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  • Writer's pictureTim Cartner, RF

Selling Your Timberland For Top Dollar

There is no shortage of timberland for sale, so to avoid your property lingering on the market, you need to make it stand out from the herd. I see a lot of owners asking top dollar for poor to mediocre quality tracts. With photoshopped images and misleading descriptions, many of these properties look great on paper but, in reality, fall short of the expectations created by their advertising. Unless your land has the curb appeal and features to hold buyers’ interests once they get to the property, you are wasting your time and theirs. Investing small amounts to boost your land’s attractiveness and functionality will yield benefits that greatly outweigh the outlay.

Step 1. Improve Your Land’s Curb Appeal

Question—If you were selling your home and had a potential buyer coming, would you leave the grass unmowed, your dirty laundry out, and a sink full of dirty dishes? Many landowners do the equivalent when selling their land. First impressions are nearly impossible to change, so the initial encounter a potential buyer has with your property must be positive if you expect to hold their interest and receive an offer. More often than not, emotion trumps rational thought when it comes to purchasing decisions. When selling your land, you need to create an environment that encourages buyers to think of the positive experiences they are going to have following the purchase. The last thing you want is for a potential buyer to ruminate over the expense, work, and time needed to fix the things wrong with your property once it is theirs. Subpar tracts either receive no offers or bottom-basement ones.

Areas in which to focus

  • Entrance. A shabby entrance conveys the message that you’ve neglected the property. If there is a gate, make sure it is functional and visually appealing. Adding landscaping is a nice touch.

timberland gate
This entrance has room for improvement.
  • Access. Roads and roadsides should be in good shape—open, stabilized, and well-drained. There is nothing worse than trying to view a tract of land with poor accessibility—mud holes, washed-out inclines, waist-high weeds, limbs raking the sides of your truck, etc. If you don’t have roads on your property, you should look at options for improving accessibility to at least facilitate parking, ATVs, and walking.

  • Property boundaries. Marked and posted boundary lines allow potential buyers to quickly determine boundary locations and show that you’ve been vigilant in your efforts to prevent encroachment and trespassing.

  • Forest management. Actively managing your timberland not only improves wildlife habitat, tree health, and value but provides periodic timber income for maintenance and improvements. Low-cost investments in wildlife plantings, firelines, trails, and managed understories will pay for themselves. A well-managed property conveys an image of quality and conscientious stewardship, attracting premium buyers.

Timberland for sale
Which tract do you think will sell first, A or B?

Step 2. Value Assessment

It’s hard to get the best price for your property if you don’t know what you’ve got. Performing a full assessment will determine your land’s highest and best use and value.

Areas of assessment

  • Research recent comparable sales to determine an acceptable sale price. Your asking price should always be higher than what you consider a fair sale price but not so high as to scare potential buyers away.

  • Timber value. What are the stand values, growth potential, and species compositions? What are the management options? Should any timber harvests take place before you place the land on the market? You’ll need an agent with a background in forestry or be willing to hire an outside forestry consultant for this analysis. Walk-through guestimates are not good enough. A proper timber valuation requires diligent data collection, accurate stand acreage determination, and intimate knowledge of the markets and buyers in an area. Timber values can range from a few hundred dollars an acre to over five thousand, so you need to know what you have.

  • Value of man-made features on the property (buildings, ponds, etc.).

  • Features of uniqueness and character. On paper, two properties may appear similar. Items such as natural beauty (pretty stream, wildflower-filled meadows, a section of sprawling mature trees, etc.) can set a property apart. While these features are hard to put a price on, they have emotional capital and need to factor into your pricing equation.

  • Acreage. Do you know your exact acreage? Tracts passed for generations without a survey can have actual acreages that differ significantly from the deeded or tax map acres. Surveys can be expensive, so factor in one's cost if you think it might be necessary. An experienced land agent should be able to help you assess whether a survey is needed.

Step 3. Marketing

Once your property is in presentable shape and you know your land's value and asking price, it's time to show your property to the world. Who will the buyer be? Is it the recreational hunter, a timberland investor, or a "back to the land" type seeking escape from the urban life's hustle and bustle? Your marketing materials should emphasize the most appealing qualities to the kind of buyer to whom your land will be most attractive. Tract size, soils, topography, vegetative composition, aesthetics, and location will determine who the most likely buyer will be.

Components of Marketing

  • Your land packet. You should (or your agent) have a sales packet that includes high-quality maps, a survey (if available), and recent aerials. If the tract has favorable topography and soils, include those map types to show off those attributes. The aerial maps should have detailed overlays showing roads, streams, timber types, and other significant or attractive features. Include quality photos that are representative of the property. Create this packet in a PDF format for emailing. If you are working with a competent land agent, they should be able to assemble these items for you—if not, get a new agent.

  • The narrative. Your advertising language should cater to the buyer you are targeting. Make sure to paint a favorable (but realistic) portrait of your land. Avoid the banal descriptions you find run-of-the-mill real estate agents using—full of exclamation points and empty adjectives that give the potential buyer nothing but the sense that they are being fed a line of bull.

  • Online marketing. For the best exposure, employ a combination of websites, land listing sites, and social media.

  • Email marketing. Utilize online email services to spread the word. We have an extensive list of buyers, brokers, and former clients we contact regularly.

  • Signage. Put up an attractive, visible, legible sign with contact information.

Need Help? Have Questions?

It can be difficult for many landowners to cover all the bases that are needed to prepare for and carry out a successful land sale. If this is the case for you, I can help. Contact me, and I’ll be glad to come out, review your property, and discuss how I can help with your assessment and marketing.


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