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  • Writer's pictureTim Cartner, RF

Buying Rural Land? 5 Reasons You Need a Buyer’s Agent

I don’t know what I’m doing, but my incompetence has never stopped my enthusiasm.”
− Woody Allen

Buying land is easy. If you have enough money, you can get online, sort through properties, find a few you like, and make appointments to look them over. Friendly, “helpful” listing agents will show you around and acquaint you with all of the property’s great features—they may even point out an easily remedied flaw or two to show you they are on the up and up. You like one of the properties and make an offer. After a bit of back and forth, you and the seller settle on a price, the paperwork goes to the attorney’s office, and in a short time, the property is yours.

Seems simple, right? We all like simplicity. When things seem simple, we think we understand them. Our brains often ignore essential details to maintain the illusion of simplicity and understanding.

Successful Rural Land Purchases

Like a stool that needs three legs to stand, the essential “legs” of a successful land purchase are the criteria below.

  • You’ve made a purchase at or below fair market value

  • You’ve bought a property that is a fit for your long-range goals and uses

  • You’ve purchased a property with full knowledge of its potential, defects, and limitations

I’m a land broker and a forester. My forestry consulting work brings me into contact with many buyers (who didn’t use me as their land buyer’s agent) after they’ve made their land purchase—most are lucky to have hit one out of three from the list above.

Land is an infinitely complex mix of plants, animals, soils, topography, and water, with each property having a different mix of these ingredients. To make a successful purchase (by the criteria listed above), you need to be able to efficiently and expertly assess a property (or work with someone who can). Many times, defects and limitations aren’t obvious and sometimes won’t reveal themselves to the novice until years later.

What is a Land Buyer’s Agent?

These agents are the bird dogs of the business. They can help you find suitable properties and potentially flush out some tracts that aren’t currently on the market. With signs and billboards plastered all over the countryside, seller’s (listing) agents get all the attention, so many land buyers don’t realize some agents specialize in acquisitions.

The primary services buyer’s agents provide:

  • Property search

  • Property analysis

  • Advise when you need outside services (soil scientist, appraiser, attorney, forester, surveyor, etc.)

  • Assistance with preparing an offer and price negotiation

  • Promotion of your interests

5 Reasons You Need a Buyer’s Agent

1. We all have blind spots and think we know more than we do. We all don’t know what we don’t know. Behavioral scientists call this The Dunning-Kruger Effect, named after a Cornell University research team. Their research confirmed that if we are unskilled and unpracticed in a field of knowledge, we are poor judges of our competence level and think we know a lot more than we do. As we dig into an area of knowledge, we realize there is much more to it than we initially thought.

Behavioral scientists have found the less we know, the more confident we are.

Several years ago, I decided to build a wooden kayak. Upon completion (probably 100 hours of build time), my costs and time were twice as much as estimated, and it was a poor fit for my long legs. Had I more experience woodworking and paddling, I’d probably had better results. I could’ve gone and taken a class, but I went cheap (not knowing what I didn't know) and ended up with a kayak that, while beautiful, is mostly unusable for me.

I wish I had a kayak agent when building this.

In the case of my kayak build, I was out a few hundred bucks and some time. In the case of a land purchase, you may be out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the scale of your purchase.

Luckily for you, there are experienced land buyer agents for hire. A land agent with the requisite experience and education can help you see blind spots and make more informed decisions. Real estate licenses are a dime a dozen, so make sure your “land guy” has the requisite skills to size up the type of land you are buying.

2. Your time is valuable. Done correctly and thoroughly, finding and vetting land purchase candidates is a time-consuming process. Do you have the time and skillset to assess potentials properly? A skilled land buyer’s agent will save you loads of time by kicking the lemons to the curb so you only look at properties that fit your purchase parameters.

3. Insurance. We buy insurance to protect ourselves. Most buyers don’t think twice about buying insurance on their car, home, life, health, etc. Think of a competent land buyer’s agent as insurance that you won’t make unwise purchase decisions.

4. Skills. It’s been said that becoming an expert takes 10,000 hours of practice. I'm guessing you don't have that kind of time. When you hire a skilled buyer’s agent, you have access to all the knowledge they’ve acquired throughout their career.

5. Free money. Seller’s agents “list” a seller’s property. They generally work for a fee based on a percentage of the sale price. Many times seller’s agents offer a cooperative commission split with the buyer’s agent. This cooperation means you get the services of your buyer’s agent, and the seller pays his fee—that’s what I call free money. The seller’s agent keeps the whole commission if there is no buyer’s agent.

real estate commission split
In many cases, the seller is paying your buyer agent's fee.

A recent ruling may change this practice in the future, but for now most selling agents offer a split.

Choosing a Rural Land Buyer’s Agent

Anyone from any background can attain a real estate license within a few weeks time and call themselves a “land specialist.” In North and South Carolina, the states where I work, the required and elective classes for real estate licensure and continuing education place minimal emphasis on rural properties. Almost all of the coursework focuses on the residential and commercial side of the profession.

Many “land specialists” have gotten into the business because they like the outdoors (hunting, fishing, etc.). Liking the outdoors doesn’t mean they know anything about land. Your most competent rural land agents will likely come from a background in a land-related field, such as forestry, agronomy, wildlife biology, engineering, surveying, etc. Ensure you hire an agent whose background and knowledge base are suited to finding and evaluating the property type you seek. Don’t be afraid to ask about education, background, work experience, and other interests that may contribute to their doing the best job possible for you. There are many posers in the land and timber business—they look the part and know enough to have a thin veneer of authority, but upon closer inspection, you’ll find they are empty vessels steering you into a property to line their pockets. Most are clueless, not malicious (although the real estate profession draws in its fair share of BS-artist-used-car-salesman types).

Me as Your Rural Land Buyer’s Agent

I like to think of myself as the Spock to your Kirk—you, the client, are in charge, but I’m the knowledgeable, rational advisor that keeps you on the right path. I’m selective about who I work with; life is too short to work with people with whom you don’t share common values and goals. The essentials I seek in my clients are:

  • Patience

  • An open mind

  • Cooperativeness

  • Realistic expectations

  • Seriousness about buying

  • The money to buy

  • Timeliness in responses to communications

  • Respect for my time

  • An appreciation of the value of quality professional services

  • Loyalty

What my clients should expect from me:

  • An open mind

  • Cooperativeness

  • Patience

  • Understanding

  • Thoroughness

  • Competence

  • Timely responses to communications

  • Respect for their time

  • Loyalty

If you want capable, experienced representation, contact me, and I’ll be happy to discuss my approach and your purchase parameters. I have three decades of experience in the land and timber business and am confident I can help you find the right property.


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