For many years, residential property sales were dominated by the agent. The listing agent listed a house, a buyer’s agent brought a buyer, and after some negotiation, the sale went through, over and over millions of times a year across the U.S.. In the Digital Age, that scenario may be on the way out as for sale by owner is gaining popularity and cut-rate firms offering to administrate the deal with minimal services and a greatly reduced commission grow in popularity. This is because so much information about houses and the housing market is available online. Now the buyer, and to some extent the seller is gaining confidence that they no longer need a real estate professional.
So is the ranch broker soon to be obsolete as well?
When I started in this business 35 years ago, ranch brokers were a colorful bunch. Usually retired from a “real” job, brokers were successful because of who they knew and what they knew. Advertising was limited to blurbs in the major newspapers and listings were often semi-secret although signs were used if the ranch had highway frontage. Brokers back then had a network of coffee shop friends and wealthy clients they worked for information about what was for sale and who was buying.
With a few exceptions, such as Joe Cullinan, or Frank Childress, they knew little about soils, vegetation, or wildlife management and a prospectus or “package” consisted of a brief description, a topo map cut and literally taped together from the old USGS maps, and maybe a well-thumbed soils book from the county the ranch was in. Occasionally, they would produce actual 3X5 photos of dead deer which may or may not have come from the subject ranch. Office files in those days consisted of folders full of ranch packages, piles of rolled up topographic maps, and a library of county soils books.
Today, all that information multiplied by a thousand is available on my phone and, more importantly, is available to anyone looking for a ranch. Every broker has a website or two, every broker is on social media and the single broker office is being replaced with the mega-brokerage with dozens of agents, many of whom are brokers themselves. These businesses have staff to produce the package of today which normally includes information on soils, vegetation, an album of photos, many of which are professionally staged, and the ubiquitous drone footage. Of course, the listing agreement still controls access, making it hard if not impossible for a buyer to approach a seller without the listing broker being involved unless it is for sale by owner in which case the owner often has a website, too!
Has the availability of market information lessened the value of a good ranch broker? With emphasis on the word “good”, I don’t think so. Ranches are not tract homes and each ranch, each location, each transaction is unique and, from choosing a specific ranch thru closing, still requires a broker, preferably two, to happened smoothly.
Good ranch brokers have value because they have experience in rural land, land that is meant to produce food, fiber, or simple relaxation. Before you plop down $3 million+, wouldn’t it be nice to know what that pipe sticking out of the ground really is? A good ranch broker will be familiar with area soils, and capabilities, water, both surface and subsurface, vegetation, and how it will respond to management, governmental agencies and how they can help (or hinder) your enjoyment of the new ranch. They should also be familiar with the neighborhood and local politics and should know where to go to get ranch services. They should also have an eye for a ranch that has been abused, either by the owner, the neighbors, or trespassers. And they should be aware of outside forces that impact a ranch owner, particularly mineral activity; with its pros and cons.
So, how do you find a “good” ranch broker? Well, whether you’re the seller or the buyer, it pays to do a little homework and see what your options are. Just because a broker or the firm he/she is affiliated with has a big presence on the web does not necessarily mean they know the area your ranch is in or where you want to buy a ranch.
A good source is online search sites such as Lands of Texas or Texas Alliance of Land Brokers. Put your search criteria in and see who is listing in that area. Chances are, if a broker has more than one property in that county, he/she knows something about selling a ranch there. Finding a broker to represent you to buy is a little harder. Try putting “buyer representation, South Texas ranches” or something similar in your search engine and you’ll see several to start with. Give ’em a call and see what they know about your preferred area, your dreams for the ranch, and their work experience. Remember, even though they get “paid” by splitting the commission with the listing agent, a buyer rep broker works for you and a job interview is well worth the time.
So, just as I can hunt birds by myself, it’s a lot more enjoyable and worry-free if Ruby comes along. Same story in ranch real estate, it’s a lot more enjoyable if you have a good broker working for you.