What is a Conservation Easement?

December 02, 2020

Know the ins and outs of conservation easements and if they are the right choice for your property.

A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that limits the use of your land in perpetuity to preserve it. This is a legally binding agreement between a property owner and a land trust with mutual benefits. For one, the conservation easement puts the land under certain development restrictions to keep it intact for future generations. The landowner is reimbursed through tax benefits or a check that they can put their pocket or back into improvements on the property. 

When placing a conservation easement on your property, it is extremely important to look beyond your immediate needs and take into consideration what the next owner may want or need. This decision affects your future use, the next owner’s future use, and the resale value of your property. Read on to discover why you may or may not want to consider a conservation easement for your land.

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Benefits of Conservation Easements

A well-planned and thought out easement can improve your land, preserve its highest and best use, and ensure future owners of complete enjoyment of their property for years and generations to come.

Some common reasons that property owners place an easement on their land include:

  • Improving water quality

  • Maintain the growth of a forest

  • Maintain a wildlife habitat

  • Protect scenic landmarks

  • Maintain land to ensure agriculture and livestock can survive

The most appealing benefit of a conservation easement is that it provides landowners with the necessary funds and protections to improve their land for a specific purpose. 

For example, say you purchase a 900-acre hunting property for $3.2 million. Chances are, you don’t have a lot of money left over to make improvements, like fixing fences, paving the driveway to the lodge, or improving wildlife habitat. Further, chances are that you intend to always use the land as a hunting property, and you don’t want to subdivide and build homes to sell on the property. If you feel that the highest and best use of the land is to conserve it for hunting & recreational purposes, then you can place it in an appropriate conservation easement and use the monetary benefit to make those improvements to the land. 

Considerations About Conservation Easements

That being said, if you can only justify a conservation easement for your immediate needs and not to preserve the future of the property, think again. Placing your property in a conservation easement will have a dramatic effect on your property’s desirability and value when the time comes to sell it.

Recently, I tried to sell a property with a conservation easement. The owners had placed the easement on the property for the purpose of duck hunting. The owners were avid duck hunters that lived nearby and the restrictions placed on the property by the conservation easement was not affecting their enjoyment of the property.

The problems began to surface when the time came to sell the property. Prospective buyers were not local and wanted a place on the property to stay, but the easement restricted any type of building structure on the property. Other buyers wanted to utilize the property as a hunt club or for guided hunts, but the conservation easement strictly prohibited any activity that was “commercial” in nature.

Ultimately, these restrictions became barriers to reaching a sale. This is a good example of how a lack of future planning can adversely affect the value of your property if you place an easement on it that is too restrictive.

Finding a Property That’s Right for a Conservation Easement

If you feel like a conservation easement aligns with your future goals, you should get started looking for a property that fits the bill. Make yourself aware of local land trusts and government agencies and decide whether their restrictions make sense for your property. Once you find a property that you like, keep in mind that you will be able to make necessary improvements with the money you get from putting it in an easement. For more information on conservation easements, feel free to reach out to me at rob@coloradocountrybroker.com.