A Place of Your Own Part Eight: Buying Land is a Team Sport

Let’s face it. Land can be complicated. There are components of land ownership, and there are characteristics of land that are not intuitively obvious. The truth is that you can study and research all you want, and you still won’t know all that you need to know. If you are serious about owning land, there are times that you are going to need professional help.

You may know what a survey is and what a boundary line looks like, but I’m willing to bet that most of you are not qualified to verify a boundary line encroachment. You know what trees look like and you may even be knowledgeable enough to tell valuable timber from timber that is not valuable, but cruising timber on your own or determining timber value on your own is another story. You are probably not qualified. I know I’m not. The list goes on and on: Appraisals, wildlife, wildlife potential, lake construction and permitting, just to name a few There are plenty of times that all of us need professional help to completely understand the components, characteristics, value, and even the potential of a property.

Most land buyers are not willing to pay for it. It can be an expensive proposition. But when I began investing in land, I quickly recognized that land investing is a team sport, so I assembled a team of people who had knowledge and experience in a specific area that was outside my general knowledge base. I partnered with a forester and I hired an appraiser. Now I have a wildlife biologist, a lake builder, financial people, a forester, and a land services guy on staff. The reason I have those people on my staff today is because they are incredibly important to my land investment business. I need professional help and I’ve been doing this a long time. I don’t know what makes a novice land buyer think they can go out and ride around with a real estate agent and make a decision that I as a professional land investor cannot make without a team of people. Buying land is a team sport, and I found out early that I needed to assemble a team of people to be successful as a land investor.

To be successful on purpose (rather than by accident) you need professional help, and you need to be willing to pay for it. Otherwise you are not “investing” in land, you’re speculating. There is just too much on the line to roll the dice in this manner, particularly when it is so easy to use experts to take the guesswork out of the process. But, be aware that there is also a BIG difference between experts who are merely book smart and those who are woods wise and can effectively apply what they know.

One of my biggest disappointments in life is that bonafide experts and complete idiots sound exactly the same the first time you meet them. So before you go and bet the farm (literally) on the expertise of someone you hardly know, let me offer a little advice. Ask a lot of questions. If you don’t know the right questions to ask, get a referral from someone who does know what to ask, or better yet, has experience (both good and bad) with these subject matter experts. They are easy to find. If you are looking for a forester, go to a local Forestry Association or Forest Landowner meeting and ask existing landowners who they trust and use themselves. If you need a reliable surveyor or appraiser, go to a local land lender and ask who they trust and use regularly. If you need the services of a real estate agent, don’t pick the one with the most listings in the local paper. Ask a closing attorney or a banker or a land investor who they think does the best job for their clients. Ask bankers and agents for their recommendations on real estate attorneys. Get to know the folks in your state’s Forestry Commission or Fish & Wildlife Service. Beyond knowing who the experts are, these state agencies often provide these consulting services, and sometimes it’s FREE.

This is just a starting point. This isn’t everyone you will ever need, and in fact, you may not need all of these folks on every land transaction, but you better know someone you can pick up the phone and call and ask questions. Someone you can trust.

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