Mini-ranches for weekend cowboys the latest US trend

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 12:00am

The latest trend to sweep the United States property market is the gentleman rancher.

These wealthy, part-time cowboys are buying up small ranches where they can escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life and, for the more famous among them, the attentions of the paparazzi.

George W. Bush is the world's most famous weekend rancher. Others include Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford and Ted Turner.

With more people looking to buy ranches as second or third homes rather than as cattle businesses, smaller, more manageable versions are being created. Large estates are being carved up into smaller parcels of land to create luxurious homesteads variously called ranchettes, mini-ranches or gentlemen's ranches by estate agents.

Whether it is a 10-hectare mini-ranch or a 40,000-hectare mega-ranch, the attractions of the cowboy lifestyle appear compelling.

Estate agent Sotheby's International senior vice-president Zackary Wright said top of the list was pride of ownership.

For many it has replaced the mega-yacht, and there is something romantic about being a rancher. Many people have had this fantasy since childhood. Many buyers also realise it can be a wise investment to buy land. The healthy outdoors, bags of privacy and endless opportunities to ride off into the sunset is also attracting buyers, including Europeans.

'We are getting more young multimillionaires/billionaires who are looking to escape the helter-skelter of corporate life. Buyers today are not ranchers but from Hollywood or Wall Street, captains of industry. It is a healthy mix of both,' Mr Wright said.

'Demand is very strong, in keeping with the rest of the real estate market. Interest from overseas buyers is particularly high because they can buy a lot more, with their own currencies being relatively strong.'

Texas, California, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico are popular ranch-buying locations.

Mini-ranches can be expensive. Sotheby's is marketing 20-hectare Providence Farm in Santa Ynez, California, for US$5.95 million.

Mr Wright said in some cases, would-be cowboys were offered mini-ranches on estates where large tracts of land were jointly owned with other ranchers.

Owning a percentage of land directly and sharing the remaining hectares with other gentleman ranchers (buyers tended to be men) could give an owner a sense that the estate was his.

At the Wagon Hound Ranch in Wyoming, 4,850 hectares have been divided into 18, 16-hectare ranches, with the remainder owned communally.