Have You Always Wanted a Cattle Ranch? More Than a Dozen on the Market in Central Oregon

Author: Joseph Ditzler
Published: Oct 26, 2014

The following article appeared in the Bend Bulletin on October 26, 2014. You can find the original article text here.

Bend, OR – The view from Western Sunsets Ranch, elevation 3,400 feet at the edge of the Ochoco Mountains northeast of Prineville, is impressive.

How impressive? Ask Sherrie Rhoden, who lives there.

“We can actually watch the Fourth of July fireworks in Bend, Redmond and Prineville from our upper deck,” she said recently.

The Rhodens, Sherrie and Ron, will part with the view, along with their 10,429-square-foot home and 320 acres that surround it, if and when the right buyer comes along. Western Sunsets, a former cattle ranch, is for sale with a listing price of $1.9 million.

Sherrie Rhoden said she and her husband decided it’s time to downsize. They would probably find a smaller home in Oregon, she said, but “our kids are grown, and they live in other places, and we’d like to be closer to them.”

The Rhodens’ property is among 15 farms and ranches for sale in Central Oregon, totaling more than 16,000 acres and a combined asking price of $26.7 million, according to broker listings. Much of that property, 8,000-plus acres’ worth, lies in Crook County. Real estate and agricultural experts say having that much land for sale is not out of the ordinary.

The timing of those properties becoming available marks a turning point in Central Oregon agriculture, however. Some properties belong to aging ranchers and farmers looking to retire, but the economics of ranching dictate that passing the operation to the next generation often isn’t feasible.

That creates an opportunity for individuals or corporations with deep pockets who want to check off an item on their bucket lists or consolidate their operations.

“Most of my sales are coming from, primarily, retiring ranchers and farmers,” said Jerry Hicks, a broker with Montana-based real-estate firm Fay Ranches Inc. “If you don’t have good estate-planning, between the … inheritance tax and trying to split the equity among successors, it’s usually the downfall of that ranch or farm.”

Hicks, who’s based in Prineville, brokered the sale of the Foley Butte Block — $18.5 million for 32,475 acres — to Stafford Ranches LLC, a corporation formed by the Stafford family of loggers and ranchers in Crook County. Another large, historic Crook County property, the Gutierrez Ranch, sold in August for $14.4 million to the owner of a chain of senior living communities based in Salem.

The previous owner, Arturo Gutierrez Sr., a Boston-area real estate developer in his 70s, bought the 21,500-acre spread in 1988. He decided to sell as his attention shifted closer to home, said Roger Dryden, of Crook County, who brokered the sale.

“It was just time,” said Gutierrez’s assistant, Carol Jones. “He’s getting older.”

Dryden and other brokers said the time is right to sell as real estate markets recover value lost in the recession. He also sees a generational shift in ranch ownership.

“A lot of big ranch owners have been at it a long time, and they’re long in the tooth,” Dryden said. “If the kids don’t want it, they’ll have to sell.”

Record high beef prices make ranching an attractive prospect. The retail price of choice-grade beef climbed to $5.92 per pound in September, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But ranching can be a tough proposition, especially if the new owner takes on some debt to make the purchase. The costs of fertilizer, power for irrigation systems, hay and other expenses have also increased, said Tim Deboodt, Oregon State University extension agent in Crook County.

Not many locals have the means to buy and maintain a going cattle operation, said Scott Cooper, former Crook County judge. During his tenure as the county administrator, he predicted that buyers who acquired ranches at age 55 or 60 would find in 10 years that ranching was a lot of work. Plus, he said, Crook County property has always attracted outside interest.

“We did a study of land ownership patterns in the east county; almost that entire part of the county is out-of-county ownership,” he said.

Hicks said California and Texas send the most prospective buyers to Oregon; the other states “are in a dead heat.” A ranch property in Central Oregon typically spends at least a year on the market, he said. Pricing a large ranch also can be a little more difficult than a house in a residential neighborhood, where recent nearby sales provide comparable values. Often, ranch prices get reduced.

“Most of them are going to people who had a bucket list and wanted to have a small ranch in their later years. They owned a construction company forever and always wanted to go back to the farm or ranch,” Hicks said.

Those for sale in Crook County range in size, from about 60 acres to more than 3,000, and in price, from around $600,000 to $3.2 million.

Ranches and farms have value as private hunting and fishing retreats, too. Landowner preference hunting tags mean a large property functions as a virtual hunting reserve, a virtue brokers advertise as part of the recreational aspect of ranch life.

Dry Creek Hunting Reserve, a 1,741-acre “game-hunting ranch” northeast of Prineville, according to a Fay Ranches brochure, comes with three hunting tags for mule deer and three for elk, for example.

“The big thing about these parcels are people tying up their own hunting block,” said Mike Warren Sr., a broker with Crook County Properties, Prineville. “A lot of these ranches sold in the past for just that reason.”

Oregon guarantees landowners tags for deer, elk and pronghorn antelope hunting that others acquire through a lottery.The landowner receives tags based on the acreage he or she owns, said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. A rancher with 10,000 acres, for example, is entitled to six tags for each hunt.

The owner may not sell the tags. However, a property owner may sell access to hunters who have their own tags, Dennehy said.

The landowner preference program is meant to compensate landowners for the damage done to their property by wildlife and to recognize their support of wildlife, she said.

Foley Butte came with a handful of tags, too, said Warren.

“It’s a big deal,” he said, adding that the cost to hunt a trophy animal may reach into the thousands.

Warren said prospective buyers from outside Oregon have been interested for years in Central Oregon property.

Dryden said prospective buyers from South Africa, Russia and China showed interest in the Gutierrez property. He spent three days showing Chinese clients several properties around Central Oregon. He declined to identify the clients except to say they represented a company interested in “developing cattle and other food sources.” The Chinese like the proximity of Central Oregon ranches to the port of Portland, he said.

“Much as we hear bad things about what people think of America, people understand this is a solid investment,” Dryden said.

About Fay Ranches
Fay Ranches provides the highest quality ranch and sporting real estate brokerage services in the country and represents the finest ranches for sale in the American West. Its commitment to investment value, sporting pursuits, family and conservation has guided over 20 years of growth and success and served as the basis for the relationships it builds and the quality of the business it executes.


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