Kentucky, Florida Farmland Remains Hot Commodity

by Esther Marr

Land was once described as "the only thing that lasts" by author Margaret Mitchell in the civil war era novel Gone With the Wind. Almost 100 years after those words were written, the statement still rings true across the Bluegrass and Ocala, Fla. area, where real estate investors continue to purchase farms at rapid rates in 2005.

"I'm personally in the middle of the biggest feeding frenzy I've ever seen," said Joe Riddell of Lexington-based Riddell Realty. "Right now, I can't fill all the orders fast enough. Anything worth having is selling and selling quick...this will be my most productive year by far."

Arnold Kirkpatrick, head of Kirkpatrick & Co. in Lexington and former manager of Spendthrift Farm, said real estate numbers are strong so far this year for him, though not to the level of 2004.

"Sales are a tiny bit behind...but not significantly so at this point," he said. "The market is holding its own. There are some years and some sales that you just don't think you can improve on. Last year was unbelievably good...I'd be happy if this year was half as good."

Kirkpatrick said the rising value of farms and the health of the horse business have also attributed to interest in the market. The value of the euro vs. the dollar has also increased foreign interest in Central Kentucky farm investments, he said.

Riddell said land in Bourbon, Fayette, and Woodford counties can be sold for 50% to 100% more than in other areas.

Jess Jackson put pressure on the Bluegrass market in February with his private $17.46-million purchase of Mahmoud Fustok's Buckram Oak Farm on Old Frankfort Pike.

In January, there were four pricey Spurr Road farm purchases. The first was sold to Grapestock LLC for $4.6 million. The other three were sold to Icon Development LLC from Robin Schneider for $3,958,750 each. Ball Homes also purchased a farm in January on Greendale Road from Greendale Road LLC for $4,433,520.

The most recent sale of note was Joel L. Mandell Trustee's purchase of Herman and Hedwig Van Den Broeck's Versailles Road farm in May for $2 million.

"Here, particularly in Fayette County...the farms that we're selling are not going over into development--they're remaining as agricultural entities," Kirkpatrick said. "The county government has taken steps to preserve farm land as is."

Farm sales are also booming in Florida, especially around the Ocala area.

Windell Mills, an Ocala Glenn Miller Realtor who has been in business for 27 years, said most large-acreage Ocala farms are not being developed into new buildings or shopping centers. Instead, developers are subdividing them into 10-acre plots to create smaller farms, and putting them back on the market with increased prices.

"It's unbelievable what's happened in the last year--some land has tripled," Mills said. Land that a year ago brought an average of $8,500 an acre is now bringing an average of $18,000, he said. The richest horse farmland is selling for a minimum of $25,000-$30,000 an acre, he said.

Though it is still under contract, an Ecuadorian in Ocala's northwest Marion County is said to be selling his 1,006-acre Centurian Farm for $20 million to a local investment group.

"(The real estate market) is up all over the country," said Brenda Hudson, another Ocala realtor. "It's not just in the horse industry, it's everywhere. It's amazing."