The Evolution of Land Real Estate Across the Generations

allan and luke worrell

Written by Allan Worrell, ALC & Luke Worrell, ALC

In the Central Illinois town of Jacksonville, nestled among corn and soybean fields, sits a family-owned land services company by the name of Worrell Land Services. The company has seen many changes in the industry between when Allan started the business and his son Luke joined him to become an unstoppable father-son team.

The family business takes root

Allan: I started this business in 1995 after nearly 20 years as a farm manager for area banks. I’ve been blessed to watch what began as a small operation in the spare bedroom of my home grow to become a local leader in a variety of land services. We’ve expanded our offerings and broadened our reach, now serving landowners not only with farm management but also farm and recreational real estate brokerage, auctions, licensed appraisals, and land investment consulting.

In family-owned businesses, it is often expected that the next generation will continue in the footsteps of the founder. That wasn’t the case for our family—I would have never forced the business on Luke. But ten years ago, quite unexpectedly, our father/son team was formed at Worrell Land Services when my son Luke, who had been working in a sales and marketing capacity in professional baseball, moved back to Central Illinois and reconnected with his ag roots. It’s surreal that the little boy who once sat on my lap now sits across the hall from me as an accomplished land professional and business partner in whom I have full confidence.

I tell you this background to give some context to our following commentary regarding the next generation of land real estate professionals and how the industry has evolved over time from our perspectives. Oh, and I should give you advanced warning that we are land professionals, not professional writers. So if the transition from one writer to the other feels a little awkward, that’s because it is!

Across the generations: Then and now

Luke: Not surprisingly, the most significant change from when dad started in the land business nearly 40 years ago is technology and the way it allows the quick flow of information. In dad’s arsenal of communication tools in 1977 as a young land professional right out of college, he had a typewriter and a rotary phone. Now, we communicate with our clients in a variety of ways including email, text, video conferencing, and social media to name a few–we don’t simply have to rely on phone and mail marketing. We have learned the unique way each client wants to communicate, and are therefore more relevant to them because we are speaking their language.

The internet has played a huge role in redefining the ways in which land-seekers and land-sellers can connect with one another. This has created a shift in the characteristics of land buyers. Buyers are now more sophisticated because they have access to so much information! Modern technology allows buyers from all over the nation, and even the world, to learn about land for sale thousands of miles away without leaving their screen.

Gone are the days when a buyer almost exclusively came from within the same county as the land being sold. Certainly, many buyers are still owner-operators but in the last decade or so, we are seeing more investor-type buyers coming to the table from outside the traditional ag world. Buyers now come from a wide range of backgrounds and with broad investment knowledge. To reach this wide-ranging group, land professionals must stay current with the times. For example, Worrell Land Services maintains an active voice on various social media platforms, we advertise listings nationally not just locally, and we are intentional about building professional relationships all over the country.

Additional technological advancements include advanced mapping software and aerial drone imagery. Being able to show potential buyers a bird’s eye view of the land they’re considering has been a huge advantage and has made our marketing much more effective. All those hours of playing video games as a kid (when dad wanted to wring my neck) have paid off in the form of smooth drone piloting!

Timeless tips

Allan: As I look back at how the land industry has evolved over time, change is certainly apparent. However, the foundation upon which a successful land business is built is largely the same. So, here are some “Timeless Tips” from an industry veteran…

It still comes down to the people and earning their trust. Be honest. Don’t backstab. Your clients have to believe in you as a person before they would ever want to do business with you. Don’t give them a reason to question your integrity. I’m reminded of the wisdom contained within John Wooden’s famous quote, “There’s no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.” If you can go to bed at night knowing that your principles were not compromised in your land dealings that day, it will serve you well in this business.

Don’t underestimate the value of networking! From the moment I entered the land business, I’ve been intentional about building connections within the industry. I don’t just mean landowners and farmers–the obvious. But, get out among the bankers, attorneys, appraisers, farm managers, etc. Much of our success over the years has come from good ole fashioned “word of mouth.” With all of the modern technology, it’s important to not lose sight of relationships.

Get involved in professional organizations within your local communities and those that go well beyond your sales territory. Organizations such as the REALTORS® Land Institute provide the education, tools, advice, and networking opportunities that are the foundation for all land professionals to become the best in the business.

Stronger together

Luke: The combination of dad’s experience and my next generation knowledge mix to make our company strong because, between the two of us, there’s someone every client or key player within the ag-industry can relate to. We cover different generations, both of which include potential sellers, buyers, and influencers. We can get the same point across from two different perspectives.

Also, we brainstorm well together about how best to serve our clients’ evolving needs. It is easy to get sucked down into the day-to-day tasks, but over the course of the last few years, together we’ve really started to look at how our company can be a part of the bigger “land” picture. We view our role in agriculture as more than just selling real estate. We strive to promote agriculture and provide knowledge in everything we do. Specifically, we now bring in expert speakers throughout the year that cover a range of relevant land-related topics. Through these sessions, we’re providing a needed service and hopefully starting the process of building trust so we are the ones land-sellers and land-lookers think of when the needs arises. Not everyone is a buyer or seller now…but they could be some day.

In that vein, we are seeing that now more than ever, our holistic approach to serving landowners is highly sought after. We can provide an end-to-end solution for landowners—everything from appraising their land, to selling it in the way that best helps them achieve their goals (ie. private treaty or public auction).

Or, if they aren’t ready to sell their land, we will manage it with care as if it were our own. We truly care about the people we work with, and about each other, and we think that’s what matters most.


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