It sounds like a lot. Together, the country's top 100 largest landowners hold some 33 million acres, according to a new report from Fay Ranches. But that's less than 2 percent of America's landmass.
The big landholders increased their stakes by 700,000 acres in 2012. But together, that's still less than each of the top five owners hold in their own individual portfolios, according to Fay, a brokerage firm specializing in Western ranches for sale.
The top spot belongs to John Malone, chairman of Liberty Media, who owns 2.2 million acres. In 2012, Malone stepped outside the U.S. when he paid $9.5 million for 427 acres in Ireland, including a 38,000-square-foot castle.
Media mogul Ted Turner is the country's second-largest landholder, with 2 million acres. Last year, Turner, the largest individual landowner in New Mexico, added to his holdings with the acquisition of the Sierra Grand Lodge & Spa in Truth or Consequences, not far from two other Turner-owned ranches, the Ladder and the Armedias.
The Emmerson family is the third-largest landholder with 1.86 million acres, mostly in Northern California. They're followed by Brad Kelly, owner of Calumet Farms, with 1.85 million acres, and the Irving family, with 1.25 million acres.
One familiar name on the list is that of Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who bought the Washington Post earlier this year for $250 million. By virtue of his 2004 acquisition of the 290,000-acre Corn Ranch in western Texas -- where his aerospace firm, Blue Origin, tests lunar vehicles -- he's the nation's 25th-largest landowner.
Here's one more reason would-be borrowers would be wise to look over their loan applications before signing their names to the dotted line: Some loan officers are not as thorough as they should be.
In its review of thousands of loans, Quality Mortgage Services, a mortgage analytical firm that audits loan files on behalf of funding lenders, found errors in nearly one out of every five folders last year. That's somewhat better than the 22 percent error rate found in 2011, but even one miscue could slow down the loan process or cause your application to be denied.
The most frequent mistakes: incomplete borrower information, a list of liabilities that doesn't line up to the credit report, and missing signatures.
QMS also found a 16 percent error rate in the Good Faith Estimates lenders are required to provide potential borrowers within three days of taking their applications. Errors here -- such as missing fees -- tend to follow through to closing.
Again, that's an improvement over 2011's error rate. But loan agents are getting worse when it comes to mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Here, audits by the Brentwood, Tenn., firm revealed missing disclosures as required by the FHA or disclosures that were improperly prepared.
Local governments require an average of eight separate inspections before builders can turn over a completed house to their customers. That can slow the construction process down. But the real fly in the ointment is not inspections, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Rather, it's the plan review process that slows things down.
The NAHB believes the standard review of plans for a basic single-family house should take no longer than a week. Yet three out of every four builders in a recent survey said the process takes at least that long. And 35 percent said the process takes two or more weeks.
At the same time, 45 percent of the builders polled said the number of inspections required by the local authorities has increased over the past two years. Some said their typical home requires at least 15 different inspections.
Yet in relatively few cases did the number of examinations result in chronic delays. Only 8 percent said it takes their local building departments more than 48 hours to respond to a request for inspection.
To the extent there are delays, builders cite staff cutbacks as the primary reason. But whatever the case, says NAHB economist Paul Emrath, delays at the local building departments have emerged as just one more obstacle to delivering houses quickly, along with rising mortgage rates, labor shortages and the rising cost of building materials.