Warm, Warmer, On Fire!: A Look at Buyer Sentiment from the 2017 Land Markets Survey

Results from the REALTORS® Land Institute's 2017 Land Markets Survey show appetite for the hottest markets for investing in the land real estate business.
Burning $100 Bill

Investing in land real estate can be as intimidating as it is exciting, which is why it is so important to get all the information you need to make the right decision. The 2017 Land Markets Survey*, released by the REALTORS® Land Institute (RLI) and the National Association of REALTORS® Research Group earlier this year, showed that 25 percent of recent U.S. land buyers and 12 percent of U.S. land sellers were investors. This indicates a strong investor demand, up five percent over last year—and for good reason! Right now is a great time to invest in land real estate. If you can find the right property, adding land real estate to your investment portfolio can be a safe bet with a steady return, especially over the long term. However, finding that right property requires expert guidance and a wealth of information to ensure the best property is found to meet the investor’s needs. Figuring out which markets are hottest can start to feel like a game.

Bear with me a moment, I promise this has a point, but I’m going to throwback for a minute here to when I was younger. On the playground we would play a game where you had to close your eyes and try to find something a friend hid—sometimes another friend. All the while, they would yell “Warm… Warmer… Hot… Hotter! ON FIRE!” until you navigated your way to the hidden item and it was found. After reading the results of the latest Land Markets Survey, this game came to mind because it seems like there are quite a few markets getting “warmer…,” some that are “Hot!” and a couple that are just plain “ON FIRE!” As I dug into the data further, this became more and more true—so let’s take a look at what the hottest markets are for land real estate investing.

Warm… | Time to plant seeds

When most people think about land real estate, scenic landscapes of sprawling farmland are often the first images that come to mind. Most in the land business know that agricultural land has taken a bit of a hit and is only now starting to rebound in many areas. Despite the overall trends, experts in the field say the demand for agricultural land hasn’t decreased much and that there is often a shortage of quality farmland for sale on the market. Basic economic theory on the law of supply and demand explains why the survey results show a one to two percent increase in the price (or value) of the agricultural land that is on the market, depending whether the land was irrigated or not. So, now is actually a really good time to be an agricultural landowner or investor. And according to RLI’s survey, the price per acre of agricultural irrigated land sold rose two percent, while the price of agricultural non-irrigated land sold rose one percent—a rebound from the price decline reported in the previous survey. Respondents are also predicting a continued increase in agricultural land prices, alluding to a promising future as the market continues to rebound. While the market may not be “ON FIRE!” yet, now could be a good time to plant some investment seeds by grabbing-up ag. land as it starts to heat up.

Warmer… | Bang for your buck

If you are thinking about investing in land real estate, it can be hard to decide where to put your dollars to get the best bang for your buck. Speaking of bang for your buck, recreational land is also a solid type of land to invest in according to the survey. Prices of recreational land went up two percent since the last survey and are expected to go up another three percent. Recreational land sales dollar volumes are expected to increase four percent, second only to residential land at five percent, after already having gone up three percent in the prior period. All of this shows a very strong current market that is only expected to gain steam.

Warmer… | Chop, chop

If you are looking for a solid long-term investment, chop, chop, because timberland is where you need to be. So where do the numbers from the survey fall on timberland? The average change in price of timberland sold increased one percent and is expected to increase another two percent. However, a more telling stat from the survey is the three percent increase in expected change in dollar volume of timberland sales compared to only a one percent increase in the previous period. Now, before you purchase yourself some timberland and start chopping away, make sure to this article on investing in timberland.

ON FIRE! | Groundbreaking

According to the latest Land Markets Survey, commercial and residential land are taking the industry by storm as potential investment options. In the time between the 2016 and 2017 surveys, the dollar volume of residential land sales grew five percent while commercial land sales followed closely behind at a four percent increase. Another great indicator that these two types of land investments are ripe for the picking is that while land prices are expected to increase by three percent across the U.S., commercial and residential land prices are expected to exceed average with an increase of four percent. Plus, 52 percent of respondents said that residential land has become less available in the last five years. Remember our lesson on supply and demand when we talked about ag. land prices? Same law applies here. So a decrease in supply and increase in demand means we should continue to see an increase in price for residential land. You may notice this aligns perfectly with the increase in land prices predicted by survey respondents mentioned earlier. If you are interested in learning more about this hot market, there are some great pieces on the RLI Blog about the increase in demand for residential land real estate.

Hopefully, this piece revealed some valuable information you can use to help make your decision. Finding success in the playground game I mentioned earlier was a combination of needing expert guidance, reliable information, and, of course, a little luck—a lot like investing in land! So, keep in mind that land transactions require specialized expertise making it necessary to find a qualified, experienced, and educated agent—like an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC)—to provide reliable guidance and information when investing in a property. Then all you need is a little luck!


* The Land Markets Survey is conducted annually each fall by the REALTORS® Land Institute and the National Association of REALTORS® Research Group as a tool for real estate land professionals in all sectors of the business to use for bench-marking and as an informational resource when conducting business.

The survey is designed to reveal current trends and the current state of land markets across the U.S. RLI encourages all land real estate agents to participate in the survey to ensure it is accurate in representing the actual state of the land market each year. The full survey, as well as past surveys, can be viewed on RLILand.com

All data included in this article are pulled from the 2017 Land Markets Survey and reference the time periods outlined within.

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  • JESSA FRIEDRICH, MBA, is the Marketing Manager for the REALTORS® Land Institute. Jessa has a Bachelor of Science with a dual major in Business Administration and Marketing as well as a Masters of Business Administration in Marketing with a specialization in Social Media. She has been with RLI in the land real estate industry for over two years and manages all matters pertaining to marketing and communications for the organization. In her role, she is dedicated to promoting and enhancing the valuable benefits of a RLI membership to the land real estate industry.

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