Placing an accurate dollar value on America’s land, whether it has priceless natural features such as rivers and mountains or is developed with farms or sleek skyscrapers, is virtually impossible.
Some experts, though, have attempted to arrive at a rough approximation. Based on the work of economist William D. Larson, the total value of the 1.9 billion acres in the contiguous 48 states is nearly $23 trillion — or roughly $12,000 an acre on average. The federal government’s stake in this land, nearly one quarter of the acreage, is worth $1.8 trillion.
Whether an acre of land is part of a sprawling farm or a dense metro retail complex, its value is mostly determined by its use. Developed land, defined as area covered by roads and buildings, accounts for only 6% of the acreage in the contiguous 48 states yet it holds more than half of the total value. Developed tracts in many cases house some of the nation’s largest economic engines — and plenty are inside dense urban areas where demand for real estate is high.
Yet nearly half of the land in the contiguous United States is used for agriculture. And with three quarters or more of the acreage in eight states used for agriculture, farming is concentrated in some states a great deal more than others. Texas — one of the eight — has the largest and most valuable farmland. Approximately 14% of all land, and 10% of all agricultural value in the contiguous 48 is in Texas.
California, a similarly massive state, demonstrates the value of developed land. Land that is developed for commercial and industrial use is so much more valuable than property with agricultural uses that with only 6% of the nation’s developed land area, California has 26% of all developed land value.
While an acre of land can be purchased for less than $2,000 in the least valuable state (Wyoming), an acre goes for more than 100 times that in the most valuable state (New Jersey). 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the estimated value of land in each of the contiguous 48 states using data from Larson’s 2015 study, “New Estimates of Value of Land of the United States.”
To identify the most (and least) valuable states, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the estimated average land value for each state from an April 2015 working paper by William Larson for the Bureau of Economic Analysis. To generate a comprehensive valuation of the 48 contiguous states, his study, “New Estimates of Value of Land of the United States,” presented a range of land value models for estimating land prices in 2009. The GDP-per-capita figures came from the bureau. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Consumer Survey served as the source for the median home value date.