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Big parcels are big sales in Shelby County

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A hot market for farmland has real estate in Shelby County largely being sold intact.

By Todd Martin

The availability of land acreage is rising along with land prices across Shelby County.

Fewer and fewer people are applying to have their large farming parcels subdivided, instead opting to sell the large-acre farms instead.

"Crop prices have been really good, especially with grain and soybeans, so farmers are looking to get more ground," said Shawn Willard of H. Barry Smith Realtors and Auctioneers. "It just makes more sense to buy now with prices high, and it's becoming harder and harder to lease land.

"And sellers are getting pretty good prices for large tracts of farm land right now."

Ryan Libke, the executive director of Triple S Planning Commission, said large subdivisions of lots have always been kind of few and far between, but he said it has been a while since one has been planned for Shelby County.

"About the last bigger one we had was on Henry Smith Road in 2010," he said. "They were building a road, and it was out in an ag area."

Libke said the idea of 5-acre lots – the minimum size in Shelby County – being desirable is fading.

"There was a guy in here [the zoning office] today and said five-acre lots are pointless," Libke said. "People think it’s preserving farm land, but it's not. You can't farm on five acres, he said."

Willard agreed that those smaller lots, fewer than 10 acres, aren't as attractive right now.

"For one reason, you get an ag value, which can help you on your taxes if it's at least 10 acres," he said. "If it has any kind of big, open ground, you can put crops down, and it's marketable. But subdivided land isn't really selling right now."

Kristina Ruble, broker/owner with RE/MAX Performance Realty, agreed that subdivision just isn't paying off.

"It's still somewhat desirable, but it's costly, with all the fees that go into it," she said. "Most are deciding that it's just not worth it."

There is a market for smaller lots, but it's for those of less than 5 acres.

"People aren't looking for the smaller lots, unless it's one or two acres," Ruble said. "Five is not enough to farm, but too much to mow."

Libke said that's what he's been told.

"That guy in here today, he said most people are leaving two to three acres of those five acre lots untouched and growing wild because they don't want to mow it," he said.

That could be because tractors can run through several gallons of gas, and unleaded and diesel prices are expected to surpass $4 per gallon this summer.

Ruble said most of these changes we're seeing in moving to larger and larger tracts are cyclical.

"Back a few years ago, you saw it [the switch to 5-acre lots] more, when it was kind of new to Shelby County," she said. "It just comes in waves."

Most of the land in these large lots appears to be staying rural, too.

"It's mainly ag, at least with what we're seeing," Willard said. "I'd love to see more companies come in, but it's not happening right now."

Ruble said the large tracts are driving a rebounding real estate market in Shelby County.

"Things are turning around," she said. "Last year was a good year in real estate, and I think this year will be, too, for everybody. I think it's going to be a good year for everybody in sales and retail. I think things are improving."