALCs must take at least 104 hours of courses, get approved by a committee of active ALCs, adhere to a strict code of ethics, and show a history of successful sales before they can obtain accreditation from the REALTORS® Land Institute. No matter what type of rural land you want, an ALC can narrow your search to options that best fit your needs.

ALCs have a lot of connections, so they can introduce you to a large pool of sellers. If you decide to sell your land later, you can reach out to your ALC to benefit from his or her connections to potential buyers.

As more people think about buying rural homes, prices will likely increase. If you think you want to make the move, start exploring your options by finding and talking to an ALC near you.