It’s not just a movie-Western dream: owning and living on a ranch is a real possibility in B.C., where both ranch land and lifestyle are available in abundance.
The romantic notion of owning a ranch in the west is not a new one. For decades, celebrities and public figures have jumped out of the spotlight and into cowboy boots to get their piece of ranch living and all that it offers: ample space, freedom, wildlife and connection to the land.
But as A-P Guest Ranch owners Susan and Andre Patry know, you don’t need to be a celebrity to buy into the ranch life. “Andre had always felt himself a ‘displaced cowboy’ in Quebec, and I was a ‘displaced Dale Evans’ from Columbus, Ohio,” Susan Patry recalls. “So we loaded up our five kids and six favourite Morgan horses and made the journey from Quebec to B.C..” That was in 1983, when the Patrys found a run-down ranch, with Crown land on three sides, close to Merritt, in Thompson-Nicola ranch country. It took three years of arduous family labour, but by 1986, they were open for business as a working guest ranch.
Heritage structures were repurposed and revitalized, and seven log-and-beam cabins were added for short stays or long-tern leases, which can include horse boarding and integrate guests’ involvement in ranch life. “Our objective for the cabins is to attract people who, like us, share the love and enjoyment of horses and trail riding,” says Patry.
That business model is just one of the many options available to ranch buyers. According to Greg Walton, a realtor with BC Farm & Ranch Realty Corp., ranches are scattered throughout B.C., with the most desirable properties concentrated in the interior (around Merritt and Kamloops) and the Cariboo (100 Mile House, Quesnel and Williams Lake).
Some ranch owners turn to the B&B model, to boarding horses or to leasing ranch operations out for revenue, among other business opportunities available. Gord Houweling, another realtor with BC Farm & Ranch Realty Corp, advises that because of the specialized knowledge needed to ranch in B.C., the vast majority of properties sell to experienced hands, as working/livestock ranches. “But in recent years, we have also seen an increase in foreign investment, as well as Vancouverites looking to get away and slow down. Buyers are interested in the nature and beauty that accompanies ranch properties and the return on the investment being made.”
Houweling says that ranch property has appreciated steadily over the last two decades, making it an excellent investment. “Generally speaking, if a ranch has a fair asking price, it will sell within 12 months. Currently, it is a very well-balanced market, with a fair number of sellers and buyers.” While prices are determined by the number of acres and geographical location, average ranch prices are typically between $2.5 and $4 million, he says.
Walton says the main reason their clients want to buy a ranch property is the amazing lifestyle. It’s a great way to raise a family, while being your own boss and being surrounded by some of Canada’s greatest beauty and nature,” he says.
Susan Patry agrees. “The most fulfilling thing about living on a ranch has been the opportunity it provides for the appreciation of the natural beauty of our land, lakes and wildlife,” she says. Of her now-grown family, she says “Our ranch life provided learning curves for our children as well as the skills and work ethic to make them productive and creative adults.”
SO YOU WANT TO BUY A RANCH?
Consider these important factors:
- Location, climate, soil conditions, range permits and the access to water are the most important factors, as they determine your ability to produce, feed or utilize the land, says realtor Walton of the BC Farm & Ranch Realty Corp.
- Be realistic and methodical in assessing the upgrades needed for your business or lifestyle. Establish a support team for helping with the inevitable manual labour demands, so you can enjoy vacations and outside interests, say the owners of A-P Guest Ranch.
- Look for an agency that specializes in this type of real estate, like BC Farm & Ranch Realty Corp., which can also help with advice on financing, soil analysis and other ranch-specific services.
By Kate Robertson