Buyers Are Coming Back to the Rec Land Market

The economic recession put a damper on recreational land values in southern Illinois.

Published on: Jan 15, 2014

Grover Webb runs quite the eclectic operation in southern Illinois.

The Simpson-based farmer grows corn and soybeans like nearly everyone else in the state. Along with raising a few head of cattle, he's growing shrimp, tomatoes and raspberries. That's in addition to leasing 950 acres, which he continues to farm, to local outfitters Diane and Darrell Hafford for the taking of deer, turkey and waterfowl.

The Webb/Hafford partnership kicked off in 2001. Webb initially told Diane and Darrell they could use the land for hunting/outfitting, if they'd be willing to pay his property tax.

"If anything, we keep the cows a little closer to the barn during hunting season," Webb notes. "Other than that, it doesn't affect anything I'm doing farming wise."

SCENIC VIEW: Most rec land buyers are looking for a quaint track of land with access to water. The top uses are hunting and horseback riding. Darrell Hafford (left) and wife Diane operate an outfitter business on Grover Webbs 950 acres near Simpson.
SCENIC VIEW: Most rec land buyers are looking for a quaint track of land with access to water. The top uses are hunting and horseback riding. Darrell Hafford (left) and wife Diane operate an outfitter business on Grover Webb's 950 acres near Simpson.

Wayne Keller, the Sparta branch office managing broker for Buy A Farm: Land and Auction Company, says rec land went through a significant lull with the market crash but appears to be making a comeback.

"Prior to the market crash in 2008, we saw rec land peak in Randolph County with parcels going for $4,800 to $5,000 an acre," Keller notes.

He adds that this is fairly typical with the recreational land market. In the face of a big economic change, the rec land market usually softens.

Despite the lull, Keller says large investors never left. Looking for a hedge against inflation, big money investors have continued to buy land, including the recreational variety, the past few years.

Currently, the biggest change is the return of the "little guy." Keller says this is the client who has been saving money for a decade or longer with the goal of purchasing a hunting parcel or 20 acres of rural land for a new house.

Keller recently listed a 20-acre wooded parcel. He received four offers in one week. Since large investors purchase land in much larger tracts, this helped confirm his theory that the small buyer is back.

Even though rec land values have started to rebound, they're still short of the pre-2008 peak. Keller says an average wooded parcel in his area is going for $3,800/acre. That's still $1,000 short of the average selling price five years ago.

Webb has noticed the same trend in the Shawnee National Forest area. Following the market collapse, small wooded parcels languished on the market.

Today, buyers are back and 20- to 50-acre plots for trail riding and homes rarely last more than a couple weeks.