Evaluating the Alabama Land Market

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Evaluating the Alabama Land Market

Bart Waldon

When it comes to Alabama's rural land market, buyers, sellers, and investors alike are keeping a close eye on things. Data from Texas A&M shows that in 2022, the median selling price for an acre of Alabama farm and ranch land was $2,737. In total, there were 1,029 sales comprising over 130,000 acres last year.

These numbers highlight why fully understanding Alabama's land market dynamics is so important prior to buying, selling, or making other land-related moves. Taking time to analyze market trends, regional value differences, and other factors provides critical intelligence for landowners and investors seeking to maximize returns. 

Whether looking to acquire Alabama acreage or optimize an existing rural land holding, wise decisions begin with thorough research into where this market stands and where it may be headed. The data indicates there is a healthy interest in the state's wide-open spaces.

The Alabama Economy

Alabama's economic identity has shifted dramatically from its agricultural roots to become a real manufacturing powerhouse today. Major players like Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have established a prominent aerospace and automotive footprint. Huntsville specifically has evolved into a hub for rocket technology and broader space innovation. At the same time, pillars like healthcare, education, timber, tourism and shipping remain integral to statewide commerce.

This ongoing diversification and business growth has attracted new residents to the state, with Alabama's population swelling 10% since 2010 to 5 million citizens. More people naturally increases housing demand, while the influx of new jobs also spurs commercial real estate development. Carefully tracking employment rates, wage growth, tax receipts and other economic health metrics is key for properly understanding trends shaping Alabama's land market.

The major metro areas — Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile — have experienced especially vigorous expansion recently, particularly in services, retail and construction. Rural zones still rely more heavily on agriculture, timber and some manufacturing. Evaluating the dynamics of these varying regional economies brings appropriate focus to assessing land values and demand across the state.

Overall, expanding state and regional business climates drive heightened interest and rising property values for developable land assets. Tracking announcements around new corporate facility projects, infrastructure upgrades by state and local government, and other investments identifies the hottest areas for both residential and commercial growth.

Alabama Demographics

Alabama's demographic profile gives important clues into evolving land use patterns. The median age is 39, slightly higher than national figures. About 25% are under 18, while seniors over 65 make up 15%. Ethnically, the population is 69% white, 27% African American and 4% Hispanic/Latino.

The major metros of Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile are experiencing the fastest population growth as young professionals and families move in. These cities are also becoming more diverse. Rural counties are aging and losing residents. Demand for residential land remains strongest around metro areas and college towns.

Changing household sizes and age distributions are affecting housing preferences. The typical Alabama household has shrunk to 2.48 people over the past decade, fueling demand for townhomes and condos versus single family homes. Seniors over 65 are projected to increase more than 30% by 2030, driving more demand for low maintenance, accessible units. Tracking demographic changes provides valuable insights on emerging real estate needs.

Land Use Patterns

Alabama remains a predominately rural state, with over 90% of land area classified as forest, pasture or farmland. However, loss of farmland to urbanization is an issue. Between 2007-2017 nearly 250,000 acres of Alabama farmland were converted to residential, commercial and industrial uses. Proximity to growing metro areas makes agricultural land attractive for development.

The I-65 corridor connecting Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile has seen major residential and commercial growth. Suburban sprawl has expanded footprints of cities like Hoover, Prattville and Daphne along this interstate route. Baldwin County, located along the Gulf Coast near Florida, is Alabama's fastest growing county with the highest demand for coastal and retirement properties.

Northern Alabama's topography favors continued suburban expansion around Huntsville, Florence and Decatur. The Tennessee Valley Authority's cheap and reliable electricity supply supported much of the region's development. Flat plains in the Black Belt make it suitable for manufacturing, warehousing and industrial facilities, while lacking appeal for residential buyers.

Evaluating land use patterns is key to identifying high-potential areas primed for more growth, versus rural regions unlikely to develop further. Examining local zoning laws also provides guidance on the range of allowable uses for properties.

Alabama Real Estate Trends

Analyzing real estate sales, values and inventory sheds light on land market conditions. Median home prices in Alabama reached $177,500 in 2022. Prices rose over 15% statewide last year amid low mortgage rates and limited supply. The inventory of homes listed for sale remains tight across most counties.

Strong buyer competition has spilled over into the land market. Sales of vacant residential lots jumped 30% in 2021. Lot prices vary widely based on location, but average $30,000 to $60,000 per acre near cities and suburbs. Rural recreational land averages $2,000 to $4,000 per acre.

Commercial land value correlates with development potential. In-demand spots near major highways range from $50,000 to over $500,000 per acre. Industrial sites with infrastructure in place command premium prices. High-visibility parcels in retail corridors and busy mixed-use areas also demand top dollar. Land values have climbed rapidly near Huntsville and other metro centers experiencing major corporate expansions.

Monitoring median sales prices, inventory levels, days on market and buyer activity provides perspective on demand for all property types. This data helps set expectations for land valuations. Sales trends over the past 5-10 years give the best sense of market direction.

Key Factors in Land Evaluation

When appraising land parcels in Alabama, main considerations include:

Location - Access to transportation networks, proximity to metro areas, neighborhood demographics, and desirable amenities impact land values. Coastal and lakefront locations command the highest premiums on a price per acre basis, while land within commuting range of cities holds strong appeal for residential developers.

Utility Access - Parcels connected to water, sewer, electricity and other infrastructure are more valuable than undeveloped land. Assessing utility proximity and capacity is essential for valuation. Land within walking distance of existing hooked up utilities saves major development costs.

Zoning and Land Use Regulations - The designated zoning and allowable uses for a parcel determine its development potential. For example, agricultural land has lower value than commercially zoned properties. Understanding entitlements and restrictions is critical.

Improvements/Condition - Cleared, graded land with roads installed has greater utility than raw acreage. Any prior site improvements enhance value. But also consider liabilities like old structures or contamination.

Market Conditions - Real estate and construction trends influence underlying demand. Growing markets see strong land prices, while oversupplied sectors like housing may depress values. Evaluate recent development patterns.

Development Potential - Land that can support profitable projects and fill market needs has added value. Unique sites for specific uses like a regional mall may command premiums.

Competition - Local inventory and number of competing sites impact prices. Low supply amid high demand pushes values up. Factor in alternative options home builders or businesses have for development.

Environmental Issues - Swamps, flood zones, steep slopes and other issues require remediation costs and limit uses, negatively impacting value.

Legal Constraints - Deed restrictions, easements, mineral rights leases, and other encumbrances can impede potential uses.

Local Growth Outlook - Positive economic and demographic projections boost land demand. Review permits, starts, and commercial expansion plans as indicators.

Evaluating these factors provides the foundation for pricing land in Alabama and determining smart investments. Professional appraisals are recommended for accurate valuation. With proper research and analysis, land investors can capitalize on opportunities across Alabama's diverse and growing real estate markets. The state offers affordable land prices compared to national averages, combined with solid development prospects.

By understanding Alabama's economy, demographics and real estate conditions at both local and regional levels, informed land investment decisions can be made. Conducting due diligence on market dynamics, zoning codes, utility access, and property limitations enables an accurate assessment of a parcel's fair market value and developmental potential. With ample research, investors can target promising land segments and locations positioned for value appreciation. Alabama provides an excellent arena for strategic land investments.

Final Words

Alabama offers diverse opportunities for land investors, developers, and homeowners seeking to capitalize on the state's real estate growth. While the market remains affordable compared to national averages, it is prudent to thoroughly evaluate all the factors that impact land values before making any purchase. Conducting in-depth research into economic conditions, demographics, land use patterns, utility access, zoning restrictions, and market demand fundamentals enables educated decision making. Land parcels suitable for both residential and commercial projects abound across Alabama's metro areas, suburban fringes, and infrastructure corridors. By understanding the keys to assessing land in Alabama, investors can identify promising parcels ripe for development as well as hidden risks. With proper due diligence and analysis grounded in local insights, stakeholders can make strategic moves within this complex and rapidly evolving real estate market. The future looks bright for those with the patience, experience and resources to fully evaluate opportunities and execute land deals that deliver strong returns on investment and development success.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are some top factors to research when assessing land value in Alabama?

Key considerations include economic and population growth trends in the local area, zoning/land use regulations, utility access, condition of the property, recent sales of comparable parcels, and overall real estate supply and demand dynamics. Understanding entitlements and development potential is crucial.

How do I determine the fair market value of a vacant land parcel I'm interested in?

Comparing sales prices for similar nearby plots of land is a good starting point. Also factor in property attributes like size, topography, and utility proximity. For a formal appraisal, hire a licensed professional appraiser to provide an objective valuation. They will consider all value influencers.

Are certain regions or cities in Alabama seeing faster land value growth than others?

Yes, metro areas like Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile along with suburbs and exurbs are appreciating the fastest. Rural recreational land is more stagnant. Be aware of local market conditions in the specific area you are investigating.

How difficult is it to rezone land from agricultural to residential or commercial uses?

The rezoning process varies by county and municipality. It often requires public hearings and approval by local zoning boards, city councils or county commissions. This can take months to complete, with no guarantee of approval. Verify zoning and potential uses in advance.

Should I be concerned about environmental issues when purchasing undeveloped land?

Yes, items like wetlands, flood zones or dumping warrant inspection. Order a Phase 1 environmental assessment to identify contamination risks and other issues that can impact land value and development costs. The seller may provide existing reports.

About The Author

Bart Waldon

Bart, co-founder of Land Boss with wife Dallas Waldon, boasts over half a decade in real estate. With 100+ successful land transactions nationwide, his expertise and hands-on approach solidify Land Boss as a leading player in land investment.


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