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Public land acquisition, Part 2: working through appraisal process

Scott Rall
Scot Rall, Outdoor Columnist

Last week I started a multi-part column on what it takes to create a new public land.

A quick review of last week. We start only with a willing seller who has reached out to a resource agency or a non-profit like Pheasants Forever and indicate they would like to sell their property for a conservation purpose. The parcel is initially reviewed, and if it fits a specific conservation mission, it is considered for acquisition.

Site inspections are completed and documents collected, so an appraisal can be completed.

This week we will focus on the land appraisal process.

In Minnesota the appraisal is not just a run-of-the-mill review of what other properties of like comparison sold for over the past year or two.

Appraisals used for conservation acquisition are in-depth appraisals which need to be completed by a high-level appraiser.

The qualified appraisers that complete these assessments are not high in number.

The reason that the appraisals are much more in depth is that most of these parcels are purchased with grant funds.

Some of them originate from the Minnesota Lessard/Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund or other forms of state or federal grants. These grant funds come with all kinds of strings attached that require much more scrutiny.

Once the appraisal is completed, the seller is notified of the exact amount of appraisal. This is required. There is no way that a seller could ever be boondoggled into accepting an amount nowhere close to the land’s value. This protects all sellers in every instance.

If the seller accepts the offer, a project can then move to the next step.

If the offer is declined, this potential project dies on the vine and is removed from consideration.

Grant funds require that no offer can exceed the appraised value.  If the seller wants an amount higher than the appraisal, we cannot move forward.

This protects taxpayers from paying too much and is a solid way to ensure grant funds are spent efficiently.

If the offer is accepted, a non-binding letter of intent is signed.  It covers the basics of the transaction, total acres more or less, the price paid per acre, and a written understanding of what is on the table for both parties.

Every public land acquisition is surveyed. This is quite a process. Bids are sent out to about 5-6 appraisers, and they have 10 days to respond with a bid to complete the work.

Factors that decide who is selected to do the survey include total cost, start time and date when the draft survey will be completed and delivered.

These surveys also require much more in-depth scrutiny than a normal person-to-person transaction. The formats used for the appraisal require some pretty in-depth computer files and formats.

Many appraisers are not able or willing to provide data in these formats.

Once the survey is completed, normally about 4-6 weeks after the bid is awarded, it needs to be reviewed. This is done by a realty specialist from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Survey reviews can take anywhere from two weeks to three months, depending on agency work load. When the survey review is complete, often there are some technical changes that need to be made to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.

The surveyor that did the work makes these changes and then delivers the final survey.

Transactions between individuals often don’t include a survey, so 80 acres is sold as 80 acres more or less, when the actual acres might be slightly more or less than 80 acres. They might be 81.2 or 79.6. or any other number close to 80.

The surveyor makes notations on the final paperwork if there are any encroachments. For example, a fence that was installed 100 years ago may not have ended up right on the property line.

Each adjoining neighbor might be farming or otherwise utilizing some of their neighbor’s property and vice versa.

These utilization inconsistencies need to be corrected before any transaction can be finalized. This can be as easy as removing the fence and having each affected property owner sign documents that they agree to the surveyed boundary.

Other times deeds are prepared, and each owner will get some and give some property and the legal boundary will be changed to line up with the fence.

All of these issues take time, and that is why many land transactions can take over 12-18 months to complete.

Next week we will share with you the next steps in the public lands acquisition process.  Until then go shoot some doves. That season opened Sept.1

Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at