The Driftless Area in Southwest Wisconsin

When people are first introduced to Southwest Wisconsin, they are often amazed by the rolling wooded hills and peaceful valleys that make the area so unique. Most Americans are unaware of this rugged oasis tucked into the mostly level Midwest. If a person spends any time at all in the region, they soon hear the term ‘Driftless Area’ and it will be time for me to put on my geologist hat.

Green Hills and Valley

The Driftless Area (a.k.a. the Driftless Zone or the Paleozoic Plateau) is a region in the upper Midwest that escaped glaciation leaving us with peculiar terrain. Geologists have determined that long ago continental ice sheets wrapped around the area and it was, at least for a time, an island in a sea of ice. Today it can be observed that certain types of silt, clay, sand, gravel, and boulders known as glacial drift are conspicuously absent in this area hence the term ‘driftless’. Not only is it missing glacial drift, but the landscape remains rugged and deeply carved by rivers and streams.

The Driftless Area lies primarily in southwestern Wisconsin, but also includes areas of southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and extreme northwestern Illinois. It covers approximately 16,203 square miles. The 7 county area in SW Wisconsin that I serve as a real estate broker lies within this special region.

Driftless Area Overview Map

Bluffs and deep river valleys intermingle with farm fields and shaded glens to create the breathtaking landscape in which I am privileged to live and work. As a rural property REALTOR I travel much of southwestern Wisconsin’s Driftless Area observing the rich tapestry of this place. I’ve been able to capture many beautiful scenes with my camera over the years and have put a few together to create a short video.



Please excuse the amateur videography, but it’s all mine shot on location as I work. I wish everyone could be so fortunate to work in a place like this. Better yet, give me a ring and I’ll show it to you in person and help you find a little piece of it to call your own.

If you’re a geology fan you might enjoy this award-winning documentary Mysteries of the Driftless – The Documentary which covers many of the scientifically unique aspects of the Driftless Area.

800’ Cave For Sale

In real estate you run into all kinds of surprises; some of them strange, some of them pleasant. My favorite kind of surprise is when something unique pops up. Like how many real estate agents can say they have a cave for sale?

This rural property encompasses almost 155 acres of which a gorgeous log home crowns the ridge top amidst beautiful long range views. That in itself makes it a desirable country estate; but just for fun the bonus of a pretty large cave comes with the package. Spelunking anyone?

The Mouth of the Cave

At the base of this rather ordinary oak tree lies the entrance. It’s not astounding by any means but large enough for people to enter. And raccoons. Or skunks. Or bears. Definitely bats! Caves tend to kick my imagination into overdrive.

According to Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine there are 2 types of caves in Wisconsin; limestone and sandstone. I don’t know which type this cave is but others before me have explored and mapped it.

Limestone or Sandstone Cave

2 large bears were killed here shortly before it was first mapped in 1909. A later mapping showed it to be over 800 feet long with one room approximately 35 feet high. Recent DNR documentation shows 3 species of bats hibernate here.

Have I piqued your interest to start a few subterranean adventures?

For first time cavers, consider visiting these public caves in SW Wisconsin. Eagle Cave near Blue River is considered the state’s largest onyx cave. Near Wauzeka the Kickapoo Indian Caverns were once a Native American shelter and boast an underground river and onyx deposits (shown by appointment only). Perhaps the best known in our area is the Cave of the Mounds which is also a National Natural Landmark. Its stunning crystal formations are truly a natural treasure.

When you are ready to branch out from these guided tours; keep in mind the cardinal rule of wild caving: never explore a cave alone. The minimum size of a caving group as recommended by the Wisconsin Speleological Society is four.

One final reminder: the cave featured in this article is entirely on private property. Please respect the owner’s property rights and don’t trespass to explore.

Rural Land Market Steady at Close of 2014: SW Wisconsin Land Market Update

Looking back at the course of the SW Wisconsin rural land market throughout 2014 we see some ups and downs; but the big picture shows a land market that appears to be holding its own and making small gains.

4th Qtr 2014 SW Wisconsin Land Market Graph
2013 vs. 2014
A review of the year as a whole creates a picture of slow but steady growth in spite of volatility in some sectors. If you recall, in 2013 farmland was in great demand leading to 44% of all acres sold being tillable farmland. In 2014 grain prices dropped and so did the demand for farmland leading to a more normal average of 30% of acres sold being farmland. This played into the fact that 13% fewer total acres were sold in 2014 compared to the previous year and 12% fewer transactions were completed. However, the average price per acre for the entire year of 2014 grew 4.6% compared to 2013.

SW Wisconsin Rural Land Sales 2014 in Review

1st Quarter 2nd Quarter 3rd Quarter 4th Quarter
# of transactions 23 24 38 32
# of acres sold 1537 2367 2225 2610
% of acres tillable 44% 31% 19% 30%
average $/acre $3,195 $3,403 $2,985 $3,457


4th Quarter Price Rebound
During the 3rd quarter of 2014 the number of transactions jumped 58% over 2nd quarter while the average price per acre dropped mainly due to less farmland exchanging hands. 4th quarter numbers normalized somewhat with a few less transactions but more acres being sold of which 30% was farmland. Also, the average price per acre rebounded to $3,457.

Before everyone gets overly excited by this new high price, I need to point out that the average price per acre for 4th quarter is bolstered by a single large farmland parcel sold in Lafayette County for $5,820/acre. While this sale is significant and cannot be discounted in the rural land market, it’s wise to remember that one sale does not indicate a trend. A more accurate picture of SW Wisconsin rural land prices might be gained by calculating an average without this noteworthy transaction. This creates an average price per acre of $3,042 which is still above the 3rd quarter average price by 2%. Either way you look at it, the market trend points upward.

Buyers and sellers need to be aware that average sale prices are only a general guideline. An on-site property evaluation by an experienced land agent is needed to give you an accurate picture of what a property is worth in the current market. To learn more about the rural land market in Southwest Wisconsin, begin your search here: Southwest-Wisconsin-Real-Estate.com

*SW Wisconsin includes Grant County, Lafayette County, Iowa County, Sauk County, Richland County, Crawford County, & Vernon County. All data was taken from the SCWMLS & WiREx. Because this article was intended to review the rural land market, properties smaller than 20 acres, residential, and commercial land sales were not included. Acreage breakdown may vary due to land remnants and other factors.

Buyers: Don’t Go It Alone

This message is for buyers looking for the perfect piece of property: Get a buyer’s agent to assist you!

I was reminded again today of how important that is.

Past clients invited me to view their new home that they just built on an acreage. The home is beautiful and their rural property is ideal for it. My clients commented again today about how close they had come to missing their perfect place.

Just about a year ago they closed on the property that was the goal of an 18 month search. As their buyer’s agent, I had shown them dozens of properties but nothing was quite what they were looking for. Then I saw a property come on the market that I knew was the right one. I sent the info to them with no response. A week or so later I sent it again and said that I thought they should see it. No response. Finally, I picked up the phone and asked them why they weren’t interested in it. They said that they didn’t like some of the features but having worked with them for so long, I really thought that they would like it. I went out on a limb and told them to drive out and look at it (they were over an hour away) and if they didn’t like it, I would buy their gas for the trip. Well, they decided that if I felt that strongly about it, they would make the drive. I’m sure you can guess the rest of the story… They loved it and now have a beautiful home overlooking a Driftless Area vista.

Driftless Area Winter Vista

I’m not telling this story to make myself look good but rather to make a point. If you as a buyer are just calling the listing agent for properties that you see on-line,  you will never build the relationship that allows an agent to really know you and give the service that I gave these folks. Had they been working with multiple agents, they would have missed their dream property. So pick an experienced agent in the area and property type that you’re looking for and build a relationship that lets him/her give you the service that you deserve.

Ten Years of Changes in Real Estate

We’re celebrating 10 years in real estate this month. That’s not very long really, but in that short time our business has changed from exclusively using newspaper ads to having nearly 100% of our contacts come through website ads. What will the next 10 years bring?

10 year REALTOR

One thing has remained constant throughout; our customers are the foundation of our success. This holiday season we say thank you to all of you that have placed your trust in us to assist you in completing your transaction. We are honored and humbled that you chose us. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.

Land Sales Jump 58% as Prices Dip: SW Wisconsin Land Market Update

By: Jay Frazier

No one would argue that the land market is vastly improved from where it was three years ago, but where exactly is it now? Seller’s market? Buyer’s market? Neutral? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

The average sale price climbed pretty steadily through all of last year and the first half of this year while the number of transactions fluctuated. This last quarter the market waffled again in favor of more completed transactions with a lower average sale price. The number of completed transactions in 3rd quarter took a big leap up 58% compared to the first two quarters of this year.

SW WI Land Sales Chart

Conversely, the average price per acre dipped to just under $3,000 ending up at $2,985. This price drop likely reflects the type of land sold more than a market correction. During the first half of the year 36% of the acreage sold was tillable farmland (which typically carries a higher value than other types of land) while 3rd quarter sales comprised only 19% tillable acres.

SW Wisconsin Land Prices Chart 3rd Quarter 2014

Historically, the number of 3rd quarter transactions total somewhat less than the spring months, but this year defies tradition. A closer look at the transactions this 3rd quarter reveals the majority of sales were properties in the 20 – 80 acre range many of which came on the market and sold quickly. Not only did they sell quickly, but most of the sale prices calculated out at over 90% of the asking price. This would indicate a high demand which, when combined with low inventory, paves the way for further market improvement in the 4th quarter.

Here are a few specific highlights for 3rd quarter:

  • Sauk County shines as the only county to realize whopping average price gains since January 1st ending up at an average of $3,805/acre.
  • Richland County moved the most acres selling 632 acres in 7 transactions. The average price/acre there remains steady at $2,374.
  • Vernon County showed the most sales with 8 completed transactions and saw a price drop mainly due to the majority of land sold being wooded versus the higher value farmland parcels sold in the first half of the year.
  • Grant County also lost ground in the price category with land type being the major factor there in 4 completed transactions of mainly wooded land and very little tillable.

SW Wisconsin Rural Land Sales 6 Month Report
April 30, 2014 through September 30, 2014

Grant Iowa Lafayette Sauk
2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr 2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr 2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr 2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr
# of sales* 3 4 3 6 4 0 6 7
# acres 207 208 284 491 298 0 1155 331
woods 31 142 244 389 75 0 787 221
tillable 177 45 23 84 123 0 336 86
pasture 0 21 6 15 10 0 10 21
wetland 0 0 10 3 90 0 21 0
avg $/acre $4,334 $3,232 $3,669 $2,895 $2,915 $2,915 $3,513 $3,805
  ~
Vernon Crawford Richland TOTAL
2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr 2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr 2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr 2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr
# of sales* 2 8 4 6 2 7 24 38
# acres 42 297 269 266 112 632 2367 2225
woods 0 212 230 192 97 461 1464 1617
tillable 42 61 22 56 15 101 738 433
pasture 0 23 14 16 0 10 40 106
wetland 0 0 0 0 0 20 121 23
avg $/acre $4,636 $2,746 $2,721 $2,927 $2,032 $2,374 $3,403 $2,985


Buyers and sellers need to be aware that average sale prices are only a general guideline. An on-site property evaluation by an experienced land agent is needed to give you an accurate picture of what a property is worth in the current market. To learn more about the current land market in Southwest Wisconsin, begin your search here: Southwest-Wisconsin-Real-Estate.com

*SW Wisconsin includes Grant County, Lafayette County, Iowa County, Sauk County, Richland County, Crawford County, & Vernon County. All data was taken from the SCWMLS & WiREx. Because this article was intended to review the rural land market, properties smaller than 20 acres, residential, and commercial land sales were not included. Acreage breakdown may vary due to land remnants and other factors.

Sneak Peak at 3rd Quarter Land Sales

by: Jay Frazier

Here’s a sneak preview of SW Wisconsin 3rd quarter land sales. This number can only go higher as any closings from yesterday get recorded.

We have seen a pretty big jump in the total number of sales during the 3rd quarter (up 54% as I write). Many of these transactions are for parcels 30-80 acres in size and the majority of those sold for over 90% of the asking price. This type of parcel is in high demand right now.

Land Sales Are Up 54%

To find out what land in your area is currently selling for, visit: www.WisconsinLandValues.com or call my office and request a Land Sales Report for your area. (608) 739-3515.

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