We bought the farm: You can, too

For many people, the idea of having their own land for hunting, fishing and recreation seems an impossible dream. Land prices remain high and the real estate market is currently strong. It is easy to get discouraged when looking at real estate ads, but if you assemble a comprehensive plan and are willing to put in the work, buying land can be a reality.

The first step is to identify exactly how you want to use the property and the number of acres you think you need to accomplish your goals. From there, you can narrow down your land search. Some specific features may be essential. If you plan to primarily hunt on the property, look for good habitat and cover, as well as a water source.

After narrowing your search, start planning for how you might pay for the property. On many recreational properties with no buildings or improvements, lenders can require down payments of 20-50%. If such a large payment up front isn’t possible, look for alternative financing. If you’re working with a realtor, they may have information on personal loans or possible owner financing. It is in the realtor’s best interest to make the sale and see that both buyer and seller are satisfied.

Another overlooked possibility is to partner with friends or family to make the purchase. All parties should have clear expectations about how the purchase will work. The best option is to form an LLC (limited liability corporation) or at least have a written contract to protect all parties in the event someone’s circumstances change.

After identifying some properties that fit your criteria, visit them and make a thorough walk-through. Look for possible sources of income from the property, attributes that can help you make payments and lessen out-of-pocket costs. Most sellers will have no problem with you “scouting” the ground with their realtor.

If there is saleable timber, plan on doing some select cutting. Timber prices for desirable hardwoods can be quite high. Most state agencies have foresters on staff that can help you identify trees to cut. Have a reputable timber buyer give you a bid to see if it is worthwhile to take out some trees. Many forested areas benefit from selective cutting and it can improve habitat for turkeys, deer and other wildlife.

Can open fields on the property be used for agricultural purposes? Sometimes, a property for sale already has a farmer leasing the land for agricultural production. Renting crop or hay ground can be a great source of income. Leftover grain from harvesting operations attracts wildlife in the fall, and hay fields provide both food and nesting habitat for turkeys and other wildlife.

Some landowners rent out a portion of their ground to produce growers or organic farmers. They generally require smaller parcels of land and specialty crop growers often pay a premium for better ground. If you plan to rent a portion of your ground, look at a “cash rent” contract where the farmer pays you a set per-acre price. Most farmers will want a commitment for a certain number of seasons. Negotiate for the shortest amount of time that satisfies both parties. At some point you may want to take the ground out of agricultural production.  

Any house or outbuildings on the property that can be rented can also provide a monthly income.

Keep an open mind and look for creative ways to help pay for your ground. With a little hard work and research, your land-ownership dream can become a reality.

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