Developing Your Plan

I think most people, especially sportsmen, dream of owning their own recreational property. Maybe it's a place to hunt and fish, a retirement retreat, a weekend haven or a legacy to leave the kids.

But why is it that most people never get past dreaming about land ownership and actually pull the trigger? Is it fear? A lack of knowledge? A lack of finances? I believe most people have a difficult time translating dreams into actions. They know what they want, but they don't know how to get it.

When clients come to me looking for land, I frequently have to pry out of them what they really want. These folks are looking for a dream tract, but they have no idea what it looks like. They have been unable to translate their subjective dream into objective criteria, and are instead hoping for a "eureka" moment.

So how is it that some people figure out how to overcome the obstacles and live the dream? Well, those folks have learned to think like seasoned land investors, and have formulated a plan to help them navigate the process.

Here are the basic ingredients for a successful land ownership plan:

1) Define exactly what you want and write it down. Include land characteristics like water (creeks, streams, or ponds), timber, road frontage and topography. Think about location. How far away is too far? Should it be less than three hours away? Can it be more than eight hours away?

Also, make sure you are clear on how much land you want, and what type of land. Are you looking for pasture or timberland? Do you want a ready-made play place, or a fixer-upper? Does it need to have a house or cabin? A barn or a garage? Cell phone coverage? Utilities? Septic?

2) Be honest with yourself about how much you can afford. Discuss it with your spouse, sibling, parent, hunting club partners or whoever else is involved. Remember, too, that once you own the land, there may be other expenses for improvements or maintenance. Figure out what you can afford, write it down and stick to it.

3) Determine how much time you can spend in the search. Be honest here, as well. You need to spend time in the field and get some mud on your boots. You might get lucky and find the tract of your dreams on the first day, but don't plan on it. You will have to invest some time as well as money.

4) Be clear about why you want to own land. What is the purpose? How will you use it? Could those uses change over time? Is it for deer hunting, fishing, birding, shooting, relaxing? Will other family members use it, and if so, how? Figure it out, and write it down.

5) Get smart. Allocate time to educate yourself on land. Find as many sources of information as you can, and talk to people who have bought and managed land. Find out what land sells for in the area. Learn about timber harvesting. The more you know, the more confident you'll be in your decisions.

Why go through all this? Why write it down? The reason is simple. If you can't list your ownership criteria on a piece of paper, then you don't completely understand what you want -- and it's hard to find something if you don't know what you're looking for.

A written plan is a control document that keeps you focused on your goal, the same way as a business plan or a family budget. A good plan provides guidance that can snap you back into reality when you become emotionally involved with a tract of land that is beyond your budget, doesn't match your needs, or is just too far away. It's a written commitment that serves as the road map to help you reach your destination of land ownership.

ABOUT THE AUTHORDon Webb is the author of "Maximizing The Land Ownership Experience" and president of Greenwood Land Company, which provides land acquisition and consulting services. Contact him at (706) 575-4178 or go online to www.greenwoodproject.com.

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