What is the Dirt Worth?

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1 Terry Gilmore and Martin J. Healy, Jr. What is the Dirt Worth? In this article, issues within the timber industry affecting cutover timberland values are examined in an attempt to help appraisers determine market values for these lands. An outline of the myriad factors that affect land values, including the highest and best use of a site as well as the site index rating, is presented. The author concludes that appraisers must both analyze a timberland property s current use and project potential uses to derive an accurate value. Appraisers involved in the valuation of timberland or agricultural property are often asked, What is the dirt worth? The question is meant literally because, unlike other types of real estate properties, the values of forests and agricultural operations depend on the quality of the dirt, more correctly known as soil. Timberland is primarily valued using the sales comparison and income approaches to value. 1 When the land is logged or cutover, the remaining cutover property historically has been allocated a nominal carrying value by timber companies and other private landowners to reflect the tax aspects of the acreage. These values are typically considered to be subjective because the tax or book value of a parcel has no direct relationship to the market value. 2 The purpose of this article is to provide techniques for valuing cutover timberlands. The article summarizes numerous cutover land sales located in the Pacific Northwest, west of the Cascade Mountains. Although the data pertain specifically to the Northwest, foresters, appraisers, and timber cruisers in other regions of the country can extrapolate from these data to evaluate their methods of valuing cutover timberland. 1. Gary Allen Burns. Timber and Timberland Appraisal, ASA Valuation (December 1983): An excellent example of the political processes affecting land values is presented in an article written by B. Bruce Bare, Forest Land Valuation in Washington State Under the 1971 Forest Tax Law. Forest Land Valuation (September 1983): The article illustrates the effects of government influences on valuing bare forestland in Washington and the many valuation techniques used, complaints affecting these approaches, and the subsequent litigation involving the mass appraisal techniques. Terry Gilmore is an appraiser with Atterbury Consultants. Inc., of Lynnwood. Washington. He received a BS in forest management from the University of Washington, and an MPA from Seattle University. Martin.1. Healy, Jr. is a senior commercial fee appraiser with Brock H. Branan & Associates of Beaverton. Oregon. He was the winner of The Appraisal Journal s 1987 Manuscript Competition, and has previously published in the Journal. Mr. Hcaly received a BS in agricultural business management from California Polytechnic State University at San Lids Obispo, and an MBA from the University of Southern California. He is a candidate for the MAI designation from the Appraisal Institute.

2 The values summarized here are based on analyses of land sale transactions typically of less than 1,000 acres. Because these sales are small, such values are generally not applicable to large timber plantations. Prices paid for these large plantation tracts, on a per-acre basis, are less than the values summarized here as a result of the larger acreage, the smaller number of available buyers, and the greater extent of unusable area caused by physical limitations. DESCRIPTION OF CUTOVER TIMBERLAND Cutover or bare timberland is defined as land with a highest and best use as forestland that has been harvested of all merchantable timber (45+ years old), without any significant residual premerchantable (21 44 years old), reproduction (3 20 years old), or seedling trees (1 3 years old) remaining. Current timber practices require leaving buffer strips of trees along creeks, streams, bald eagle habitats, roadways, and other sensitive areas in an attempt to reduce soil erosion as well as to provide pleasant visual screens and an ongoing forest habitat. These remaining trees are typically included in the bare land values. As a result of environmental concerns about clearcutting timberlands, many timber companies are modifying the practice of cutting all trees within a given area. Instead, they are allowing some premerchantable and merchantable trees to remain onsite in an effort to reduce the adverse visual effects of clearcutting, to provide some cover for wildlife, and to retain trees for natural regeneration. In these instances, remaining trees are not considered harvestable because they were left for specific reasons. The remaining low stumpage volume is not substantial enough for a cutover-land buyer or logger to clearcut. Further, pre-merchantable, reproduction (reprod.), and seedling trees are generally not included in the description of cutover timberland because they add incremental value to the premises. While not so in all cases, the selling price of timberland with seedlings or very young trees is often higher because of the cost of replanting. This cost varies from $100 per acre to $170 per acre, depending on the planting intensity and the topography of the terrain. State laws in the Northwest require that timberlands be replanted within three years after logging. Buyers thus pay more for replanted lands compared with cutover acreage. However, the sale price does not always reflect the fair market value of the timberland and the planting costs. In many cases, while sellers may know the direct replanting costs, they only value their land at the carrying value, thus underestimating the overall value of their properties. FACTORS AFFECTING CUTOVER TIMBERLAND The value of cutover timberland is affected by topography, accessibility, location, weather, soil type, and site index, Of these influences on value, site index has the most impact on price. A site index rates timberland productivity based on a scale that varies from Class 1 to Class 8. Class 1 or Class 2 lands are the most productive in terms of timber growth and volume. Class 3 soils have average growth potential, and those in Class 4 or Class 5 have below-average to poor timber production capabilities. In most instances, soils are not rated beyond Class 5 because these soils are not productive and would not support a forest plantation. Market data show that soil quality is the most influential determinant of value, and more value is assigned to timberlands having high soil quality compared with those with poorer quality soils.

3 Also incorporated within a site index classification are soil type and weather. As a result of higher rainfall amounts, marine-type weather conditions, and adequate soil types, lands situated on the west side of the Cascade Mountains are much more productive than those on the eastern side. East of the Cascade Range there is significantly less rainfall as well as shallower, sandier soil. Lands located west of the Olympic Range consistently have the best site index ratings, as a result of adequate soil productivity, high rainfall levels (nearly 120 inches per year), and weather conditions conducive to growing high quality timber. Topography and location are considered to be related within the parameters of site valuation. Although proximity to a mill has little effect on a cutover site s value, the topographical conditions usually characteristic of sites with mills that is, flat terrain and good accessibility can have a favorable effect on value. Proximity to a mill is more integral to the value of the timber itself because of trucking cost considerations. Purchasers prefer rolling, undulating terrain located at lower elevations to high-elevation parcels located on mountaintops or ridges. Sites at lower elevations generally have lower road building costs, superior soils, and potentially lower logging costs. High-elevation parcels are characterized as having thin soils, extreme temperature variations, susceptibility to water runoff and soil erosion, and a short logging season because of inclement weather. HIGHEST AND BEST USE The descriptions and valuation summaries provided here are based on the assumption that the land has a highest and best use as timberland. The expanding population of the Northwest region, however, has caused many former timberlands to be purchased by developers and subsequently subdivided into smaller parcels for homesites. Thus, the prices paid for these parcels are significantly higher compared with timberland prices because the potential profitability is significantly higher. In the Puget Sound region, for example, some cutover timberlands that would have sold for $200 per acre several years ago have undergone a transition from forestry use to residential use. This has caused some developers to pay well over $1,000 per acre, while many small acreages and homesites are selling for $15,000 to $25,000 per acre. When appraising cutover timberland it is extremely important to determine both the current use of the area and the future effects of political, environmental, and population influences. Many timberland valuations assume a timbered parcel has a highest and best use as timberland because trees are growing on it or because it was recently logged. This assumption causes many parcels to be undervalued by sales agents, timberland brokers, and others. An example of undervaluation occurred when a timber cruise valued an 80-acre timbered parcel at nearly $400,000 before logging and $ as cutover land, without any consideration of its highest and best use-: The parcel was reappraised and found to have a market value as though cutover of $ as a result of the encroaching residential development within the locale. Subsequently, the site sold for $245,000 to a developer intending to sell five-acre residential lots. The appraisal of timberland is thus similar to other property types in that the current use does not necessarily correspond to the highest and best use.

4 Other considerations for determining the highest and best use of a site include the capacity of the soils to support septic systems and water wells, the availability of water in the area, the availability of electric and telephone service, and the overall zoning of the premises. These considerations primarily affect the potential for development of a timberland site. If the acreage appears to be unsuitable for development, other, less intensive uses should be considered, including use as a game preserve, park or wilderness area, or wildlife refuge. ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS Environmental considerations play an increasingly important role in the valuation of timberlands. For years, bald eagle habitats have been incorporated into management plans by the timber industry. More recently, issues concerning the northern spotted owl have arisen, resulting in the increased scrutiny of many forested lands by environmental groups. Increasing environmental restrictions have resulted in decreased federal timber harvests and fewer private lands available for harvest. The impact on cutover timberland is minimal because eagle and northern spotted owl habitat generally exist in mature stands of timber rather than among Young trees. Further, cutover timberland, having already been logged, is beyond the scrutiny of various special interest groups, resulting in relatively stable current market values. Cutover land issues will become more important in the future because of the unprecedented public scrutiny of the timber industry. The industry must address such topics as the control of soil erosion, the provision of buffer zones along highways and special habitat areas, and the regeneration of the land. METHODS OF VALUATION Appraisers use various methods to value the land-only component of timberland. The residual method extracts land value by deducting the total value of the merchantable and non-merchantable timber (income approach value) from the overall market value (sales comparison approach value). For example: Sales comparison approach: value/acre $3,000 Less income approach: value/acre $2,800 Land: value/acre $ 200 The income approach value is obtained by using data from a timber cruise to estimate the volume of logs and applying a set of prices to the log volume. The future cash flows are then discounted to the present, and all logging expenses are subtracted. A second method of determining land value is the allocation method used by many timber companies, which involves allocating market values to each of the different types of acreage within

5 a parcel, with the total equaling the market value of the parcel. In the following 900-acre example, assume: 300 acres merchantable Douglas $3,000/acre 100 acres 30-year-old $1,500/acre 50 acres $150/acre 450 acres $100/acre Calculation: Merchantable timber value $900,000 Reprod. timber value $150,000 Seedling value $7,500 Land value $45,000 Market value of property $1,102,500 In this approach, the land itself is typically allocated a value based on historical company methods, tax considerations, or other non-market-oriented data. Thus, without proper market support for the land component the overall effectiveness of this methodology is diminished. The land may be worth more as rural residential acreage than the entire contribution of the timber, or it may form a larger portion of the overall value than is allocated. A third method of determining land value is to project future timber value by using a rotational harvest schedule, subtract harvest costs, and then discount values to the present. This method is useful for determining the value of the standing timber, or stumpage, but does not adequately address the land value. This method usually employs a small, discounted land value, considered an arbitrary residual indicator, which is almost negligible to the overall value. Again, this method allocates most of the value to the trees, which are income producing, and allocates the land a residual discounted value. As such, it is not a good indicator of land value. Finally, the sales comparison approach reflects market conditions and is therefore considered to be the best indicator of market value. Timothy Newman provides an excellent outline of the steps required to value timberland with this approach in Appraisal of Timber: A Direct Sales Approach. 3 The process involves obtaining current market sales of timberland, confirming the various aspects of the transaction, visiting the site for comparison purposes, and finally adjusting the sale to the subject property. This method is considered the best because it incorporates market attitudes and investor expectations as well as establishing the market value for cutover timberland. Omitted from this method are timber company policies, tax considerations, and other contrived or nonmarket subjective factors that would skew the true value of the land. To help consider the required factors, a grid can be established that includes adjustments for property elevation, steepness, access, site index rating, and other typical factors including financing terms, property size, and date of sale. The grid removes a significant level of subjectivity and results in a more accurate value conclusion. 3. Timothy D. Newman, Appraisal of Timber: A Direct Sales Approach, The Appraisal Journal (January 1984): 17-26

6 SUMMARY OF VALUATION DATA Appraisers have had a difficult time appraising cutover timberland in the Northwest because of a lack of market sales. A high percentage of lands in the region is owned by various federal and state agencies (61.77% in Oregon) with large timber firms owning a substantial amount of the remaining acreage (23.5% in Oregon). These owners, holding a combined total of 85.25% of the region s timberlands, generally do not sell these properties; rather, they replant the lands for wildlife habitat and harvest the stumpage after approximately 50 years. Thus, a lack of readily available data has made the valuation of cutover land difficult. Over 100 cutover sales reviewed for western Washington and western Oregon indicated a surprising trend. Prices paid per acre for cutover land were consistently correlated with the site index rating. Other factors, including site size and topography, were found to have minimal direct impact, although they are indirectly included in the site index rating. The highest prices were paid for cutover land with the lowest site index (i.e., highest quality), and the lowest prices were paid for high-index soils. Table 1 indicates a sales trend for the cutover sales ranging from nearly $425 per acre for land with a site index rating of Class I to approximately $100 per acre for Class 5-rated land. Such a trend makes sense because land with excellent tree-growth potential should be worth more than poor tree-growing acreage. The higher value will be paid for land with a site index rating of Class 1 or Class 2 because trees in such areas will grow at faster rates and produce significantly higher volumes of wood compared with trees in lower rated sites. Further, these high quality trees can be sold at higher prices in the export market, while smaller trees cannot. TABLE 1 Price Paid per Acre versus Site Index (Western Washington and Western Oregon) Value per Acre ($) $500 x $400 xxx xxx xxxxx xx $300 xxxxx xxxxxx xxx xx xxxxxx $200 xxxxx xx xxxxx xxxxxxx $100 xxxx xxxxxx $ Average Acreage Site Index Note: Not all sales have been plotted

7 CONCLUSION There has been considerable research on the topic of valuing timberlands with the standing timber still available. Valuation of the bare, or cutover, land has received less attention, however, and historical values have been determined by timber company policies and book values. Little attention has been given to lands having a highest and best use other than timberland.

8 Values for cutover sales west of the Cascade Mountain range in western Washington and western Oregon were found to depend on the site index rating. A correlation was then made between the values per acre and the associated site index figure. Highest and best use is a significant consideration in the valuation of timberlands. Many lands in the Pacific Northwest are in a period of transition from forestry use to rural residential use. As this occurs. land values will continue to increase until the value exceeds that of the standing timber. Therefore, in addition to analyzing an existing property and its current use, appraisers must project future trends in the locale and their effects on timberland properties.

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