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4 Essential Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Ranch

We receive the call daily. On the other end of the line is a hopeful ranch buyer wanting to get started on his ranch search. He’s been thinking about buying a ranch for a long time as owning land is a quintessential American dream, especially in the American West.  There are a myriad of motivations from living in a vast landscape, to stalking big game or trout, to sharing the values of good stewardship and preservation with family or friends, or to just explore. Now that you are ready, here are the four foremost questions we will ask to get started on this new venture of buying a ranch!

Where do you want to be?

As with any piece of real estate, considering the location of your property is a major first step. Do you want majestic mountain views, lush open meadows, or red rock sandstone country? What kind of climate and elevation are important to you and your plans? The intermountain west is famous for 300+ days of sunshine a year, but higher elevations can lead to longer winters. Perhaps you want warmer year-round temps or precipitation is important to your intended use of the property.  Our buyer clients usually have thoughts on where the ranch is in proximity to town, an airport, and world-class destinations resorts. Some want complete solitude and adjacency to National Forest, while others want to be able to reach a grocery store (or even skiing) in 20 minutes. Location is a key decision to make before starting your ranch search.

Buying a Ranch | Biking on Wasatch Peaks Ranch

What will be the primary use of the property?

This is a loaded question, but one that you likely have thought about the most. What do you want to do on this piece of land? You may have several answers, some intangible and some financially driven. Now is the time to put this on paper. Some considerations as you think through this:

  • Do plan on an agricultural operation to run cattle or raise hay or other crops?  Will you operate this and hire a manager or lease out the operations? What size of ranch will you need? Many operating ranches included deeded land as well as leases on adjoining public lands. Soils, grasses and water rights are also crucial components to consider.
  • Are you looking for a family retreat? Do you want improvements on the property? Is there good year round access? Availability of power?
  • Is this a sporting retreat? Hunting tags, wildlife habitat and water resources could be important.
  • Are you interested in conservation? Do you care if there is a conservation easement on the property? Conservation easements aren’t for everyone, but there are benefits when it’s a good fit for the property and the owner.

Buying a Ranch | Fields on Red Sky Ranch

What are your water needs?

Now that you’ve decided the intended use(s), you need to determine your water needs before buying a ranch. River, streams, lakes, ponds and wells  all have functional and recreational purposes. The needs of a working ranch will be different depending on livestock, irrigation, hay/crop, and maintaining the ecological balance of the ranch so you will need to make sure your selected property has the right features and water rights to accommodate such pursuits. Water rights in the west are much different than other areas of the county and you need to understand these matters.  States have differing public access rights and restrictions to rivers and streams and these issues as well as flow rates impact fisheries, and other recreational uses including rafting and kayaking. Water resources are also key in maintaining wildlife habitat.

Buying a Ranch | The Yampa River on Cross Mountain Ranch

What is your budget?

Knowing what you can afford is essential in any land purchase. Your budget will be helpful in determining the location, size and features of your future ranch as well. Are you a cash buyer or do you plan on financing part of the purchase? Most of our clients are cash buyers, but there are great agricultural lending institutions available for those seeking a loan. For some purchases, seller financing is available too. And if you just sold a property, you may want to consider buying a replacement property under a 1031 Exchange to defer capital gains taxes. Also keep in mind that the operation and maintenance of a ranch will have different expenses than residential or commercial properties.  

Buying a Ranch | Elk crossing at Thunder Ranch

Now that you’ve answered these essential questions, we are ready to help you find that perfect property. We can assist with establishing search criteria to evaluate ranches, property selection, opinions of value, and analysis, including, title, water rights, mineral rights, legal issues, public lands, stewardship, conservation, enhancements, and regulatory issues. 

Here’s a quick video recap for you:

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