How to own a hunting or fishing camp for less than the cost of a lease
ere’s my thinking when it comes to dreams: They’re simply not worth having if you can’t see a way to make them come true. Until a few years ago, I felt that way about owning a hunting camp. I’d always hoped to buy a place that I could share with friends and family. Finally I decided to stop fantasizing and start doing. That dream has turned into reality for me, and I’m betting it can for you, too—and it’ll likely take a lot less money than you’d think.
If you can scrape together about $5,000 for the down payment and then handle a roughly $200 monthly payment, you’re in business. Even better: Buy the right piece of land and you’ll have that down payment back in your pocket in short order. In most cases, that beats the cost of an annual lease.
HTHE REAL COST OF OWNERSHIP
Obviously, the initial purchase price is a primary factor when finding a place for your hunting or fishing camp. I look at the price a bit differently and break it into two parts. One is the down payment. The other is the monthly payment.
Let’s deal with the down payment first. The initial cash outlay for the down payment is the hardest part of the equation to swallow for a lot of folks. Most vacant-land lenders require 20 percent down. The goal here is simple: Get that cash back as fast as possible and then use it to make several years’ worth of payments. This is most easily done through a timber sale.
Timber values vary across the country, and species prices go up and down. Currently, for example, walnut trees and certain varieties of white oak are fetching a premium. That said, virtually every variety of hardwood carries some value, even at saw-log prices.
An average saw log might bring around $250. If you have 20 logs, you’ve got $5,000. Veneer-quality logs of desirable species like walnut can bring $5,000 each.
And here’s another inconvenient truth: Many realtors know very little about timber value. I’ve lost count of the number of properties I’ve looked at that held significant timber value, but the listing agent had no idea what the property really offered.
Here’s a real-world example. I’m in the process of closing on a small piece of hunting land with a sale price of $20,000. The down payment is $4,000—which, I’ll admit, stings a little bit. But here’s the salve: I’ve already had the property evaluated by a logger and know that there’s roughly $5,000 worth of saw logs on it, along with a few veneer sticks that can increase its value substantially. Within three months of closing, I’ll have that down payment back, and will have essentially covered a quarter of the purchase price right out of the gate.
Now for part two—those payments. I don’t think of the payments as separate monthly expenditures. Instead, I look at them as an annual cost—just as you would a lease. My $100 per month property will cost $1,200 a year. Leases almost always cost quite a bit more. Suddenly, the cost of ownership makes sense.
To get an ultra-cheap hunting camp, you will likely be limited to smaller acreages (think fewer than 15 acres). That’s just the way supplyand-demand works. That said, you don’t have to settle for hunting 5 or 10 acres. Buy the right piece of ground, and your $200 monthly payment just might put you in the middle of thousands more—at no cost.
Property that borders public hunting land can be exceptional— or it can be a nightmare. The best ground will provide private entry to public acres that are hard to access; the worst borders public land that’s easily reached by others. Do your homework before you buy.
DO THE DOUBLE DIP
Finally, never overlook a property that includes a “free” cabin. I’m not necessarily referring to a preexisting structure, but one that needs assembly.
If you buy ground that features an abundance of dead ash or pines, you have the start of a cabin. Sawmill fees are usually pretty reasonable, and building a cabin with lumber harvested from your own ground is pretty special, not to mention cost-effective.