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Utica farm land sells for $9,000 an acre (02/15/2012)
By Sarah Squires
Winona County is seeing record prices for agricultural land with a sale pending near Utica that reached $9,000 an acre.

Winona County Recorder Bob Bambenek gave a presentation at the county board meeting Tuesday outlining some of the big sales for prime agricultural land over the last year, showing that Winona County land values are creeping up closer to sales in neighboring counties -- some reported at $10,000 an acre.

While Winona County did not see many land transactions last year, prices have been climbing, and 2011 included the largest acreage sale in recent county history, with a 1,531 acre parcel in Wiscoy Township selling for more than $4 million to Money Creek Ranch. The sale represented about $2,600 an acre, and the farm included 414 tillable acres, woods, pasture and hillsides.

Other notable sales in 2011 included: 29 acres at Minnesota City for $5,500 per acre; 75 acres in Norton Township at $5,800 per acre; 36 acres at auction in Warren Township for $7,500 an acre; 150 acres at auction in Utica Township adjoining Lewiston for $8,715 an acre; 29 acres near Troy at public auction for $7,020 an acre including 21 tillable acres; and the pending 160 acres in Utica Township for $9,000 an acre with the parcel including a small home and barn.

Bambenek said that a second parcel at the Lewiston auction with 120 acres described as good to average soil sold for $6,835 an acre, the only parcel not sold to a nearby farmer. This land was sold to a land investor from Rochester.

County Assessor Steve Hacken told the board that because those sales have come in so high, valuations for property taxes on tillable acres will likely increase by about $500. He also added that acreage rent prices have increased as well, citing a $700 an acre contract in an area bordering Iowa. Here, rent is about $300 to $500 an acre, with contracts often found through an auction similar to land sales.

Along with the large Money Creek Ranch sale, there were several other sales for non-tillable land, including 501 acres in Pleasant Valley sold for about $1.2 million, which included about 38 acres of tillable land. At the beginning of 2012, 20 acres in Wiscoy Township were sold for $4,135 an acre for hunting, and Bambenek said that it is the only hunting land sale in the last four years. Last week, 38 acres of mostly non-tillable land was sold in New Hartford Township for $3,384 an acre.

Bambenek said that the sales of the non-tillable land may suggest that hillside and pasture values are coming back, but he warned that there is a lot of fluctuation in the local land market.

“Land prices are absolutely changing rapidly,” he said, adding that for those thinking of buying, selling or refinancing, it’s important to keep abreast of current information.

Frac sand


Bambenek said the winds are changing, and that other regional counties, over the past five years, have recorded hundreds of wind rights agreements with landowners. Now, many of those agreements are being canceled as landowners are being solicited to lease their land for mineral rights for frac sand extraction.

There have been no recorded mineral right leases yet in Winona County, but Bambenek said there have been reports that landowners are being approached by sand companies. These kinds of lease agreements can be very complicated, he warned, and property owners should make sure to talk to an attorney before signing anything. “Be very, very careful with that,” he said.

Real estate sales

Real estate sales were up in 2011, with 678 sales compared to 618 in 2010. The total value of all those sales increased from $91.6 million in 2010 to just under $94 million in 2011.

Most of the residential sales were within the $100,000 to $150,000 range, with $138,500 the median price, compared with $135,000 in 2010.

Thirty-seven residential properties sold above $250,000, with 15 in the city of Winona and the rest spread about the county. Twenty-two of those sales were above the county market value.

Several notable commercial sales were sealed in 2011, including: $1.97 million for Herff Jones to Life Touch; $304,000 for PlasticCert, Inc. to Mikrut Properties; $560,000 for K&S Mini Storage; $1.37 for Site Eleven (strip near Wal-Mart); $210,000 for the former Rock Solid building to dibs cafe; $120,000 for the Cinderella Shop to Green Acres Properties; $285,000 for the former Knights of Columbus building to Bluff City Properties; and $1.46 million for the Winona Senior Living site on Mankato Avenue.



Total mortgage debt for 2011 was under $229 million, less than $254 million in 2010.

Foreclosures were down in 2011 at 83, compared with 95 in 2010. However, a large number of pending foreclosures at the end of 2011 has gotten 2012 off to a rocky start.

Over 30 percent of mortgage foreclosures are involved with internet bank mortgages. Good news for 2011 was a decrease in mortgages originating from the internet, dropping by 10 percent. Bambenek said the drop is promising, and warned against financing a home with such a company.

A recent agreement with the five largest mortgage lenders may provide some relief for those who are underwater with their mortgage, or whose homes were foreclosed between 2008 and 2011, said Bambenek. Those who have already foreclosed may be entitled to a $2,000 payment, while those who owe more than their property is worth may be able to refinance or have a reduction on the principle of their loans. The deal, said Bambenek, will take time. 


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