If you’re thinking about buying a farm or ranch property in Oregon, then you’ve come to the right place. I’ll walk you through all the ins and outs and unique considerations that go with the territory of buying a big piece of land in the Willamette Valley or Central Oregon, or elsewhere in Oregon.
Maybe you’ve already seen plenty of listings for ranches or farm land for sale in Oregon. While it’s easy enough to find ranches and farms for sale on property search websites like this one, there’s a lot that an online listing simply won’t convey. In addition, navigating these transactions requires pecialized knowledge that not many Realtors possess. You’ll want to know what you’re in for, so let’s cover the basics.
So, You Want to Buy an Oregon Ranch or Farm Property?
It’s a story we’ve heard time and time again. Whatever is bringing you to look at ranches or farmland in Oregon, the inspiration has probably been stirring for a long time. Maybe you grew up watching Bonanza with Hoss and Little Joe, and your wife has always wanted a horse. Or maybe you remember the idyllic summers spent on the ranch of your childhood friend, milking cows and riding horses.
Of course, the inspiration could be more recent. Maybe you were just driving around the countryside in Central Oregon one day, seeing all the ranch and farm properties out the corner of your eye, and some spark was lit.
Whatever triggered it, life on that normal eighth-of-an-acre lot in the suburbs just doesn’t appeal anymore. So, you get on Zillow, talk to the first Realtor who answers the phone and you are off to the races.
Your new Realtor drives you and your wife over hill and dale and shows you a few properties. This one is too big; that one is too small. Then, like Goldilocks, you find one that is just right. You, make an offer, close the deal, and now are the proud owner of your very own Ponderosa! Even Little Joe would be envious.
Then, reality sinks in. I thought this place came with irrigation; how do I turn it on? Why is the shower water brown, and why does the back yard smell like poo?! I wish we had asked for the tractor as part of the sale!
Okay, I think you get the point. Your Realtor seemed nice enough. Really knowledgeable, has been in the business for 10 years, and has sold tons of properties.
The thing is, ranch and farm properties in Oregon are among the most complicated to navigate in real estate. Whether you are a seller or a buyer, there are lots of moving parts and complicated decisions to be made. So, once you’ve done your own homework, you’re going to want to find a Realtor who knows all of these pieces in and out.
Home, Home on the Range: My Own Life on an Oregon Ranch
I’m going to digress a bit here with a sort of an old-timey story. It has a point, though, so bear with me. I come from a long line of farmers, and my grandfather on my mother’s side owned a working sheep ranch in Oregon’s Central Willamette Valley.
Growing up on a working sheep ranch instilled in me a love of the land and a diligent work ethic. In addition, it exposed me to the idiosyncrasies that each individual ranch or farm has.
My grandfather’s Anchor Ranch was not just a sheep ranch. We did custom small bale hay up and down the Willamette Valley during summers and tended to several horses and cows, as well as chickens and turkeys.
When our farm equipment broke down (oh, too often), we fixed them ourselves, and we built barns, loafing sheds, and chicken coops while maintaining thousands of feet of fence. If I never build another foot of fence, it will be too soon.
Since those days on Anchor Ranch, I have worked on or been exposed to ranches and farms of many different shapes and sizes. This work has included running a combine harvesting seed from many different farms in the Willamette Valley, harvesting and washing organically grown carrots on a certified organic farm in Oregon’s coastal foothills, preparing dry sage land for cattle-grazing, and bailing big-bail alfalfa in South-Central Oregon.
Every one of these properties, of course, had its own special concerns. While each ranch and farm is endowed with its own unique beauty, each also has its own unique set of problems to solve.
“Problems to solve:” I think that that is the most realistic way to consider buying a ranch or farm in Oregon. True, you may be able to ride the initial wave of enthusiasm through the buying process. But once you’re confronted with the reality of running a ranch or farm, solving problems is exactly what you’re going to have to do.
With that said, doesn’t it make sense to get as many of those out of the way as possible in the process of finding a ranch or farm property and negotiating a sale?
To help you do that, we’ve prepared a not-so-comprehensive list (there are too many items to mention) of potential issues to solve when you’re considering having a Ponderosa of your own.
What to Look Out for When You’re Looking for an Oregon Ranch or Farm Property
To start with, there are basically three words that sum it all up: location, location, location. Depending on exactly where you want to pitch your fork in Oregon, there are any number of location-specific issues that you’ll need to solve.
If you’re looking at farm or ranch properties in Oregon’s coastal foothills, you may have to consider flooding, expansive clay soil, sunlight, hilly terrain, and a shorter growing season because of the weather. There are issues with privately-owned forest lands adjacent to farms to watch out for and irrigation rights issues to be aware of.
In the Willamette Valley, expect to pay a premium for some of the most fertile farm land you’ll find in Oregon. There are many well-established big farm and ranch operations that have been in the same families for generations. That makes it harder for small farms and ranches to make it.
Once the home to the largest grass seed production in the world, the Willamette Valley is seeing much of this land converted to grape and filbert cultivation (“filbert” being the local parlance for hazelnuts.) The unique growing methods for many of the crops here make it imperative to choose your location wisely, especially if you are interested in certified organic farming.
As for Central Oregon, the high desert has many idiosyncrasies to be aware of. Growing anything here is a challenge. Temperatures get quite warm for a few months during the summer, but they cool down dramatically at night. Needless to say, winters are long and chilly.
Some land may be available with irrigation rights, but dry ranching and farming are the norm in much of Central Oregon. There are many areas where livestock are not permitted, while wells vary greatly in depth and quality of water.
Ranching in Eastern Oregon certainly has issues of its own. With the climate changing, Eastern Oregon ranchers have been fighting increasingly-severe drought conditions. As the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge demonstrated, there is much tension around ranchers’ use of public lands for grazing. All of these factors must be considered before purchasing in this area.
Concerns Common to Farm and Ranch Properties Across Oregon
Although each area has its own unique set of problems to solve, there are numerous considerations that are common to ranches and farms all across Oregon. Before you sign on the dotted line to buy a ranch or farm property in Oregon, at an absolute minimum you’ll want to make sure that your Realtor has a good grasp on the following subject matter.
Let’s start with water: basically, you, your livestock, and your crops are all going to need it. For your own use, wells are of course a necessity. If you have a bad one, it’s going to be a huge bummer. But it’s a bit tricky to suss out what’s going on with any given well.
Each one is different, even in similar geographic areas. Failing to thoroughly test and understand the nature of your well could cost you thousands. Is it a shared well? Is there a well agreement? There are too many considerations to navigate alone.
When it comes to irrigation rights, a given property might have ’em, and it might not. If you are looking at a property with irrigation rights, it’s important to find out: what type of rights are they, and what conditions will you need to maintain? Where are you on the line of priority when it’s time to shut them off, and what type of equipment do you need to best utilize your water rights?
There are some obvious plusses if you’re looking at properties that are adjacent to water but a big potential downside: if you have any buildings located in a flood plain, lenders will require you to purchase costly flood insurance.
We’ve probably talked enough about water for now, so let’s tackle the biggest question of them all: is it even possible to do the type of ranching or farming you’re interested in on the piece of ground you’re looking at? The current owner may be running cattle and you want to grow trees. Then there’s the whole issue of zoning and permitted use.
Last but not least, you’ll need to think about equipment. For most ranching and farming, you will need a certain amount of specialized equipment to help minimize the labor. I could write a whole article on this subject alone, mostly because it’s fun talking about tractors, bailers, and so forth.
I’ll keep it simple though: negotiating farm equipment as part of the sale is tricky. What condition is the equipment in? Is it worth what the seller is asking? How much life is left in the equipment? Would it be better to buy new?
Needless to say, all of the issues that can come up in your normal run-of-the-mill real estate transaction can also come up in an Oregon ranch or farm transaction. But that’s the subject for another article.
Ready to Hit the Oregon Trail? Start looking for your Ranch or Farm Today
You can read articles like this one until the cows come home, but you won’t actually know what you’re working with until you get out there and start exploring. Once you’ve visited some properties and have the lay of the land, you’ll either be able to picture yourself making a home there or you won’t.
Seeing is believing, but as you should know by now, there can be plenty lurking under the surface too. So you’ll want a guide with the eyes to see what yours might not. That’s true both at the stage of scoping out properties online and actually going there in person.
We at LOHR Real Estate would be honored to join you in that exploration, whether your heart is already set on living on an Oregon farm or ranch or you’re still mulling it over. Feel free to contact us today at our Bend or our Eugene office.