April 2017

The Good Earth: Rural Real Estate Remains a Smart Purchase

Author: Denise K. James

Back when I was a kid, a close friend of the family would pick me and my little sister up on Sunday afternoons and take us out to “the farm”—an expanse of land featuring a simple cabin, a quiet lake and plenty of wide open space for riding around on the tractor or playing tag. We loved those Sundays, and, looking back, such excursions were the perfect opportunity to get away from the technology and busyness that bogged us down at that time—Super Nintendo, television, dramatic phone conversations with best friends—and simply relax in nature.

Times have changed, but for many people that same kind of love for the land still exists and, in fact, is stronger than ever. We often imagine urban life when we think of real estate: stately homes, friendly neighborhoods and conveniences such as restaurants and shopping nearby. However, rural real estate is beloved in the South Carolina Lowcountry, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

“Like Mark Twain said, we’re not making any more of it,” pointed out Stan Swofford of National Land Realty. “Our population is growing, and the amount of land is not.”

Swofford said his choice to sell rural real estate came naturally to him as a native of the Lowcountry who “has lived here his whole life, other than college.” Outdoor adventures such as hunting, as well as having multiple friends and family members in the forestry business, encouraged him to go rural, as did the long hours on his grandfather’s farm.

David Lynch, a real estate specialist for American Forest Management who is well aware of nature’s appeal, feels the same way. His sincere love for land spurred him to focus on it during his real estate training. Naturally, that love came from many years spent in the great outdoors.

“I did have an interest in [rural] when I first began to take real estate classes,” he said. “I also had a couple of good friends from middle Georgia who were in forestry. And it was intriguing to me. I spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying the solitude and the quiet.”

Making the most of land-related bounty seems to be a common theme, not only for Swofford and Lynch, but also for rural buyers. For one, most rural buyers are more than aware that a great piece of land is an ideal place to grow trees for timber. In fact, according to Lynch, “a good percentage of folks with a forestry background are apt to purchase acres of Lowcountry land.” Of course, there are other valuable purposes for rural real estate, including farming for crops, building a personal “getaway cabin” or even leaving things untouched, hiding in the brush and hunting for deer, turkey or waterfowl—all common in these parts.

“We have three types of buyers,” Lynch pointed out. “We have the farmer who wants to grow crops, the timber investor who wants the majority of land to be planted with pine trees and the recreation buyer who wants to build a cabin or hunt.”

“There are ways to produce income with rural land,” Swofford added. “And if you don’t want to [harvest timber or farm crops] yourself, you can lease the land to others, even for hunting. There are numerous hunters from out of state looking for land to hunt on.”

There’s a certain camaraderie that comes with selling this type of real estate, and perhaps that’s one reason rural specialists choose it as a career over residential sales. Swofford admitted that being around [rural buyers] was a huge perk for him, adding that he hopes to one day own more land himself. Meanwhile, Lynch likes the casual, no-frills approach that he and his rural buyers commonly share.

“I don’t get bogged down with school districts or the other stuff that residential real estate gets bogged down with,” he said. “And I’m more of a pickup truck kind of guy than a BMW kind of guy. In a lot of cases, I show up to meet someone, and they’re in overalls and in a pickup truck. I build relationships with my buyers, conveying the blank canvas of property and what can be done with it.”

But don’t let this characterization of the “typical” buyer discourage you city slickers; savvy investors of all persuasions are catching onto the fact that land is incredibly precious in South Carolina. Buying a chunk of it is never a bad idea, even if you hate camping and have never held a gun in your life.

“It’s not just a boys’ club; a lot of my clients are women,” Swofford pointed out. “A lot of women like the idea of a cabin for a weekend retreat. And even though land is going to have peaks and valleys in value like any other type of real estate does, it’s a safe investment long term; it can double or triple in value over time. The population is growing but the land isn’t. It’s simple supply and demand.”

Because rural land buyers are often, indeed, purchasing investment property, they tend to be accustomed to real estate transactions as a whole, according to both Swofford and Lynch. This makes for a more straightforward transaction—in fact, many are in cash.

“You’d be surprised by the number of buyers who don’t use financing,” Lynch noted.

“Typically, land buyers are people who have already settled. They’ve done things like buy their first home,” Swofford said. “They have a little extra money to spend on something investment related or recreational. And they understand the different facets that land can be used for.”
Fortunately, those of us who hang out on Hilton Head Island, in Beaufort or the surrounding areas are in luck. There’s land to be had, and it’s a great time to squirrel it away (pun intended) for the future.

“As urban areas grow, a lot of people will look at acquiring land as a peaceful and quiet alternative,” Lynch added. “A farm is somewhere you can bring the family for long weekends and holidays, especially with ponds, hiking trails and various things you can do together. It builds relationships.” 

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