Strategies to Owning a Ranch from Afar: Absentee Ownership Should Not Be Overwhelming
By Ryan Bramlette, Fay Ranches Sales Agent, Licensed in Montana
“A buyer needs to understand their goals and make a plan.
Don’t go into it lost; know what you want and make it fun.”
–Dan Durham, Co-Owner of Ranches Resources
Many of our clients at Fay Ranches are absentee buyers looking to satisfy a lifelong dream of owning their version of the perfect western property. Before this dream becomes a reality, many have questions around the logistics of owning and maintaining a farm/ranch or recreational property from across the country.
Properties out west are big: the average farm/ranch property in Montana is 2125 acres. That can be overwhelming to an absentee owner. To maximize the enjoyment of absentee land ownership, buyers need to know their goals before purchase, understand how their goals align with a particular ranch’s potential, and have an overall plan that can bring it all together.
Align your goals with the land’s potential
Once a land buyer knows what they want, investigating a property’s potential, and identifying if the prospective land can fit the buyer’s needs is the logical next step. Water rights attorneys, wildlife biologists, general contractors, stream reclamation experts, the USDA, BLM, and Forest Service, are all resources that may be needed for boots on the ground investigation. Choosing a strong ranch broker capable of helping you connect all of these dots by leveraging their contacts and their firm’s database of proven resources and relationships will be enormously beneficial. Having the right experts involved in the process will help you find the right property and gain relevant knowledge and enjoy the steps along the way.
Create a plan
As one gains a better understanding of a ranch’s potential, exciting ideas lead to more questions:
How will I manage the general upkeep and maintenance of the structures, fencing, and landscaping?
Who will be overseeing the habitat improvement and wildlife management projects I have in mind, and how will I know these are being implemented correctly if I am not around consistently?
What will be the most effective and efficient way to administer any grazing permits or leases?
Figuring out the answers to these questions will help develop a plan. Dan Durham, co-owner at Ranch Resources in Sheridan, MT, a natural resource consulting service, agrees. “The plan should be a combination of the objectives and the potential of the ranch.” Logan Miller, co-owner with Durham, adds, “A plan should consist of different enterprises that are organized, prioritized, and implemented over time.” The costs of owning a ranch, recreational objectives, and agricultural objectives are all examples of different ranch enterprises. With each plan uniquely organized through these varying ranch enterprises, one commonality is that most plans will call for some level of resource and relationship management. From simple tasks such as organizing ranch finances to wildlife management, habitat improvement, planting of crops, and ranch staff employment and supervision, a “non-resident” owner will likely require some assistance when it comes to plan implementation.
The good news is there are several solutions to obtaining the appropriate help required to successfully implement and execute the plan you have laid out for your ranch. The question is, where does one start their quest towards finding these resources? Once again, leveraging your ranch broker’s database is the perfect place to start. A best in class ranch broker will have the knowledge, resources, and relationships to help you identify and engage with the appropriate parties that can prove to be a valuable asset to you as an absentee landowner.
Engage a “local.” Best suited for low maintenance properties and a “lock the door and leave” set up, many of our clients engage a trusted and responsible local to routinely swing by and keep an eye on the place. If something doesn’t look right, they call the owner, and the owner handles it from there.
Leverage lessees for plan implementation.
Whether in conjunction with a caretaker or a consultant or if the landowner manages the relationship, a lessee can be a great resource for plan implementation. While the income generated from an agricultural operation or hunting lease may or may not be material, at a minimum, it can help offset operating costs. Besides generating income, these agreements can be an excellent way for a landowner to maintain their land productivity, achieve wildlife management objectives, and keep a presence on the property that mitigates trespassing.
Hire a consultant.
According to Durham and Miller, a consultant’s involvement can vary from quarterbacking one-off projects to being a full-time on the ground manager deeply involved in daily operations. Depending on a landowner’s objectives, a good consultant can be a valuable resource that offers professional guidance and delivers solutions via proven in-house and outsourced resources.
Hire a caretaker.
Many absentee landowners have no intention of operating a full-blown farm or ranch operation. However, the need to perform routine maintenance, ensure the property is being well kept, and have a presence on the property to minimize trespassing are examples of how a full-time caretaker on the property can prove valuable.
A ranch manager has a foundation of expertise, typically built from educational platforms such as the Dan Scott Ranch Management Program at Montana State University that provides valuable on the ground experience around the management of a ranch. The ranch manager is in charge of and held accountable for the successful implementation and execution of the landowner’s plan. He/She answers to the landowner, and all other ranch employees answer to the ranch manager.
Once you have determined that a farm, ranch, or recreational property out west is worthy of exploring, vet, and engage the best ranch brokers that specialize exclusively in these types of high-end transactions. Find one that is a fit for you personally and has the resources and relationships to assist you in all aspects of the process. Before purchasing land, know what you want, understand how the potential of a property aligns with your goals, and build a plan that can be implemented over time. Finally, engaging the right resources to execute your plan will maximize the ROI of your land investment (however one chooses to measure their return) while minimizing absentee anxieties.
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