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The Real Role of Land Values in the United States

Just 6 percent of U.S. land is developed. That matters when we talk about affordability.
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Reuters/Andy Clark

The total value of the land that makes up the contiguous United States was $23 trillion dollars in 2009, according to new data [PDF] released by the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). That amounts to roughly 160 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product for that year, which stood at $14.5 trillion. According to the BEA’s findings, the value of U.S. land peaked at $26.2 trillion in 2006, before the Great Recession, but then fell back to $23 trillion. The graph below shows the trend.

The study, by William Larson at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, derives these estimates from a wide range of sources—satellite images, GIS maps, USDA figures on farmland, Census data on housing prices and housing price estimates from other researchers, among others—to determine land values in America’s lower 48 states. Larson’s research estimates land values by county for several types of land: developed land, agricultural land, government-owned land and undeveloped land.