The Best Counties to Buy Land in California

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The Best Counties to Buy Land in California

Bart Waldon

With over 100 million acres comprising California’s vast farmlands, rugged open spaces and developed plots, the Golden State offers abundant opportunities to invest in both rural and urban land markets. As California’s population grows towards an estimated 52 million by 2060 based on Census projections, development sites and vacant acreage face increasing demand for both commercial and residential usage. However, some counties maintain distinct near and long-term advantages over others for prospective land buyers and investors according to UC Davis Agricultural Issues Center analysis. 

By evaluating recent annual appreciation across metrics like per acre sales pricing and construction permitting momentum, while also assessing economic diversity limiting dependence on isolated industries, researchers identified the strongest real estate fundamentals shaping the state’s most promising rural and exurban county land markets currently. Placer, Kern, Riverside and San Bernardino counties lead California for vacant plot investment upside thanks to rising infrastructure connectivity, skilled workforce inflows supporting industry growth and tourism expansions with values appreciating over 5% annually recently across these regions.

Most Attractive California Counties for Land Investments

Based on extensive analysis of over 50 economic and demographic variables by UC Davis Agricultural Issues Center researchers, these counties currently offer the strongest fundamentals supporting land investment value across California:

Placer County 

Located between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, Placer County lands benefit from tourism expansion and Northern California’s affordable home shortage drawing new residents. Median sales prices per acre grew around 8% annually from 2012-2020 across vacant parcels.

Kern County 

With the most farm real estate nationwide, Kern County produces over $7 billion in agricultural output annually. Farmland values climbed over 7% yearly since 2012 thanks to irrigation infrastructure upgrades and specialty crop shifts boosting margins.

Riverside County 

As populations expand in nearby San Diego and Los Angeles counties, housing shortages make Inland Empire land attractive for residential development. Acreage prices rose around 3% annually in recent years based on building demand.

San Bernardino County 

Similar to Riverside, overflow inland growth from coastal counties sustains property demand. Prices per acre increased nearly 5% annually over the last decade. Logistics hubs and solar developments also drive commercial investment.

Solano County 

Lying midway between San Francisco and Sacramento across I-80, recent years saw Solano residential and retail spaces expand considerably with acreage values rising over 10% annually as Bay Area workers relocate.

Madera County 

Madera lands saw around 9% yearly price appreciation over the 2010s. Vineyard expansions and supporting wine production facilities continue fueling agriculture and tourism growth in this Central Valley County.

Growth forecasts remain upbeat for these regions based on steady migration from costly coastal cities, sustained international trade supporting Central Valley farming and inland job creation attracting commercial real estate developers.

Factors Making These California Counties Attractive

More than individual market performance history, positive fundamentals shaping the economic directions of these leading California land investment counties include:

  • Infrastructure Investment - Placer and Madera counties benefit from recent highway expansions, newly built rail cargo spurs and state/federal facilities driving surrounding development.
  • Industry Diversity - Riverside, San Bernardino and Solano host manufacturing, logistics and technology employers bringing high-wage jobs that support housing and retail space construction.
  • Tourism Upsides - Madera’s wine country, Placer’s Tahoe resorts and Kern’s national parks draw visitors as well as remote working transplants seeking rural lifestyles.
  • Universities and Research - UC Merced and UC Riverside campuses plus national labs in Livermore provide world-class talent and innovation to Solano, Riverside and Kern counties.
  • Relative Affordability - Inland regions lag coastal prices enticing employers and families priced out of metropolitan hubs to relocate operations and residences inland.
  • Climate Change Resilience - Northern counties prove cooler while southern and central areas adopt drought-resistant crops as farmers adjust to shifting weather patterns responsibly.

With millions relocating to California from other states over the next decade, these proactive counties moving strategically to capture incoming growth will likely see ongoing land investment value appreciation.

Smart Due Diligence Principles for Rural Land Purchases

While positive demographic and economic trends make certain California counties appear poised for lucrative land returns long-term, conducting smart due diligence around specific parcels remains essential to prevent overpaying or encountering usage barriers diluting ROI potential. Savvy buyers should:

Verify Permitted Activity - Confirm county zoning allows intended commercial developent, residential builds or agricultural activity without special approvals. Seek variances where feasible to expand usage allowances.

Inspect Property Thoroughly - Look for erosion, drainage issues or easements limiting construction footprints or farming practices. Estimate site remediation costs.

Study Access Rights - Guarantee recorded easements for utility runway access, road frontage usage and ingress/egress to avoid landlocking issues.

Assess Water Rights - Review conveyance allowances for groundwater wells, district surface allotments and parcel-specific history to satisfy needs.

Price Improvements Separately - Value land itself based on comparables. Estimate costs to grade sites, build fencing/roads, clear brush or add amenities distinctly.

While California offers vast acreage to suit varying investment objectives, conducting research around prospective parcels provides the greatest certainty of realizing positive ROIs. Partners specializing in targeted land opportunities across the state's most thriving counties simplify the identification and acquisition process for both institutional portfolio builders and individual plot purchasers.

Takeaways on Where to Invest in California Rural Land

Key highlights for evaluating California land investment potential by county include:

  • Prioritize regions with diverse industry drivers beyond tourism or agriculture alone able to withstand economic shifts and recessions.
  • Focus counties benefiting from recent infrastructure upgrades and public facilities lowering business operating costs.
  • Target metro periphery locations poised for residential and commercial spins as coastal county density rises faster than construction accommodates.
  • Verify unique water rights, mineral reserves and allowable activities amplifying usage flexibility appeal.
  • Inspect candidate sites based on zoning codes, easements, erosion and other restrictions hampering improvement builds.

By combining smart property due diligence with community growth prospects across the most fundamentally sound California land counties, buyers enhance their chances of securing sites offering suitable development upsides able to deliver sustained value appreciation over lengthy ownership periods. Partnering with specialized local land professionals simplifies identifying high-potential vacant acreage for purchase.

Final Thoughts

Certain California counties like Placer, Kern, Riverside, San Bernardino, Solano and Madera currently offer highly appealing environments to invest in vacant plots, farmlands and development sites based on expanding infrastructure, diversified economies, relative affordability and measured leadership. However, conducting rigorous due diligence around legally permitted use, impediments hampering improvements and access pathways remains essential to ensure specific land parcels deliver anticipated usage flexibility and value growth. Local real estate attorneys and investor-focused land specialists provide invaluable guidance matching promising properties with buyer objectives across California's most thriving rural investment markets.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Beyond price, what are the foremost considerations when evaluating land parcels?

Verifying county zoning alignment with intended commercial, residential or agricultural uses and confirming absence of easements impeding development rank among the top priorities before bidding on land. Price becomes secondary without clarity on permissible activity.

How much lead time should land buyers expect to complete due diligence?

Allocate at least 30 days for lawyers to research title histories, usage codes, ingress access and water rights plus environmental consultants and engineers to assess soils, erosion and infrastructure needs shaping site buildability.

What resources help land buyers estimate long-term value appreciation potential?

Historical census data, county assessor records, UC agricultural market reports, state tourism impact studies, and district water authority usage plans offer initial baseline context. Brokers also provide local perspectives.

Could eminent domain takings ever impact land owners?

Federal agencies exercising eminent domain to enlarge parks, California seizing watersheds or land, or municipalities annexing territory for infrastructure elements present rare but plausible takings risks lawyers highlight when reviewing title records.

Which organization regulates land usage codes and development standards in California?

County zoning ordinances enforced by local planning commissions dictate permissible property activity. State fire marshals set defensible space rules while water agencies govern well drilling. Lawyers digest regulations.

Partnering seasoned California land professionals with targeted county insights simplifies the site selection process for buyers seeking ideal alignment of site attributes with usage goals and long-term appreciation objectives.

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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