wsj ranch feature

Meet The Brokers Who Wrangle Luxury Ranch Sales
These brokers face grizzlies and avalanches to sell multi-million dollar Western properties

Live Jackson Hole’s Chopper Grassell and Richard Lewis were recently featured in Wall Street Journal article, Meet The Brokers Who Wrangle Luxury Ranch Sales.


“Routinely spending years with clients before they buy, ranch brokers must be equal parts tour guide, park ranger, financial adviser and agriculture expert, adept at representing both lifelong cattle ranchers and urban billionaires, and discussing heli-skiing in the same breath as complex water and mineral rights. “You can be sitting around the kitchen of a third-generation rancher having coffee in the morning, and then in the afternoon you’re in the truck with a very well-known, successful business person from Palo Alto or New York,” said Greg Fay, the founder of Fay Ranches who last year sold newscaster Tom Brokaw ’s Montana ranch, which had been listed at $17.9 million. He added: “We joke that it’s like being bilingual.

Ranch brokerage in its current form is relatively new. It was only a few decades ago that moneyed, big-city elites like Ted Turner, Charles Schwab and Malcolm Forbes started buying up Rocky Mountain ranchland primarily for recreational rather than agricultural purposes.”

“In the early 2000s, money was so easy, it was just pouring in,” recalled David Halgerson, a ranch broker in southwestern Idaho. In 2007, Mr. Forbes’s heirs sold his Colorado ranch for $175 million—more than 20 times the estimated $50 an acre the patriarch had paid in the 1960s.”

richard lewis chopper grassel wsj

The article goes on to quote Richard Lewis, “but since the 2008 financial crisis, ranch buyers have become much more cautious, and are more likely to scrutinize a property’s agricultural production (or “ag,” as ranch brokers call it) as well as the views, said Wyoming ranch broker Richard Lewis. Mr. Lewis said he once worked with a client for eight years before he finally bought a ranch for $48 million.”

“Brokers have to sell not just a property, but the ranching lifestyle and romance of the Old West. Often—and this is the fun part for brokers—that means behaving like a glorified tour guide, taking clients hunting, horseback riding and fly-fishing. The job tends to attract people who embody the lifestyle buyers are looking to emulate,” the article goes on to talk about.

Chopper Grassell also says in the article, “Nobody’s getting rich doing this—you’ve got to love the land.”


Article by Candace Taylor on August 22, 2019 and photography by Greg Von Doersten for the Wall Street Journal.