Uncertainty about future tax policies led investors to buy real estate as a sound investment, pushing prices higher and causing inventory to sell quickly, leading to a seller’s market in the Intermountain real estate market.
“This is a great time to put properties on the market, especially if you are a seller that is cashing out,” wrote Janey Knipe, associate broker with Knipe Land Company, in the Range Writer Land Magazine. “We have seen a lot of farmers and ranchers retiring and taking advantage of the current market. By selling in this market, they are maximizing their profit on the sale of their property.”
According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Land Values report published in August, farm real estate values—a measurement of the value of all land and buildings on farms—for the region grew 3.2 percent over 2020 for an average of $1,280 per acre. Farm real estate values have risen 9.4 percent over the last five years for the Intermountain Region, with Idaho showing the largest gain of 7.7 percent over 2020 and 22.7 percent over five years.
The average per-acre and percent increase over 2020 for the Intermountain Region was as follows:
• Colorado: $1,610 per acre (+1.3 percent).
• Montana: $930 per acre (+1.6 percent).
• Nevada: $1,010 per acre (+1 percent).
• Utah: $2,620 per acre (+6.9 percent).
• Wyoming: $790 per acre (+5.3 percent).
The region’s crop and pastureland values also experienced gains of 4.5 percent to $2,100 per acre and 4.4 percent to $717 per acre, respectively.
Real estate brokers told WLJ while water rights and issues have always been a concern with buyers, they are more focused on the western drought this year. Brokers said ranches with these qualities are going quickly and higher than in previous years.
According to Montana Land Source—a company that tracks farm, ranch and recreational properties and compiles live market data statistics—the number of properties and new listings is down compared to 2020, suggesting a seller’s market. As of Oct. 4, there were 422 properties listed for an average price of $1,993 per acre, and sales year to date compared to 2020 are up 45 percent, with a median sales price of $1,594 per acre.
Mike Swan, owner and managing broker for Swan Land Company in Bozeman, told WLJ the firm had seen good activity in all areas of the state, with the highest demand for recreational properties in the Rocky Mountain West. Swan noted a lack of inventory in the state, and properties that normally would be on the market for several years are selling quicker than in previous years.
Swan attributed the sales post-COVID-19 to uncertainty in the tax changes proposed under the Biden administration, causing buyers to go into “capital preservation mode.”
“They’re in capital preservation mode, and so much of that will be to wait till the dust settles,” said Swan. “Land is a safe investment that they can enjoy, that’s going to appreciate in value, especially in the Rocky Mountain states. (It) is a hedge against inflation.”
Swan said people from “the coasts” are still seeking properties outside of urban areas, yet close to amenities. Swan noted there are two types of buyers of ranch properties: current ranchers changing from potential development property into ag-focused land, and those solely interested in ranches as an investment or conservation easement.
Of those individuals interested in ag-focused land, drought remains a concern, according to Swan. More than two-thirds of the state is in severe to extreme drought, and the entire state is experiencing some form of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Swan noted while properties with water rights and access have always been in demand, prices have accelerated due to uncertainty of the drought and the influx of out-of-state buyers.
Chris Corroon, a Utah affiliate broker for Mirr Ranch Group, told WLJ water rights and availability have become an issue as the state is experiencing its second year of drought. Corroon explained that buyers from other states experiencing drought—such as California—look at Utah, as they perceive their state as unfriendly to water users. Corroon said there are not a lot of willing sellers and more willing buyers of properties with water rights.
Consequently, real estate prices have risen this year after remaining relatively flat for the last few years. Adding to the lack of inventory is the amount of public land, further putting pressure on buyers.
“You see properties coming to the market where typically, you might think they were priced fairly significantly above the traditional market values because prices have been somewhat steady here for years,” said Corroon. “A lot of properties went under contract fairly quickly and are not sitting on the market as long as they typically would.”
Corroon explained that the northern part of the state, which traditionally has been agricultural properties, changed to an emphasis on hunting properties. Corroon said more “savvy buyers” in the market are looking for recreational and trophy hunting properties.
Some buyers are looking for land that is in close proximity to resort communities and amenities.
Corroon noted that there is not a lot of inventory for sale in the central part of the state.
As with 2020, Idaho has seen demand outweighing supply. Austin Callison, a broker for Hayden Outdoors, told WLJ properties have been selling throughout the state, as Idaho is “on a lot of people’s radar.” Callison said the state had seen all types of buyers, including out-of-state ranchers looking for better comparable prices, buyers looking for land as an investment and developers purchasing land for the expansion of urban areas.
Callison noted that Corey Barton, president/owner of CBH Homes, originally bid $35.2 million—nearly five times the appraisal value—for 282 acres of Idaho land endowment parcels and decided to withdraw from the deal.
The Boise area has been experiencing tremendous growth, with a recent report by the real estate services company CBRE showing an influx of people, from Idahoans to out-of-state buyers, in 2020. This has put pressure on agricultural lands outside urban areas.
As with other brokers, Callison said buyers are nervous about inflation and the uncertainty of tax policies under the Biden administration.
“I think everybody’s nervous with the administration that we have in place right now,” said Callison. “There’s a lot of unknowns, and we’ve seen price corrections in the Boise market on these bigger properties in that $1 million to $3 million range, and those are small acreage, but we’ve seen some drastic price reductions recently.”
Callison said some properties are “overpriced” and have been on the market for some time.
Not all real estate sales are those outside of urban areas. Callison said he is selling hunting properties where the buyers are looking for a second home or retreat. As with other brokers, buyers are more interested in the land as an investment to hedge against inflation rather than income-producing.
Whether or not prices will continue to rise, Callison said, “This trajectory that we’ve been on is hard to fathom that it would be sustainable, in my opinion.”
Regarding the future of sales in Idaho, Knipe wrote, “I have no crystal ball, but I suspect we will continue to see demand, and accurately priced properties will continue to sell.” — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor