"Our family placed a conservation easement on our land, not only to preserve some of the Hill Country in its natural state, but also to maintain water quality in streams, and reduce demands on underwater supplies...As more rural land is developed around Austin and other major cities, it becomes more difficult to maintain water quality and quantity in Texas."
-Howard Hicks - conserved his property, Pike Davis Ranch, with the TLC in 2011
Step 1. Preliminary Discussion
Your first step should be to call us 512.301.6363. You want to be sure that you feel confident and comfortable with our mission and our compatibility with your goals. We will ask you for some basic information during this initial phone call, including location, size, interesting species, current land use, your future goals, etc. Landowner Questionnaire
Step 2. Site Visit
After initial discussions, we like to make an on-the-ground visit and conduct an initial evaluation to assess if TLC can help in conserving your property. Typically, our Executive Director and a member of our Stewardship Staff will visit with you, tour the property, take photos and ask you questions about the property itself and your conservation goals. This visit can be scheduled at your convenience.
Step 3. Board Approval
As a non-profit organization, we are governed by a Board of Directors, which sets the strategic direction of our mission and focus. The Board must also approve each conservation easement project. Following the site visit, our staff will present your project to the Board for their approval.
Step 4. Independent Legal Advice
TLC does not provide legal or financial advice. We strongly recommend that landowners acquire legal representation and consult a financial advisor to understand the specifics of conservation easements as well as the tax implications of an easement. We will be happy to refer you to people we have worked with successfully in the past.
Step 5. Easement Drafting
Drafting the easement itself is typically a negotiation between your legal representation and ours. Once the landowner has provided basic ideas for future property management, the landowner's legal representative and TLC work together to draft a conservation easement specific to the property. Because a conservation easement is essentially a deed restriction, the easement will remain attached to the title of your property in perpetuity, even if you choose to sell your land. Therefore, it is essential that we work with you to create a strong document that provides adequate protection to the conservation values of your land, while at the same time, enough flexibility that you and your heirs can continue to live and work on your land. A sample conservation easement can be viewed here.
Step 6. Appraisal
Once the easement is drafted and acceptable to both parties, a qualified independent appraiser will assess the value of the easement donation. A qualified appraisal is one that has been prepared by an appraiser who follows Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. The appraiser will assess the value of your property with and without a conservation easement. The difference between these two values is considered the value of the easement donation. This step is a requirement for any landowner who intends to take an income tax deduction from the donation of an easement and is the financial responsibility of the landowner. We will be happy to refer you to qualified appraisers.
Step 7. Baseline Documentation Report
Part of the easement process is documenting the condition and ecological variables present on the property. This report is called a Baseline Document Report (BDR). It contains the property's historic and present land uses, including agriculture, man-made features, ecological features, wildlife use and habitats, soils, hydrology, geology, and scenic values. The most important part of the BDR is the documentation of the conservation values of the land, which are what the conservation easement itself is working to protect and what qualifies conservation easement donations to be tax deductible by the IRS. The BDR is required and the financial responsibility of the landowner. Landowners often contract TLC to do the BDR as we are familiar with your property and offer a very reasonable fee.
Step 8. Endowment
One of TLC's responsibilities in accepting an easement is conducting monitoring visits each year per IRS regulation. As part of the commitment to the perpetual monitoring of the property, TLC typically asks for a modest endowment with each easement donated. This is a one-time contribution, and is calculated using a standard formula, which includes property size, distance from our offices, preparation and reporting time, number of landowners, and several other items. This endowment is essentially a landowner's insurance policy to guarantee the long-term enforcement of the conservation easement.
Step 9. Executing Easement
Final approval for all easements rests with our Board of Directors. Once approval is granted, the easement is signed, notarized and recorded at the courthouse in the appropriate county.
Step 10. IRS Form
Donors who wish to take a charitable deduction for a gift of a conservation easement with a value in excess of $5,000 must report the value of such a gift on IRS Form 8283 (Noncash Charitable Contributions) and submit this form with your federal income tax return. TLC must sign this form. Donors who claim a deduction of more than $500,000 must attach a complete copy of a qualified appraisal to the tax return for the year in which the deduction is first claimed (see Appraisals section, above). While TLC does not take a position on the value of your gift, we will not knowingly participate in a project where we have significant concerns about the tax deduction.
Step 11. Monitoring
Once a year, a member of TLC's stewardship staff will contact you to schedule a monitoring visit to your conserved land. The staff member will spend 2-4 hours on the property to check that the easement is being enforced and the provisions being followed. Following the monitoring visit, the staff member will create a report of the property condition (a copy may be provided to you at your request) that will be kept in our offices. Our staff are experts in land management and, in addition to annual easement monitoring, will be available to you throughout your relationship with TLC stewardship and land management advice.