At the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa Rivers winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains is Buncombe County, North Carolina. Home to the historic grandeur of the Biltmore Estate, the thriving arts scene of Asheville, and some of the most picturesque views in the United States, this pristine slice of Southern Appalachia has become a Mecca for retirees flocking from the Northeast. The region's natural beauty is among the chief reasons for a surge in second home development. However, a residual effect of this growth has been a concerted effort among its citizens to conserve the land and protect what makes the western half of North Carolina so appealing to visitors and residents alike.
These factors make Buncombe County fertile ground for the research of Terry Assistant Professor of Real Estate Carolyn Dehring. As the principal investigator on a Long Term Ecological Research Program funded by the National Science Foundation, Dehring teamed with fellow UGA professor John F. Chamblee, Illinois professor Peter F. Colwell, and UNC-Charlotte professor Craig A. Depken II to study whether land conservation, which requires a significant investment in tax dollars, has measurable benefits capitalized into the land market. They reported their findings in the co-authored paper, "The Value of Land Conservation: Evidence from North Carolina."
According to Dehring, Buncombe County possesses all the elements, plus one significant technical advantage within the government's infrastructure, which she and her colleagues needed to determine if donated land will increase the property value of its neighboring landowners.
"They are ahead of the curve in terms of online real estate information that is available," says Dehring, who explains that traditionally one of the hardest parts of studying land conservation is the accessibility of the information. "If you have to go to the courthouse to get it, which you traditionally have to do, it's very cumbersome. However, Buncombe County has its registered deeds online with an interface that allows you to research land trusts by grantee. So by working with the Land Trust Alliance, we know all the land trusts in North Carolina, and we can search for every transaction that they have been involved in going back to 1996."
The result of Dehring's research yielded a few surprises, including the magnitude of the price effects of vacant land that turned out to have a high value because it was alongside conserved properties.
"I was not surprised at the result because you don't get communities and neighbors coming together to try to conserve properties if ultimately the property would be adversely impacted, but I didn't expect to find benefits that were quite so large," says Dehring who also explained that her team expected to find that the higher valued properties would be the ones donated for conservation when in reality that wasn't the case.
"I expected to find that these types of conservations occurred on value peaks, especially easements, simply because if land trusts are targeting land that's at risk of development then that should have been priced into those lands that get conserved," she says. "However, there's not anything mathematically different about the land that gets selected."
Dehring, who will be taking over the role of graduate school coordinator for Terry's real estate department, will also continue her affiliation with the Long Term Ecological Research Program in the western half of North Carolina.
"It's true interdisciplinary work," says Dehring about a project that involves 20 different principal investigators including ecologists, hydrologists, geomorphologists, and a variety of social scientists. "It's been really great working with people from different fields. Their research is really data driven; I know how to model land, they know how to model water quality, so as data becomes generally available through the IT revolution it's only natural we can play in each other's sandboxes. The product is going to be better if we're playing in the sandbox together, and bringing together our strengths."