BOZEMAN, Mont. (TheStreet) -- The 20,000-acre Sun Ranch, nestled among national forests and the Madison River in Cameron, Mont., is so vast that realtors rely on helicopters to show the property to prospective buyers.
The fact that the $42 million ranch once owned by actor Steven Seagal has been shown eight or 10 times and its brokerage, Fay Ranches of Bozeman, Mont., expects an offer in a week makes it rarer than the earth it sits on. It has been a tough year for Fay Ranches and other ranch sellers in the U.S., as inventory and prices seem miles away from reality.
Many of the $5 million to $25 million properties on the "recent sales" page of Fay's Web site date back to 2007, when revenues showed double-digit gains. This year, sales have been slow until the last two months.
in Three Forks, Mont., which includes a six-mile stretch of the Madison River, originally listed for $22 million, but will close at $11.5 million on Sept. 1. While it reflects the nearly 30% slide in Fay's Rocky Mountains ranch market since 2007, the sale is keeping the company optimistic as it expands into Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Sun Valley, Idaho.
"Last week, I came home and for the first time in a few months I actually said to my wife that I had a good day at work," says Greg Fay, founder of Fay Ranches. "It's been a long time and we kept our heads down and kept swinging and, thankfully, it looks like there's a light at the end of the tunnel."
That light isn't shining on every ranch. The 57-acre superluxe
Rockin' S Ranch
in Teton Valley, Wyo. -- with its half-mile of Teton River, 6,400-square-foot main house, horse barn, trout ponds and sports courts -- will be auctioned by Concierge Auctions after failing to sell for its $8.9 million asking price. That's the same price
Chairman Bill Gates just paid for a
in Park County, Wyo., that once belonged to Buffalo Bill Cody.
Hall and Hall, a Billings, Mont.-based ranch sales and management company, watched its sales dwindle from $300 million in 2006 to $170 million last year. President Jim Taylor expects this year's sales to be "pretty grim."
Robert Dullnig, a broker with Kuper Sotheby's International Realty Ranch Sales in San Antonio, Texas, which represents properties as large as the $24.7 million, 20,000-acre
, says his South Texas sales have fallen from $98 million two years ago to $30 million this year.
"Buyers and sellers are at a standoff," he says. "Buyers think they should get 2006 prices, sellers think they should get a deal."
If there's an upside to the malaise, it's that the sales stalemate has kept the casual buyers on the sidelines. Taylor says it's easier to sell a property like the $28 million
in Routt County, Colo. -- a 512-acre plot seven miles from Steamboat Ski & Resort with a private trout fishery and a view of the Great Divide -- to someone who knows a bit about ranching. While explaining the ins and outs of ranching is part of his firm's management duties, he finds it comforting when a buyer knows what a pivot is (Attention city slickers: It's an irrigation system).
Fay and the other realtors cultivate longstanding relationships with clients -- taking them fishing in Alaska or elk hunting in the Rockies -- to maintain ties and meet prospective buyers. After all, buyers who are serious about ranching know a down market doesn't make what they're looking for any less rare.
"The underlying theme of the ranch market is pretty simple: You can build all of the houses, apartment buildings and office buildings you want, but you can't make any more ranch land," Taylor says. "What's there is what's there, and it's actually a disappearing resource considering a lot of it's getting paved or built on."
-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.