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Guidelines for Purchasing a Recreational Property

April 18, 2011 by  
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If you are like me, one day you hope to own and manage your own hunting land. Here is the first post from the team at Whitetail Properties with some smart suggestions on that very subject.

A common dream for most hunters is owning a piece of prime recreational land.   I was able to realize that dream around 10 years ago when 2 very close friends and I purchased a farm in Adams County Illinois.   My justification for buying that farm was to have a place to hunt and avoid the costs associated with leasing land or paying an outfitter.   This was a valid reason, but in hindsight, I now realize that there were many more benefits.   I never imagined how exciting it would be to hunt my own property or how rewarding the overall land ownership and management experience would be.   I also had no idea that I was making the best investment I’d ever made.

Since that original purchase, I’ve bought more farms and have learned many lessons in the process.  As a recreational land specialist with Whitetail Properties, I’ve also helped dozens of buyers realize the dream of land ownership.  Through my personal land purchases and my job as a real estate agent, I’ve learned some things that can help simplify the buying process.  Purchasing a property is a MAJOR undertaking it’s critical that you take the necessary time to insure you’re making the right decisions along the way.   Below, you’ll find some considerations that I think will help simplify your land purchasing process and help insure that you end up with the right property.

Type of Property

One of the first things to decide when considering a land purchase is “What type of property you wish to buy?”  Do you want a pure hunting tract or something that offers more options?  There are countless ways you can utilize and enjoy a property and putting together a list before getting started will certainly help.  In addition to hunting, properties can offer fishing, hiking, 4-wheeling, camping, as well as potential building sites for a home or cabin. Every property is unique and they don’t all provide the same recreational opportunities. Determining how you wish to utilize a property and having a checklist before getting started will save lots of time and aid you in choosing the right type of property for you.

What can you afford?

As a recreational land sales agent, I’ve seen so many people waste time looking at properties they can’t afford.  One of the very first steps in purchasing land is finding out what you can afford.  There are many factors that go into determining this, such as: cash available for down payment, interest rates, financing terms, income potential of a property, and your current financial situation.

I recommend working with a loan officer at a lending institution in the area you wish to buy land.  A loan officer will be able to look at your financial situation and all the factors mentioned above to give you some guidelines on what you can afford.  There’s nothing worse than finding the property of your dreams, going through the negotiation process, getting an accepted offer, etc.,  only to find out later that you don’t qualify for financing.

Where to buy?

Another initial step in the buying process is deciding where you’d like to purchase land.  This will often be determined by how you wish to use the land, but other factors need to be considered also.  Some questions to ask yourself are:   How far are you willing to travel to the property?  If the property isn’t close to where you live, will you be building a home or cabin on the property or staying at a motel when visiting?  If you’ll be staying in a motel, you don’t want to be too far from a city that offers lodging.   Do you have friends that own land that you would like to be near?

While it’s not always possible to come up with an exact location, the more you can narrow things down the easier the purchasing process will be.

Hunting Goals

A very important factor to consider is “What are your hunting goals”?   Are you purchasing strictly for trophy deer hunting or do you want a place that you can invite friends and family to hunt and just have fun. Do you want a farm with high deer densities?  Will you be primarily gun hunting, bow hunting, or both?  How many people will be hunting your farm with you?  What species will you be hunting?  Deer, turkey, upland birds, waterfowl, small game, etc?

Determining what your hunting goals are for your property is critical before getting started.  One of the first questions I ask potential buyers is “How will you utilize the property and what are your goals”.  Answering these questions simplifies the process of finding the right property and saves lots of time!

Terrain and Habitat

Every property is different in terms of terrain and habitat.  There are many different types of terrain here in the Midwest.  We have flat creek or river bottom land, gently rolling farmland, steep and rugged heavily timbered areas along river drainages, and everything in between.  There are also several different types of habitat.  Some of the more common types are mature hardwood timber, brushy timber, overgrown pastures, native grasses, wetlands, etc….   Understanding the type of terrain and habitat you prefer is another important consideration when evaluating potential properties.

Building Sites

If you wish to build a home or cabin on a property, you need to pay very close attention to potential building sites on the properties you are interested in.  Not all properties have suitable building sites and some have difficult access to the building sites.  You need to determine what type structure you will be building, how far off the road you want to be, whether you want gravel or hard surface road access, whether you want a view or not, if utilities are available, etc., etc, etc…

I would estimate that less than 25% of the recreational properties I deal with have really nice building sites.   If you can put together some guidelines up front outlining what type building site you need, it will eliminate many potential properties and make the selection process much easier.


Another consideration when looking at properties is the cost of owning the property.   There are many people that don’t want land if it doesn’t provide some sort of return on investment every year.   Some want a farm that can pay for itself or assist with payments.  Some want a farm that can cover the cost of taxes.  Others want a specific return on investment.  Most farms offer income from a combination of crops, pasture, CRP and timber harvests.   If you currently lease land for hunting or hunt with an outfitter, buying land can also eliminate these costs.

Understanding your financial situation and the income production of potential properties will help in the selection process.  I recommend working with a banker or accountant to help you factor in things such as loan amounts, monthly payments, income, taxes, etc. to determine the true cost of owning a specific property.   You certainly don’t want to get in a situation where owning a property becomes a financial burden.

Get Help!

If you haven’t purchased land before, it can be a daunting task!!!  It’s very beneficial to work with someone who has experience with the type property you are looking for.  If I were buying a commercial business, I would want to work with someone who was familiar with that market.  If I was buying a house, I’d want help from someone that was familiar with the housing market.  The same is true with land.  If you are inexperienced, it’s crucial that you work with someone that can advise you through the purchasing process.   This could be a family member, friend, colleague, attorney, or a real estate agent.    Regardless of who it is you will sleep better at night knowing that you are being advised by someone who has experience.


While there are countless other considerations involved with buying a piece of recreational land, these are some of the factors I think you should look into during the selection process.   It’s critical that you spend the necessary time up front developing specific criteria based on your situation.  Buying a piece of land is one of the most important personal and financial decisions you’ll ever make.  It’s my hope that these guidelines will give you some things to consider that will simplify the buying process for you and help you turn your Dreams to Reality!

Rich Baugh is a real estate agent for Whitetail Trophy Properties.  Rich lives in southeast Iowa and is licensed in IA, IL, and MO.  If you have questions or comments, Rich can be contacted by phone at 319-750-9273 or by email at


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One Response to “Guidelines for Purchasing a Recreational Property”

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