From Coastal to Country

The family ranch is long gone, but the prospects of modern ranch living are as wide open as the Western territory. The potential buyer in search of space, nature and rustic recreation need not compromise luxury to “rough it”. A vast number of properties in hotspots like Colorado, Idaho and Montana feature gorgeous, upscale estates, some standalone homes, other attachments to sprawling, working ranches.

My grandfather grew up on a sheep ranch in St. George, Utah, not far from the red rocks of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. Horses, campfire chats, miles of fenceless land…his childhood bared little resemblance to my own, a city slicker from day one.

Even so, I would imagine life outside my bubble and into the open, working the land by day and sleeping under the stars at night. It was the stuff of A River Runs Through It, a departure I’d get to taste only a few days out of the year.

The family ranch is long gone, but the prospects of modern ranch living are as wide open as the Western territory. The potential buyer in search of space, nature and rustic recreation need not compromise luxury to “rough it”. A vast number of properties in hotspots like Colorado, Idaho and Montana feature gorgeous, upscale estates, some standalone homes, other attachments to sprawling, working ranches.

Unlike some commercial and residential real estate, rural and recreational property has great potential to hold its value. According to Ron Morris, Founding Partner of Ranch Marketing Associates, this kind of land has a different value foundation – scarcity. “One can move a business, build a new commercial building and change locations entirely. Yet land remains where it is, as it is – completely unique in location and characteristic,” he says. “The availability of high quality land, large acreage properties rich in natural resources such as water, minerals, timber, wildlife and agriculture production capability, is more difficult to find and will undoubtedly continue to appreciate and remain in demand.”

Perhaps you’ve already considered buying a destination ranch as a second home or retirement investment. So, who makes the best candidate for such an undertaking? Tauyna Fagan of Prudential Montana Real Estate in Bozeman believes it takes a special person with abundant energy and a love for the land. “With the ever-increasing desire of people to escape the city, ranches will continue to attract investors, and if managed properly, ranches can not only increase in value as the price of land increases, but ranches can offer the possibility of profit compared to similar-sized raw tracts of land,” she says. “And ranches can be leased out to be run by others, but it takes a good manager and adequate resources, i.e., acreage, water, equipment, manpower, and, in the lean years, cash.”

If you are planning to take on a working ranch, Fagan points out there are a few kinds to consider, each with their own set of expectations. First there’s the large ranch, whose primary purpose is to produce income from agriculture, such as hay, wheat, barley, oats, and livestock like cattle, horses or sheep. Then there are gentlemen ranches, offering new ranchers the ability to create their own, individualized ranch experience, but one that Fagan notes which would be hard-pressed to turn a profit. Lastly, there are ranches in between, which may not have the acreage, water, or other pertinent resources to generate a profit, but which often generate enough of a positive experience to encourage the owner to continue the ranching lifestyle. As Fagan notes, “Living on the land allows freedom, flexibility, peace, privacy, and the opportunity to create your own space, your own place, your own compound, with fewer restrictions than most places.”

Take, for example, the 7 Ranges Ranch, a private, gated land community outside Bozeman, Montana, offering 18 tracks and 18 home sites on over 1,300 acres of the old Reiser Ranch. Here, the sky’s the limit: the ability to build a luxury compound in one the most beautiful parts of the country, access to winter and summer recreations from skiing to fly fishing, fertile soil, security, privacy, and much more. Fagan, who represents the property, discusses the benefits of purchasing vacant land, without improvements. “The property has little upkeep, allowing a buyer to improve and build at a comfortable pace or simply wait until the time is right,” she says. “Goods and services are a few miles from the ranch, so prudence dictates having a store of food and supplies so one is not always driving to town.”

Over in Colorado, another sprawling property, the Big Creek Ranch, offers a whole different scenario. Historically used as a livestock ranch, the property has since transitioned to a trophy recreation and sporting ranch with a stunning 11,000-square-foot, three-level lodge as its centerpiece. “It’s the complete package in luxury ranch real estate,” says Morris, who notes the convenient close proximity to the resort town of Steamboat Springs and abundant natural resources including river, forest and wildlife. The log and stone residence features six master bedroom suites, eight full baths and one half bath, two bunk rooms for the kids, a large gourmet kitchen with a smoker/BBQ ensemble (accessible from inside the kitchen as well as from the scenic outside terrace), formal dining area, great room, entertainment/media room, exercise room, 10’ x 20’ climate-controlled wine cellar, sizeable conference room and more. Big Creek also offers a great investment potential for the ambitious buyer. The front 1,858 acres have a conservation easement with the Yampa Valley Land Trust, protecting the front door of the ranch, yet allowing a limit development of six new single-family residences. The ranch’s remaining acreage, approximately 2,442, has no restrictions and could be divided into 69 parcels of 35 acres. Naturally, you could do nothing and keep the land intact and all to yourself…not a bad option either.

If buying is in your future, first get in touch with a qualified agent, like Fagan or Morris, who have years of experience with ranch properties. Their expertise will prove priceless for a unique purchase of this kind, and hopefully, you can avoid some unnecessary pitfalls. It’s no exaggeration that owning a ranch property, particularly a functioning one, can be a lot of hard work. Then again, getting your hands dirty in paradise may be the best day’s work ever.

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