One day more than 10 years ago, dogs barking from new homes lining the Madison River in Montana interrupted Gregory Fay's otherwise peaceful day of fishing.
Concerned that subdivisions were a trend marking riverfront and agricultural lands throughout the Intermountain West, the experience spawned an idea for Fay, a real estate broker: Why not start a real estate company dedicated to keeping rivers and small agricultural communities in the West healthy and vibrant?
"The basis of it is I spent a lot of time out hunting and fishing and enjoying the wide open spaces that I did these activities in. ... I just felt like it was an opportunity to give something back," Fay said.
Based in Bozeman, Mont., Fay Ranches Inc., which started in 1992 and specializes in marketing, selling and managing ranches and recreational properties, has recently opened a satellite office in Steamboat.
Manned by sales associate Brian Smith, the office is the company's only satellite operation in Colorado and will focus primarily on properties in Northwest Colorado and south central Wyoming.
"It makes sense to be in the place with a lot of the types of properties we specialize in," Smith said.
Fay Ranches has facilitated transactions involving ranches anywhere from 20 to 100,000 acres in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico and Oregon.
The company lists quality properties offering the typical attributes wealthy buyers look for in a western retreat: seclusion, breathtaking views, ponds, rivers or lakes, as well as fishing, hunting and other recreation opportunities, Smith said.
Fay Ranches brokers, however, only work with buyers whose visions for the properties are consistent with the company's goal of keeping farms and ranches intact.
"We don't get into subdividing or carving up land," Smith said. "We'd like to see it get bigger if possible, and we work with buyers and sellers to do that."
Important tools in preserving Fay Ranch properties are conservation easements, which, in exchange for protecting land from future development, offer attractive tax benefits to affluent buyers.
In addition to educating buyers on the benefits and logistics of conservation easements, the company's eight brokers -- including Fay -- help buyers understand other pertinent details, such as water and mineral rights, access issues and agricultural leases, Smith said.
Although envisioning the ideal ranch retreat is one thing, making that vision reality can be overwhelming for a new buyer.
"There's a period of time when they see the magnitude of owning a ranch," Fay said.
That's why Fay created a sister company, Fay Management Inc., which helps ease a buyer's transition into ranch ownership by offering design, construction and management services.
With the slogan, "Don't worry about it, we'll take care of it," the management company's team of experts creates and restores wildlife habitats, manages game herds, builds fisheries, restores streams and focuses on other environmental projects enhancing the recreational opportunities on the property.
"It provides a tremendous amount of enjoyment to watch a ranch reach its potential agriculturally and from a fishery and wildlife standpoint," Fay said. "It's the ultimate enjoyment of tangible evidence of your work. It's a lot of fun to do."
In addition to developing management plans and hiring ranch mangers for agricultural operations, the company also provides general contracting services in constructing custom homes and ranch buildings.
The company strives to retain the old ranch look by reclaiming old, weathered siding and using recycled wood. Even though the structures are new, the builders want them to appear 100 years old, Fay said.
Fay Management doesn't leave the picture once the hunting cabins are built and the rivers are restored.
"To whatever degree that someone wants us, we are there for the life of the ranch," Fay said.
With licenses in multiple states, Fay Ranch brokers connect buyers who may not have a specific location in mind with a diverse range of properties, Smith said. Smith brings to the table an extensive commercial real estate background as well as a master's degree in real estate from the University of Denver.
The brokers also act as buyers' agents for ranches not listed by Fay Ranches.
Though it's hard to pinpoint the company's typical clients, Fay said they are generally people who have worked hard, been successful in their lives and are ready to back off from work. Family is often a big motivator for buyers, who want a place where their families can congregate, Fay said.
From the sellers' perspective, a Fay Ranch listing can be an attractive option because of the company's competitive marketing campaigns, which include ads in national and international high-end newsletters and magazines, Smith said.
Sellers typically come from diverse backgrounds and sometimes include longtime ranchers who can no longer afford to own the ranch, but want to stay on the land. In several cases the company has arranged for ranchers to remain on the property as ranch managers, an ideal situation for the former and new owners, Smith said.
"It's a pretty neat situation," he said. "I like being involved in those deals."
The company has three properties listed in Colorado, including the Elk River Ranch, a 600-acre property encompassing a three-quarter-mile section of the Elk River north of Steamboat. The ranch includes a custom home, a rustic saloon and guest lodge, a manager's house, guest cabin, equestrian facility and several outbuildings.
For more information on the Elk River Ranch or other Fay Ranch properties, call Smith at 846-1262 or call 1-800-238-8616. More information also may be obtained at the company's Web site, www.fayranches.com.
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