A Different Way to Volunteer: Conservation Buyers

The real estate market has changed. There’s less land available for sale and more buyers who are able to move quickly on purchases.

“It’s a whole new world for us,” said Terrie Cooper, the Door County Land Trust’s (DCLT) senior land-protection manager.

Nonprofit organizations are at a disadvantage in these competitive markets, particularly if they’re awaiting the conclusion of a lengthy grant allocation before completing a purchase.

“We can’t be out there in a bidding war; we have to pay appraised value,” Cooper said. “And the grants can sometimes take up to a year and a half.”

Enter conservation buyers. These are people who are willing to purchase land that’s been identified as having certain conservation values, and then donate the land or sell it in return for tax benefits. In this market, they’re also willing to wait after purchasing the property.

“There are people who have bought it, held it, and then we buy it back,” Cooper said. “That’s kind of the new direction.”

Organizations such as DCLT may buy properties only for a fair-market-value appraisal. Even if land values rise rapidly over the course of a year or two while the buyer is holding on to the land, DCLT may not pay more than 10% above what the buyer paid for it.

“So this is not a money-making process,” Cooper said. 

This could also mean that conservation buyers purchase properties and then sell them for an appraised value that’s less than what they paid. 

“They take a loss,” Cooper said. “That’s the risk on their part.”

Conservation buyers enable DCLT to leverage how quickly it can move by allowing the organization the time it needs to get the appraisal and the grant, which can take more than a year. 

“Only very willing landowners work with us because they have to be comfortable waiting that time,” Cooper said.

There are many ways to structure the programs to help land-trust organizations that can’t be speedy in a competitive market. In all cases, interested buyers should contact DCLT to work with its staff on purchasing desirable properties that meet the land trust’s criteria.

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