What can you expect to pay when you buy a ranch? The short answer? It depends.
The long answer? As with all real estate, location matters for ranches, but several factors contribute to list price beyond the locale.
From size and location to water and mineral rights, many factors influence the value of a ranch.
Ranches, like all assets, can be valued using a variety of systems and models. Is any system for valuing ranches perfect? No, because generally speaking, no two ranches are the same.
Is a system that includes hard data, proven and accepted valuation methods, and well-reasoned logic better than pulling numbers out of the sky? Absolutely.
However, our best course of action is to analyze comparable sales information. Unlike the residential or commercial real estate markets, there isn’t a central database of ranch sales, so we must work with appraisers, bankers, county officials, and landowners to uncover useful land sales data.
At Mirr Ranch Group, we work exclusively with high-value, one-of-a-kind ranches, so finding relevant data can be a very lengthy and time-consuming process. However, we are committed to performing this research thoroughly, because the all-important data can mean the difference of millions of dollars for our clients.
Read on to learn the top 5 factors that will influence how much a ranch property is worth.
Top 5 Factors Impacting the Cost When You Buy a Ranch
1) Size and Location
Ranches are typically valued on a per acre basis, so logically, the more acres you buy, the higher the price.
However, location, along with the other features listed in this article, play a huge factor in what that per-acre price should be. Adjacency to public lands, such as a National Forest, National Park, Bureau of Land Management land, state land, or wilderness areas, adds incredible value to a ranch. Other considerations include views, privacy, and access issues. Are you near a county road? Can you access the property year-round? Do you have deeded or permitted access?
Also, land that has conveniences nearby such as a grocery store, restaurants, medical services, or an airport are taken into account as valuable benefits. Proximity to areas such as a ski resort, golf course, or other recreational amenities may cost more, but may enhance monetary worth over time and provide for a more liquidated asset when it comes time to list your property.
2) Water and Mineral Rights
When looking at buying ranch or farmland, water rights are increasingly one of the most crucial factors if not the most important factor in the purchase. As Kelly Bennett of B3 Insights explains, “Water is a critical component to ranch operations, whether it provides value through agriculture or recreation. As a result, it is incredibly important to understand both the water rights that trade with ranch properties and other water rights that share a common source.”
Water rights in many states can be sold, leased, and encumbered separately, and they are not always owned by the person owning the land. “First in time first in right” applies, meaning the older the water right, the more valuable and reliable the right. After doing your due diligence, the water rights can therefore be one of the most valuable assets of your ranch.
One of the most common questions we get about any of our listings is if mineral rights are included in the sale of the property. Mineral rights, just like water rights, can be owned separately, and a landowner can own the surface estate but not the minerals beneath it.
Including minerals in the purchase can add value to the land especially if mineral potential and an opportunity to generate income exist. At a minimum, owning the minerals provides some assurances that others cannot access your land to search for or extract minerals beneath the surface.
3) Income Production
Buyers place differing degrees of emphasis on income potential, and income and expenses vary wildly between properties. Recreational or amenity-based buyers may be less concerned with agricultural production, and overall productivity depends on the attributes of any given property and the amount of irrigated ground, water resources, and quality of forage.
Some buyers desire to own cattle and bale their own hay, while many others lease out these functions to local and knowledgeable ranchers, all of which yield income.
Well maintained agricultural improvements and irrigated land are a big draw for many ag ranch buyers. Existing cattle operations with working corrals, public land leases, perimeter fencing, and water resources are important factors in monitoring the production value of a potential purchase.
Another important feature to consider is irrigated acreage. For example, in Colorado, only 3% of the state is designated irrigated land. Ultimately the right to own and use water has a significant impact on the value of ranches, as irrigated land has a much higher per acre pricetag than non-irrigated due to income generation, improved habitat for wildlife, and scarcity.
4) Sporting Features
Landowner tags, private fly-fishing access, and wildlife habitat are all contributing factors to land values when you buy a ranch. In the Rocky Mountain region, sporting quality can differ wildly between properties that seem similarly situated, and this will influence the listing price. Some factors that impact sporting quality:
- Variety, quantity, and quality of wildlife species
- Quality of habitat: land and water
- Control and access
- Availability of tags
- Adjacency to public land
Landowner tags can be a valuable source of income. Although programs vary by state, landowner programs were established to acknowledge the contribution of private lands to support wildlife and provide a form of compensation to landowners for resources used by wildlife.
Permits or tags are typically available to landowners, family members, and others designated by the landowner based on the acreage owned. An owner can greatly benefit from these tags, especially when a property is in a game management area where it is hard to draw permits.
When considering the value of a fly-fishing ranch, one must look at the natural water features and water flows on the property. Some other things to take note of are the proximity to headwaters of the stream or river, flow rates, and diversion structures that may reduce the volume of water passing through the property. This can all impact the sporting quality and per-acre price of the land.
5) Conservation Value
Ranches for sale with strong conservation values can certainly enhance the worth of a ranch. Protected natural amenities such as pristine scenery and wildlife help sustain property values and attract new investment.
For instance, economic studies from the Headwaters Economics show that wilderness designation on adjoining public lands enhances nearby private property values.
In addition, there are tools like conservation easements that landowners frequently use to take advantage of the inherent conservation values. A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement where a landowner permanently restricts uses on the land in order to protect certain conservation attributes.
Easements may provide several financial advantages for landowners including:
- Federal income tax breaks for a donation
- Colorado conservation easement tax credits
- Real estate ad valorem tax breaks
- Estate planning and family heritage preservation
- Land value enhancements due to adjacency to protected land
- Affordable farming & ranching land
Many parameters go into determining how much it costs to buy a ranch. Understanding your wants and needs, as well as what increases and decreases the value of the land, are critical steps when you decide to purchase land. We recommend having an educated and experienced ranch broker assist you in evaluating properties and helping you locate the right ranch for you.