That's a hard call, in many ways it depends on the type / quality of tree on the existing land. Water is also a serious consideration.
Turning barren land into a functional permaculture system is a real coupe, but it costs money and time to do it; IMO it's the ultimate permaculture objective. You get to plan and restructure every portion of the property, envision every tree and plant in a perfect design of your own choice, you get to restructure the world.
A "complete forest" would have trees and plants of value. Cutting down trees and leaving grazing or silviculture paths would provide an income and set you up for a developing structure with more mature trees and plants that might take 20-40 years to develop in other systems. What you have left is an in-place forage system, solid wind breaks, awesome shadows and fresh clean edges. You'll also have market wood, firewood, hugelkultur fiber and mulch.
I'd go for the forest from a personal point of view, trees have value if you can find or develop a market. All hardwoods have a market (prepared and dried), pine and fir have a building market if they are thick and straight, softwoods have markets but I'm less familiar with them. All that wood dries and burns properly (please don't burn the good stuff).
for me it would depend on what my goals where for the land. what it is I am wanting to do. I did end up buying land that is in a forest and I love it but my goal was a home and place to grow food for my family. I am also a fiber artist and this forest happens to have many nativedye plants growing in it that are useful for me. If I was wanting to grow food for profit I would not have bought this house and land. I don't need to many any money from my property so I can just enjoy it as it is if I want to. I can I think make profit from the dye plants and growing mushrooms here and probably in may other ways. many of the trees here are protected so I can't use them for lumber or anything but I enjoy them and love living surrounded by them.
That's a hard question given there are no specifics on the use of the land.
I'd want the land to be use able (not a swamp, not a rock outcrop, not super sloped, etc).
I'd want it far enough out that I am reasonably sure I can live my lifetime without encroachment of commercial or housing developments that may force you out.
I'd want some treed areas for deer and wildlife. I'd want some flatland pasture for sheep. I'd look at what amenities are on site (well, utilities, structures, creeks, ponds, fences). Many of these are expensive to install but add little to the cost if already there.
I'm in a climate that needs very little heat, so firewood is not a necessity for me.
Find the land you can afford, let us talk you out of it, or into it based on what you want. We're not invested in the purchase and can give a more objective opinion on your goals VS the property IF you give a good analysis of the property and your goals.
"Barren land" is a bit vague. My understanding of "barren land" would normally be land with minimal life upon it. That is a pretty extreme situation and not one I would want to be starting from. Even if you intended something more along the lines of recently monocultured farmland, I think I would still be opting for the established forest.
Several reasons, not the least of which is Time. If there is a forest with mature trees in place, I am decades ahead of where I would be planting my trees in open land. If there is a mature forest, I can thin it out while acquiring building materials for very low cost. this saves me money along with time.
Sure, the existing forest may push me in certain directions with my development of the property. Absence of forest would also push in certain, but different, directions, so that is a wash imo.
Existing forest likely lends itself to immediate use for appropriate livestock, while "barren land" may require time before you even have capacity for grazing. Again, time, availability of yield.
Turning an existing forest into a food forest and sylvo pasture system could be done in less time than developing one from "barren land" or just open land. You already have in place nurse trees. You almost certainly would have some trees that you would be intending to grow in your system that were already there, whether they were nitrogen fixers that you might plan on taking out or fruit/nut trees that you would be harvesting some years down the road, or fuel, or building materials.
With an extant forest you get to do some subtractive development, extracting a yield as you prepare it for your development path.
I think it generally puts you years ahead of starting from barren/open land. And of course this could vary depending upon all sorts of details of climate, location, etc.
I am quite sure that for the cool temperate regions I have in mind for developing my permaculture dreams, an extant forest would be a great benefit.
this is supposed to be a surprise, but it smells like a tiny ad: