buying land

 


Will Rogers Was Right
A Story About Buying Land
by Carl Caton

I fell in love at thirteen.

And no, it wasn't a girl. I can't really explain why. Maybe I fell out of a tree or something. But for some strange reason, I became enamored with land. Yes, dirt.

Now why a teenage boy would sit around with pencil and paper trying to figure out how to buy land is something I'll never understand. But here is how it would go. I'd landed a job at a restaurant as a busboy. Most nights I made about $15. But if I could get a promotion and wait tables, I could possibly make $35 a night. Thirty five dollars is a key number. Remember that.

You see, when you figure that land costs around $700 an acre in 1973, you can quickly calculate that it works out to around 1.7 cents a square foot. Stay with me here. Now if I make $35 a night waiting tables divided by 1.7 cents a square foot... then that means, in one night, I could make enough money to buy 2,200 square feet of land. That was about the size of my parents house. That was a concept that my little brain could understand. It was a good theory.

Sometimes, though, there's a big gap between theory and reality. Because no one will sell you 2,200 square feet of land. So that means you go to work, earning "2,200 square feet per night", and one of these days you'll earn enough "square feet" to actually buy a piece of land. Now, we're talking reality.

It's funny how powerful a picture in your mind can be. Eight hours equals 2,200 square feet of dirt. To me, that was pure motivation. Strange thoughts for a thirteen year old.

Two years can seem like an eternity when you're that age. But it helps when you're busy. Busy busing tables, washing dishes, working in the kitchen, waiting tables, and yes... being an eighth grader. I looked in the classified ads faithfully each day. I found all sorts of land for sale. Big ranches, farms, home sites, but nothing in the $3,000 range. I remember so many nights laying in bed, frustrated that I would never find my little place in the country. Of course, for much of that time, it didn't matter because I didn't have the money anyway.

Amazingly, though, just when I seemed to have enough money... guess what happened? Four beautiful acres of land appeared on the radar. And the price? $3,000. Not only that. It was a fine piece of land. Flat, fertile, and ready to farm. It was close to my home. Patience is a virtue. God is good!

My dad knew the gentleman selling the land. He was actually selling the property in eight acres parcels but agreed to cut out a four acre piece for a lanky, pimple faced kid. My dad had caught my disease and decided to buy another twelve acres next to "my place". It was so exciting watching the surveyors come out to mark the corners of the property. And nothing could be more exciting than to see my name on the deed. Carl Caton, owner of four acres of prime real estate. In fact, 174,240 square feet of sort of prime real estate to be exact. Or to put it another way, seventy nine nights of working at the restaurant.... 2,200 square feet per night.

About this time, my love affair had gone full bloom. While I couldn't yet drive a car, I did have a motorcycle license. I remember riding my little Honda 100 out to "the land" almost every day. I would walk "the place" from corner to corner to corner to corner. I would fold my arms and admire that piece of heaven on earth. One thing that always amazed me was the productive value of land. Land produces. Of course it needs some help along the way. Someone has to plant the seed, cultivate the plant, and harvest the crop. And of course, the Lord sends the rain. It's all a miracle of sorts. 

But it is interesting how you can own an asset that, in a strange way, produces something for you. It's like the land does it's share of work. In fact, that's not a bad idea. Buy assets that produce income. Then let that income buy more assets. Maybe I'll write a book about the phenomenon some day and call it "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" or something. Mr. Originality.

That little four acres evolved into a beautiful place over the years. I tried my hand at farming and discovered I was better at growing weeds than a valuable crop. So, with some guidance from my dad, we found a professional farmer who had some experience, equipment and expertise in growing crops. We also discovered three bountiful aquifers under the property. As beautiful as the land was, it was even more amazing how much water could be produced from our wells.

The farmer planted alfalfa on the place and set up an elaborate irrigation system. It is amazing how much beautiful alfalfa hay our place could produce. In good years, my four acres would produce about 1,300 square bales of quality alfalfa hay.

As the years have gone by, my love affair with land has never waned. The numbers changed but the desire has always remained. Now I'm buying land for about $1,300 an acre, which works out to about three cents a square foot. I'm still amazed by that fact. Three cents a square foot for a productive piece of the earth. Got loose change in your pocket? Those coins rattling around in your pants could easily buy thirty square feet of ground. Cheap by any measure.

While I'm no longer working at the restaurant, I still measure everything financially by the cost of land. I just had some repairs done on our car. Twelve hundred dollars. Ouch. That's almost an acre of land. And that beautiful new car at the Ford dealership for $38,000? That's about thirty acres. Which would you rather have: thirty acres of productive land or a beautiful new car that will decrease in value every year? Be careful. You might be catching my disease.

In fact, I've used this car comparison with my kids for several years now. It's a great lesson in finance. In 2003, I had enough cash to buy a new truck. And frankly, if you knew the old jalopy I drive, you would agree that it was certainly time to do so. And so, I asked my son: "Should we buy a new truck or 22 acres of beautiful land in Gonzales County?" (Mind you, this place has thousands of Post Oak trees on it, not to mention that it sits on one of the richest water deposits in Texas.) Chad agreed that we should go for the land.

Then in 2005, we'd saved enough to buy a truck again. And with my mileage approaching 200,000, you would really, really agree it was time to buy an new vehicle. But along comes another piece of land. This one is in Lampasas County. It's the tip of a mountain. (That's what Texans call a 200 foot hill.) Anyway, you can see for twenty miles atop this mountain. And did I mention it is covered in Spanish Oak trees? And that it has three water wells drilled into the abundant Trinity Aquifer? And that it's like a deer highway with some of the best deer hunting around?

And so I talk to the kids again. Truck? Or, land?

Land it is!


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