America’s Most (and Least) Valuable States

June 3, 2015 by Thomas C. Frohlich

Touristic trail in the Swiss Alps

Touristic trail in the Swiss Alps

 

A recent study estimates that the combined value of all land in the contiguous United States is worth nearly $23 trillion. The most valuable state, according to the survey, is California, which accounted for 17% of the total value of the 48 bordering states. New Jersey, however, had the most valuable real estate relative to its size, estimated at $196,400 per acre, or 16 times the average value per acre across the contiguous U.S.

The study, authored by William Larson, senior economist at the Federal Housing Finance Agency and previously at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, estimated the value of different property types, including agricultural areas, federal land, and developed suburban and urban areas.

States with generally larger rural areas tended to have a lower value relative to their size, while more densely populated states that contain large urban centers had the highest estimated worth per acre. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the estimated value of land in each of 48 states.

Click here to see the most (and least) valuable states

The type of land in a given area has a significant impact on its worth. Agricultural and other largely undeveloped areas are generally worth significantly less than cities and suburbs land. Developed land, or land where housing, roads, and other structures are located, was valued at an estimated $106,000 per acre, while undeveloped land was estimated at $6,500 per acre, and farmland at only $2,000 per acre.

Since developed property is more valuable, it is not surprising that most of the states with the highest per acre land values are predominantly urban, such as New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. These Northeastern states are smaller and have less rural acreage to bring the average value down. In fact, the six most valuable states were also among the 10 smallest states by landmass.

Conversely, states with the lowest per acre valuations had far more agricultural land. In fact, in 12 out of the 24 states with the least valuable land, at least half of the land was dedicated to farming.

Historical events largely explain the federal government’s role in land ownership. The Louisiana Purchase and the conclusion of the Mexican-American War left huge swaths of what is now the western part of the United States in the hands of the federal government. All 10 of the states with the largest proportions of federally-owned land are west of Kansas. Much of this land was never claimed during the homestead era, as it was far less fertile than other land that was claimed. Partly as a result, it remains federally owned.

As a result, western states with a lot of federal land tend to have lower average values per acre. In Nevada, for example, an estimated 86.8% of the state’s total acreage is owned by the federal government, the highest share in the country. The state ranked as the third least valuable in the contiguous U.S. on a per acre basis. More than 30% of land in nine of the 15 least valuable states was federally-owned as of 2009.

To identify the most (and least) valuable states, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the estimated average values of each state on a per acre basis based on data from a working paper by William Larson published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) in April 2015. To generate a comprehensive valuation of the 48 contiguous states for the first time, the study, “New Estimates of Value of Land of the United States,” employed a range of land value models to estimate land prices as of 2009. Larson calculated prices over geographical areas as small as 30 meters by 30 meters from satellite images to determine the total value of a state’s land. The study does not consider Alaska or Hawaii. Dr. Larson completed this research while working at the BEA. However, he now works for the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

These are the most (and least) valuable states.

1. New Jersey
> Value of land per acre:
$196,410
> Total value: $930 billion (5th highest)
> Total acres: 4.7 million (4th smallest)

New Jersey had the most valuable land in the country, valued at an estimated $196,410 per acre. The state as a whole was worth $930 billion, fifth highest nationwide. Developed land is far more valuable than non-developed land. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that New Jersey is one of the most developed states in the country. Nearly 31% of New Jersey’s land was classified as developed, the second highest percentage in the country.

ALSO READ: The Happiest Countries in the World

2. Rhode Island
> Value of land per acre:
$133,730
> Total value: $90 billion (3rd lowest)
> Total acres: 673,000 (the smallest)

Like most of the states with the highest land values per acre, Rhode Island is not a large state. In fact, it is the smallest in the union. At just 673,000 acres Rhode Island’s total land value was just $90 billion, nearly the lowest in the country. However, the state was valued at $133,700 per acre on average, second only to New Jersey.

3. Connecticut
> Value of land per acre:
$128,824
> Total value: $400 billion (18th highest)
> Total acres: 3.1 million (3rd smallest)

Connecticut contains just over 3 million acres, making it the third smallest state in the country. Connecticut was also one of just four states where land was valued at over $100,000 per acre on average. By contrast, the estimated value of an average acre across the country was just over $12,000.

ALSO READ: Countries With the Widest Gap Between the Rich and Poor

4. Massachusetts
> Value of land per acre:
$102,214
> Total value: $517 billion (13th highest)
> Total acres: 5.1 million (5th smallest)

Massachusetts was worth $102,214 per acre on average, far more than the vast majority of states. Just over 10% of land in Massachusetts was designated as agricultural, whereas nearly half the contiguous U.S. was used for agricultural purposes. As in most states with relatively small percentages of agricultural land, more than one-quarter of Massachusetts was classified as developed — land that tends to be far more valuable than both agricultural and other undeveloped property.

5. Maryland
> Value of land per acre:
$75,429
> Total value: $470 billion (15th highest)
> Total acres: 6.2 million (8th smallest)

Maryland’s land was worth $75,429 per acre on average, making the state the fifth most valuable in the country. Less than 3% of the state’s land was owned by the federal government. By contrast, nearly 24% of the contiguous U.S. was owned by the federal government. Most high-value states had relatively little federally owned land.

6. Delaware
> Value of land per acre:
$57,692
> Total value: $72 billion (2nd lowest)
> Total acres: 1.2 million (2nd smallest)

Delaware was worth just $72 billion, the second lowest compared to other states. On a per acre basis, however, the state was valued at $57,700 on average, the sixth highest in the country.

7. New York
> Value of land per acre:
$41,314
> Total value: $1.2 trillion (3rd highest)
> Total acres: 30.1 million (20th smallest)

While the nation’s largest states tend to be worth less on the whole, New York is quite large and very valuable. Its more than 30 million acres were worth $41,300 each, on average.

ALSO READ: The Most Expensive Wars in U.S. History

8. California
> Value of land per acre:
$39,092
> Total value: $3.9 trillion (the highest)
> Total acres: 99.9 million (2nd largest)

Nearly 52% of California was federally owned, the fifth largest figure nationwide and an exceptionally large percentage compared to other high-value states. The state’s almost 100 million acres were worth an estimated $3.9 trillion, making the state the most valuable overall. On a per acre basis, however, California was worth just over $39,000, the eighth most valuable in the country.

9. Ohio
> Value of land per acre:
$32,077
> Total value: $838 billion (8th highest)
> Total acres: 26.1 million (15th smallest)

While more than half of Ohio is used for agricultural purposes — which tends to make it less valuable than other land classifications — the state is still among the most valuable in the nation. As a whole, Ohio was worth $838 billion, the eighth most valuable compared to other states. And an Ohio acre was worth more than $32,000 on average, versus the national figure of just over $12,000.

10. Pennsylvania
> Value of land per acre:
$31,923
> Total value: $914 billion (6th highest)
> Total acres: 28.6 million (18th smallest)

One acre in Pennsylvania was worth $31,923 on average, the 10th most valuable in the country. Just 3% of the state’s land is owned by the federal government, which accounted for just 1.3% of the state’s total value, a relatively low percentage, even when compared to other high-value states.

11. Florida
> Value of land per acre:
$28,961
> Total value: $1.0 trillion (4th highest)
> Total acres: 35.3 million (24th largest)

As a whole, Florida was worth $1 trillion, making the state the fourth most valuable in the nation. Nearly 15% of land in Florida was classified as developed, the seventh highest percentage compared to other states, and well above the 5.8% figure for the nation’s 48 coterminous states. As in most other states, the high degree of land development in Florida largely accounts for the valuable property.

12. Michigan
> Value of land per acre:
$23,765
> Total value: $865 billion (7th highest)
> Total acres: 36.4 million (21st largest)

Less than 28% of land in Michigan is used for agriculture, a lower percentage than in most states, and well below the figure of 47% for the lower 48 states. It accounted for only 3.9% of the state’s total value, less than half the comparable national percentage.

ALSO READ: The 10 Most Expensive Places to Get Married

13. Illinois
> Value of land per acre:
$23,492
> Total value: $833 billion (9th highest)
> Total acres: 35.5 million (23rd largest)

Just 3% of Illinois is owned by the federal government, and it accounted for just 2% of the state’s total value — both figures were among the lowest in the country. While the states with the highest estimated values tended to have lower percentages of agricultural land, this was not the case in Illinois. More than three-quarters of the state is designated as agricultural, a higher proportion than all but six other states. Developed land still accounted for 58.8% of the state’s total value, however.

14. Virginia
> Value of land per acre:
$21,921
> Total value: $555 billion (11th highest)
> Total acres: 25.3 million (13th smallest)

Nearly 10% of Virginia is federally owned, higher than the national percentage, unlike most relatively high-value states. As a whole, Virginia was worth $555 billion, the 11th highest total estimated value in the nation. More than 15% of land in Virginia was federally-owned, the 12th highest compared to other states.

ALSO READ: The Most Unusual Causes of Death by State

15. New Hampshire
> Value of land per acre:
$19,840
> Total value: $114 billion (7th lowest)
> Total acres: 5.7 million (6th smallest)

New Hampshire is one of the smallest states in the country, with just 5.7 million acres. The state was worth an estimated $114 billion — also one of the lower such figures nationwide. On a per acre basis, however, New Hampshire was valued at nearly $20,000, making the state the 15th most valuable in the country.

16. South Carolina
> Value of land per acre:
$17,610
> Total value: $339 billion (24th lowest)
> Total acres: 19.3 million (10th smallest)

More than 9% of South Carolina land was developed. While this was one of the higher percentages nationwide, developed land accounted for just over 25% of the state’s overall value, a relatively small percentage. South Carolina is one of the smaller states in the country, with a total of 19.3 million acres.

ALSO READ: The States Where Income is Booming (or Not)

17. Indiana
> Value of land per acre:
$16,903
> Total value: $387 billion (21st highest)
> Total acres: 22.9 million (12th smallest)

Unlike most states, Indiana had relatively large percentages of land classified as both developed and as farmland. Nearly 11% of the state was developed, and 64.5% was agricultural, each the 11th highest such figures nationwide.

18. Washington
> Value of land per acre:
$16,752
> Total value: $716 billion (10th highest)
> Total acres: 42.7 million (19th largest)

While only 6% of land in Washington was developed, this property accounted for more than half of the state’s total value of $716 billion, the 11th highest proportion in the contiguous U.S. Perhaps as a result, an acre of land in Washington was worth nearly $17,000 on average, over $4,000 more than the average value nationwide.

ALSO READ: The 9 Most Leading Product Claims

19. North Carolina
> Value of land per acre:
$16,230
> Total value: $506 billion (14th highest)
> Total acres: 31.2 million (21st lowest)

North Carolina’s total acreage was estimated to be worth just over $500 billion, which was 14th in the country. Per acre, land in the Tar Heel State was worth $16,200, ranking 19th in the continental U.S. Just over 10% of the state’s area was considered developed, compared to 5.8% of the lower 48 states.

20. Tennessee
> Value of land per acre:
$14,411
> Total value: $380 billion (22nd highest)
> Total acres: 26.4 million (16th smallest)

An average acre of land was worth $14,400 in Tennessee, just higher than the $12,100 per acre in the lower 48 states. Like in other states, a large portion of Tennessee’s value came from its developed land, even though this accounted for less than 10% of the state’s land.

21. Georgia
> Value of land per acre:
$14,242
> Total value: $528 billion (12th highest)
> Total acres: 37.1 million (20th largest)

Just 5.8% of all land in the lower 48 states was developed, but that area accounted for more than 50% of the total land value. In Georgia, just under 10% of the total land mass was developed, but that accounted for less than 40% of the total land value of the state. The state’s total value of $528 billion was 12th overall, but per acre, Georgia ranked 21st.

22. Louisiana
> Value of land per acre:
$12,908
> Total value: $354 billion (23rd highest)
> Total acres: 27.4 million (17th smallest)

Compared to the rest of the country, only a small percentage of Louisiana’s total property was owned by the federal government, at just 6.2%. By contrast, the U.S. government owned 23.6% of area in the lower 48 states. That small percentage in Louisiana accounted for 6.5% of the state’s total value, compared to just 8% of total value in the contiguous U.S.

ALSO READ: 9 Old Fashioned Names Making Huge Comebacks

23. Alabama
> Value of land per acre:
$12,356
> Total value: $400 billion (18th highest)
> Total acres: 32.4 million (22nd smallest)

Across the contiguous U.S., 5.8% of all land was developed, but that area accounted for more than half the total value of the nation. In Alabama, 7% of the total land mass was developed, but that accounted for just 27.9% of the state’s total value. The state’s land value of $400 billion was 18th overall, but per acre, Georgia ranked 23rd.

24. West Virginia
> Value of land per acre:
$10,537
> Total value: $162 billion (12th lowest)
> Total acres: 15.4 million (9th smallest)

West Virginia’s total acreage was estimated to be worth just over $160 billion, 12th lowest in the country. Per acre, the land was more valuable, however, ranking 24th at $10,500 per acre. Across the continental U.S., 5.8% of all land was developed, but that area accounted for more than half the total value of the nation. In West Virginia, 7% of the total land mass was developed, but that accounted for just 17.4% of the state’s total value.

ALSO READ: The States With the Most (and Least) Divorces

25. Wisconsin
> Value of land per acre:
$9,924
> Total value: $344 billion (24th highest)
> Total acres: 34.7 million (24th smallest)

Just 6.3% of Wisconsin’s total acreage was owned by the federal government, versus 23.6% of the land in the continental U.S. Federal land in the state accounted for just 2.6% of the state’s total valuation, less than a third of the value of the proportion owned by the U.S. government across the lower 48 states. In the continental U.S., farmland accounted for 47% of all land, but just 8% of the total value. In Wisconsin, it was 43.7% of the total area, but accounted for nearly 15% of its value.

26. Minnesota
> Value of land per acre:
$8,191
> Total value: $416 billion (17th highest)
> Total acres: 50.8 million (13th largest)

Minnesota was the 13th largest in the continental U.S. by landmass, but it ranked as only the 17th most valuable state. Farmland accounted for 53% of Minnesota’s total area, compared to 47% of the entire country.

27. Texas
> Value of land per acre:
$7,542
> Total value: $1.3 trillion (2nd highest)
> Total acres: 167.9 million (the largest)

Texas was the largest of the lower 48 states, spanning roughly 168 million acres. A high share of agricultural land may be one reason the state’s per acre value was just $7,500. While just 47% of land in the contiguous states was designated as agricultural, nearly 75% of land in Texas was devoted to agriculture.

ALSO READ: 10 Most Popular Stores in America

28. Vermont
> Value of land per acre:
$7,439
> Total value: $44 billion (the lowest)
> Total acres: 5.9 million (7th smallest)

In addition to being one of the smallest states by acreage in the country, the land in Vermont was worth only $44 billion, the lowest valuation of any state in the contiguous U.S. Among states reviewed, 5.8% of land was considered developed, accounting for more than 50% of their total value. In Vermont, however, roughly the same share of land was considered developed, but it only accounted for 16.3% of the state’s total value, one of the lowest contributions in the country.

29. Oklahoma
> Value of land per acre:
$7,364
> Total value: $323 billion (23rd lowest)
> Total acres: 43.9 million (17th largest)

A large proportion of Oklahoma’s total acreage was made up of farmable property. Nearly 80% of Oklahoma’s landmass was agricultural, compared to just 47% of all land across the country. That was the sixth highest figure in the continental U.S. That property made up only 13.6% of the state’s total land value, however, which was 13th-most among the lower 48 states.

ALSO READ: The 10 Richest Towns in America

30. Missouri
> Value of land per acre:
$7,233
> Total value: $318 billion (22nd lowest)
> Total acres: 44.0 million (16th largest)

While just 47% of land in the lower 48 states was designated as agricultural, 66% of land in Missouri was farmland, the 9th highest percentage of states reviewed. The value from agricultural land in the state was also much higher than elsewhere in the country. More than one-fifth of Missouri’s $318 billion valuation was attributed to agriculture, a significantly higher share than the 8% attributed to agricultural land in the lower 48 states.

31. Kentucky
> Value of land per acre:
$7,209
> Total value: $183 billion (15th lowest)
> Total acres: 25.4 million (14th smallest)

More than half of Kentucky’s 25.4 million acres were designated as agricultural, just higher than the 47% of the agricultural land in the lower 48 states. Agricultural land accounted for nearly 21.3% of the state’s overall value, the fifth highest share among states reviewed. However, the state was still valued at just $183 billion, 15th lowest in the continental U.S.

32. Arkansas
> Value of land per acre:
$6,739
> Total value: $224 billion (18th lowest)
> Total acres: 33.2 million (23rd smallest)

As with many states in the middle of the country, a large share of land in Arkansas was agricultural. As of 2009, 41.6% of land in the state was designated for agricultural purposes, and it contributed 15.5% to Arkansas’ total state valuation of $224 billion.

ALSO READ: States Where the Most (and Least) People Work for the Government

33. Iowa
> Value of land per acre:
$6,590
> Total value: $235 billion (19th lowest)
> Total acres: 35.7 million (22nd largest)

An average acre of land in Iowa was worth roughly $6,600, almost half the comparable figure in the lower 48 states. A low acreage valuation was likely due to the large share of Iowa’s land devoted to agriculture. More than 86% of the state’s land was classified as agricultural, the 5th highest share. Additionally, agricultural land accounted for more than half of Iowa’s total value.

34. Oregon
> Value of land per acre:
$6,503
> Total value: $400 billion (18th highest)
> Total acres: 61.5 million (9th largest)

Nearly 55% of land in Oregon was owned by the federal government, the 4th highest percentages in the country. That share of land was also quite valuable, as it accounted for 28.9% of Oregon’s total value, also one of the highest among states reviewed. However, an average acre of land in Oregon was valued at just $6,500, approximately half the value of an average acre in the contiguous U.S.

ALSO READ: The States With the Highest (and Lowest) Obesity Rates

35. Colorado
> Value of land per acre:
$6,462
> Total value: $429 billion (16th highest)
> Total acres: 66.4 million (7th largest)

As little as 2.8% of Colorado’s land was considered developed in 2009, despite accounting for nearly 40% of the state’s total value. Additionally, nearly 40% of the state’s 66.4 million acres were owned by the federal government, the 8th highest share in the lower 48 states.

36. Maine
> Value of land per acre:
$6,142
> Total value: $122 billion (8th lowest)
> Total acres: 19.9 million (11th smallest)

As one of the more heavily wooded states in the country, Maine does not support a lot of agricultural activities. In fact, just 6.8% of the state’s land was designated as agricultural, the lowest percentage in the country.

ALSO READ: The Least Healthy County In Each State

37. Mississippi
> Value of land per acre:
$5,565
> Total value: $166 billion (13th lowest)
> Total acres: 29.8 million (19th smallest)

An average acre of land in Mississippi was worth an estimated $5,600. This was less than half an average acre across the contiguous U.S. Less than 9% of land in Mississippi was federally-owned, far less compared to the nearly 24% of the country held by the U.S. government.

38. Utah
> Value of land per acre:
$4,664
> Total value: $247 billion (20th lowest)
> Total acres: 53.0 million (11th largest)

The federal government owned 68.8% of the land in Utah, which no doubt helped account for the state’s low land valuation. The high share of federally owned land may decline in the near future, however. In 2012, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed the Transfer of Public Lands Act, demanding that the federal government give up its land holdings — roughly 31 million acres — in by December 31, 2014. The federal government did not meet Utah’s demand, which will likely incite legal battles in the coming years.

ALSO READ: The Companies With the Best (and Worst) Reputations

39. Arizona
> Value of land per acre:
$4,328
> Total value: $315 billion (21st lowest)
> Total acres: 72.8 million (5th largest)

With more than 72 million acres, Arizona was one of the largest states in the country. However, much of the land was undeveloped and unusable for agricultural purposes, leading to a valuation of just $315 billion, or $4,300 per acre, nearly one-third the value of an average acre in the lower 48 states.

40. Kansas
> Value of land per acre:
$4,220
> Total value: $220 billion (17th lowest)
> Total acres: 52.1 million (12th largest)

Nearly 89% of land in Kansas was classified as agricultural, the fourth largest percentage in the nation. Agricultural land accounted for more than 20% of the state’s overall estimated value of $220 million, a lower value than most states.

41. Idaho
> Value of land per acre:
$3,435
> Total value: $182 billion (14th lowest)
> Total acres: 53.0 million (10th largest)

A majority of Idaho, 65%, was federally owned, the third highest percentage nationwide. The U.S. government’s land accounted for nearly half of Idaho’s overall value, the second highest such contribution. Like many other states with relatively low land valuation, less than 2% of Idaho was classified as developed.

42. Nebraska
> Value of land per acre:
$2,936
> Total value: $144 billion (9th lowest)
> Total acres: 49.1 million (14th largest)

No state had more of its land — 92.7% — designated as agricultural than Nebraska. This partly accounts for the relatively low value, as developed land tends to be valued far more. An average acre in Nebraska was valued at less than $3,000.

ALSO READ: 5 States Drinking Too Much Soda

43. North Dakota
> Value of land per acre:
$2,517
> Total value: $110 billion (6th lowest)
> Total acres: 43.7 million (18th largest)

Nearly 91% of land in North Dakota was agricultural — second only to Nebraska — and it accounted for more than a third of the state’s total value, the fourth largest such contribution. The land estimate does not fully account for North Dakota’s ongoing energy boom, and the state’s value was likely far higher.

44. Montana
> Value of land per acre:
$2,283
> Total value: $213 billion (16th lowest)
> Total acres: 93.3 million (3rd largest)

Montana spans more than 93 million acres, making the state the third largest in the lower 48 states. Each acre was worth just $2,283 on average, however, one of the lowest values. More than 65% of Montana was classified as agricultural, the 10th largest percentage.

ALSO READ: The Healthiest County in Each State

45. South Dakota
> Value of land per acre:
$2,135
> Total value: $103 billion (5th lowest)
> Total acres: 48.2 million (15th largest)

More than 90% of South Dakota was designated as agricultural, the third highest percentage in the contiguous U.S. And land used for farming purposes accounted for 44.1% of South Dakota’s overall value, the second highest such contribution. By contrast, less than 3% of the state was developed property, which tends to be far more valuable than other types of land. South Dakota was worth an estimated $103 billion, the fifth lowest total value.

46. Nevada
> Value of land per acre:
$2,116
> Total value: $149 billion (10th lowest)
> Total acres: 70.4 million (6th largest)

Nearly 87% of Nevada was owned by the U.S. government, by far the largest such percentage nationwide. While federally owned land still accounted for a minority of the state’s overall value — 44.6% — the share was still the third highest in the country. Many states with low land values had relatively large proportions of land dedicated to agricultural use. In Nevada, however, just 7.4% of land was agricultural, the fourth lowest figure in the country.

ALSO READ: 15 Companies Losing the Most Money

47. New Mexico
> Value of land per acre:
$1,931
> Total value: $150 billion (11th lowest)
> Total acres: 77.7 million (4th highest)

An acre in New Mexico was worth roughly $2,000 on average, less than every state except Wyoming. Like most states with the lowest estimated values, a relatively small percentage of New Mexico was developed, and a relatively high percentage was federally owned. Just 1.2% of land was developed, and 37% was owned by the U.S. government. More than 46% of the state’s land was agricultural, roughly in line with the national rate.

48. Wyoming
> Value of land per acre:
$1,558
> Total value: $97 billion (4th lowest)
> Total acres: 62.3 million (8th largest)

An average acre in Wyoming was worth just $1,600, less than any other continental state. Like most low-value states, Wyoming is one of the largest states in the country. But Wyoming’s 62.3 million acres were worth a total of $97 billion, less than all but a handful of other states. More than half of Wyoming was federally owned, and government property accounted for the majority of Wyoming’s overall value — the only state where this was the case.