Each piece of land is unique, and there are almost as many ways to improve the value of land as there are parcels of land and willing land owners. However, there are some universally acknowledged tried-and-true methods of improving land value. Every person who owns country property will find several of these things within their ability, and improving your land provides a great source of personal satisfaction.
1) Simple Appreciation. This is the single most important way for land to gain in value. The best part is that it works automatically, unless some negative factor affects the land. For this method to work to its full potential, it must be considered even before the land is purchased. Care should be taken when evaluating the location of the property. Is it within reasonable driving distance to jobs and shopping areas? Is the growth pattern of the area likely to extend towards the land? Is it in an area of good job growth and prosperity, or is it in a region that is losing jobs? Lack of available work will affect real estate values in a negative fashion. Sometimes, it greatly depreciates land value.
Remote land will never appreciate as quickly as land that is closer in, but nonetheless, in a normal growth market, its value will steadily rise.
Real estate in most neighborhoods, including rural land, goes through about a five-year turnover cycle. More properties will thus be on the market every five years or so than in mid-cycle. When placing land on the market, it might be wise to consider what stage the cycle is in. This may affect pricing and marketing strategy. Your realty agent will be the best source of information about current trends in the area.
One other major factor when considering appreciation of land value is that selling costs are expensive. Excise taxes, title insurance, commission, recording, and other costs are often all charged to the seller. In an average area, it can take as much as five years to realize a tidy profit after all of the selling expenses are paid.
2) Install or Provide for Utilities. Raw land will usually be worth much more if the buyer is assured a home can be built there. In the long run, providing for utilities is often worth a great deal more than the cost. If sewer lines are not available, have the ground perk tested to verify that a septic system can be installed on the property. Soil varies a great deal and a perk test will indicate which type of septic system is acceptable. Once that is determined, you or a buyer will be able to ascertain the cost of the system.
If water lines are available, have them stubbed to the property. If not available, you might consider drilling a well. You can also develop live water, provided the source and development makes it potable.
3) Provide or Improve Access. Though most people don't realize it when buying land, poor access can be the single greatest detriment to enjoyment of property. Not only will good access provide you with the freedom to enjoy your land, but good access can be pointed out to the buyer when the property is placed on the market.
Property easements are another facet of access. Make sure your land is properly served by an ingress/egress easement and the necessary utility easements. Inadequate or lacking easement provisions is a problem in all parts of the country. Although some are necessary, make sure the land is not overly burdened with easements that serve other parcels.
4) Add Fencing. Another capital improvement, fencing, will almost always enhance the value of land. It should be installed in accordance with what the land is used for. A white board horse fence is not appropriate for a large cattle operation but is perfect for the showy horse farm. Conversely, a well-stretched, well stayed barbed wire fence will be positively appealing to a cattleman.
Fencing can accomplish several objectives at once, and different types of fencing are used for specific applications. A fence can define the perimeter of the land, contain livestock, or keep unwanted animals out. A cross fence can keep livestock off of farm ground or provide efficient use of pastures. A yard fence can protect valuable landscaping and add interest and beauty to the yard area. A high deer fence can protect orchards, ornamental trees, vegetable gardens, and flowers.
No matter which type or types of fencing is used, it should be well-maintained, and the maintenance cost and time factor should be considered when choosing it.
5) Farm or Tree Farm. If you own farm land, utilizing it will definitely increase its value. Not only will the crop bring in cash, but it will also increase the eye appeal. If you do not have the time and capability to farm, there are usually neighbor farmers who will operate the farm on a lease or share basis. Your production records will provide proof to a buyer of the value of the land.
If you own timber land, you could actually decrease the value by not taking care of it. Trees sustain damage in a variety of ways, from diseases like root rot to insect damage, parasite vegetation, dry weather stress, snow breakage, and other causes. All of these leave your woods in a messy condition and often perpetuate problems. The forest can be managed to promote healthy tree growth, good wildlife habitat, plus recreational use. All of these will increase the value of your land.
If you are not familiar with good forestry practices, get together with a local forestry consultant. He or she will advise you on proper tree spacing for maximum tree nutrients and sun exposure, how to provide wildlife corridors, and how to treat or prevent insect and disease damage. It may be that you should thin your timber for optimum forest health. That may provide cash that you could use for future forest enhancement.
A forest in good condition will always be worth more than one that is not cared for, with valuable wood actually lost and wasted through lack of care. A thriving forest that provides good wildlife habitat should not necessarily look as groomed as a park, but care should be taken to lessen the chances of loss due to fire.
6) Own or Purchase Property Rights. This seems self-evident, but not all rights are sold with each piece of property. Most land purchases include timber and mineral rights, among other rights to property. However, in some areas these two rights were commonly sold in the past. To secure badly needed cash, many farmers sold perpetual timber rights during the thirties; the trees were just a hindrance to a farming operation, anyway.
The simplest thing to do is make sure you receive these rights when purchasing property. If you did not receive them, you can try to buy them back. Sometimes timber companies will log one last item and then offer the timber rights to the landowner. If these rights become available, you should always jump on them, as it may be a one-time offer. Likewise, mining companies and individuals may hold all or part of the mineral rights, but can sometimes be persuaded to sell them back to you.
Check your title report to determine if anyone else owns the timber, mineral, or other rights. Contact them about the possibility of buying back the rights. Land with all of the rights is definitely worth much more than land that is lacking one or more rights.
Water rights are no longer a matter of title in most states, and unlimited water rights are almost a thing of the past. In fact, the water rights issue can be very confusing. Some properties have irrigation or other water rights; some do not. Each state has its own policy about water rights. Most states allow at least domestic water rights for each dwelling, but in areas with a scarcity of water, even domestic rights may be impossible to obtain. When buying land, be sure that you receive rights to have or develop domestic water at the very least. Domestic rights usually include the house, yard, and a limited number of livestock. If additional rights to water become available, it may greatly enhance your land if you obtain them. For example, shares in irrigation districts sometimes come up for sale.
Having or increasing your rights to water will almost always increase the value of your land. Without at least a domestic water right, your land may be very limited in value.
7) Have a Master Plan. Before you start building a home or adding barns, outbuildings, and other improvements you should develop a comprehensive master plan for the land and your intended developments. That way, your additions will be arranged in a way that will most enhance the value of the property. For example: a barn should be close enough to visit easily and all buildings should have sufficient spacing to prevent spread of fire if one should burn.
8) Remove Junk and Care for the Soil. Many old farmers and farms have accumulated more than their share of old cars and junk, and modern landowners are not much different. That is because dumps and transfer stations are often costly and a great distance from rural land, and who knows, you might need that junk someday. Plus there is ample space for storage. Not only is this unsightly, but it provides ideal housing for snakes and rodents. While is prudent to keep a certain amount of old and surplus stuff around, getting rid of the bulk of this accumulated debris will always improve the value and salability of land.
Caring for the soil includes treating for local noxious weeds, either by hand-picking or sprays. A purchaser definitely does not want to face a major noxious weed problem, and many counties will actually treat the weeds and charge you for it and/or levy fines it you don't handle it.
Prevent or treat erosion problems. Erosion will definitely decrease the value of land. The U.S. Government Soil Conservation Service can offer help in evaluating erosion problems and recommend treatment. Sometimes there is also money available for shared erosion control. Pick rocks from farmland and pasture. This should be done on a regular basis. It increases productivity and thus the value of land.
9) Landscape Your House and Grounds. From major projects to the small finishing touches in the yard, landscaping can greatly enhance the value of your land. Landscaping is one of the areas in which you can give free reign to your imagination and creativity. However, for the best effect and enjoyment, there are a few simple guidelines to follow when creating your Garden of Eden.
Even though all tasks cannot be accomplished at once, it might be a good idea to have a master plan. When creating the plan, special attention should be given to "curb appeal" or "approach appeal." When arriving at the property, the overall effect should be a welcoming feast for the eyes. The watering system should be a major component of the master plan.
With proper planning, creating wonderful landscaping does not necessarily require vast amounts of cash. Relatively inexpensive shrubs and flowers can be lovely if selected and placed with care. Any landscaping will look expensive if well taken care of. You can plan for three seasons of blooming flowers, add interest with raised beds, and integrate natural areas that encourage wildlife. With the master plan, it will be much easier to integrate major projects like decks, ponds, and walkways in subsequent years, and these will add to the cohesive whole rather than have a hodgepodge effect. The addition of fencing can greatly enhance your landscaping by outlining special areas; you might, for instance, consider a decorative fence between the yard and pasture.
When selecting shrubs and flowers, a good rule of thumb is to have at least three heights of plantings and to vary the color and texture of the vegetation. One of the biggest mistakes people make is not realizing how big the plant will be at maturity and planting too close to the buildings. Avoid planting a tree like an artificial next to the house like an artificial monument. Don't forget to include the outbuildings when creating your master plan. Well-placed low-maintenance landscaping around the outbuildings will greatly enhance visual appeal.
One last caveat: If you live in an area with acute fire seasons, be sure to consider fire hazards when selecting and placing shrubs next to your home and outbuildings. A green, well-watered landscape around your home and outbuildings will, however, actually add fire protection. Your definition of well-watered could run from a simple sprinkler all the way to a pond. Speaking of which....
10) Build a Pond. Who says land improvement ain't fun? For more on this subject, have a look at the article Build Your Own Backyard Swimming Hole.