Evaluating the Alaska Land Market

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Evaluating the Alaska Land Market

Bart Waldon

Alaska is known for its vast, untamed wilderness stretching across nearly 570,000 square miles. With over 365 million acres total area, Alaska boasts a massive amount of land. However, only 12.4% of it falls under private ownership. For those looking to purchase undeveloped land in Alaska, it is key to thoroughly evaluate the real estate market before making an investment.

While over half of the state's land is designated as conservation land unavailable for purchase, Alaska still contains substantial areas of land for sale with potential for residential, commercial, or recreational use. As of 2022, the median sales price for land in Alaska was $75,000 and the median price per acre was $31,000. Comparing prices across different boroughs and land uses while consulting with a local real estate professional can help prospective buyers determine fair market value. Considering development costs, property taxes, natural assets on the land, and intended use can further assist in evaluating if an Alaskan land purchase makes fiscal sense alignment with one's budget and goals.

Determining Fair Market Value of Land in Alaska

Evaluating land value in Alaska can be tricky due to a lack of comparable sales and the state's seasonal market. Here are some key factors to consider when determining fair market value of vacant land:

Area Development and Accessibility

More remote plots in Alaska generally sell for less than those closer to roads and utilities. Land that already has road access or is near future development is more valuable. Sites near major cities like Anchorage or Fairbanks also command higher prices.

Natural Resources

Land with valuable natural resources like oil, gas, minerals, or timber can greatly increase property value in Alaska. Even land suitable for recreational hunting, fishing, camping, etc. is desirable. Proximity to scenic views, lakes, rivers and other natural amenities boosts value.

Zoning Regulations and Land Use

Land zoned for residential, commercial, or industrial use typically sells for more than agricultural or undesignated wilderness areas. Knowing what the land can legally be used for is key in Alaska. State and municipal regulations play a large role.

Size of the Plot

Larger land parcels spanning hundreds or thousands of acres generally sell for less per acre than smaller 5-20 acre recreational or residential lots. So, price per acre decreases as total acreage increases.

Challenges in Accurately Pricing Land

Despite these valuation factors, the cyclical economy and unique qualities of Alaska real estate make it difficult to pinpoint exact land prices compared to the Lower 48 states. Here are some reasons why:

Boom and Bust Cycles

Alaska is prone to economic swings tied heavily to oil revenue and seasonal industries like commercial fishing and tourism. When the economy declines, land sales slump too. Boom cycles quickly inflate prices beyond market fundamentals.

Limited Comparable Sales Data

With fewer overall real estate transactions than the rest of the country, there is less sales data available to benchmark pricing. Determining accurate fair market value requires analyzing multiple listing sources over longer time periods.

Seasonal Accessibility

Extreme winters and remote locations make much of Alaska's land accessible only by plane, boat or snow machine for months at a time. This lack of year-round access depresses prices for some remote sites.

Unique Buyer Motivations

Buyers have diverse motivations when purchasing Alaska land, ranging from vacation properties to primary residences, investments, and survivalist retreats. These unique motivations make pricing difficult to predict.

Best Practices for Buyers and Sellers

Despite elusive market prices, those buying and selling land in Alaska can take steps to determine fair deals. Here is advice for both parties:

Seek Multiple Appraisals

Given the challenges in valuing Alaska land, it's wise for both buyers and sellers to seek multiple appraisal opinions. Appraisers use different methodologies and assumptions which can impact values significantly. Getting several estimates increases accuracy.

Research Extensively

Gather sales data for as many comparable land transactions in the local area as possible, looking back over several years. Note geographic features, acreage sizes, property improvements, zoning and uses. This builds a sound basis for evaluating your land.

Hire a Knowledgeable Agent

Work with a real estate agent experienced in Alaska land specifically. They will have up-to-date data on land values, insight into development plans, and a pulse on the current market beyond listed prices. Leverage their expertise.

Negotiate in Good Faith

Due to pricing complexities, negotiability is common when buying and selling land in Alaska. Both buyers and sellers need to negotiate fairly and avoid getting emotionally attached to any particular price or piece of land. Compromise is key.

Consider Creative Seller Financing

Given volatility and questions over market value, some buyers/sellers in Alaska structure creative deals to reduce risk. These include land contracts, lease-to-own terms, owner financing, expanded escrow periods, and contingent clauses based on obtaining permits, utilities, etc. within a certain timeframe after closing. Brainstorm ideas.

Is This a Buyer's or Seller's Market?

Land markets fluctuate between favoring buyers (buyer's markets) and sellers (seller's markets). In Alaska, buyers currently hold some leverage due to economic uncertainty and continuing recovery from the oil/gas recession of 2015-2017. There is downward pressure on prices and more negotiability. However, some project a seller's market is coming as economic growth continues. It pays to move quickly on attractively priced land.

Working With Local Land Buyers

Rather than marketing land independently to prospective owner-occupants, some Alaska sellers opt to sell directly to local land buying companies for simplicity and speed. These companies, like Land Boss, purchase land at discounted prices for all-cash offers without contingencies. This provides sellers guaranteed exits typically below full market value. Land buyers then resell plots over 1-2 years when markets improve. For Alaska sellers needing to sell land quickly, this fast cash-out option bears consideration despite lower prices.

Key Takeaways

Evaluating Alaska's land market requires digging deeper than a quick glance at listing prices. Understanding nuances like seasonal access, development potential, appraisal gaps, unique buyer motivations and more can make the difference between spotting a good deal and overpaying. While volatility brings pricing challenges, those well-versed in Alaska's land market can capitalize on ups and downs over the long run. Hiring knowledgeable real estate professionals is key, as is staying patient for attractively valued parcels suited to your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I determine a fair asking price for my land in Alaska?

When pricing land to sell in Alaska, gather sale records for at least 5 other comparable properties sold within the past 1-2 years in your local area. Compare location, acreage size, road access, views, zoning allowances, timber value and other features. Also consult multiple appraisers to establish price estimates, and work with an experienced agent knowledgeable in recent land valuations for the region. Price on the low end of the fair market value range to attract more buyer interest. Be prepared to negotiate as sales prices are often 10-15% below initial asking prices.

What is the average price per acre for remote recreational land vs. residential land in Alaska?

Remote recreational properties in Alaska's rugged wilderness areas typically sell for $500 - $2,000 per acre on average currently. More accessible recreational properties near roads, trails, lakes, rivers, etc. range from $2,000 - $5,000 per acre. Smaller 5-20 acre residential lots near cities or towns often sell for $5,000 - $10,000 per acre. Larger 100+ acre parcels for residential or agricultural use sell for $1,500 - $5,000 per acre.

How long does vacant land take to sell in Alaska?

Marketing times range substantially depending on the Alaska land market cycle, location and buyer demand for certain property types. In slower markets or for remote parcels, sell times can stretch to 2+ years. When demand rises, attractive recreational, residential and commercial land often sells within 6-12 months if priced well. Hiring an experienced agent to promote your listing and target qualified buyers is key to faster sales.

What contingencies do offers usually have when buying Alaska land?

Due to remote access and permits needed to build/develop land, most offers are contingent upon: completing due diligence like title searches, boundary surveys, environmental assessments, etc.; obtaining zoning variances, driveway permits, septic approvals; securing legal access for road construction; feasibility of extending utilities; verification of usable water sources for wells; and inspections during all four seasons if possible. Buyers may also make offers contingent upon selling another property, securing financing, or delayed closing dates to meet inspection contingencies spanning 1+ years.

Is it risky to buy Alaska land as an investment?

Alaska land carries higher risk than many other U.S. markets for investors. Challenges include volatile oil revenue cycles impacting the state economy, lack of infrastructure/zoning in remote areas, seasonal limitations on access/surveys, appraisal gaps in fast-changing markets, and permitting difficulties. Returns can be substantial but require 3-5+ year hold periods before developing/reselling at maximum profit. Stick to more stable Southcentral and Interior regions. Consult wise real estate professionals familiar with the unique investment nuances.

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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