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The Upside of Ranch Investment in Eagle County

With its miles of private fishing, trophy big game, water rights, productive agricultural operations, adjoining private land, and nearby ski resorts, the 1,540-acre Hardscrabble Mountain Ranch is, by any standard, a once-in-a-lifetime ranch offering.  However, all of these desirable recreational, scenic, and agricultural attributes can cause investors to overlook one of the ranch’s most exceptional, yet most basic, features– its prime location just south of the growing town of Eagle, Colorado.

Hardscrabble in Spring

In a state well known for its dramatic population expansion, Eagle County has experienced sustained, solid growth that has outpaced all other resort counties in Colorado. Since 2002, Eagle County’s population has grown by more than 25%, and the county is projecting another 27% growth in the next five years, bringing the total population to just over 71,000 residents.  Compared to Grand, Pitkin, and Summit Counties (home to Winter Park, Aspen/Snowmass, and Breckenridge/Keystone, respectively), it is clear that Eagle County is the first choice in Colorado resort areas for attracting new permanent residents (see chart below).

With this influx of new people and the ensuing demand for real estate, we are presented with the age-old issue of “Where will all these people live?”  Eighty percent of Eagle County is public land, leaving only 20% private land, much of which has already been subdivided and developed to accommodate the booming growth.  Unlike the Denver metro area, which can continue to sprawl out into the plains indefinitely, Eagle County’s small amount of private land puts a firm cap on the supply of property that could ever be even considered for development.  And as we all learned in Econ 101, limited supply of a coveted asset eventually results in an increased demand and increased value.

HMR blog - County data

Putting aside its spectacular recreational and agricultural attributes and evaluating it strictly as a raw land real estate asset, Hardscrabble Mountain Ranch is located directly in the path of progress, in one of the most sought-after undeveloped valleys in the county.  The town of Eagle’s municipal border abuts the ranch’s northern property line, Frost Creek, a luxury golf and fishing community, abuts its southern border, and BLM land buffers the ranch to the east and west. The ranch controls the majority of the three linear miles of land between town and Frost Creek, with all major utilities and town water running through the ranch.  When studying area satellite images, it is clear that Hardscrabble Mountain Ranch is an unbroken oasis of wildlife, water, and irrigated meadows in an area where large working ranches are becoming more and more rare.

Hardscrabble presents sophisticated ranch buyers with the opportunity to purchase and enjoy a true working ranch with miles of fishing and world-class hunting, all with the knowledge that there will always be a number of very clear and attractive exit strategies should they decide to sell.  The county’s strong demographics, the fast pace of area development, and the county’s very limited supply of private land create a compelling argument for significant appreciation in land values, particularly for Hardscrabble given its excellent location and relatively large size. Combined with the fact that its list price is well within values established by recent comparable sales and appraisals, Hardscrabble offers considerable financial upside for investment-minded buyers.

From a conservation perspective, the ranch’s wildlife, riparian corridor, scenic views, and development pressure make it one of the Vail Valley’s most coveted conservation projects.  The state’s progressive conservation tax credit program would provide financial incentives to conservation-minded buyers to preserve portions of the property or limit unbridled development, while still allowing for long-term appreciation potential and practical exit strategies.

Although it’s easy to get lost in daydreams about chasing trout on Brush Creek or stalking a Boone and Crockett trophy mule deer, it is important not to lose sight of Hardscrabble’s most basic characteristic: its superior location, which equals significant long-term investment potential for its future owner.

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