At this year's Lay of the Land Conference, Dean Saunders spoke on real estate market trends here in the state of Florida.
Since 1985, Dean has specialized in Florida land and conservation easements. He served in the US Senate as Agricultural Liaison, Special Assistant, and Director of External Affairs to US Senator Lawton Chiles, then Governor Chiles (D-FL). From 1992 to 1996, he served in the Florida House of Representatives where his strong passion for supporting landowner property rights and conserving the integrity of a property’s natural resources culminated in his authorship of groundbreaking conservation legislation. Dean comes from an eighth-generation Florida agricultural family, earned a BSA from the University of Florida in Fruit Crops, Food and Resource Economics, and is a recognized Florida land and conservation easement authority.
Saunders began his presentation by describing his desire to analyze real estate trends in a more accurate and efficient manner than it had previously been done. This desire was the genesis for the Lay of the Land Conference. Dean would go on to speak about the importance of verifying sales and using the collected data in order to analyze market trends based on more concrete numbers.
While he conceded that not every single sale would be factored in, he also clarified that "nobody else is collecting this data. Nobody else is reporting on it, but it is here. And I want to share it with you. It informs all of us."
Saunders spoke on some of the positive developments in Florida's real estate industry. One positive aspect that he highlighted was the influx of people moving to Florida and how the increased population would also increase land value. He also discussed how unoccupied Florida land has been converted into solar farms. This can drive up the value of secluded properties that aren't seeing an increase in residency.
Saunders also highlighted the state government's spending on land through the purchasing of conservation easements: another way that value is being added to more remote properties while also benefiting our environment and infrastructure. Saunders spoke about a number of land purchases made by state and local governments under initiatives such as Florida Forever.
"There were thirteen different easements that we know about that were done last year. 35,000 acres at $35 million. One transaction that the state did was 19,000 acres for a timber tract. The demand for easements is really high. One thing that I will say is that the Wetland Reserve Program Easements done by Natural Resource Conservation Service do pay more."
Speaking on the importance of conservation easements, Saunders stated "I think we need to provide for our infrastructure in the state, not just for those who are living here, but for those who are coming here. They're coming here because we've got sunshine and water and we're a low tax state. But there is some quality of life that goes along with that and we don't want it to go away. So I do think that it's important to consider our green infrastructure."
Saunders then decided to reflect on some Florida history, specifically the Florida boom and bust that took place a century ago in the 1920's. He stated that booms and busts were a pattern in Florida's economy.
"People like to come to Florida," he explained, "but sometimes we overdo it. And we have had an expansion and we've got people coming. But as a whole, everybody has been much more disciplined this time around. The bankers aren't loaning money quite like they did, they're underwriting it tighter, and developers are not over-building."
Saunders then turned his attention to some of the problems plaguing Floridian landowners. He mentioned the negative effects that issues such as greening and hurricanes have had on Florida's citrus industry. "I'm encouraged that we will find something just because of the resiliency of the industry. In the meantime, we've got a whole lot of acreage that needs to find another use, and so what is that going to be? Is it going to be bamboo? Is it going to be hemp? Is it going to be houses?"