Western Ranches Area Orientation
Economic Incentives For Prospective Western Ranch Real Estate BuyersWhen Tony Royal bought the Spotted Horse Ranch south of Jackson Hole in 1998, the ex-banker from Atlanta was looking for a Western ranch where his family, friends and business associates could gather. But in acquiring the 43-acre Western ranch bisected by the Hoback River, Royal and his partner wound up becoming conservation stewards. They have improved fish habitat and installed a catch-and-release policy, changes that have spurred a dramatic increase in the native trout population. Now, in addition to treating his guests of his Western and Wyoming ranch to prime fishing, hunting, hiking and horseback riding, Royal takes added satisfaction in seeing bald eagles snatching fish from his ponds.
A conservation philosophy “has to be a part” of the decision to buy a Western ranch, says Royal. He and his family were swayed by “the wonderful ethic you find in this valley,” he says. ”It’s something you don’t often find in other parts of the country – a love for the outdoors, the scenery, the beautiful atmosphere.”
Royal’s experience reflects a shift the Western ranching industry has seen in the last 30 years, from raising livestock as a livelihood to running cattle as a lifestyle. Western ranch buyers, once focused on the bottom line of how many head an acre could support, now reap a return on the long-term appreciation of the property. The potential for recreation and conservation outweighs the productivity of the land often for buyers of Western ranches.
The Spotted Horse Ranch is small by Western ranching standards, but is huge for Jackson Hole-area properties. In Nevada, where arid land supports few cattle or horses, 10,000 acres is the average size. But because 97 percent of the land in Teton County, Wyo., is public land managed by the federal government, finding a parcel large enough for a typical Western ranch can be difficult.
What makes a Western ranch? Greg Fay, owner of Fay Ranches, a brokerage based in Bozeman, Mont., jokes that a ranch in Jackson could be three acres. “To some degree, the definition of a ranch is in the mind of the person who made the purchase,” Fay says. While Western ranches generally have an agricultural component, Fay says, today that takes a back seat to trout streams, trails and wildlife habitat. Ranches in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming afford ranch buyers space and security - two increasingly precious commodities in our society. Since Sept. 11, 2001, “there has been more of a sense of wanting to escape, to get a little insulation from the coasts and any perceived threat there,” Fay says.
While land for Western ranches does not come cheap, buyers of Western ranches can take solace in the old adage that no more of it is being built. The economic slowdown of 2001-02 brought down Western ranch prices by as much as 20 percent, meaning the opportunity is ripe for finding good value. Even when the recent price drop is factored in, over the last 15 or 20 years Western ranch properties have appreciated at the rate of 5 percent to 15 percent a year, says one Montana ranch and real estate broker. Americans’ unquenching desire for privacy will only drive up demand for the remaining open spaces in the West.
To help city folks make the transition to cow pokes, some brokerages have their own ranch management companies to handle acquisition of livestock, construction of facilities, habitat enhancement and hiring of employees. Other brokers will offer advice and steer clients to the appropriate contractors. This expertise allows Western ranch buyers thousands of miles away to know their property is well taken care of.
While Western ranching has lost its luster as a profit-generating enterprise, there are economic incentives for prospective Western ranch buyers to consider. Conservation easements allow landowners to receive tax breaks in exchange for giving up development rights; on a $1 million ranch, that could mean an income tax savings of $160,000. Agricultural subsidies provide additional financial benefits. Conservation easements have proven to be an effective tool in land preservation. “Regardless of their philosophical stance, once we educate their accountant, [ranch buyers] are usually pretty quickly on board with the conservation easement concept,” says owner-broker Fay.
Western ranchers today face fewer hardships than their forbearers. Advances in technology and a shift to a more service-based economy have allowed people to escape the crowding of the cities and make a living on the open range. With the Internet, cell phones, faxes and FedEx, professionals can do business just about anywhere – even within walking distance of some of America's most pristine public lands. The payoff of ranching may fluctuate, but the romance never wanes. “It’s an emotional buy,” says Fay. When he takes a client to a ranch, he will watch and read the reaction. “A person walks out on a ranch, and it just feels right to them,” he says. “It’s what they’ve always envisioned." //
Relative Humidity: %
Heat Index: ° F
Wind Chill: ° F