Evaluating the Pennsylvania Land Market

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Evaluating the Pennsylvania Land Market
By

Bart Waldon

From the rolling farms of central PA to the forests and mountains in Appalachia, Pennsylvania's diverse landscapes reflect its rich history. The Keystone State offers opportunities galore for landowners and investors, with bustling metros like Philly and Pittsburgh as well as quaint small towns dotting the countryside. But like any real estate market, the Pennsylvania land scene has its complexities. 

Whether you already own property or want to buy, you’ll need to carefully weigh factors like location, demand, and zoning regulations when evaluating the lay of the land. The trajectory of the PA land market owes to an interplay of geographic, economic, and regulatory dynamics. Wise landowners look at the full picture before plotting their next move.

Overview of Pennsylvania

Tucked away in the northeastern U.S., Pennsylvania shares borders with the likes of New York, New Jersey, Delaware and more. It covers a sprawling 46,000 square miles, making it one of the biggest states in the country. Pennsylvania also played a starring role back in colonial times as one of the 13 original colonies. These days over 13 million people call it home, making it the 5th most populated state.

When it comes to geography, Pennsylvania boasts immense diversity. You've got the Appalachian Mountains dominating the center and northeast parts. The Appalachian Plateau blankets the west. And you can't forget the rolling hills and fertile farmland of the southeast region. Majestic rivers like the Delaware, Susquehanna, Allegheny and Monongahela cut through the terrain.

The Keystone State has a continental climate, with warm, muggy summers and bitter cold winters. January highs usually hover in the 30s while July sees temps in the 80s and humid. Statewide the average yearly rainfall is around 42 inches. Lush forests, mixed oak groves and grassy meadows cloak the landscape.

Pennsylvania Real Estate Market Overview

Over the past 10 years, Pennsylvania's real estate scene has been on a steady upward climb. Home prices and sales across the Keystone State have risen overall, though the action definitely varies from region to region. Back in 2019, the median home price in Pennsylvania floated around $180,000. Urban hotspots like Philly skew higher while rural areas sit lower on the price spectrum.

But while the housing market thrives, the land scene is a different story. Demand for vacant land has stagnated in many parts of PA. Per acre prices see wild swings depending on the location, terrain, resources and other factors. Prime recreational tracts fetch premium dollar, but remote or difficult sites can sell for just a couple hundred bucks per acre. It's a real mixed bag for the PA land market when it comes to growth and demand.

Factors Impacting the Pennsylvania Land Market

When sizing up the PA land market, a few key factors should be on your radar:

Location, Location, Location

They say in real estate it's all about location, and this definitely holds true when looking at land values across Pennsylvania. Properties near major metropolitan hubs or coveted rural attractions hold way more value per acre. Meanwhile, remote parcels far from amenities and services generally have lower price tags. Access to main roads, utilities and infrastructure boosts worth.

Resources and Topography

The physical traits of the land itself also sway pricing big time. Flat, open tracts tend to be worth more money than steep, wooded hillsides. Lands loaded with timber, minerals, natural gas, oil or water command premiums per acre. On the flip side, barren sites with no resources or bells and whistles have very limited value. You get what you pay for when it comes to the lay of the land.

Zoning and Land Use Regulations

Municipal zoning and land use regulations affect what a property can be used for. Lands zoned for residential, commercial, or industrial uses typically sell for more than lands limited to agricultural or conservation uses. Properties with overly restrictive zoning may be discounted.

Demand and Market Conditions

Periods of high demand from developers, farmers, or other buyers will inflate land prices. During downturns or periods of low demand, prices tend to decline. Monitoring market conditions helps identify opportunities to buy low or sell high.

Seller Motivation

A highly motivated seller that needs to liquidate their land quickly provides opportunity for investors and buyers. Properties that are aggressively priced to sell fast represent good value. Sellers with no urgency to sell can afford to hold out for their full asking price.

Access and Roads

Lands with existing road frontage and legal access sell for significantly more than landlocked parcels or sites without established access. Costly road construction or easements to provide access can diminish a property's value.

Current Conditions in the Pennsylvania Land Market

The Pennsylvania land market today is generally characterized by low levels of demand from investors and developers. Prices have remained relatively flat or depreciated slightly in many parts of the state over the past decade. Sellers often have to wait 1-2 years to find buyers even when aggressively pricing their land.

With fewer buyers in the market, properties frequently sell below assessed values. Discounts of 25-50% off full market value are not uncommon for vacant lands. Motivated sellers willing to price creatively can stimulate buyer interest more quickly. But most sellers eventually end up accepting large price reductions to complete sales.

Rural lands and sites with challenging terrain, limited resources, or restrictive zoning see the weakest demand. Forested mountain acreage sells slowly unless priced at less than $500 per acre. Old farms with poor soil may languish on the market even listed below $2,000 per acre. Barren lands far from amenities sell for $500 or less per acre.

Stronger demand exists for lands near growing PA cities and towns. Small residential building lots and acreages in commuter zones attract developer interest. Sites suited for commercial uses also sell relatively fast if infrastructure is available. But even near cities, vacant land sells slowly unless aggressively priced and marketed.

Strategies for Buying and Selling Land in Pennsylvania's Market

For both buyers and sellers, the sluggish Pennsylvania land market requires creative strategies and flexibility. Those who understand current market conditions will have an advantage negotiating deals. Here are some tips:

For Buyers:

  • Seek out motivated sellers listing at below market value prices and be ready to act quickly when you find discounted deals.
  • Make offers at 25-50% below asking price to account for market conditions and negotiate from there. Don't be afraid to make "lowball" offers on overpriced listings.
  • Look for sites with road access, usable terrain, and no major limitations or restrictions. Avoid undevelopable lands.
  • Consider owner financing terms if possible to obtain property at a lower cost.

For Sellers:

  • Price your property competitively right from the start. Don't overprice based on unrealistic expectations.
  • Offer buyer incentives like owner financing and be flexible on terms to attract interest.
  • Target your marketing to land investors, developers, and end-users who understand the market.
  • If needed, gradually reduce your price over time until you find a willing buyer.
  • Consider the option to sell to a land buying company for a discounted but guaranteed cash offer.

Is Pennsylvania Land a Good Investment?

With its diverse landscapes and markets, Pennsylvania holds appeal for land investors - if you know where to look. The Keystone State offers plenty of opportunities, but also risks, and conducting thorough due diligence is a must. Focus your search on growth zones around expanding cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia where demand for housing and commercial development should support increasing land values over time. Stay cautious when considering remote or undevelopable sites which face low demand.

Consider resources like oil/gas rights, timber, or water access to boost investment value - but only if you fully understand the costs and complexities of managing these assets. Always inspect properties in person and research factors like zoning restrictions thoroughly before purchasing. Land buying companies can provide a quick and easy exit strategy through direct land purchases, but you will trade away potential upside appreciation for the sake of convenience. With patience and prudent selection, Pennsylvania's variable land market can reward those with long-term investment horizons who conduct careful research and planning.

Final Words

The Pennsylvania land market presents opportunities for buyers and sellers willing to adapt to current conditions. While prices and demand have weakened across many areas, motivated parties can still complete deals by aligning expectations and negotiating creatively. Lands priced right and marketed effectively will sell more quickly. However, most sellers need patience to wait out the market for the ideal buyer.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much does vacant land typically cost per acre in PA?

Land prices vary dramatically based on location and attributes. In rural areas, prices range from $500 per acre for undevelopable land to $5,000+ for good farmland or recreational parcels. Near cities, small residential lots can sell for $50,000 an acre or more.

What types of land sell best in Pennsylvania?

Lands with road/utility access, developable terrain, and location near growing cities or amenities sell best. Forested mountain lands and remote barren sites have weaker demand.

Should I consider buying land in Pennsylvania as an investment?

PA has investment potential but conducting research is crucial. Focus on locations with strong housing/commercial demand. Be cautious about buying land with no development potential or paying inflated prices.

How can I determine the value of land in Pennsylvania?

Location, terrain, access, resources, zoning and local market conditions all impact value. Comparable sales data helps estimate values. Consulting a local real estate agent can provide guidance.

What options exist for selling land quickly in PA?

Listing at below market prices, owner financing, and working with land buying companies can facilitate faster sales. Most sellers still need patience finding typical retail buyers.

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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