Ranchland being sold out of traditional use

Income isn't chief concern for many new ranch owners

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— Five generations of Luanna Iacovetto's family have lived on the Saddleback Ranch property south of Milner.

There have been times she and her husband thought about moving off of the property, she said, but they always changed their minds.

"My husband always says he lives in a little house with a really big backyard," Iacovetto said of her family's 7,200-acre ranch.

The family raises cattle, usually 15,000 to 17,000 head a year. Last year's drought cut that number by a third. Nevertheless, Iacovetto said that she and her family depend completely on their ranch for all of their income. She knows that, as a rancher, she is part of a dying breed in the Yampa Valley.

These days, people buying large properties such as hers aren't planning on using the land to make a living in agriculture.

"You're talking about an entirely different buyer in Steamboat," said broker Dennis Kuntz from Exceptional Properties LLC. "The new buyer's focus is certainly not income. They're buying them for other reasons than livestock and crops."

Iacovetto has seen the change as well.

"It's someone who's made their money somewhere else and wants a mountain ranch," she said.

Kuntz explained that most of the ranch buyers he sees in Steamboat Springs are out-of-towners looking for a vacation property with recreational benefits.

"Most are high net-worth individuals," he said. "They're looking for fishing and hunting."

Broker Joan Shenfield, from Romick and Associates, agrees that recreational uses are major factors selling ranch land in the Steamboat area.

But Shenfield said she sees a lot of her buyers living on their ranches full time, and they are more concerned with the productivity of the land. Things like water, trees and agricultural production entice some buyers, she said.

Even though not all of the new ranchers depend on their land for income, she said many raise horses that require a certain amount of grazing space.

"It depends on what they want," she said. "It's all over the board."

Kuntz said buyers want to know "where it is, what it is and what it does."

He said ranches in the Yampa Valley are unique because of their proximity to Steamboat.

"Our prices are so off the wall," he said. "It's a resort component."

Kuntz guessed that the price of a ranch in the Steamboat area would be 10 times the price of a ranch the same size in Nebraska.

"We are a resort, and that definitely makes the prices higher," Shenfield agreed.

Kuntz said few people who buy ranches in the area want to be more than an hour from Steamboat and the city's amenities. He explained that this is because the new buyers are not typical ranchers.

"If you want to be a rancher, you're going to live in Nebraska or Wyoming," Kuntz said.

But Iacovetto said that the new rancher is not a bad thing for the community.

She said they give younger, local residents who cannot afford to buy a ranch the chance to lease or manage the property.

Shenfield said it is advantageous for ranch owners to have managers living on the property to continue agricultural production. Then, both parties win, she said.

"It's supporting our agricultural status," Shenfield said.

Ranch owners can dodge the heftier residential property tax rates by maintaining agricultural production on their land.

Shenfield said many ranchers around Steamboat have agreed to set up conservation easements on their properties, which guarantees that the land will be preserved as open space for a lengthy period of time.

Shenfield and Kuntz said the ranch market has been active in recent months in Routt County, especially compared to a dry spell that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq.

Shenfield said heavy activity should continue throughout the summer.

And with multi-million-dollar ranches selling, real estate agents can expect to see significant profits as well.

Shenfield admitted that the payoff from a ranch sale is rewarding.

But Kuntz said many people overestimate a broker's profits. He said that selling a ranch does not happen overnight, and a lot of hard work, traveling and advertising goes into the sale.

"You don't expect ranch property to sell in a year," he said. "It's a multi-year commitment."

Shenfield and Kuntz traced their work in ranch real estate to their roots. Both grew up on ranches.

"It's a personal thing to go out and be able to walk it and talk it," Shenfield said. Selling ranch property is a love, she said.

Kuntz said he could not speculate about what will happen to the value of ranch property in Routt County in the future.

"I won't even go there," he said. "There is no canned answer." He said too many variables affect the value of a property.

Shenfield is optimistic about ranch lands as investments.

"I think the best investment someone can make is land," she said. "We aren't making any more of it."

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