Donate land for a conservation easement?

I am seriously considering donating my 3 acres of woods and meadow to a conservation easement. Basically, I agree not to develop the land in perpetuity, and they give me some tax relief. It also provides a rationalization for never mowing my lawn ( :smiley: – turns out most of the wildflowers on my property are medicinal herbs…). The website makes it sound like a fabulous idea, since I never plan to develop the land but the area around me may develop, and this would protect me from rising taxes, would lower my property values for real estate taxation purposes, and would count as a donation on my income tax.

Has anyone ever done this? What’s the down side? Do you recommend it? Of course I will have to consult my lawyer before I do it, but some personal accounts and opinions would be helpful.

I never done this and never owned any land for that matter, but one of the downsides would be that your property may become more difficult to sell (and will sell at a lower price) if you decide to sell it.

Crap. I’m usually pretty good with my grammar: I have never done this…

Sorry… carry on… me think self real good corrected now.

This is most definitely true, and I am assuming that I will want to live here for the rest of my life, or at least for a long time. I’m also hoping that, since this is a town full of hippie liberals, someone might LIKE that the land is all-natural and protected, and also has lower taxes. But you’re right, this is a selling concern. I’d be trading a higher selling price for lower taxes.

I’ve never heard of The Land Trust. Do you live in the Finger Lakes region and do you have any information about them? You might want to run your idea past the local branch of the Nature Conservancy to see whether they have a take on the issue:
Central & Western Chapter Office
1048 University Avenue
Rochester, NY 14607
Phone: (585) 546-8030
Fax: (585) 546-7825

(The Nature Conservancy is generally looking for larger tracts and the Land Trust might be a perfectly wonderful outfit, but it might be a good idea to use one group to cross-check the other’s claims.)

Three acres is awfully small but some hunting groups (Pheasants Forever is an example) actually buy up tracts of land for wildlife habitat.

I’d be wary. I’d prefer some way you’d forego the tax breaks, but they could reimburse you a set amount year by year, able to be cancelled by either party. That way you can get the feel-good vibes, but your land is your land, and your resale is untouched. Is that possible?

If not, my vote is NO. That amount of land is too small to save the planet, but it ain’t small to you.

In 1992, my parents decided to rent out their farmland to a non-profit organization funded by agro companies and Ducks Unlimited Canada called the Conservation Learning Centre. Since then, it has grown and thrived and even had visitors from China. It offers school tours and general informational days.

Don’t worry about the resell value - we eventually sold out to the CLC itself which really wanted to finally own the land instead of rent. But in the event that we didn’t sell to them, we had people practically banging down our door. Think about it - country acreage with plenty of nice farmland and landscaping, and all you had to do was cut the grass on the grounds. You got rent every year, etc.

I know our situation is a bit different than yours - your benefit is mostly the tax write off and fuzzy feelings, but trust me, it won’t affect the resale value of your land.

Okay, so maybe this was a gratuitous post, but you know.

The land will not be open to the public unless I want it to be. I still own it and can resell at my discretion, but it will be considered conserved land forever. This means that no one who wants to cut down the trees and build condos on it will be able to do so, but anyone who doesn’t mind leaving it as it is shouldn’t have a problem, and may be happy to discover that they get a tax break every year, I’m hoping.

The Finger Lakes Land Trust is pretty well known around here. I will do some investigation and also find out what my lawyer thinks of the whole thing before I do it. I’m not remotely worried about reselling any time in the foreseeable future. This place is where I want to be, and I am 100% onboard with not altering the natural environment here. I don’t want to save the world… well, OK, I do, but I only have control over 3 acres, so…

One caveat about the tax breaks is that tax law can change at the whim of Congress, so while the law now says that you can have a tax break “in perpetuity” that may not be the case 5, 10 or 20 years from now.

Right. Preserving “open space” is a big land-use ideology right now, so there are groups that want to purchase people’s ability to build on their land.

Did you build your house where you live now? Because if you did, then you are going to get a well-deserved :rolleyes: .

You might want to take a look at how your property is assessed. Putting three acres into a conservation easement may not save you very much money if that portion of land is but a small part of your overall assessment. For example, I’m working on a variance request for a property owner on a prime piece of real estate on Lake Michigan. This land is verily coveted, yet in the assessment, the land is worth less than half of the total value.

From what you wrote in the OP, this group doesn’t even want to pay for your development rights, so I suspect that you are getting taken advantage of if you go for this. The whole point is that the development rights have value, they’re worth something. You don’t get a tax break if give away your development rights; your taxes may be lowered, but that’s only because your land will be worth less.

I’m skeptical that it is really worth it for your to tie your hands right now.

Save your ocular muscles; it was built in 1953. I got it pretty cheaply because the house was built by the guy who bought the land, and his interior and exterior decorating sense is pretty appalling. It needs a lot of cosmetic work, but it’s in a nice area on a very nice piece of land.

You might want to take a look at how your property is assessed. Putting three acres into a conservation easement may not save you very much money if that portion of land is but a small part of your overall assessment.


That’s a good idea.

That seems to be correct; there’s no money transferred from them to me.

You may well be right. It warrants further investigation as to exactly what I will be gaining. It seems that if the rest of this area does develop, the taxes will go up for everyone, but not for me, if I get the easement. Taxes are pretty high in this area, so any break would be welcome, but if I’m giving away more than I’m getting, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Definately talk to your assessor about that. They have rules about how they must do assessments (at least in Michigan they do), and so you may be able to find out whether unbuilt land will see the sort of assessment increases that your house will. I’m regularly astonished at how little land is worth. Additionally, get involved with what new laws may be on the horizon. For example, stricter ordinance requirements may affect your land values without you having to donate it.

Regardless, I can easily imagine you needing the money later in life and being out of luck because of the easement. You may not want another house on those three acres, but you may not have a choice. By donating the easement, you are essentially removing the investment value of the land, and is that a risk you really want to take? (Duh, this thread wouldn’t exist if you knew the answer. But you get my point, I’m sure.)

TDR (Transfer of Development Rights) may not be permitted under the enabling legislation of whatever state Ruby’s in. In that case, the development rights, per se, can’t be bought, sold, or traded. The easement won’t benefit another builder, so the money to be paid for the easement may not be particularly large (given the small lot size).

Would your tax break be any different than if you just donated the land to the trust straight out (i.e., you would no longer own it, so you would no longer have to pay taxes on it)?

Good point, Plnnr.