young couple riding quad bike

Everyone has a hidden talent. For some, it is a performance skill such as singing or playing an instrument. For others, it’s a marketable skill like welding, baking or artistry. And for many, it’s something simple but impressive—magic tricks, stunts or the ability to cram 23 marshmallows into your mouth without choking. Whatever your particular talent, those who are meeting you for the first time can’t usually see that talent on the surface. You must spend time with someone and get to know them before unlocking what’s inside. (People don’t cram marshmallows in their mouth for strangers.) But these talents make people fun far beyond simple socialization. They make people unique and interesting.

Land is no different. And while I have never seen land sing or bake, I have seen many pieces of land with their own hidden talents, that is, attributes that make for hidden value sources for owners and sellers. Finding and taking advantage of these hidden talents can provide higher cash flow, a higher selling price, or even intrinsic benefits to landowners and sellers alike. Here are just a few examples of places to look for, and hopefully find, hidden value in your or your client’s property.

1. Mineral Rights

Oftentimes, people can’t see beyond, well, what they can see. What is contained below the surface is sometimes the most valuable part of the property. Mineral rights can be very lucrative depending on location or resource to be mined. This may be a value a buyer wants to tap right away or at some point in the future after an alternative use. For example, here in Florida there are pieces of land that are used for cattle grazing and then later for mining of phosphate. Still later, some of the phosphate land is reclaimed for reservoirs or even single-family homes. In a unique case, there is even a luxury golf course built on an old phosphate mine near Tampa. (Check out StreamsongResort.com. This may be one of the best examples of hidden value I’ve ever seen.) Mineral rights are tricky and investing in them somewhat speculative. But properly considered, their value is not to be dismissed.

2. Conservation Easements

This one gets a lot of debate. Some people would argue that this isn’t hidden value, as putting a conservation on your land restricts the use, therefore devaluing it. And while I don’t disagree that selling prices for encumbered land are necessarily lower than their unencumbered counterparts, the real question lies in property use. I’ve seen cattlemen pursue easements that remove their development rights—but only on land their family has been running cattle on for 100 years that they would never think of selling. These easements include what are called “compatible use agreements” which allow them to continue running cattle at a reasonable volume. Money in their pockets, they continue to operate as they always have. It is important to understand not only your rights but also your obligations as the owner of easement land. But if those line up, the opportunity could be an attractive one.

3. Mulch

This is definitely a much smaller scale example but still worth mentioning. Do you have an area of trees on your property that you think is worthless? Hire someone to clear those trees and turn them into mulch. I have personally had clients who have collected thousands of dollars from just a few acres of pine or cypress. You don’t have to have a section full of 15-year-old pines to realize value from trees. This is certainly not a good retirement plan. But for smaller areas with no real merchantable timber, mulching is an excellent option that will provide some income.

4. Leasing: Hunting, fishing, camping, ATV riding

Again, not a lottery ticket here, but you don’t always need thousands of acres to provide a recreational area for someone. I’ve seen people lease as little as 10 acres for people to ride ATVs or dirt bikes on and as little as 100 acres for people to hunt on. Usually, these are vacant land pieces within 30 minutes or so of a city for people to just enjoy the outdoors. Sometimes referred to as “play land,” pieces like these provide the city-dwellers an opportunity to get away, get dirty and enjoy some fresh air. Some landowners even provide limited use of their land free of charge to non-profit organizations. Not only is this great community involvement, but it could also provide an opportunity to deduct the fair market value of that use for tax purposes. (Not offering tax advice. Consult your CPA J.)

Whether your property can swish an over-the-shoulder three-pointer or do a double back flip off the diving board, it’s got something valuable that isn’t obvious. Take some time to find that value for yourself or your client for maximum property benefit.

What? Oh, me? I play the piano. Happy to bang out “Don’t Stop Believin’” for you anytime. 


About the Author: Caleb McDow, ALC, is a land specialist and vice president with Crosby & Associates, Inc. in Winter Haven, Florida, with a Master of Science in Real Estate (MSRE) and is a licensed private pilot and drone operator. McDow joined the REALTORS® Land Institute in 2014 as a Military Transition Program (MTP) member and served on RLI’s Future Leaders Committee for multiple years, including as Committee Chair in 2018. Find out more at RLILand.com.

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