There was much discussion and hype about the real estate market and economy in general in 2022. Despite a market that showed signs of changing conditions, 2022 was still a strong and successful year in ranch sales. At Live Water Properties, we saw our second-highest year in sales volume at $377M. This was higher than the pandemic-driven market that began in 2020 and fell only behind 2021’s record-setting year.
As we look forward to 2023, the real estate market appears to be normalizing. However, while the news and media report on the residential market, the ranch market must be looked at separately. Ranches are unique and often tightly held assets that cannot be recreated. Additionally, nearly 90% of ranch transactions are purchased in cash. How did these factors affect 2022, and what do we expect to see in 2023? We spoke with our team of Ranch Real Estate Brokers to take a closer look at the 2022 Ranch Market and get their predictions and advice for Ranch Buyers and Sellers in 2023.
What were the driving factors in the ranch real estate market for Buyers and Sellers in 2022?
“While the latter half of 2020 and all of 2021 were characterized by record-breaking land sales numbers in Montana, the ranch, farm, and rural land market in 2022 revealed changing conditions,” says Montana Ranch Broker Jeff Shouse. “Buyer interest and demand remained high throughout the year. However, transaction volume was lower than in previous years due, in a large part, to an unprecedented lack of inventory. Much of the availability issue was a result of high-volume sales the previous two years, as well as many landowners seemingly reluctant to sell due to the limited amount of potential replacement properties coming onto the market.
“According to statistics from Montana appraiser Andy Rahn at Montana Land Source, numbers through the third quarter of 2022 showed total statewide market inventory of acreages 200 acres and larger, down over 30% from 2021 and over 80% from 2020,” continues Jeff Shouse. “Additionally, the number of new land listings being brought to market was down 100% from the previous year. On average, Montana ranch and land market inventory for the calendar year 2022 was down approximately 50% from historic levels.”
“2022 saw a diverse set of motivating factors for buyers. Buyers remained urgent to obtain quality recreational ranches while land investors looked to deploy capital, often in the form of 1031 exchanges. Land was once again viewed as a favorable inflationary hedge,” says Matt MacMillan, Live Water Ranch Broker licensed in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utah. “Many sellers saw 2022 as a last opportunity to capture top-of-market prices, so elected to liquidate while inventory remained in short supply.”
“Sellers’ motivations largely focused on effecting a sale during the advantageous market cycle in an effort to get ahead of looming unknowns in the equity markets while competing inventory was limited in most markets,” adds Brian Hartley, Live Water Ranch Broker licensed in Colorado and Wyoming. “Buyers were eager to find those special places that offered the features that always seem top of mind – location, privacy, public land adjacency, sporting resources on site.”
“Sellers I worked with in 2022 were motivated by Buyer activity, and high land values realized during the previous two years during the Covid boom. Overall, sellers that came to market during the 2022 season could substantiate higher listing prices based on comparable regional sales and a lack of quality inventory,” notes Live Water Ranch Broker Tate Jarry, licensed in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. “During the second quarter of the year, with the increase in interest rates, the dip in confidence in the investment markets, and the pressure of inflation, we realized a decrease in buyer activity. There were many price adjustments, less buyer demand, and less urgency for property in the rural areas we serve.”
Live Water Properties Texas Ranch Broker Mark Harman adds, “I would say that recreational ownership continues to be the motivating factor for most buyers even as the market has slowed from the break-neck pace of 2020 and 2021. Many sellers realize that they missed the golden window opportunity to sell into the frenzy as 2022 unfolded. Sellers will continue to experience ‘real estate occasions’ triggering the urge to sell i.e., death, relocation, estate planning, and life changes.”
“For the most part, Wyoming ranch Buyers were seeking destinations that offered less government control, restrictions, and regulations that affected their business and lifestyle. Many plainly said they had made the decision to leave their current residence due to factors that included increased crime, increasing taxes, more regulation, poor education systems,” says Wyoming Ranch Broker Toby Griffith. “In regard to Sellers, all were taking advantage of the market, downsizing or exchanging into other properties.”
Both 2020 and 2021 were unprecedented markets. How did 2022 differ from the past two years?
“The pace of sales we saw in 2021 was a convergence of several factors which we may never see again in our lifetime, namely a global pandemic that made buyers re-think their choices on where they would like to spend their time. Our mountain communities and rural valleys became the focus of this new buyer set, seeking an improved quality of life,” says Matt MacMillan. “This trend continued in 2022; the shortage of inventory may have slowed sales toward the end of the year, but buyer demand remained robust.”
“Colorado generally followed the trend of other western states into 2022; inventory levels continued to wane while buyer activity remained high. Buyer motivations varied from client to client, but the general tone remained a commitment to enjoying time outdoors in areas they love and connecting with family and the land,” notes Hartley. “There was also more commentary from buyer clients about diversification of their portfolios to hedge against the uncertainties of the equity markets while simply enjoying the properties.”
“In 2022, we saw a slight shift from a Seller’s to a Buyer’s market. We are seeing the average Days on Market increase, price adjustments and reductions becoming more common, and more Buyers entering the market with an air of caution and less urgency,” adds Tate Jarry.
Inventory was the main change Toby Griffith saw, noting, “There was no real difference [in the markets] until the latter part of the year when quality inventory became virtually non-existent and buying activity slowed. We continue to have a huge demand but no supply.”
There is a great deal of news about the residential market. How does the ranch market differ, and how does this affect ranch buyers and sellers?
“Though the national news of the softening house markets is well understood by our clients, most of the properties we deal with are much different, and to a degree, removed from the ebbs and flows of the residential markets and the direct impacts of varying interest rates. That’s not to say there is not some correlation, if only mentally. Buyers are leery of purchasing at the perceived top of the market cycle, and Sellers don’t want to be the last ones standing in their markets trying to achieve price points that are no longer realistic,” says Brian Hartley. “These nuances are what keep this industry so fascinating – we as brokers study the trends, compare notes on our respective areas and advise our clients accordingly based on all of the data points we track.”
“The ranch market is not nearly as sensitive to the interest rate environment as is the residential market. Most of our buyers tend to use cash and often become more motivated to add to their land holdings when recessionary headlines are top of mind,” says Matt MacMillan.
Tate Jarry adds, “Historically, the properties we sell are discretionary purchases with nearly 90% cash transactions.”
“Ranch ownership is not a necessity for most. Home ownership is a necessity. Land buyers that I have engaged with over the past several days, weeks and months appear slower to commit to recreational land ownership,” notes Mark Harman.
“Our buyers are typically cash buyers with the exception of some agricultural buyers where some heavily rely on borrowing money,” say Toby Griffith. “With increasing rates, this may create a slowdown in agricultural properties unless those properties are priced aggressively to sell.”
What role did off-market transactions play in your state?
“Off-market transactions continue to play a significant role in Colorado; the largest transaction our company was involved with in 2022 was an off-market transaction in Northwest Colorado. We had been tracking the property in prior years when it had been on the market. When representing a buyer client whose search parameters matched well for it, we were able to affect a sale for the seller and our buyer client quietly and relatively quickly,” says Brian Hartley. “We work hard to build trust with landowners and educate them on market conditions incrementally over the years; in some cases, they prefer not to formally list their ranch asset but are open to an off-market transaction as they know the buyer clients we work with are qualified and can move quickly to perform.”
“Off-market transactions always play an important role in the Western ranch market. When inventory is short, as was the case in 2022, off-market deals became even more prevalent as buyers sought out properties and often made offers on properties that were not actively for sale,” adds MacMillan.
“In the first quarter of 2022, there was still a relatively healthy inventory of quality ranch properties listed and on the market that we were able to capitalize on, matching our buyer clientele needs. As the year progressed, quality inventory steadily decreased, forcing brokers to direct their efforts to find off-market inventory to meet Buyer demand,” says Tate Jarry. “There remains seller apprehension to market their properties despite the higher-than-average market values due to tax implications, difficulty finding replacement properties, and investment market uncertainties. I believe off-market transactions will play a large role in 2023 as our niche market begins to ‘normalize.’”
“In light of recent limited inventory, I believe there were considerably more off-market transactions done in the last six months than what we realize; however, this is something that has always been going on and will continue to be part of the real estate game,” notes Toby Griffith. “I think when inventory begins to get back to a stable amount, off-market deals will decrease, or at least the opportunities for off-market deals will decrease. It’s a great time right now to sniff out all leads and possibilities.”
What economic, political, and lifestyle factors played into Ranch Buyers and Sellers’ motivations?
“Lifestyle and quality of life were at the forefront of buyers’ minds in 2022, and I anticipate this trend will continue for years to come. As technology continues to advance, allowing even more flexibility to work remotely, our western mountain communities will see more and more demand based the healthy active lifestyle that many now seek,” says Matt MacMillan.
“A solid majority of the Buyers and Sellers I work with in the ranch real estate market are motivated primarily by the ‘lifestyle factor’ associated with rural mountain living. We all see ourselves as conservationists and stewards of the lands that surround the beautiful areas we call home,” adds Tate Jarry.
Media has also played a role in creating this lure. As Craig Janssen notes, many Buyers are quick to mention the hit television series Yellowstone, when beginning a ranch search.
“The motivation for Buyers to be in Colorado remains almost universally lifestyle-driven,” says Brian Hartley. “Ease of access from nearly all urban centers around the country makes it a desirable place to be in all seasons, be that escaping heat and humidity elsewhere in the summer, enjoying seemingly endless acres of aspens glowing in all shades of yellow and gold in the autumn as big game hunting season takes center stage, or, of course, enjoying the myriad of skiing options around the state.”
“It is my opinion that the biggest impact on the Wyoming ranch and recreational ranch market was politically driven. Perhaps COVID started consideration and conversations but the realization of increased government involvement in people’s lives started the mass migration,” adds Toby Griffith.
Oregon Ranch Broker Sam Houser notes that conversely, “Oregon Buyers looked to take advantage of the short-term gain of catching a steelhead or hunting a trophy elk for a lower price per acre versus a long-term tax shelter state with higher upfront purchase costs.”
“A good portion of the Buyer activity in 2022 was focused on higher-quality, amenity-rich properties, which generally went under contract quickly. However, these properties were typically priced at a premium. Buyers as a whole were more measured and selective in 2022 than had been the case in the previous two years, illustrated by good property showing activity but fewer offers tendered. This tendency contributed to an increasing amount of price reductions as the year progressed – something that was rarely seen during the 18 months prior,” says Jeff Shouse. “Another trend that continued from 2021 was a notable number of off-market transactions on properties that were never publicly offered.”
What advice would you give to buyers in 2023?
“Buyers in 2023 should have more opportunities than they have seen the past two years. That said, the quality inventory, which is priced appropriately, will still sell, and potentially very quickly. So, if you find something you like, buy it and begin to enjoy it!” says Matt MacMillan.
Both Texas Ranch Broker Mark Harman and Montana Ranch Broker Craig Janssen offer the same piece of advice: patience. “There will be good-to-great buying opportunities in the next year or two, be patient but be ready to move quickly if the right thing comes along,” adds Janssen. Toby Griffith echoes this as well, “Be patient but be prepared to immediately jump on any property that meets your requirements.”
“The recent real estate boom has also seen an increase of new real estate sales agents entering the market. With the persistent lack of quality inventory, a Buyer needs to be ready to move quickly when they find the property that fits their needs,” says Tate Jarry. “To maximize your time and efforts searching for your western investment property, consider working with a veteran in the niche market you are interested in.”
“If they have not already done so, any active Buyers should begin the process of vetting and selecting an experienced and trustworthy broker to represent their interests. That broker will be your eyes and ears in the area, or areas, that match well for your search,” notes Brian Hartley. “Be prepared to move quickly when something that fits for your search parameters and budget hits the market or is identified by your broker off-market. With inventory as tight as it is, options remain limited both for you and the field of competing Buyers who are actively looking – likely with similar criteria.”
“Look out for properties that were purchased by Buyers caught up in the momentum of the market over the last couple of years. They may have a property that no longer suits their wants or needs,” adds Sam Houser.
What advice would you give to Ranch Sellers in 2023?
“Don’t chase the market. Spend time during the planning process to form a solid marketing strategy based on realistic price points backed by recent sales that local appraisers and broker analysis can substantiate. This will allow you to capture those Buyers still lingering in the marketplace who are willing to move fast if pricing is in line with market trends,” says Tate Jarry.
“Pricing will be more important for Sellers in 2023 than in the past two years. If it is the right time in your life to sell your ranch, don’t hold off waiting for potentially ‘better prices,’” adds Matt MacMillan. “All markets are tough to time, and the ranch market is no different. Currently, there are still ample buyers in our valleys looking to purchase quality land assets.”
Mark Harman and Craig Janssen also echoed each other’s sentiments, “Manage your real estate value expectations! When in doubt, hire a certified appraiser,” says Harman. “Price property correctly from the start of the listing,” added Janssen.
“If pricing is higher than justification based on comparable sales, a Seller should plan on and expect little to no activity for a couple of years. Unless the property is desirably unique, average properties no longer demand top prices like they did the previous two years,” says Toby Griffith. “However, if the seller understands the market has softened, but there remains a good pool of buyers, they still have the opportunity to sell their property if it’s reasonably priced.”
“Despite what the perception of the current market may be, there remains plenty of capable Buyers looking for that next special place who may have missed out on other opportunities in recent years and will also be prepared to move expeditiously to jump on a new opportunity,” says Brian Hartley.
“Despite increasing interest rates, current inflation levels, and recession discussions, I believe the Montana ranch market in 2023 will be robust. Potential sellers should recognize that many interested cash buyers are watching the market, waiting for the right offering to present itself. Good quality properties that are priced right are in high demand at present and will sell this year. The probability of low inventory again this year is high, in my opinion. Accordingly, active buyers need to be diligent in staying on top of current and new market offerings. They will need to be prepared to move quickly when the right opportunity presents itself. Along these lines, one option that a prospective buyer may wish to explore is enlisting the assistance of a qualified and skilled ranch broker via a buyer brokerage arrangement, which may lead to exposure of properties that are not advertised on the open market but may be available for purchase,” concludes Jeff Shouse.
If you would like to learn more about Buying or Selling Ranches with Live Water Properties, please reach out to one of our trusted Ranch Brokers in your state here, or you can email email@example.com. We will connect you to a Broker who can discuss Buyer needs or offer a comparative market analysis for your ranch.