One acre is 43,560 square feet, or a little less than an American football field. Its value varies wildly.
In this article
If you’re curious about acreage, you might be looking for information on how to visualize the size of an acre. How much is an acre of land, size-wise? The short answer: think of a football field, then subtract 10%. You might also be wondering about the value of an acre of land, particularly if you want to buy a plot to build a home. That question is pretty complicated, and we’ll dig into a few different ways of looking at it.
Things to know about an acre of land
- An acre of land is about the size of a football field.
- The value of an acre of land varies quite a bit depending on a number of factors.
- The average value of land in the contiguous United States is about $12,000 per acre.
- Location and land development (Are there roads? Buildings?) are two key determining factors in the value of an acre.
- Typically, in urban areas, land is worth more than a house on that land.
How big is an acre?
The short answer: an acre is equal to 43,569 square feet.
That’s also 4,840 square yards or 0.4047 hectare (a hectare is 4,047 square meters).
One square mile is 640 acres. In land surveying, you might see this called a “section” as well. Land surveyors also talk about something called a “quarter,” which is 40 acres.
But what do those numbers tell us? (We’re assuming you, like us, don’t know what the fact that there are 43,569 square feet in an acre really means, or how to visualize the size of an acre based on that. If you do, we bow down to you!)
Here’s the trick: picture a football field. An American football field is 48,000 square feet, so it’s just about 10% larger than an acre of land. Imagine 90% of a football field to get a more accurate visualization of an acre, but generally you can assume that five acres is about as big as your vision of five football fields.
(You have a new piece of trivia now! When someone asks you how many acres is a football field? You can confidently let them know a football field just juuuuust a bit bigger than one acre.)
Eighteen 2,400 square foot homes can fit comfortably on an acre of land.
A tennis court is 2,800 square feet, so fifteen and a half tennis courts just about fill an acre. You can just go ahead and say that sixteen tennis courts are an acre.
If you were going to fill an acre with parking spots at the typical size of 10 feet x 18 feet (180 square feet), you could fit 242 parking spaces—that’s without turning or driving lanes, just back-to-back parking spaces.
By the way, if you’ve ever wondered how much land a yoke of oxen could plow in a day, the answer is an acre. In fact, that’s where the word “acre” comes from. The Middle English word “aker” essentially meant “field.”
How much is an acre of land worth?
There’s no way to generalize how much an acre of land is worth or to accurately predict land price per acre without getting a lot more specific.
The questions add up quickly.
Is the land in the city? Is it even near a road system? Is it ready for crops to grow? Is there a house on the land? Do you want to build one? What’s nearby? How’s the view? How many people want to buy this land?
One often-cited study of the comparative value of an acre of land in different states comes from the findings of a 2015 report from economist William Larson. Larson tells us that the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) have 1.9 billion acres of land and it’s valued at nearly $23 trillion, which is an average of about $12,000 per acre.
In the report, Larson summarizes the difficulty of assigning value to land: “While farmland quantities and values have been regularly tracked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) since the 19th century, urban land is typically transacted as part of a bundle including structures and other improvements, making separated land value data difficult to estimate and tabulate. Because the most valuable land is in cities, the issue of land-structure value separability is fundamental to national land value accounting.”
So, essentially, the fact that we typically buy land together with houses or other buildings makes it tricky to understand the value of the land itself.
Larson reports that land in the most valuable state is worth more than 100 times more than land in the least valuable state.
States with the lowest land value
- Wyoming, $1,558 value per acre
- New Mexico, $1,931 value per acre
- Nevada, $2,116 value per acre
- South Dakota, $2,135 value per acre
- Montana, $2,283 value per acre
- North Dakota, $2,517 value per acre
- Nebraska, $2,936 value per acre
- Idaho, $3,435 value per acre
- Kansas, $4,220 value per acre
- Arizona, $4,328 value per acre
States with the highest land value
- New Jersey, $196,410 value per acre
- Rhode Island, $133,730 value per acre
- Connecticut, $128,824 value per acre
- Massachusetts, $102,214 value per acre
- Maryland, $75,429 value per acre
- Delaware, $57,692 value per acre
- New York, $41,314 value per acre
- California, $39,092 value per acre
- Ohio, $32,077 value per acre
- Pennsylvania, $31,923 value per acre
What changes the value of an acre of land?
The development of land is the most important factor in its value. More than half of the value of the land in the contiguous US belongs to only 6% of the acreage, because that acreage is developed with roads and buildings (from Larson’s report).
The value of an acre of land changes depending on a group of factors. Let’s take a look at five of them.
- Location. As you’d expect, land in urban areas tends to be more valuable than land in a rural or suburban area, and land on the east or west coast is typically the most valuable. Farmland has its own considerations, and we’ll explore some of those below. Supply and demand play a big part in how location affects the value of land.
- Infrastructure. Aside from urban vs suburban vs exurban vs rural areas, the accessibility of the land matters for its value. Are there paved roads? Sewers? Is it on the grid?
- What the land can be used for. Whether you’re thinking about earthquake readiness or other environmental factors to determine if you can build a house, or you’re more concerned with irrigation for growing crops, the type of land and what it’s prepared for has a big effect on its value. Topography is an important factor here.
- Economic activity. Just like a house, the value of land goes up depending on market conditions. Just as you’d expect a house in San Francisco to cost more than one in most places, expect land in bustling areas to cost more.
- The view. Even if two plots of land are adjacent to one another, what each allows you to see may make one more valuable than the other.
The price of an acre of residential land
One popular reason to think about the price of an acre of land is curiosity about building a home on a currently empty plot of land or a plot with a structure that’s ready to be taken down.
To understand residential land prices, we reviewed The Price of Residential Land for Counties, ZIP codes, and Census Tracts in the United States (Working Paper 19-01) from The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). This paper, by a team that also includes William Larson, uses the data from millions of appraisals between 2012 and 2019 to estimate residential land prices. We used version 3.0, updated October of 2020.
To share this data in the simplest way, we’re giving you the state-level rankings as they were gathered in pooled cross-sectional estimates with the base year of 2015.
States with the most affordable residential land (as-is)
- Mississippi, $39,400 per acre
- Arkansas, $47,200 per acre
- West Virginia, $53,800 per acre
- Alabama, $63,200 per acre
- Indiana, $72,200 per acre
- Oklahoma, $76,800 per acre
- Tennessee, $78,900 per acre
- Kentucky, $82,500 per acre
- Kansas, $88,300 per acre
- Iowa, $89,100 per acre
States with the most expensive residential land (as-is)
- District of Columbia, $4,140,100 per acre
- New York, $2,163,600 per acre
- Hawaii, $2,049,200 per acre
- California, $1,832,300 per acre
- New Jersey, $689,000 per acre
- Massachusetts, $573,000 per acre
- Washington, $450,800 per acre
- Maryland, $435,800 per acre
- Colorado, $416,400 per acre
- Oregon, $413,200 per acre
Is land worth more than the house on the land?
The FHFA research cited above shows that land prices rose faster than house prices in large metropolitan areas over this time period. In smaller metropolitan areas, the opposite was true.
Hawaii is the state where land takes the biggest share of property value, with the FHFA research showing that it accounted for 62% of property value in 2019. At the other end of the spectrum, North Dakota had a land share of only 18% of property value.
The value of an acre of farmland
Acreage is important for farmland, and interest in growing crops or raising livestock is another popular reason to explore the value of an acre of land in different parts of the country.
If you’re considering buying land to start a farm, there are several definitions to understand first.
- What qualifies as a farm? Typically, if you sell more than $1,000 worth of agricultural products per year, you have a farm.
- The value of overall farm real estate. This is what we focus on in the data below. “Farm real estate value” refers to the value a farm could be sold at under market conditions at the time of the report (August 2020), including both land and buildings (including homes) used for agricultural production.
- The value of cropland. Cropland includes not only land used to grow crops, but also land harvested for hay. It may be irrigated or non-irrigated. Non-irrigated land only receives water by rainfall. Irrigated cropland is worth more. For example, Texas irrigated cropland was valued at $2,360 per acre in 2020, versus non-irrigated cropland at $1,980 per acre (from USDA - NASS). The 2020 US average value excluding Alaska and Hawaii was $4,100 per acre.
- The value of pasture, grazing, and grassland. This type of land is typically grazed by livestock. Overall, the US excluding Alaska and Hawaii, the average for 2020 was $1,400 per acre. The southeast has the highest value pasture land, at a 2020 average value of $4,230 per acre.
To understand the value of an acre of farmland, we reviewed the Land Values 2020 Summary from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).
Overall, in 2020 NASS reports that the average farm real estate value in the US (excluding AK and HI) in 2020 was $3,160 per acre. This number has risen 73% since 2006, when the average came in at $1,830 per acre.
2020 farm real estate value by region (lowest to highest value)
- Mountain (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, WY), $1,240 per acre (AZ, NM, UT exclude American Indian Reservation land)
- Southern Plains (OK, TX), $2,110 per acre
- Northern Plains (KS, NE, ND, SD), $2,120 per acre
- Delta States (AK, LA, MS), $3,130 per acre
- Southeast (AL, FL, GA, SC), $4,120 per acre
- Appalachian (KY, NC, TN, VA, WV), $4,140 per acre
- Lake States (MI, MN, WI), $4,860 per acre
- Northeast (CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT), $5,710 per acre
- Pacific (CA, OR, WA), $5,910 per acre
- Corn Belt (IL, IN, IA, MO, OH), $6,110 per acre
Now you know quite a bit about land value
While the value of an acre depends on many factors, you now know that location, development, infrastructure, what the land is ready to be used for, and nearby economic activity are key to understanding the value of land. You also know how to answer people who want to know how to visualize the size of an acre: it’s a little smaller than an American football field and you could line up 16 tennis courts or 242 parking spaces in it.
FAQ about the size and cost of an acre of land
What is a good price per acre?
A “good” price to buy an acre will depend on what you want to use it for and where it’s located. The price per an acre of land varies depending on factors including location, development, infrastructure, what the land is ready to be used for, and nearby economic activity. According to a 2015 report from economist William Larson, the average value per acre for land in the contiguous United States is $12,000 per acre.
How many football fields is an acre?
An American football field is about 10% larger than one acre. An acre is 43,569 square feet and a football field is 48,000 square feet.
How much does one acre mean?
One acre is 43,569 square feet. You could fit 16 tennis courts in one acre. You could also fit 242 parking spaces.
How many houses can fit on five acres?
Eighteen 2,400 square foot houses can fit on one acre comfortably, so five acres can fit about 90 houses.
How many acres is one mile by one mile?
One square mile is 640 acres.
Cover photo image by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com