This article is featured in the Winter 2021 issue of Texas LAND magazine. Click here to find out more.
Technology’s Impact on Rural Real Estate
Ten years ago, I was taking a ranch tour with a ranch buyer client of ours on a 1,000± acre ranch in Central Texas and will never forget my experience. Anyone who has been in the business for any length of time will always have great stories to share, but this one particularly stuck with me. The listing broker was one of the nicest, down-to-earth brokers I had met up to that point, and he naturally had a knack for a ranch tour full of good stories. While we were touring the ranch in his UTV on a hot, dusty day in August, I brought up a question about a boundary line and asked if he had an aerial map handy that may be different than the one I had brought. His next move is what stuck with me. . . . He proceeded to stop the mule and to draw the approximate boundaries of the ranch with his finger in the dust that had settled on the seat between he and the client. While effective to get his point across, we all had a good laugh as I took a picture of the high-quality aerial map with my cell phone!
The Texas rural land market continues to show strength, driven in large part by buyers seeking a weekend getaway in the countryside and those who see land as an attractive investment.”
For anyone that has bought or sold land more than a couple of years ago, it’s humorous to reflect on the lack of resources and access to information that we all had then compared to what we can get quickly today. Gone are the days of limited information related to a specific property or the land markets in general. All aspects of the industry have seen technological impacts including researching land rights and records, land values, mapping, photography, social media, drones. . . . The list is continually growing and new companies are being formed regularly to change the way we have access to this information. Interactive aerial mapping technology with seemingly endless data layers, aerial drone photos/video, and many robust websites dedicated to rural land values have all fundamentally changed the way we view, evaluate, and make decisions regarding rural land. What used to require a property tour and hours of research, now can take place in an instant from the comfort of the home office.
The meteoric rise of technology has certainly reached rural real estate markets in a big way and has become even more relevant in the last two years. Alex Gyllstrom, Whitetail Properties’ marketing director, noted that the rural land industry is seeing a massive influx of buyer interest over the last two-plus years. “The digital traffic to these listing websites, as well as our own, has increased greatly with no signs of slowing down anytime soon,” he said.
The Texas rural land market continues to show strength, driven in large part by buyers seeking a weekend getaway in the countryside and those who see land as an attractive investment. That’s the consensus from land experts with Whitetail Properties Real Estate, which specializes in recreational, ranch and farm properties.
Whitetail Properties Land Specialist Aaron Ablondi, who serves northeast Texas, says many of his clients from the Dallas area are buying a rural tract of land for family recreation, such as hunting and ATV riding, or for hobby farming. “We’re starting to see more sellers because prices have gotten so high,” Ablondi said. “Inventory is starting to build because people are hearing about the premiums being paid for land and are willing to offer their property for sale. Right now is an incredible time for land owners to get a great financial return on their property. It’s worth more now than it’s ever been.” Ablondi said many of his clients see investing in land as a hedge against inflation and more volatile types of investments, such as stocks. “It’s not only a more stable alternative, but land is also something they can use and enjoy while they are holding the investment.”
Similar trends are being seen by Joey Bellington, broker for Whitetail Properties in Texas. “It’s still very much a seller’s market and values are continuing to go up,” he said. “I’m seeing a huge market for recreational land, especially for smaller acreage tracts with homes.”
The opportunity for good appreciation is also a factor. “In some of the hotter markets, clients feel their property value has doubled in the last two-and-a-half to three years,” Bellington said. “What they love is not only land as a financial investment, but also the time spent with their family and getting out of the big cities. People have seen what land values have done and want to buy a second place. They see it as one of the best things they can put their money in.”
The Technology Challenge
With overall demand for Texas land higher than it’s ever been and land sales websites experiencing massive web traffic increases within the last two years, the real challenge today becomes how to disseminate such a vast amount of information into a format that is easy to understand for the land buyer and seller. Brought on in-part by the early stages of the pandemic with social distancing and stay-at-home requests, buyers and sellers of land have become more comfortable and knowledgeable about the seemingly endless amounts of information, options and tools at their fingertips. The understanding and awareness of clients is increasing constantly with the web-based tools and resources. If a brokerage is running their business service focused, this is a positive shift. For those that have not evolved with technology, the day of reckoning is much closer than it once was.
“We welcome and encourage more information for everyone involved,” said Alex Gyllstrom, Whitetail Properties marketing director. “We have a responsibility to provide the best viewing and searching experience to accommodate this continually increasing interest in the properties we represent. We want every person involved to have a clear, comfortable understanding of the process and expectations. With more information about the transaction process, listings that are available for sale and land value information, the education curve has been shortened and everyone should benefit. The challenge is what to do with all the tech advances and giving it all life in an easily digestible format for the land seller and buyer. All that’s left is for companies like ours to provide buyers and sellers with best experience and service possible.”
For those that have not evolved with technology, the day of reckoning is much closer than it once was.”
In a response to this critical demand in the industry, Whitetail Properties recently launched a new website with enhanced features for buyers and sellers of rural land. The site offers interactive property viewing with high resolution, detailed photography and engaging video, as well as informative videos and direct, personal contact with agents specializing in different regions. One of the completely new sections in the recent renovation is the new Knowledge Center. It provides an entire platform of educational and entertaining content, including engaging video, articles and blogs, about land values, habitat improvement, strategies and much more.
The new website is part of a larger initiative to help potential buyers find exactly what they’re looking for more quickly, said Gyllstrom. “Our new website is built in a way that connects with the most popular land listing websites, such as Lands of Texas, Landwatch and Lands of America, in a highly visual and interactive way,” he said. “Our goal is to work with these industry leading sites to provide the best experience possible for anyone looking to buy land, as well as offer the best marketing exposure for our clients listing their property for sale.”
While the days of limited access to land information are far behind us, we can be thankful that so much technology exists at our fingertips to make far more educated and strategic investment decisions than in years past. As the land market and the technology associated with it continues to rapidly evolve, getting connected with a trusted professional in the industry is still as critical as it was 50 years ago to help you navigate the process and sort through the information. Even though the days are long gone of drawing aerial maps in the dust, the simplicity of that is something I will miss. I still plan to take a page from that playbook from time to time to get a laugh or a blank stare. . . but I’ll be sure and quickly follow it up with an iPad displaying the interactive aerial map.
Blake received a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Master of Real Estate degree from Texas A&M University prior to joining Whitetail Properties Real Estate in 2012. Blake was born and raised in Texas with a long-standing family ranching heritage, a deeply-rooted passion for hunting and fishing and nearly a decade of experience overseeing over 500 ranch transactions. Blake now serves as the Texas Sales Manager for Whitetail Properties and is focused on the leading, training and developing of the growing team across the state. Find out more→ WhitetailProperties.com