Engel & Völkers Intelligence


From early nomads to those exploring the Western Frontier, humans have long been fascinated by the idea of wide open space.

From early nomads to those exploring the Western Frontier, humans have long been fascinated by the idea of wide open space. Today, these properties are in higher demand than ever, as families and individuals are drawn to ranches that offer both the privacy of a retreat or vacation home, and the views and openness of unexplored land.

Our Private Office Advisors are uniquely positioned to support ranch buyers and sellers with a wide range of goals, experience and expectations.

What is a ranch?

Our advisors share that land spanning more than 100 acres constitutes a ranch, while an open spanse of land under 100 acres would be considered a hobby ranch. Historically, ranches have been intended for grazing livestock, including cattle and sheep. Today, a ranch does not have to incorporate livestock operations. The land can be used in any number of ways, including as a: 

  • Hunting ranch

  • Working cattle or equestrian ranch

  • Fly fishing property

  • Recreational property

  • Smaller hobby ranch

  • Private family retreat

“There’s a romantic notion that you can leave behind the city life, come rustle cattle and have complete privacy. A lot of my clients come here to fulfill their dream of being a cowboy in Montana.” 

— Dawn Maddux, Private Office Advisor, Missoula

The goals of ranch ownership

It can take a while for ranch buyers to find the right property, especially if they have a specific goal or land use in mind. Typical ranch buyers are looking for land that they can use for:

  • Running cattle

  • Recreation, including for dirt biking or ATVs

  • Hunting or fishing

  • Trail riding

  • Open space and complete privacy

“We have some clients who are seeking to move their cattle operations from Texas or other states that are getting more crowded. Others are looking for smaller hobby ranches — they’re seeking privacy and a chance to find their own private Yellowstone.” 

— PollyAnna Snyder, Private Office Advisor, Bozeman

Considerations of buying a ranch

In many cases ranch buyers are nearing retirement or are looking for a change of pace from their years in corporate life. Maybe they grew up on a ranch, or have visited them over the years on vacation — and they’re looking to return to that lifestyle and make it more permanent.

Our Private Office Advisors help these clients understand the details they may not have considered, including the need for:

  • Land and water rights

  • Conservation easements

  • Mineral rights

  • Soil conditions

Water rights are extraordinarily important for ranch buyers, says Bozeman Private Office Advisor PollyAnna Snyder and her licensed associate, Cody Adams. The duo work diligently to explain the scarcity of water — and the importance of water rights — when helping buyers to consider different properties in the area.  


“Whether the land will be used for recreational purposes, livestock purposes, or agricultural purposes, water is the highest priority when someone is looking for a ranch property. Water is king, here.” 

— Cody Adams, Ranch sales specialist, Bozeman

Understanding the staffing of a ranch property

Depending on the size and use of their new property, ranch buyers must also consider if the property already has equipment that will be transferred with the purchase — and personnel that will help them as they take over ownership.

For true ranches, sized at 100 acres or greater, staff needs may include:

  • A caretaker who manages the house and other domestic interests

  • A ranch manager who manages the land and animals, including running cattle

  • A ditch rider, who inspects and manages the irrigation

“When buying a ranch, the new owners often keep the same staff as the previous owner, because they are a wealth of knowledge about the ranch and its inner workings. But if that doesn’t work out, there are plenty of cowboys in the valley. It’s not difficult to find staff here.” 

Melissa Temple, Private Office Advisor, Aspen

The process of buying or selling a ranch

Some ranch owners want their property to be marketed publicly, which Maddux and Temple say agree is the best path for getting exposure to the right clientele. Other ranch owners request that their advisor network the sale privately; these sellers typically understand that this may extend the timeline to sell.

The Engel & Völkers Private Office Portal allows Private Office Advisors to share these listings with other Private Office Advisors confidentially, which increases the Advisor’s likelihood of finding a buyer from outside their own network.

“If these properties have been in the family for a long time or the family is well-known, they may ask that the marketing and sale be done in a confidential manner,” explains Madrid finca (ranch) expert Alejandro Berdud Arias. “[This] prevents outsiders from gaining access to information about the property and the price, and allows us to only be in contact with those who are really interested in this type of estate.”

Once a buyer has been identified, our Private Office Advisors typically request non-disclosure agreements on both sides, along with the buyer’s proof of funds. Our Private Office Advisors then work with the family and their staff, as well as attorneys that have been hired to represent each side.

“High-net worth individuals expect to sign non-disclosure agreements and to be asked for proof of funds. There’s not a lot of pushback and many times, I think they appreciate that this is a serious investment that is being treated as such.” 

— Dawn Maddux, Private Office Advisor, Missoula

The legacy of owning a ranch

For many Family Office clients, ranch ownership represents an opportunity for privacy and a more balanced lifestyle — especially if they have spent their years working in fast-paced business environments. Some clients, says Bozeman specialist Cody Adams, “call and say I want a place in Montana. I love to fish and my kids and grandkids will come and spend their summers here.”

Most ranch buyers find that ownership lives up to their dreams, no matter how idealized they were. And when it comes time to sell, it can be difficult to let go. Our Advisors shared that the transaction of a ranch can be emotionally charged.

Alejandro Berdud Arias, a finca (ranches) expert from Madrid, shares his experience, saying “A finca is part of a family's life. These transactions are very emotionally charged because of what it means to leave a property in which the family has spent a lot of good times. But you also see the enthusiasm with which the buyer acquires the property. In the end you know that you have made two families happy. One by selling their private Eden, and the other by buying their dream paradise.”