When it's handled the right way, investing in real estate and acquiring properties is a smart financial decision. With many people rethinking their employment and lifestyle in light of the global pandemic, it should come as no surprise that there's been an increase in interest in agricultural endeavors.
If you've dreamed of buying a ranch, here are five tips to turn that dream into a reality:
Determine the Location
First, determine where you want to purchase a ranch, creating a shortlist based on the best agricultural regions. Determine whether specific areas are a deal-breaker for you or if location trumps all else. Some of the most common areas to purchase a ranch include:
Wyoming is known for its breezy plains, rushing rivers, mountainous terrain, and, of course, Yellowstone National Park— 96% of which is located in Wyoming.
The Cowboy State offers some of the best hunting grounds for deer, elk, antelope and wild turkey, making it an ideal location for aspiring ranchers to start a hunting ranch. As this state also prioritizes conservation, securing hunting tags can be challenging. One of the benefits of owning a ranch in Wyoming is that property owners with over 160+ contiguous acres are eligible for two tags per species per year. While the Wyoming hunting regulations outline additional considerations and requirements, it's a big draw for recreational property investors.
Another huge benefit of purchasing a ranch in Wyoming as your permanent residence is the lack of state income tax, including personal and corporate. Additionally, this state boasts some of the lowest sales tax rates in the country.
Ranchland in Wyoming tends to be more affordable than other locations, but it comes with a caveat. The climate and distance from towns are often contributing factors to lower prices. The rocky terrain isn't ideal for many crops, but could be suitable for a small herd of cattle.
Interest in Montana ranch property has increased significantly in recent years, and for good reasons. Montana has a strong agricultural economy and culture, boasting over 27,000 farms that span over 60 million acres. These properties generate over $4.6 billion in annual revenue in total.
Land value is also on the rise, making Montana ranchlands ideal for property investors looking for a strong return on their investment. Thanks to the Rocky Mountains, Montana also offers a unique division of subcultures. The land in Western Montana tends to experience higher demand and prices due to the stunning scenery and access to more societal resources. Eastern Montana boasts the Great Plains, small rural communities and lower prices.
As Montana has become so desirable, you may pay more for less acreage, especially if you purchase a property close to tourist destinations.
Colorado is known for its diverse wild ecosystems and incredible scenery. From rich forests to awe-inspiring mountains, this state has it all. As the land in Colorado is so versatile, so is its ranching potential. Depending on your goals, you could have a cattle ranch, equestrian property, recreational fishing and hunting property, farm, or unique conservation property.
The Centennial State offers tax exemptions for agricultural properties, conservation properties, and mineral rights. There are unique opportunities for designating land for sustainable energy production, such as solar or wind power. Recently, the federal government introduced new tax incentives and grants for property owners to protect their water rights or minimize development. This incentive is a beneficial conservation effort for current and future property investors.
Oregon is an oft-overlooked treasure trove for aspiring ranchers who prefer coastal living. Despite being on the coast, Oregon still offers invaluable ranchlands for property investors and working farmers to consider.
If your primary goal is sport hunting, Oregon is the place to invest. Home to trophy-quality elk and mule deer, Oregon is known for offering great landowner hunting permits. The creeks and rivers in Oregon are also rich with wide-mouth bass and trout for sport fishing, making it the ideal location for a recreational property.
Many properties in Oregon also offer more eco-diversity than other ranchlands. Your property may have fields, forests, and mountains. However, finding a suitable farming property in Oregon is a challenge. While some spaces are ideal for a small cattle farm, it's not the best location for those aiming to grow significant crops.
Nebraska is the ideal destination for aspiring ranchers who wish to generate income through production - specifically corn or cattle. If your goal is to run a working farm, Nebraska is known for having higher outputs and higher profits than other ranching states. However, those profits also come with higher property taxes. Most ranchers find this trade-off worth the expense when considering the overall income and low cost of living.
Land in Nebraska can also be more expensive than other destinations because continued profitability is considered in the cost. This land should be considered a business investment rather than a relaxing, recreational retirement plan.
In many ways, New Mexico offers the best of the new and old worlds. The cities are developing with investments from celebrities and innovative tech moguls. Meanwhile, the rural lands remain fertile and undeveloped, making it an up-and-coming destination for property investors.
The diverse terrain in New Mexico offers opportunities for investors of all sorts, whether you're considering a working farm or a recreational hunting and fishing haven. Land values are considerable, though often more affordable than neighboring states. New Mexico also boasts reasonable property taxes, which is a big draw for potential land investors.
Many properties in New Mexico feel isolated and private with the convenience of major towns and cities in proximity. You can't beat the New Mexico climate, which is known for being arid with minimal humidity and sunny most of the time.
If you have a specific area in mind but haven't researched all of the options, take some time to do so. You might be surprised by what you discover about different regions and their opportunities. For example, many dreamers get fixated on Texas, but there are beautiful, affordable properties in places like Idaho and beyond the borders of Argentina and Chile.
Outside the United States
Many forward-thinking property investors are also exploring opportunities south of the border, with Patagonia in mind. These properties are beautiful, untouched, and often more affordable than their American counterparts.
Choose the Type of Property
It's also important to consider what type of property you want. In other words, what will you use the property for? Ranches offer a diverse array of functionalities and property types - you can own anything from a cattle ranch to hunting property.
As you explore your options, look at local regulations and limitations. Depending on the land, there may be conservation laws that limit your usage options. Some properties will have access to amazing fishing rivers, while others will be mountainous and wild without winter access. Understanding what you want from a property is a must.
Some of the most common ranch property types include:
Investing in a working ranch is ideal for those who hope to generate income with their property investment. However, it's not as simple and straightforward as Hollywood portrayals of ranching have made it out to be.
When exploring the opportunity of a cattle ranch, it's important to understand the impacts of your local climate and terrain. Some areas are suitable for year-round operations, while others are only fully operational during the summer months.
Understanding the carrying capacity (measured in AU, or Animal Units) is also integral for calculating land needs, profit margins and waste, etc. Everything from water rights to soil quality will impact your working cattle ranch, and you'll need a strong team to oversee operations.
In essence, purchasing a cattle ranch means purchasing an agricultural business operation.
Equestrian properties are a niche investment, often appealing to horse lovers who wish to spend their days surrounded by the creatures they love rather than relying on the income. Diverse income streams are a necessity for developing a profitable equestrian property, exploring options such as boarding, training and breeding, etc. Interested investors should take a close look at the property's history and records before making a decision.
In many ways, purchasing a working farm is different than perceptions of ranch ownership. As with cattle ranching, operating a farm is a nuanced agricultural business that takes care and dedication to be profitable.
Investors interested in purchasing a farming property should pay close attention to the climate, soil quality, crop history, and water availability, etc. Working with a knowledgeable broker is a must when investing in a farming property.
While farming properties can be strong income-generators and offer several agricultural tax breaks, they're not ideal for those who rely solely on this source of income. Working ranches are better for portfolio diversification or long-term legacy investments.
Hunting and Fishing Properties
Purchasing a recreational hunting or fishing property is a fun way to invest in land without worries about short-term profits. This option is common among those whose main interest is a long-term property investment or retirement destination.
When considering a hunting and fishing property, it's important to consider your preferred species and style. Understanding your overarching goals will help you determine where to buy land. It's also important to understand the migratory patterns and seasonality of your preferred species.
Interested investors should also investigate the public land access of the properties they're exploring. Access to public land can be positive, as many hunters utilize that space, thus driving herds to the private lands as a refuge. However, it can also lead to property disputes and trespassing.
Perhaps most important of all, it's also essential to understand the legalities around permits and tags - you want to confirm that you can actually hunt on your hunting property! Many states offer landowner tags and access to co-operative programs for conservation.
Water access is another consideration to keep in mind. Some states have stream access laws that treat any waterway as public land. In essence, anyone who wants to fish is allowed to travel along your waterway and cast a line, and you're afforded the same privilege. Other states treat waterways as private property. You should determine whether this matters to you, and choose a location based on your needs.
When purchasing a sport fishing property, you'll also need to evaluate the ecosystem, environmental impacts on waterways, and species health and resiliency.
Finally, consider your responsibilities as a hunting or fishing property owner. You want to ensure there's ample food and shelter for the animals so they continue to come back to your property.
Investing in a conservation property can be an incredible investment, both monetarily and environmentally. While your development and usage options are limited, you'll be preserving the beautiful land that you love. Furthermore, your efforts will gain you access to grants and tax breaks.
It's important to understand that investing in a conservation property doesn't necessarily limit you from hunting, fishing or farming. This feature typically means that there's a legal, voluntary conservation easement on your property. This easement restricts development, certain farming practices, mining, the subdivision of the property, and tree removal.
Most conservation easements are permanent. As a buyer, this means that you'll inherit the easement with the property. However, lands with conservation easements are generally more affordable as the development potential is limited. This type of property is ideal for those who want to experience life on a ranch and appreciate what the natural world has to offer.
While the concept of sharing your land with another owner may be off-putting, there are several benefits to a shared ranch property, and it's more common than you might think.
Shared ranches are most common in recreational and sporting properties, allowing multiple owners to utilize and benefit from the ranch. This type of ranch ownership also helps owners share the costs and upkeep while reaping the benefits. Shared ranches also help with income generation, creating a luxury retreat that offers a taste of ranch ownership without sacrificing relaxation and fun.
Typically, shared ranches offer smaller, private parcels of land and access within the larger ranch property, boasting shared spaces and common areas. You essentially purchase a share of the ranch and agree to abide by the covenants as you would with residential land development. Some shared ranches even implement an HOA agreement.
The benefit of this type of investment is that you get to experience ranch ownership without as much risk or cost implications. The downside, of course, is that you're sharing ownership with others and agreeing to community rules.
It's important to understand that shared ranches aren't like timeshares; your private parcel of land is deeded to you. The demand for shared ranch properties has increased dramatically in recent years and promises continued value if you choose to sell in the future.
Work With a Broker
Purchasing a ranch is a significant investment. As such, it's integral to ensure everything is handled properly and no corners are cut. That's why working with skilled ranch brokers is recommended.
A broker service will have the knowledge and team to facilitate the property search and transaction for your ranch. Many brokerage teams have access to conservation experts, land attorneys, and agricultural lenders to help navigate the process professionally. Additionally, brokers have contact with both buyers and sellers to streamline the vetting and negotiation process.
When vetting a broker, there are a few key characteristics to look for - primarily experience and expertise. You want to work with someone who has brokered the sales of ranches in your desired location, and knows what green and red flags to look for. Ideally, your broker will have personal experience with ranch ownership so they can provide real-world insights and advice.
Some of the best questions to ask a ranch broker include:
- How long have you been a ranch broker?
- Where have you sold properties?
- What types of properties have you worked with?
- What was your most challenging sale?
- What's your personal experience with owning a ranch?
- What percentage of your real estate sales are ranch or farm properties?
- What is your experience with [desired property type]?
- Who is on your team, and what value do they add?
- Will I be working with you personally or with team members?
- Do you work with sellers as well? Is there exclusivity?
- What's your commission rate?
- Do you have references I can speak to?
- Why should I choose you over other brokers?
As purchasing a ranch is a significant investment, the value of working with a skilled broker can't be overstated. Take your time in finding the right fit to protect your investment.
Understand the Financial Implications
While purchasing a ranch is a significant investment, running and maintaining it also requires an ongoing financial commitment. Of course, the depth of that financial commitment will vary depending on the type of ranch, personnel needs, and whether or not you have livestock, etc.
One of the most significant factors impacting the cost of your ranch will be the size and location, both concerning the state and location within the state. Two nearby ranches of the same size may be priced quite differently due to their access to desirable amenities. For example, access to public lands - a national park, for example - will drive up the value and cost of your ranch. Your proximity to towns or cities with stores and tourist attractions will also increase the cost and value over time.
Access to water and mineral rights will also drive up the cost of your property, while conservation easements lower the cost. The potential for income production and sporting access, etc., all play a role in the costs and upkeep of your property.
Take some time to understand the operational costs and extra fees associated with the property you're exploring. Your broker can request financial records on your behalf so you have a more accurate picture of the undertaking - similar to reviewing utility bills before buying a house.
It's also important to understand both the lending and taxation processes. You can't get a traditional mortgage to purchase an agricultural property, which means looking for an ag-friendly lender. While there are tax perks to owning agricultural land, they're typically offset by the costs of running a ranch. Investors tend to underestimate the financial commitment and work involved, while overestimating gross income and tax-saving potential.
Research and Ask Questions
Buying a ranch shouldn't be an impulse decision, no matter your financial situation. Take the time to research and understand what the process entails and what's expected of you as a property owner. If you've recently started watching a show about owning a ranch and decided it's the life for you, take a step back.
One of the biggest mistakes aspiring ranch investors make is letting their impatience get the best of them. The market has shifted in recent years, increasing demand for ranch properties and decreasing the available supply. It's better to wait for the right property than to purchase something that doesn't fit your goals. Take some time, outline your goals and vision for the property, and wait for the right one to appear. Listen to your broker when they tell you that this property isn't the right one for you.
While patience is essential, it's also important to be prepared. Buying a ranch in a seller's market is a "hurry up and wait" situation. It's integral to know what you want and understand the terminology and legalities, so you can pull the trigger immediately when the right property appears. This aspect of investing in a ranch is another reason why working with a broker is so important. Do your research and ask questions early on, so you can strike while the iron is hot.
If you're considering purchasing a ranch, keep these core considerations in mind. Finding a reputable broker to guide you through the process is of the utmost importance when trying to purchase a ranch - especially in a seller's market.
It's also integral to practice patience, do your research, and take the time to understand everything before investing. With the right care and consideration, you can invest in an amazing property and live your dream of owning a ranch.