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Buying Land

Wildfires: Finding Value in Burned Land

April 22, 2022

The MET Office (the British national meteorological service) predicts that 2022 will continue to be one of the Earth’s hottest years. While in some parts of the planet this might be a cause for relief, in others—such as in drought-stricken California—people are bracing for another season of intense wildfires. The devastation to many different types of land in the Golden State has been enormous in the last few years. In 2021 alone, a total of 8,619 fires were recorded, burning 2,569,009 acres across the state.

While land investors are rightly cautious about burning their fingers on land that has been ravaged by wildfires, they should also know that the destruction caused by the fires creates plenty of investment opportunities. In what follows, we take a look at how wildfires hitting ranch land, hunting land, and homesites will create unique opportunities for investors. 

Burning Can Be Great For Ranch Land

Burning can be a boon to ranch land as it helps clear out old brush. Controlled burns ensure that land remains fertile and provides good feed for stock. Some studies of grasslands in Kansas, the Flint Hills, even show how controlled burns help the land keep its integrity. All that being said, wildfires are not controlled burns of course, and that makes them problematic. The process of quickly rounding up herds to move them to safety can be challenging. As such, there is a high probability of losing stock during wildfires. Furthermore, the loss of feed leads to increased maintenance costs, thereby placing a financial burden on the rancher.

Because it is to some degree an expected part of life for them, the wildfires do not really cause ranchers to sell or buy property. If anything, the fires increase the need for more usable land to help offset the loss of feedlots. For example, semi-arid to arid environments (like the West) require about 10 acres per head. So, ranchers may be looking to buy out smaller parcel owners to help add to their acreage for grazing. 

One important caveat is that elderly ranchers who have been hit by a fire, and for which rebuilding will be a daunting task, will on many occasions decide to sell their property, providing an opportunity for new ranchers to buy that land at a discounted rate.

Wildfires Bring Hunting Opportunities

While controlled fires can help clear out unwanted, old brush, wildfires can easily destroy natural wildlife habitats. After a wildfire, it’s not uncommon for deer and other game herds to leave burnt areas for extended periods of time. A reduction in prey will consequently reduce the predators (mountain lions and bears) as well, allowing pesky wildlife like wild boar to permeate the area. It’s possible that smaller hunting plots may seek to sell and could present an opportunity for larger landowners to purchase contingent parcels to build future feedlots.

Burned land experiencing new growth after a wildfire

Homesites Can Go on “Fire Sale” 

Burnt suburban land sites could prove to be a clever investment opportunity. Homeowners who wish to leave and not return are often open to selling at literal “fire sale” prices. While the property values typically dip for 3-5 years, these could be opportunities for investors willing to buy for a longer haul and either rebuild and sell or simply sell as buildable lots. We saw this happen in the recent past in Paradise and again in historic Greenville. 

The infrastructure, such as utilities, is already in place and does not require significant costs to reconnect. The purchase at reduced rates appears to recover over time. There are also the exclusive areas that become affordable after a fire. Imagine being able to buy land or a vineyard in SLO, Paso Robles, Napa, or Sonoma! 

What’s the Bottom-line?

Depending on the type of land affected and once they are contained, wildfires are poised to present attractive buying opportunities for real estate and land investors this year. The wildfires do not trigger a significant switch to sell or buy property where ranch land is concerned. Looking at hunting land, it’s possible that small hunting plots may seek to sell, so they could present an opportunity for larger landowners to purchase contingent parcels. Finally, there are homesites that tend to retain the infrastructure that is needed to rebuild. This latter category will often make for the most profitable investment one can make in burnt land. If you’re interested in finding a piece of burned land to call your own, then contact one of our experienced Land Professionals here at National Land Realty!

About the Author
For over 30 years Tom Smart has immersed himself in the California ranching lifestyle. As a licensed Land Professional in California, he is determined to share this passion with others. Tom is a highly experienced executive sales leader and has worked with both start-up and fortune 500 companies. His business transactions have equipped him with the expertise to solve complex business problems through extensive contract negotiations, client relations and new business development. While his industry skills help him to navigate the best possible outcomes for his clients, his success is founded on his caring for the land and people. This gives Tom a unique perspective as a real estate professional when understanding and helping his clients fulfill their goals through every step of the purchase, sale, or lease process. Besides being an avid outdoorsman, he is also a member of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Posse, Ventura Cattlemen’s Association, and a board member for C22 of Equestrian Trails Inc. On a personal note, he is happily married to Kat. He has a brilliant 21-year-old son at Cal Poly SLO, who he is extremely proud of. Tom is also an accomplished guitarist, an avid horseman, rancher, and actively upholds all elements of an exciting, healthy western lifestyle.