Land – The Ultimate Investment During Uncertain Times

As Alabamians began returning to work, the reality of the new normal began to take shape. I, for one, was excited to get a haircut and to grab a meal from my favorite restaurant, but it quickly became clear that the new economy looks vastly different than what we are used to.

Safety measures are being enforced. Social distancing is in effect. Bars, restaurants, retail, and the service industries are limited to the number of customers allowed in their stores.  Don’t even think about going to Costco without a mask! Gone are the days of cubicle farms as the down-sizing of office space continues. Similar precautions are in place everywhere from the dentist to manufacturing plants.  And how long will it be this way? By all reasonable accounts a vaccine will not be created, tested, and available to the masses for a year to 18 months.

In fact the more we open the economy, we find there are more questions than answers. What will universities and schools look like next fall? Will the manufacturing and supply chains throughout the country bounce back quickly or will there be enough demand? Will the stock market continue to vacillate wildly on any given day? Is my portfolio sufficiently diversified? Is my 401K safe?

Tony Robbins, the great motivational speaker has an insightful quote that says, “The quality of your life is a direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably tolerate.”

So how do we respond? We focus on what we can control and find ways to help our fellow man. We make sacrifices both large and small to protect one another as we adapt to the new normal finding dependable resources in the process.


These tenants are not new to John Hall & Company. For 33 years we’ve built our business around them. And because we implemented a holistic marketing strategy before the epidemic hit we were well situated to flourish in the new normal. In fact, our clients have found that we have been able to provide the same level of customer service they have come to expect and depend on.

Fortunately, our team has not experienced a disruption in our productivity as land outperforms other investments. We continue to list land and market our customers’ property through a variety of digital marketing techniques including social media campaigns, email blasts, and Search Engine Optimization. We have been able to show land to potential purchasers through drone videos and interactive mapping software. For our sellers, we still go out and physically evaluate their land to provide an assessment of value. We provide comparable sales data and up-to-date market analysis, and then maximize their return by exposing the property to the right buyers. And despite the shut down of “non-essential” businesses, we still close transactions electronically and continue to connect our clients with services they need such as closing attorneys, surveyors, foresters, etc.

What many may not realize is that while the stock market continues to fluctuate and other commercial investments falter land values have remained strong. In fact, we have seen as much or more interest in recreational hunting and timber tracts than ever.

My father, who started John Hall & Company is 75 years old and has had a few health scares over the last three years. He personifies the category of those most vulnerable to the virus. While he took all the necessary precautions, isolated, and worked remotely the single biggest blessing we realized was the family farm. The farm provided a safe place for him to go and find purpose. He drove out there several times a week, strategized with a consulting forester about our timber cutting program, fixed up roads, worked on the fishing lake, and managed all those small projects we talk about doing but never quite get to. I can’t think of one other investment or asset that can provide a place of refuge, financial security, and purpose other than owning a piece of land.

If you have been thinking about buying land in Alabama there’s never been a more prudent time. Call us and let our company find an asset that will allow you to pass down your values and create a legacy to leave for future generations.

Pete Hall

Accredited Land Consultant

John Hall & Company

Invasive Plant Species – What To Look For

As a landowner, you spend countless hours working to reach the full potential of your property.  Many times, a tract of land can be overrun with invasive plant species in a surprisingly short amount of time. This can cause a detrimental effect on your timber value and the recreational/aesthetic aspects of your land. There are countless numbers of undesirable plant species that could be found on any one piece of property, but being able to identify and manage the more problematic types can be very beneficial.

The first species that comes to mind and that arguably has caused the most impact in Alabama would be Kudzu. During the spring, kudzu can grow nearly a foot a day and can cover anything from trees to buildings. It is vital to begin herbicide application during the early stages before taking over pine plantations or any other desirable areas.  Originally introduced as a favorable species for erosion control and forage for cattle and livestock, it is now commonly known as “mile a minute vine” that has invaded the southern landscape.

The second invasive species that has had a significant impact on the South is Cogongrass “imperata cylindrca”.  Like kudzu, this plant is highly invasive and has had adverse effects on our plant and animal communities. Identification is the first step in the proper control but can be tricky due to its similarities with non-harmful native species.  Its most commonly found along road-sides but this pesky plant is also known to completely take over pine plantations and can adversely affect cash crops such as corn and cotton. Many undesirable species are often controlled by fire, but cogongrass, naturally causes the plant to thrive in its environment. This causes increased fire intensity resulting in damage to existing timber.  Persistent herbicide application is the most effective way to manage along with early detection.

These are just 2 of the important undesirable plant species that can affect a tract of land. Other plants of note to consider when managing property or purchasing a piece of the property include Chinese Tallow Tree, Chinese Privot, Mimosa (silk tree), autumn olive, and even aquatic species. All of these can negatively affect wildlife and the investment potential of a tract of land. Detecting these undesirables early allows for cheaper eradication control and more time spend doing the things we enjoy in our great outdoors.

Robert Smith

(251) 564-1312

How aesthetic appeal can improve your land values

There are many ways in which a landowner can get an idea of how much their property is worth. John Hall & Company along with other land brokers can give a landowner their opinion of value simply based on recent comparable sales in the area. There is also the route of hiring an appraisal company to provide you with the value of your property. The total value for a property can be broken down into sub-categories to come up with the total value. Many recreational and timber properties can be broken down to the “bare land” value, timber value, and value of amenities. In this article, I want to share my thoughts on the aesthetic appeal of a property and how it can affect the “bare land” value of your property.

The aesthetic appeal to a property can be the difference in the land selling at $900 an acre for the “bare land” or $1,300 per acre for the “bare land. It is nothing more than the aesthetic appeal but adds value to your property. The location of a property has a lot to do with the “bare land” value of a property but if the property is not maintained or provided some TLC you will not see the same return in value. The aesthetic appeal of land can consist of something as simple as mowing and trimming limbs along a road system. Think of it as vacuuming your home and mowing the yard. If you were trying to sell your house and you had not vacuumed your home or cut the grass in over a year, do you think the potential buyers who come to view the house would even make an offer or if they did do you think they would be willing to pay a premium price? A few other aesthetically pleasing but small costs that can improve the value of your bare land can be planting fruit trees or other mast-producing trees around food plots, having a gated entrance to the property, adding culverts to creek crossings, or adding rock to creek crossings to give it a hard bottom. To compare to residential real estate think of this as decorations and furniture to make the home look better.

When buyers are viewing properties, and see that a property needs a lot of upfront work they most of the time discount the price they are willing to pay. This is to adjust for the upfront costs they will need to apply to the property when purchased. The value of the “bare land” in negotiations, although many times not specifically stated, is typically the value that will fluctuate the most. Buyers are willing to pay more for a property that is maintained and accessible over properties that are not. Recreational buyers tend to be willing to pay more for the property than timber companies or individuals strictly interested in the timber. Therefore, in order to obtain the best value for your property, it may be beneficial to manage your property catered towards recreation. However, this does not mean the timber value is not important because it can be a large portion of the total value of the property.

A maintained property is an aesthetically pleasing property. It is in the best interest of the landowner to keep that in mind if they are looking to obtain the best value possible in a sale. Sometimes landowners do not live nearby, have the time, or have the ability to maintain their property, and in that instance, we suggest leasing the hunting rights out. A hunting lease can be structured so that your roads will be maintained, food plots will be planted, and the property will be accessible.

John Hall & Company would be pleased to assist you with your land needs and would be happy to provide our opinion of value. John Hall & Company has been in the business of selling land since 1987 and we would be love to talk land with you!

Hoke Smith IV 


Key Considerations in the Land Buying Process

Key Considerations in the Land Buying Process

When beginning the process of buying recreational hunting land in Alabama there is a host of considerations to keep in mind. In fact, these key considerations are so numerous many are overlooked in the selection process.  While overwhelming these factors are vitally important not only in finding the right tract, but they will ultimately determine your enjoyment of the land, and your return when selling.

When representing buyers I provide my clients with a list of these factors to consider. But I also impress upon my buyers to clients pare down all of these options to the top 5 most important characteristics in order to aid in the selection process. What are the “must-haves” and the “non-negotiable?” Here is a list to consider when buying land…..


In a series of upcoming articles, I am going to explore many of these. For today we are going to look solely at Location which rightfully so is at the top of the list.

Travel time – How far is the land you purchase from your residence or office, door to door? The travel time to your land will impact how often you go there. Distance from home will be a factor in how easy it is to manage the land. Will you need a land manager, a company to help with wildlife services, planting food plots, etc?

Location determines the price you pay as well as your exit strategy in terms of resale. Some counties have micro-markets where dirt values are higher in a certain pocket of a county. In Bullock County, such micro-markets exist because there are many large landowners of 500 to several thousand acres. It is also home to the field trials and many named quail plantations. You can be sure that your neighbor has the same game management goals you do. They are planting food plots, supplemental feeding the deer, managing to QDMA standards, harvesting doe to control overpopulation and for the most part are shooting mature bucks only. While you may pay a higher dirt value to purchase the land you can rest assured the land holds its value better than most areas.

Location determines the quality of the land you purchase and the types of hunting available to you. For instance, the Black Belt region and outlying counties provide the soils and food sources that are major factors in the size of your deer, mass and quality of your racks, and your herd’s population. Water sources i.e. rivers and creeks provide better timber and food sources, cover for deer, roosting areas for turkeys, and potential duck habitat.

Location can determine topography which also affects wildlife quality. For example in Autauga County if you are south of CR 14 the land is level to gently rolling. It’s close to the Alabama River and the wildlife is bigger and more abundant. North of CR 14 the land begins to become hillier and even steep. The soils change and there are not only fewer deer per square mile but the size and racks are inferior.

Proximity to larger metro areas – If you are within an hour from larger metro areas you have a larger buying pool when you decide to sell. An example of this is the triangle between Montgomery, Columbus, and Auburn. That being said Birmingham buyers are used to driving two hours plus to get to their land and we have many buyers from Georgia and Florida who seek out recreational hunting land in Alabama.

Distance to timber markets can make a big difference in the value of your timber. How far are you from these mills? What types of mills are they? Is there competition or is one major mill setting the price?

Location can also adversely affect your land value. Are you are close to a high-crime town, a landfill, or surrounded by small landowners? Are there hunting clubs with the “If it’s brown it’s down” mentality?

For more information or if you need a consultant to talk about buying or selling land in Alabama call Pete Hall at 334 312 7099.

Pete Hall

Accredited Land Consultant

John Hall & Company

The Importance of Mapping Land

The importance of a good map and the benefits that come from them are too often overlooked and unrealized. There is a long list of uses that can come from maps and so many professionals whose careers are related to land, timber, wildlife, etc. depend on good maps. This article just highlights a couple of those important uses and how a good map can be a beneficial tool when making decisions and plans for your property.

Any map is better than no map, and multiple maps are better than one map! Maps are made up of layers in which different aspects of the land can be viewed based on what you are looking for. Topography maps show the contour of the land, aerial imagery shows you a picture from above, street maps, flood and water feature maps, soil maps, and the list goes on. Having a comprehensive map that overlays several of the layers onto one single map can be most beneficial. When it comes to land management and hunting, a good comprehensive map to use is one in which the aerial imagery is most current along with topographic lines overlaying it so you can visualize the contour of the property. The best and most detailed imagery maps are wintertime aerial maps. Having the imagery photo taken from the winter months helps you distinguish between evergreen trees and deciduous trees. In the south, this is most commonly seen as pine plantations and hardwoods. If the imagery is during the summer months it is very difficult to distinguish from the different timber stands due to all the foliage.

Having a good map should be the first tool used for land management planning and a tool that should and will commonly continue to be used throughout the process. Once you have established a goal for your property then the map can be used to help plan out the individual steps needed to be taken in order to reach that goal. From drawing and measuring out timber stands to cut or thin to identifying potential food plot sites. Having the topographic layer overlaying the imagery layer enables you to identify and plan management strategies like creating bedding areas and safe zones for deer in areas that the topography won’t allow for anything else. Maps can be used to plan and create roads through the property, strategize prescribed burning plans based on wind directions and the shape and size of the timber stand you’re burning. The list can go on and on!

When it comes to hunting, mapping can increase your chances of success dramatically. Whereas before being an efficient hunter it takes a lot of time in the woods and studying the game you are hunting to understand their behaviors and travel patterns. Using a map and having a little knowledge on how habitat and contour affect the movements and travel patterns of the game you are hunting, you can plan and strategize the best locations to put tree stands, pattern travel routes from bedding areas to feeding areas, plan entrance and exit strategies to stands based off of wind direction, etc. Having a map and studying it can improve your hunting success dramatically. One overlooked benefit from a map is that is also a great conversation piece! There have been many conversations with a map laid out on the table discussing where that big buck lives and how to approach hunting him!

There is so much that can be learned from mapping and with just a little time studying maps, a person can begin to understand property in much less time than it would take without one. They are a tool that professionals in industries related to land use day in and day out. Whether it is on your phone or on a printout as big as the hood of your truck, a map is so beneficial.


Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE) and Benefits to Landowners

Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE) and Benefits to Landowners

Our team at John Hall & Company recently sold 456 acres of recreational hunting land off Hobbie Road in Montgomery County, Alabama. As land specialists, this was one of the more interesting and diverse tracts we had the pleasure of marketing this year. What separated it from other recreational hunting tracts was the property’s use of the Wetland Reserve Easement program (WRE) which is a conservation tool managed through the Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) under the United States Department of Agriculture. The WRE is a voluntary program that offers financial support to landowners who wish to protect existing wetlands or restore property whose wetlands have been drained for agriculture or some other purpose. This is accomplished by placing a conservation easement on the property or a portion of the property that qualifies for the program. According to the NRCS website “The WRP program offers landowners an opportunity to establish long-term conservation and wildlife practices and protection.” At the same time, it allows the NRCS to implement its goal “which is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled in the program.”

I layman’s terms this means that the landowner is paid a large per-acre price to put the qualifying property into a conservation easement. By planting hardwoods or other trees protects and enhances the wetlands while also optimizing the habitat for wildlife. The landowner continues to have certain rights and use of the land such as hunting. And the landowner can choose to sell the land with the conservation easement in place as was the case of the 448 acres in Montgomery County.

So how does this really work and why could it be beneficial to you as a landowner?

The federal government pays the landowner a one-time per acre price on the acreage that qualifies for the program called a “GARP” payment as well as a percentage of the restoration costs to restore the wetlands. In exchange, the landowner is granting an easement on the land that qualifies for the program. The GARP payment, also known as the “easement value” varies from county to county. Both the easement value and the percentage of restoration costs depend on the duration the property is placed into the program.

For example, in Montgomery County, the easement value is $2880.00 per acre which often exceeds the market value of the land itself. You have the option of entering into an easement in perpetuity (forever) in which case you get the entire $2880.00 per acre payment plus 100% of the wetland restoration costs. Or you can choose a 30-year easement whereby the landowner is given 75% of the value of the easement value and 75% of the restoration costs. In either scenario, the NRCS also provides technical support through foresters, wildlife biologists, and other staff to help the landowner in the restoration process.

So the question most landowners wrestle with is this…. “Is the money I receive from the program worth encumbering my land (either for 30 years or in perpetuity) by giving the government an easement on my property?” This is an individual decision that differs from landowner to landowner. Let’s face it. We, as Americans, are inherently distrustful of anyone having the right to access our land and dictate what we can or cannot do, especially the federal government. But, keep in mind that in most instances only part of the property will qualify for the program. For an example of the 448 aces sold in Montgomery County only 202 acres qualified. This portion was placed into the conservation easement while the remaining acreage is unencumbered. So to find out the answer to the originally posed question there are other considerations you have to account for. The major ones that come to mind are “How will the WRE encumbered portion under easement affect the value of the remainder of the property that I own? Can I still enjoy the use of the land that is in the Easement? What rights am I giving up?” Let’s take a closer look.


Every easement placed on a property that qualifies for the WRP is unique due to the size, soil types, and history of the land. If you read the guidelines the NRCS initially puts out about the program it seems very restrictive as to what a landowner can and cannot do on the property after the easement is in place. However, after working with the local administers of the program we have found that the use and enjoyment of the property are not as limited as it seems. In fact, in some cases, you may not notice much difference at all with the easement in place.

Generally, the portion of the land that is enrolled into the program is reforested into hardwoods or restored to another form of its native habitat. In some cases, we’ve even seen longleaf pines planted if it is native to the area and the soils will support their growth. In the case of longleaf pines, you can burn them for best timber practices. While you are prohibited from building a permanent structure or destroying any portion of the land that is being restored you may reserve up to 5% of the enrolled for roads or green fields. You may continue to plant those green fields and keep up roads during the easement period. You can hunt the land. If there is a duck impoundment you may continue to drain and plant the habitat just as you’ve done in the past. All of these issues are determined before the actual restoration begins and governed by compatibility agreements agreed to with the permission and oversight of the NRCS.

Because it is a voluntary easement the landowner generally retains certain rights such as:

1) Title and the Right to Convey Title – meaning you still own the land and can sell the land with the Conservation Easement Agreement in place.

2) Control of Access on the land – although the employees at the NRCS can at any time come onto the property to inspect that the program is being adhered to. It is my experience that these employees are generally very considerate of the landowner and call to make an appointment if they are going to access the property. It’s also been my experience that such appointments are pretty rare, usually once a year.

3) Quiet Enjoyment – a very general definition would be that while employees of the NRCS have the right to access your land for inspection and other purposes pertaining to the WRE program, these employees of the government cannot engage in activities that disturb your right to peacefully enjoy the land

4) Undeveloped Recreational Use – The landowner can hunt, ride 4-Wheelers and ATV’s, etc. as long as you aren’t destroying any portion of the restored wetlands.

5) Subsurface Resources

6) Water Rights

What about value? If the landowner were to sell the entire property where 202 of the 448 acres are encumbered by the WRE conservation easement, how does that affect the property’s overall value? Does the conservation easement devalue the portion outside of the easement? What is the property worth that is in the easement? This is a little bit harder to ascertain. There is no rule of thumb or hard formula to go by but we can give very good estimates through our company’s database of comparable sales that have conservation easements and WRE programs in place.

But consider another scenario. As mentioned before, each situation is different both in terms of the easement and the family dynamics of the landowner. We often see where heirs of rural or recreational land don’t have the same emotional connection that the previous generation did. In some cases that don’t live anywhere close to the property and it’s simply an asset they don’t utilize. In that situation why not put the property into a 30-year WRP program. It’s almost like a generation-skipping trust. At the end of the 30-year program, the easement is lifted and you are left with an appreciating asset. The pine and hardwood trees planted at the beginning of the program are now harvestable.

Or if you as the owner or heir want to continue using the land for hunting or as a weekend retreat you still can still do so while the WRE program is in place. In both scenarios, the owner has been paid a large sum of money upfront that is likely more than what he would have made if the property were sold on the market.  He can live off those proceeds or use them for other investments and after the program is over he still owns the property! The value of the land after 30 years would then translate into a great investment for the next generation. From a financial standpoint, it’s hard to argue.

To find out what types of land qualify for the WRE program click on the following link


Pete Hall is a Principal and Broker at John Hall and Company, a full-service real estate firm located in Montgomery, Ala. The land division of the company works all over Alabama and specializes in transactions involving the marketing and sale of recreational hunting land, timber investments, agriculture, and pasture land, river lot and rural residential development, conservation easements,  gravel, and other minerals, mini-farms and more.