What Is My Timber Worth, and How Do I Sell It?

Visitors to our timber and log price information on the web page are often looking for answers to two simple questions: "What is my timber worth?", and "What's the best way to sell my trees?" Below we talk about how to answer these questions.

What Is My Timber Worth?

Sitting here in our offices of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, it would be difficult for us to estimate what your timber or logs are worth. This is for at least five possible reasons.

  • First, even though statewide or regional prices can provide a taste of the level and trends of prices, what your timber is worth is somewhat dependent on local market conditions. If your timber grows near a lot of mills, your timber might command a higher price than if the timber were far from mills or close to only one or two mills.
  • Second, a timber stand's value is dependent on the species, sizes, and qualities of the trees growing in it. A large, top quality black cherry, for example, would command a significant price premium as a veneer log, while limby and crooked sweetgum might be priced as pulpwood.
  • Third, the value of timber depends heavily on how much timber is sold in one timber sale and what kind of harvesting is done. Often, the larger the sale, the higher the price per unit of wood that can be offered. It can be more costly per unit of wood removed to cut only a few, selected trees, rather than cut most or all trees in the stand. The greater the harvest expense per tree, the less the harvester may be willing to pay for the trees.
  • Fourth, what a timber buyer will pay for your trees depends on the conditions of the site in which they are growing, which affects how expensive it is to remove them and haul them to a mill. Variables such as distance from the stand to the nearest road, slope, soil wetness, and whether temporary bridges need to be built across streams all can affect operational costs of harvesters and hence what they might be willing to pay to harvest a stand of trees.
  • Fifth and finally, state and local timber harvesting and management practices laws can affect what kind of harvesting equipment can be used, how close harvests can come to streams, and what contingencies must be made if there are local populations of vulnerable or legally protected plant or animal species in your area. All of those things can affect how much wood can be removed and the operational costs of harvesting. Higher costs translate into lower prices offered.

There are, however, several ways you can obtain information about the value of your timber:

  • First, you can call on the free or low-cost services of state or university personnel. In some states, you can contact your state service forester, who might work for the state Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, or Forestry Commission. One way to locate these foresters is by visiting the National Association of State Foresters website, with links to state service forestry agencies. Or, you can contact your Forestry Extension or county Agricultural Service agent. Extension Forestry personnel are typically located at your state's Land Grant university, often in the Forestry Department. Agricultural Extension personnel work in county offices and can be found by searching in your local phone book. Alternatively, you can visit the website of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, which contains links to every state's free services, often including forestry assistance by professional foresters.
  • Second, you can contact a professional forestry consultant. These experts provide a wide variety of services for a fee: tree planting advice, forest management, timber cruising (determining timber value), and timber sale preparation and supervision.

    Forestry consultants can be found in the Yellow Pages of your telephone book, listed under "Foresters-Consulting", "Forestry Consultants", "Foresters", or even "Timberland Companies." Also, some state forestry organizations maintain lists of licensed and/or certified professional forestry consultants--the best kind of consultant. Again, to see these lists, visit the National Association of State Foresters website. Links are given to all State Foresters in the country.
  • Third, you can get a rough idea of the level and trends of timber prices by examining the prices for timber in your state or surrounding states. Our unit's website shows free price information for many states and other localities throughout the country. This page has recently been combined with our State Contacts page and now includes how to reach a State forestry specialist who knows about timber prices in your state.

"How Do I Sell My Timber?"

Our recommendations on how to sell timber are similar to those for determining what timber is worth:

  • First, you can contact your service or County Agricultural Extension or Forestry Extension agent. Service forestry personnel are often located within the state Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, or Forestry Commission. Extension Forestry personnel are typically located at your local Land-Grant university in the Forestry Department. Alternatively, you can visit the website of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, which contains links to every state's free services, often including forestry assistance by professional foresters.
  • Second, you can contact a professional forestry consultant. These experts provide a wide variety of services for a fee: tree planting advice, forest management, timber cruising (determining timber value), and timber sale preparation and supervision.

One last bit of caution. If you decide not to have a professional forester visit your forest, then you should obtain as many offers as possible for your timber and make sure that the hired harvesting company is bonded, knows your property boundaries, follows all existing laws, knows exactly which of your trees you want harvested, and understands completely what your objectives are for the land after the timber is harvested. Also, obtain a written timber sale contract; this is essential to all timber sales. Michigan State University's Forestry Extension offers an example contract with discussion that illustrates what we mean. Our free timber price information page also now includes links to sample timber contracts for the most viewed states.

Selling timber is not simple, and there are many potential ways in which a landowner working without professional forestry expertise can be taken advantage of. Several scientific studies have shown that timber sellers who hire a professional forestry consultant to organize the sale end up with profits equal to or greater than profits accruing to timber owners who do not hire a professional forestry consultant, even after subtracting out the consulting fee. (one consultant study). Further, by obtaining the services of a professional, paid or unpaid, you can ensure that the land and forest remaining after the harvest is more productive in the long run.