Land Conference Offered Variety From Politics to Outlooks and Laughs to Data

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LAKELAND, FL, April 11, 2018 — Virtually all things related to Florida land investing were open for discussion at the greatly expanded Lay of the Land Conference April 5-6 at ChampionsGate near Orlando. The annual event was hosted by Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Real Estate, one of the state’s largest land brokers. Almost 300 landowners, developers and others attended.

Topics included politics, the planning and outlook for development of land, economics impacting land values, real estate in IRAs and verified land sales in 2017.


The biggest addition to the annual event, lengthened to two days, was a Candidate Summit Luncheon. Three major candidates for Florida agriculture commissioner – Rep. Matt Caldwell, Sen. Denise Grimsley and Baxter Troutman – shared their backgrounds and platforms. Current Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was the only leading candidate for governor to accept the invitation to speak.

Another politician, Florida Congressman Ted Yoho also spoke, but not as a campaigner. He provided an update on efforts to pass a federal Farm Bill and explained why he thinks it’s extremely important. “Everybody in America is involved in agriculture” either as a grower, processor or consumer, Yoho said. Many of those who attended the Lay of the Land Conference own Florida agricultural land.


Land development was the topic for two panels, including one focused on getting land ready for development. Presenters were Jack Brandon with Peterson & Myers, Diane Chadwick of Stantec and Elaine Imbruglia with Modica & Associates. Take-home messages included:

• Learn what the zoning and proposed future land use is for your land.
• Get to know your county commissioners, planning commissioners and planning director. Seek the planning director’s insight on potential uses for your land. County planners who are in the process of updating land use plans may work with you on incorporating your plans into their plans.
• Know environmental regulations that might affect your property, and deal with environmental problems – such as leaking fuel tanks – upfront, before starting to develop the land.
• Getting land use changed for a piece of property typically takes from six to 18 months.

A second development panel featured Brendon Dedekind of Prologis, Gary Ralston of Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Ralston Dantzler Realty, and Paul Romanowski of homebuilder DR Horton. They focused on the I-4 corridor stretching from Tampa to Daytona Beach, but also discussed Florida development in general. Here are some thoughts from each:

• Dedekend declared that the business environment in Florida is “very healthy.”
• “We clearly are in the upper end of expansion” in the economic cycle, said Ralston. He explained that the economic cycle moves from recovery to expansion to hypersupply to recession.
• Romanowski said Tampa to Daytona is the heart of Florida’s residential market, with jobs driving housing growth. He said rising interest rates don’t necessarily stop people from buying houses, but do cause them to “reset what they’re looking for” and can afford. “I don’t think we can oversupply the market,” he said.


“Our (Florida’s) problems, other states wish they had,” declared Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson. He said a Wall Street Journal article published about 10 years ago pointed out that Florida was known as a place that attracted retirees because it offered cheap living costs and had no state income tax. But Florida has a diversified economy, and “now a lot of people are talking about, ‘How do we become like Florida?’” Wilson said.

Wilson acknowledged there are problems in Florida, like a legal environment that allows many personal injury attorneys to look for someone to sue. That practice costs businesses a lot of money, he said.

Jerry Parrish, Florida Chamber of Commerce chief economist, further expanded on the state of Florida’s economic attractiveness. He said 116.5 million visitors a year from other states and countries spend billions of dollars in the Sunshine State, and 897 people move here daily.

From Jan. 1 to April 6 (the last day of the Land Conference), 83,524 people moved to Florida and the state’s adjusted gross income grew by $2 billion, Parrish said. Emigrants from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Connecticut, in that order, lead the migration to Florida, he added.

From 2016 to 2030, eight Florida counties are projected to account for 56.9 percent of Florida’s population growth, Parrish said. Miami-Dade will get the most growth, followed in order by Orange, Hillsborough, Broward, Palm Beach, Lee, Duval and Osceola counties, he said.

Florida’s job growth outpaced U.S. job growth in 2017, 1.9 percent to 1.5 percent, Parrish said. Florida’s job growth was tops in the Southeast. Meanwhile, numerous northeastern states had zero or negative job growth, explaining in large part why many are moving from there to Florida.

Like Wilson, Parrish suggested some Florida problems that should be addressed. One is that 37,908 Florida public high school kids didn’t graduate with their cohorts in 2017. Another is that 869,892 Florida kids, or 21.3 percent of those under 18, live in poverty.

“Florida does have challenges,” Parrish said. “But we have a better outlook than any other state out there … I’m betting on Florida; I think you should, too.”


“It looks very, very good for commercial real estate,” declared Fred Schmidt, president and COO of Coldwell Banker Commercial.

National tailwinds he cited that are likely to help commercial real estate include a reduced regulatory environment, the first tax overhaul in more than 30 years and very high levels of positive business and consumer sentiment. Other tailwinds include positive employment and GDP growth of 2.75 to 3 percent a year. “Overall, we’re in pretty darn good shape,” he said.

Headwinds that could possibly slow commercial real estate include tapering sales, increased deficits, trade wars and adverse weather, Schmidt said. Increased debt around the world, rising interest rates and the Federal Reserve unwinding its balance sheet are also potential headwinds he cited.


CBCSRE broker and owner Dean Saunders showed a chart indicating that average U.S. cropland value rose from $1,660 per acre in 2003 to $4,090 in 2017, with the high point of $4,130 hitting in 2015. Saunders said the chart shows that land “provides stability,” and that investors buy it for that reason rather than for rapid appreciation.

Florida land brokers “are all slammed; we are all busy,” Saunders said. He attributed the recent high land sales activity in part to high consumer confidence and tax reform. The development of solar farms, Florida’s huge population growth and a strong housing market also bolster land sales, he said.

He singled out 1031 exchanges for their contribution to land sale activity. Those exchanges allow landowners to sell one piece of real estate and defer taxes on the sale by buying another piece of property. The 1031 exchanges are a great deal, he said, adding, “Don’t pay Uncle Sam; go buy something else.”

Saunders closed the 2018 Lay of the Land Conference with an admonition: “Buy some land.”


The annual Lay of the Land Market Report, issued at the Land Conference, reports verified Florida land sales data for 2017. “We partner with a network of appraisers and land professionals to vet the data and bring you accurate information,” Saunders wrote in the report’s introduction. “The result is the most comprehensive view of Florida land values in the industry today.”

Saunders reported that the Florida land market “picked up steam” in 2017, in part because of “policy expectations inherent in the results of the 2016 presidential election … Today we are firing on all cylinders with elevated activity in all sectors of real estate.” He cited an improving economy and the continued influx of almost 900 people a day to the state as boons to the Florida land market.

“In summary, the Florida land market is strong as our state continues to be a great place to own land and we expect the economic trend to be positive in the next year,” Saunders wrote.

A brief summary of 2017 sales and trends by land category follows.

Ranch and Recreational Land

Sales activity for ranch and recreation properties larger than 500 acres remained fairly stable compared to 2016. Fifteen ranch and recreational sales larger than 500 acres were reported. For 13 of those sales, acres sold totaled 30,119, an increase of just 586 acres over 2016. The average value for tracts larger than 500 acres was $3,656 per acre, an 11 percent increase over 2016.

Though data on sales less than 500 acres is not reported, there was an increase in the number of smaller tract sales in 2017. Prices for properties less than 500 acres ranged from $4,500 to $6,000 per acre.

Strong activity in the ranch and recreation market is expected to continue for the next couple of years.


The timberland market in 2017 was fairly quiet in terms of the number of sales and total acreage sold. Only six timberland sales of more than 1,000 acres were located and verified. Those sales totaled more than 26,000 acres and had gross sales prices of from $876 to $2,108 per acre, with an average sales price of $1,536 per acre. This is significantly lower than the 2016 average of $1,950 per acre.

At the smaller end of the timberland size spectrum (500 to 1,000 acres), there has been increased interest from buyers looking for recreational properties. This trend will help support a strengthening market for timberland tracts with higher recreational amenities or development potential.

Although the sales data for 2017 was limited, timberland values continued to remain strong and that trend is expected to continue into 2018.

Treasure Coast
(Indian River District: Indian River, St. Lucie, Brevard, Martin and Okeechobee counties)

The real estate market in the Treasure Coast was one of the busiest in memory. The housing market continues to strengthen and inventories of vacant lots in good locations are diminishing.

Ranchette lots, which make up a substantial portion of transitional land, are gaining more interest and prices continue to creep up. In Indian River County, five-acre ranchettes that sold at the bottom of the market for $10,000 to $12,000 per acre are now selling for $20,000 to $25,000 per acre. In St. Lucie County, five-acre lots on paved roads are selling in the $15,000 to $22,000 per acre range. Prices are strongest in Martin County with a number of sales in the $25,000 to $50,000 per acre range for home sites of approximately five acres.

The area’s citrus industry received yet another blow from Hurricane Irma in September. The hurricane inflicted fruit losses of 30-70 percent and damaged trees. A handful of strong growers are replanting, but the plantings aren’t keeping up with losses from greening disease, also known as HLB. Former citrus groves that are no longer productive are selling in the $3,500 to $5,300 per acre range, while producing groves sold in the $5,000 to $8,000 per acre range. There is a buyers’ market for agricultural properties that are best suited for citrus lands. That is likely to remain the case until alternative crops are developed or confidence develops in potential solutions to greening disease.

Some residential developments are trading as low as $10,000 per unit for finished lots, with others selling for more than $100,000 per lot. In St. Lucie County, approximately 500 sales had an average price of $22,240 per lot. In Brevard County, 557 lots lot sales averaged $33,887 per lot. In Indian River County, the average was $31,490 per lot for the 440 sold.

Citrus: Central Ridge, South Central and Southwest
(Polk, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Okeechobee, Manatee, Highlands, Lake, Collier and Hendry counties)

Prices ranged widely in 2017. Typical buyers are seasoned, skilled growers. Groves located in the path of progress are highly desirable for residential and commercial development buyers.

Grove sales sizes ranged from five to 3,876 net tree acres. The average size of grove sales was 104 net tree acres with a midpoint of 25 acres. Approximately 10,994 gross acres and 9,252 net tree acres were included in 90 selected 2017 sales in this area totaling almost $70 million. Sales of citrus groves for immediate alternate uses such as residential or commercial development were not considered in this report.

The sale prices range from about $2,500 to $15,000 per gross acre. Net tree citrus acre sales ranged from about $2,500 to $17,067 per acre. The average for the sales was $6,278 per gross acre and $7,461 per net tree acre. The midpoint was $6,688 per net tree acre. The 2017 price per net tree acre and price per gross acre are both approximately 4.5 percent less than in 2016. The volume of acreage sold is approximately 5.3 percent less than 2016.

There is demand for higher-quality, better-producing citrus groves. Marginal groves are in demand when alternative crops are desirable or real estate development is on the horizon.

Strawberry and Row Crop Farms
(Hillsborough County)

There were 12 farm sales in 2017, ranging from nine to 548 gross acres. The price per gross acre ranged from $10,417 to $33,500 for seven farms sold for strawberry farm use. The upland price per acre of usable land ranged from $18,125 to $33,500. The seven strawberry farms totaled 90 gross acres and 75.5 acres of upland usable farmland.

There were three additional sales of farmland for transitional uses in southeastern Hillsborough. Two of these farms were sold for solar farms: one for $18,278 per gross acre and $22,262 per upland acre and the other for $30,771 per gross acre and $31,518 per upland acre. Another sale for high-density residential went for $77,778 per gross and upland acre.

There were two sales in the Plant City and Dover growing area. A tract that went from strawberry farmland to a solar farm sold for $23,936 per gross acre and $34,622 per upland acre. Another strawberry farm that went to commercial development sold for $125,000 per gross and upland acre.

Farmland sales in Hillsborough reflect continual market shifts into transitional uses. Pressure from urbanization has continued to creep into farming country.

Central Florida Farmland/Cropland
(Southwest and Central Florida: Row crops in Hillsborough, Manatee, Polk, Hardee, DeSoto, Charlotte, Highlands, Okeechobee, Lee, Hendry and Collier counties)

Cropland sales for vegetables increased in 2017. Five notable sales occurred.

Quality, irrigated farmland values have remained stable throughout this region. Okeechobee County farm sales ranged from $4,849 per upland acre, where conversion from citrus was required, to $7,080 per upland acre for a turnkey farming operation. The largest farming purchase was in western Manatee County for $6,169 per upland acre.

In Polk, Highlands, Hardee and Okeechobee counties, farmland prices of from $5,000 to $7,500 per acre are prevalent.

Institutional and private passive investors continue to seek out farm owners willing to sell and then lease back their property.

South Florida Farmland/Cropland
(Everglades Agricultural Area – EAA)

More than 500,000 acres in the EAA is cultivated in sugarcane, sod and vegetables. The number of larger agricultural land sales in the area decreased in 2017. Although prices have been steadily increasing, there were only two notable transactions in 2017. One sale was within Palm Beach County; one was in southern Glades County. Lands in the central region of the EAA within Palm Beach County are the most desirable with prices exceeding $11,000 per acre.

Demand for agricultural lands within the EAA has been high over the last few years, but the market’s inventory remains tight.

Residential Lots and Land
(Central Florida: Brevard, Hernando, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lake, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Polk, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Lucie, Sumter and Volusia counties)

Slowly and steadily, there has been a recovery from the recession of a few years ago. Developed residential land once being sold for a fraction of the development costs now has a healthy base and growth rate.

In the 17 counties covered, the average price per usable acre is up about 19 percent in a year. The average price for residential land is $56,672 per acre. The range is from $223,208 per acre in Martin County to $18,831 in St. Lucie County. Per acre prices in 10 of the counties is in the $35,000 to $75,000 range. Polk County had an average price of $34,865 per acre.

Fifteen of the 17 counties showed moderate-to-high finished lot sales activity. (Martin and Sarasota counties showed only modest activity.) The average finished lot price among the 15 counties with significant activity was $46,655. The high was $79,890 per lot in Orange County; the low was $13,650 in Marion County. Polk County’s average was $36,947 per lot.

Residential development in Florida continues to heat up, especially around the major population centers of Central Florida. The median home sales price increased 8 percent in 2017. The market to find and develop land for new residential communities will continue to be strong. Owning land in the path of growth will be a great investment.

Conservation Easement and Conservation Sales

Twenty-two conservation easements were purchased by various government agencies in 2017, totaling 33,403 acres for slightly more than $65 million. Once again, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services led the way with 12 total easements.

The Florida Legislature appropriated only $5.8 million for the Rural/Farm & Family Land Program for Fiscal Year 2018-19, a drastic reduction from the $35 million allocated for 2016-17. Demand for this program is very strong with more than 140 applicants.

The Legislature increased funding to Florida Forever, the state’s primary fund for purchasing conservation lands, to $100 million. The increased funding should allow the state to purchase more conservation easements this year.

About the Lay of the Land Conference

The Lay of the Land Conference is an annual gathering of landowners, policymakers, investors and other industry affiliates who want the most accurate, current data about the Florida land market. Guest speakers share economic, market, sales and regulatory expertise. To learn more and find resources from this year’s conference, visit

Media Contact:
Heather Celoria, Marketing Manager | 863.272.7151