Is Wisconsin Land a Good Investment?

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Is Wisconsin Land a Good Investment?

Bart Waldon

Wisconsin, the Badger State, is located in the Great Lakes and Upper Midwestern regions of the United States. Known for its lakes, farmlands and forests, Wisconsin also has a long history of dairy farming and cheese production. The state’s diverse landscape spans urban centers like Milwaukee and Madison as well as small rural towns, rolling prairies, forests and farmland. With its four distinct seasons and natural beauty, Wisconsin offers residents and visitors alike a high quality of life.

When it comes to land investment in Wisconsin, there are many factors to consider before determining if it’s a sound decision for your financial portfolio. As an established land investment company operating in Wisconsin for the past 5 years, Land Boss has facilitated over 100 successful land transactions. We have an in-depth understanding of the Wisconsin land market from both a buyer and seller perspective.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide key insights into the pros and cons, risks and rewards of Wisconsin land investment to help you make an informed decision.

The Advantages of Owning Wisconsin Land

Owning Wisconsin land has several potential benefits:

Increasing Property Values 

Over the past decade, Wisconsin property values have steadily increased, especially in high demand areas near urban centers like Madison and popular recreational rural areas. As the population continues to grow, property values are likely to rise.

Cash Flow from Timber, Farming or Leasing 

Wisconsin’s natural resources make land income generating opportunities plentiful. Income streams can come from sustainable forestry via timber harvests, agricultural use by leasing to farmers, mineral rights extraction, outdoor recreational leasing or solar and wind farm leases.

Scenic Beauty and Recreation 

From Northwood cabins to sprawling prairie farms, Wisconsin offers incredible beauty and year-round recreational activities from hiking to snowmobiling. For outdoor enthusiasts or those looking for a peaceful retreat, the state provides easy access to natural splendor.

Risk Factors to Consider

While Wisconsin land investment can reap rewards, there are downsides to weigh:

Long Timelines to Sell at Market Value

The remote location and seasonal access constraints of some rural Wisconsin land means it can sit on the market 1-2 years before selling at market value. Patience is required.

Volatile Agricultural Market 

For cropland or dairy farms, commodity crop prices and milk profits significantly impact land valuations. With agriculture subject to unpredictable market swings, so goes the value of the land.

Property Taxes and Maintenance Costs 

Even vacant land has annual tax bills and may require site maintenance or liability insurance. These recurring costs can accumulate, so run the numbers to ensure the investment cash flows.

Is Wisconsin a Buyers or Sellers Market?

In hot real estate markets like Milwaukee and Madison, bidding wars erupt between buyers due to extremely limited inventory. However the vast majority of Wisconsin land, over 90%, falls into rural farm, forest and recreational categories.

For most remote land, it’s very much a buyers market. The relatively few buyers have ample distressed or undervalued properties to choose from. Land Boss specializes in marketing and purchasing these discounted land parcels with all-cash offers. This allows sellers to quickly monetize hard-to-sell properties without going through lengthy listing processes.

However, for land owners with patience and resources, it’s possible to sell at full market value without steep discounts. The key is being flexible on timing given seasonal constraints and having sufficient funds for legal fees, site prep, liability coverage and property taxes during potentially long listing periods. Hands-on marketing across digital and print platforms also aids sellability.

Key Factors in Evaluating Wisconsin Land Investments

Location – What’s the proximity to a major city or recreational area? Ease of access to the parcel year-round? Road frontage? All impact value.

Property Attributes – Timber quality/harvestability? Quality of hunting, trails or water frontage? Condition of existing structures? Soil quality? Mineral or water rights? Number of buildable sites?

Income Potential Today – Can the land generate yearly income? From sustainable logging, farmland or recreation leases or other means? What’s the ROI?

Appreciation Potential – Factoring in location, attributes and market trends, what’s the reasonable annual and long term appreciation? How might climate change or population shifts impact this?

Costs – What are the yearly ownership costs including taxes, insurance, maintenance, management fees? How do these factors into cash flows?

Financial Exit Options – Are you planning to sell to capture land value appreciation? Hold and earn income? Pass to heirs? Understanding end goals allows properly assessing viability.

By carefully researching and projecting these factors, Wisconsin land can be evaluated on its investment merits. No major “gotchas” should surprises buyers and sellers familiar with the market conditions and property specifics.

Top Counties for Wisconsin Land Investment

Based on property value growth, economic health, recreational popularity and natural resource attributes, below are the current top Wisconsin counties to consider for land investment:

Dane County 

Situated in south-central Wisconsin, Dane County encompasses the capital city of Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The region’s diversified economy, educated workforce and desirable quality of life rankings make Dane County property highly coveted.

Waukesha County 

As part of the Milwaukee metro area, Waukesha County benefits from expanding transportation corridors, relative affordability compared to neighboring counties and an award-winning park system. Mild weather compared to northern counties extends seasonal recreational use.

Sawyer County 

In northwest Wisconsin, Sawyer County is known for its staggering number of pristine lakes, making it a premiere fishing and boating destination. Lakeshore cabins are popular with retirees and vacationers drawn to the quintessential northwoods.

Vilas County 

Bordering Sawyer County, Vilas County claims over 1300 lakes offering superb recreation. The area is even more sparsely populated than Sawyer, attracting buyers looking for remote privacy. Improved infrastructure is also increasing accessibility and demand.

Marathon County 

Centrally located, economic diversity and the recreational Fox River make Marathon County’s balanced lifestyle attractive. Easy access to both urban amenities in Wausau and an abundance of natural settings position Marathon as an ace for investing.

The Takeaway on Wisconsin Land Investment

For seasoned real estate investors or those expanding stock-heavy portfolios, undeveloped Wisconsin land can provide portfolio diversification along with enjoyment. Strong long term property appreciation potential also makes intergenerational wealth transfer an option.

However, navigating hundreds of thousands of mostly rural vacant acres requires boots-on-the-ground expertise. Understanding micro-market supply and demand imbalances that create discounted buying or selling opportunities is paramount. Specialized brokers like Land Boss have the experience to capitalize on these intricate complexities.

While rewarding, passive land ownership isn’t realistic given the hands-on involvement required to properly manage everything from timber harvests to lease agreements to marketing and taxes. Investors need ready capital to carry costs during potentially lengthy sales periods.

Despite exciting growth forecasts, inherent uncertainties remain around longer term climate shifts, agricultural volatility and regional economic influences. Risk is inherent with land, so appropriate due diligence must assess risk-return trade-offs for each property.

For inquiring minds considering Wisconsin land investment, weigh the pros and cons against your specific objectives. The Badger State offers bountiful natural resources but only patient, discerning buyers and sellers can prudently capitalize on all its hidden potential. Happy hunting!

Final Thoughts

When weighing the pros and cons, Wisconsin offers promising land investment potential but also uncertainty inherent in any real estate market. Much depends on the individual goals and risk tolerance of the buyer or seller. Patience and realistic return expectations are prerequisites to succeed. While rewarding for some, the hands-on demands of land ownership don’t suit all investing styles. Conducting in-depth due diligence to understand micro-market nuances is essential before pursuing any property. For those with the diligence and grit to thoroughly research opportunities, Wisconsin's natural beauty and resources could reap future financial and lifestyle rewards. The state’s vibrant economy and popularity with retirees and vacation-home buyers should buoy land values. But unpredictable shifts in agriculture, tourism and migration patterns could dampen growth. Ultimately there are no guarantees – just like the state’s beloved Green Bay Packers, investing in Wisconsin land requires dedication through ups and downs before hopefully realizing long-term gains.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What types of land are the best investments in Wisconsin? 

The most common types of land bought for investment purposes in Wisconsin include recreational (hunting/fishing), cropland, forested acreage for logging, lakefront properties, and rural farmland. Areas near expanding urban centers also present opportunities. The best investment depends on your goals - whether you prioritize annual returns or long-term capital gains.

What factors most impact Wisconsin land valuations? 

Key influences on Wisconsin land prices include proximity to urban centers like Madison, Milwaukee, and popular recreational areas. Transportation access, road frontage exposure for development potential, and natural resource attributes impact values. Cropland and dairy farms also closely follow commodity market price swings. Local property tax rates and environmental regulations also sway pricing.

How much can I expect Wisconsin land to appreciate long term? 

On average, Wisconsin land values rise 5-7% annually statewide. However, recreational properties in high demand regions like Sawyer and Vilas Counties have seen up to 12% average annual gains over 10+ years. But past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, so conservative projections are wise.

How long does it take to sell Wisconsin land?

In hot markets, competitive properties can sell in 30-60 days. However rural hunting land, forests and farmland often sit on the market up to 2 years before finding buyers despite listed at fair market value. Once purchased, it takes savvy marketing and patience to achieve an acceptable sale price.

What are risks I take when buying Wisconsin land? 

Investing in Wisconsin land poses risks like changing water, environmental regulations and property tax policies. Commodity volatility impacts cropland/dairy valuations. Climate shifts may increase extreme weather. Slow sales timelines requires carrying costs. Ongoing liability obligations come with owning vacant land as does securing it against trespassing. Conducting soil tests, title searches and zoning reviews helps avoid surprises.

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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