Evaluating the Colorado Land Market

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Evaluating the Colorado Land Market

Bart Waldon

Boasting world-famous ski resorts, vibrant cities, and breathtaking mountain vistas, Colorado serves up boundless lifestyle appeal that fuels massive population growth. The state added nearly 500,000 new residents over the past decade. This influx means assessing prudent land deals calls for an informed lens on market conditions fueling development spanning housing, hospitality, recreation and various infrastructure projects. While the average per-acre price of Colorado land currently sits around $1,400, values swing wildly based on factors from mineral deposits and water rights to zoning codes that dictate build eligibility. 

With everyone from remote workers and vacation home buyers to industrial developers and alternative energy prospectors bidding on inventory, properly positioning land listings while navigating nuanced regulations remains instrumental to smooth deals. Fortunately, trusted Colorado land advisors know how to cut through the complexity in both metro and rural markets statewide—helping sellers capitalize on asset potential as buyers locate ideal parcels aligned to aspirations in the Centennial State’s peaks and plains for the long run.

Thriving Front Range Urban Corridor

The bustling Front Range Urban Corridor runs along the eastern edge of the soaring Rocky Mountains, with a population around 4.5 million residents. This includes fast-growing areas like Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Boulder. With the economy centered on fields like telecommunications, aerospace, manufacturing and healthcare, the corridor drives much of Colorado’s economic power and real estate appetite.

In this core region, land prices vary substantially depending on proximity and access to urban hubs. For example, in Denver, Adams and Arapahoe counties, vacant land averaged approximately $1.3 million per acre in 2021. Moving further out into the exurban counties like Elbert, pricing falls to around $31,000 per acre on average. Grasping these hyper local price differences proves critical for buyers targeting the Front Range region.

Surging Demand Across Leading Resort Destinations

As a globally renowned ski and outdoor recreation haven, Colorado has enjoyed massive investor interest and development activity in counties with top resorts. Areas like Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties host world-class ski slopes and natural attractions. Summit County, home to the iconic Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort, witnessed median single family vacant land prices rise from roughly $84,000 per acre in 2019 to $115,000 by 2021. That equals 36 percent growth in just two years.

With high tourism volumes and construction of second homes and condominiums, resort counties currently feature some of Colorado’s most competitive real estate environments. This brings opportunities alongside the risk of overpaying amid frenzied demand. Savvy investors bypass sensational headlines to examine sales data and activity driving market conditions on the ground.

Scoping Out Affordability in Rural Regions

For land buyers not prioritizing proximity to major cities or ski slopes, reasonably priced rural and agricultural counties still abound across Colorado. In the Eastern Plains, average per acre prices range from around $1,200 in Cheyenne County to $1,900 in Prowers County. Tradeoffs come in the form of limited infrastructure and smaller local economies. However, those focused on affordability or a more remote lifestyle can find discounted quality land deals off the beaten path. Even within rural areas though, prices vary based on access to rapidly expanding small towns. Taking a data intensive approach helps identify the best opportunities.

Accounting For Key Land Conditions

While pricing provides a starting point for comparison, the per acre value differs drastically based on access, terrain, views, vegetation, zoning and other attributes. Acreages situated on steep slopes or distant backcountry roads suffer heavier discounts compared to those conveniently located by highways and in projected growth corridors. Defining intended use and preferences for the land steers search parameters and helps accurately weigh options. The price should align with both present state and future upside potential.

Navigating Critical Due Diligence

Even after targeting specific counties and comps, assessing prospective lands requires thorough due diligence across the board. Items like mineral rights, easements, soil tests, water access and permits carry legal conditions affecting value. While homes include inspected structures and facilities, vacant land leaves all development costs and work exclusively to the buyer. Environmental constraints or issues like wetlands can severely limit construction feasibility.

In addition to standard title review, buyers must confirm commercial development or recreational potential before purchase. Consulting area-focused real estate attorneys, land surveyors, civil engineers and permitting officials provides awareness of key issues. One overlooked easement or drainage concern can torpedo intended plans for raw land.

Best Practices for Market Evaluation

When evaluating Colorado’s diverse landscape of land opportunities, following proven principles sets the stage for success:

  • Analyze specific sub-regions based on end-use goals
  • Research demand and supply dynamics shaping local prices
  • Compare actual sales data for similar lots to gauge pricing
  • Vet property background including easements with qualified real estate legal professionals
  • Contextualize list price against development costs and ROI

Though stunning mountain vistas stir emotions, reasoned due diligence reveals the best deals. Even in ultra-competitive areas like Summit and Eagle counties, overpaying by exorbitant amounts still occurs. Picturesque backdrops push prudent metrics aside for some caught up in bidding wars. Taking an analytical approach instead allows buyers to objectively assess what each property realistically offers.

Thriving Front Range Presents Myriad Options

As the economic engine of Colorado, the Front Range area offers land buyers dynamic opportunities matched by elevated prices per acre in core areas. Denver, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties for example traded over $1 million per acre on average in 2021. Yet moving further from urban density reveals more approachable values for those targeting outlying cities or future development zones.

Larimer County Land Opportunities

Many buyers seeking relative affordability just outside bustling Front Range cities target Larimer County and its abundant natural amenities. Located north of Denver and Boulder, the county holds esteemed public lands like Rocky Mountain National Park. Excellent schools and healthcare infrastructure further bolster the quality of life. Boosted by technology and manufacturing growth, Fort Collins provides a cultural hub as the county seat.

In 2021, vacant land in Larimer County traded at price points ranging from $230,000 on the low end up to $12 million for luxury residential site parcels. The median single family vacant land price reached $425,000, rising nearly 13 percent from 2020. Buyers must choose between future development potential or more remote wildlife acreages in evaluating deals spanning this recreational paradise.

Transitioning South to Colorado Springs

As the state’s second largest city, Colorado Springs offers land buyers big city amenities tucked against the Rockies. Major local employers include military complexes like Peterson Space Force Base in addition to healthcare systems, universities and tech firms. This diversified economy drove demand for both residential and commercial development sites.

Average vacant land prices in El Paso County hit $175,000 in 2021 though investors targeting choice parcels near Colorado Springs proper often pay substantially more per acre. Subdivisions south of the city like Briargate, Cordera and Flying Horse offer building sites with access to dining, entertainment and outdoor recreation ranging from golf to hiking and biking trails.

Evaluating Resort County Land Dynamics

Colorado's globally renowned ski resort towns concentrate wealth and real estate demand within comparatively limited geographic areas. Evaluating these unique markets requires checking emotion to follow the data shaping local land values. While counties like Summit, Eagle, and Pitkin will stay renowned for natural beauty, prices hinge more directly on demand and development trends in the region versus scenery alone.

Understanding Summit County's Value Drivers

Take Colorado's popular Summit County for example, home to iconic ski resorts like Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin. This area features stunning mountain vistas alongside lake and valley terrain. But balancing aesthetic appeal with shrewd investment analysis remains vital for buyers seeking value.

In 2021, 19 percent more transactions occurred relative to 2020, showing strengthening demand amid low inventory. Yet the average price per acre only ticked up 1.25 percent for residential land. Study of the data would reveal pandemic impacts slowing new construction, keeping pricing somewhat in check. This exemplifies why following sales activity offers more insight than headlines about growing investor appetite.

Drilling down further, downtown Breckenridge commercial land traded around $5 million per acre while residential use land near Blue River averaged $975,000. Even within this small geographic area, prices swing drastically based on development potential. Understanding where future projects and improvements like trails, shopping and transport aim to locate allows properly aligning expectations against subregion comps.

Analyzing Value Trends in Eagle County

Eagle County presents similarly intensive localized dynamics for land buyers to decipher. Home to the iconic Vail Ski Resort, Beaver Creek Resort and others, the county saw average prices per acre for vacant residential land rise 7 percent year-over-year in 2021. Yet tight supply of existing homes reached record lows, signaling opportunity for builders targeting projects in communities like Eagle and Gypsum located further downvalley from core resorts.

In comparison, Aspen land values continue rising steeper given infinitely tighter geographic constraints and luxury buyer interest. Roaring Fork Valley locations within Pitkin County traded over $10 million per acre on average. Vail maintains equally global prestige for skiing but benefits from modestly more room for commercial and residential development, keeping land values in check. This magnifies the payoff for investors taking a nuanced local view.

Western Slope Activity Mirrors Front Range

Beyond resort counties, Colorado’s Western Slope markets are heating up with Front Range buyer demand. Known for oil/gas development, ranches and orchards, communities like Grand Junction, Durango and Montrose are now seeing Front Range retirees and remote workers migrating. New residents escape city density seeking homes with mountain or desert canyon views at reasonable prices.

Mesa County with Grand Junction as the county seat offers vibrant healthcare, education and retail sectors alongside scenic public lands like Colorado National Monument. In 2021, the average price per acre of vacant residential land reached $115k driven by 13 percent more sales versus 2020. La Plata County down south anchored by outdoorsy and artistic Durango experienced similar growth.

Evaluating deals across Western Slope counties means determining where demand is leakage from Front Range cities earns growing secondary hubs the strongest future outlook. Buyers should analyze leading employment sectors, infrastructure investments and housing indicators pointing to durable growth beyond initial COVID-driven migration.

Tapping into Rural and Agricultural Opportunities

Beyond the high country resorts and Western Slope activity, savvy buyers can still uncover discounted land deals across Colorado's rural and agricultural counties. The state maintains pasture lands and productive crop acreages spanning from the frontier plains counties to Western Slope valleys allowing cattle, corn and orchard harvesting. Investors willing to consider properties away from bustling economic centers tap into the other side of Colorado's diverse real estate coin.

Counties like Crowley, Otero, Morgan, Logan, Sedgwick and Bent feature mostly crop cultivation or cattle pastures with median vacant land prices ranging under $5k per acre. Recreational properties with views, tree cover or waterfront maintain far higher values. But those targeting eventual off-grid construction, farm acreage or long-term holds check for quieter opportunities that build future optionality as Colorado grows. Understanding rural economics and activity beyond resort hub headlines points investors toward the state's next waves of emerging potential.

Final Thoughts

As we have explored, Colorado’s stunning and varied landscape offers a true feast for discerning land buyers. Yet behind the captivating natural vistas and resort town glitz lies an intricate terrain of diverse real estate markets bounding north and south across drastically different price levels. From densely packed Front Range cities to empty agricultural plains and everything between, opportunistic investors stand to prosper through comprehensive diligence and grasp of regional dynamics. Rural offerings mingle with posh slope side parcels to compose a rich investment mosaic waiting to reward those matching aspirations with location realism. Whether building an apex estate, rental cabins or legacy ranch, Colorado serves up a compelling inventory spanning every appetite. By following the data guiding both historic gains and emerging plays, land seekers access the state’s full banquet of possibility.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What key factors shape pricing for land across different Colorado regions?

It mostly comes down to good old' supply and demand - where are the jobs, infrastructure investment and population growth happening now and planned for the future? That puts pressure on prices in cities along the Front Range like Denver and bubblin' resort towns. But markets can change quick, so you got to peek behind the curtain at employment, new construction trends and all that to spot value.

How accurate are sites like Zillow for checking comps in an area?

You definitely want to cross-check sites like Zillow against on-the-ground intel from local real estate agents. They know about pending sales and sites that maybe didn't hit MLS. Plus things like slope, views and access that dramatically swing value. 

Should I prioritize mineral rights, water rights or easements in my due diligence?

If you’re going for land suited to major development like a resort or large subdivision, definitely pay attention to mineral rights and existing easements first. You don’t want to sink expenses then discover oil reserves or pipelines compromising your plans! For more everyday sites targeting a vacation home or off-grid cabin, vet water access and rights early so future droughts or restrictions don’t leave you high and dry.

What signs point to a land market being overvalued or approaching a correction?

Excellent question in today's wild real estate rodeo! I'd be extra cautious when average home prices leap way higher than local incomes and rents. That raises red flags on affordability going forward. Also watch for supply spikes from rampant developer speculation - when the inventory floodgates open, demand can't keep pace and prices correct in a hurry.

Are there still reasonably priced land deals to find across Colorado?

No doubt! While headlines fixate on seven-figure Aspen estates and Front Range bidding wars, Colorado's got ample rural and agricultural land delivering a quiet life and room to roam for a fraction of resort pricing. Parts of the Western Slope, San Luis Valley and Eastern Plains offer acreage under $5k in some cases. The tradeoff is limited economic opportunity and infrastructure. But for the DIY type or remote worker, value hides off the beaten path!

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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