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Land for Sale in Montana: The Top 5 Things You Need To Know

With summer fast approaching we are gearing up for another busy season of strong activity representing land for sale in Montana and other markets across the Rocky Mountain West. Mirr Ranch Group services a wide geographic area in order to provide our clients unfettered representation and expertise of significant landscapes across nine different states. While we operate on a broad scale we also understand the specific dynamics and trends of each state or region we work in. As such, a geographically large and diverse state like Montana has a lot to offer, but also creates a market that can be somewhat overwhelming or perplexing to understand. In order for our clients to better recognize drivers and current market conditions surrounding Montana real estate, we’ve compiled this report with the assistance and input of a few trusted industry experts. Here’s what you need to know:

Land for Sale in Montana | BD Ranch at Elk Ridge
BD Ranch at Elk Ridge, a sold ranch near Roy, Montana

#1: Agriculture in Montana is King

In comparison to other western states, Montana’s economy is still fundamentally driven by agriculture. With the exception of the more developed mountain valleys in the western region, the ag industry still reigns supreme in Big Sky Country. By the numbers Montana has:

  • Over 27,000 farms;
  • Spread across 60 million total acres with each property averaging 2,207 acres in size,
  • That altogether produce around $4.6 billion in annual revenue 1.
Land for sale in Montana | Trout Creek Ranch
Trout Creek Ranch in southwestern Montana

These agricultural activities have historically played a major role in valuation of all rural land in Montana. In turn this creates a market condition that is heavily reliant on the broader trends happening in national and international commodities markets. While agriculture remains a cornerstone of Montana’s ranch market today, it is increasingly difficult for an operational ranch to “pencil out” as outside circumstances have emerged and changed the market dynamic.

#2: The Increasing Allure and Values

Over the past 15 years there has been an increasing allure for out of state investors to purchase Montana real estate for multiple reasons aside from agriculture. Montana’s lifestyle, recreational resources, and scenic open landscapes are becoming progressively more accessible and create a desirable refuge that savvy investors and wealthy individuals are seeking. Montana can still offer better value and often times the “best deal” when compared to other states that are consistently perceived to be saturated. As a result, we have observed a steady rise in the average price-per-acre of land for sale in Montana.

  • In 2018 the average price per acre was $2,066,
  • Compared to an $887 per acre average from the early 2000’s (average of all sales over 640 acres) 2.

There are also less tangible characteristics that have contributed to drawing non-resident buyers to land investments in Montana.

“One of the attractive attributes of owning a ranch in Montana is that a real sense of community is still intact surrounding rural ranch living”, said Kelly Bennett, a Colorado native whose family purchased a large ranch near Montana’s Jefferson River approximately ten years ago.

Kelly claims that, “One of the most refreshing parts of owning the ranch is being a part of a connected landscape and community that is truly collaborative.”

Sundance Bench Ranch
Fishing on the Madison River at Sundance Bench Ranch

#3: There are Regional “Sub-Markets”

At 630 miles wide and 255 miles tall, the State of Montana covers a huge geographic area and encompasses a diverse range of smaller regions within the overall state. As seen below the general split is made north to south, with the Rocky Mountains characterizing the western half and the Great Plains in the eastern half. Land for sale in Montana’s western half generally experiences higher demand and higher prices due to influence from dense recreational resources, scenic mountain valleys, higher elevation, and more developed towns with cultural amenities. Eastern Montana on the other hand is quite different with its tight-knit rural communities, beautiful rolling short grass prairie, lower elevation, and large ranches and farms typically driving a lower price per acre. Both of these regions also contain smaller pockets with their own market influencers.

East Montana and West Montana Split

#4: Montana’s Non-Disclosure Rule

Montana is known as a “non-disclosure state,” meaning that sales information is kept confidential and out of the public record. This is a unique distinction of Montana’s real estate and trade regulation that has a big effect on the ranch market. Having no database of recent sales figures makes it more difficult for the general public to have an accurate idea of current values. It can tend to give some sellers a false sense of confidence that results in many ranches being over-priced, and leaves buyers of land for sale in Montana without much information to base their price evaluations from. This is another reason why it is so important to have the assistance of a knowledgeable ranch broker and other experienced professionals when it comes time to buy or sell a ranch.

Chief Mountain Ranch
Chief Mountain Ranch in Glacier County, Montana

#5: The Montana Real Estate Market is Strong

In general, 2018 was a strong year in Montana mostly driven by larger acreage land sales located in the western half of the state. By the numbers, below are a few statistics illustrating how ranch sales stacked up:

  • 194 total sales (over 200 acres);
  • The average price per acre was $1,750;
  • Which was a 26% increase from the year before 4.

While there is a large inventory of available listings, the top-quality properties seem to be moving quickly if priced accurately. In 2018, those sales considered to be “top tier” spent on average less than 70 days on the market and accounted for approximately 40% of the total sales dollars for the year 3.  In our experience brokering ranches up and down the Rocky Mountain West, the average land listing is on the market for 18-24 months.

“The outlook for 2019 is strong as we continue to see a healthy trend of moderate growth,” according to Andy Rahn, a respected ranch appraiser and founder of Montana Land Source, a website and robust resource that tracks listings and sales data across Montana.

A snapshot of current market data from earlier this spring seems to support that notion: 

  • $2,064,700,000 in total listing volume;
  • 595 active listings (over 200 acres);
  • Average property size of 2,103 acres;
  • With an average asking price per acre of $3,077 5.

Ranches ranging from $2.5 million to $10 million seem to be the sweet spot and make up over half of the market currently, as referenced by the below chart.

Although we can also glean that pricing is sensitive as about 30 percent of the current listings have had their asking price adjusted on average by 23 percent 5. This is an indication that buyers still have leverage and that some sellers are responding by becoming more motivated.

Montana Land Stats

We expect the Montana ranch real estate market in 2019 to resume much of what we saw in 2018 with a slight check in price sensitivity. Major trends we expect will continue this year are large ranches continuing to expand, non-resident investor’s focus on legacy quality ranches for long-term holding, and the dominance of the western region to remain strong and in high demand.

For a recap of the top 5 things to know about land for sale in Montana, watch this video:

Sources:

  1. Southwest Montana Farm & Ranch Brokers 2019 Value & Trends Presentation, page 7 (presented by Scott Pogh)
  2. Southwest Montana Farm & Ranch Brokers 2019 Value & Trends Presentation, page 19 (presented by Norman C Wheeler)
  3. Southwest Montana Farm & Ranch Brokers 2019 Value & Trends Presentation, page 40 (presented by Norman C Wheeler)
  4. Southwest Montana Farm & Ranch Brokers 2019 Value & Trends Presentation, page 108 (presented by Andy Rahn)
  5. Southwest Montana Farm & Ranch Brokers 2019 Value & Trends Presentation, page 80 (presented by Andy Rahn)

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