Written By Lorie Woodward Cantu
Despite a 30-year age difference, David Burgher and Harlan Ray, principals in the Dallas-based Burgher-Ray Ranch Sales Group at Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, are remarkably similar when it comes to the things that matter most.
Our core values are faith, family and friends,” said Burgher, who founded the Ranch & Land Division at Briggs Freeman in 2011. “Our business principles, which are built on honesty, integrity and respect, reflect the tenets of our faith—and we try to treat our clients like family and friends, striving to put their needs first at all times.”
They also share a passion for the land, especially Texas.
“I can’t think of a higher privilege than owning land and being a steward, especially in Texas with our storied heritage and legacy of private ownership,” Ray said. “As ranch brokers, we bring people the rare opportunity to make sound financial investments that are also investments in lifestyle and their own personal legacies.”
One of Burgher’s favorite activities is introducing clients to the state’s diversity.
“When we get people out of the city, especially those who aren’t native Texans, the diversity of the state blows their minds,” Burgher said. “Most people are used to being in a place where you can have one or two ecosystems, so when they get to choose from the Pineywoods, the Panhandle, the Trans-Pecos, the Hill Country, the Brush Country, the Coast and Central Texas it’s eye opening.”
While they consider property within a three-hour drive of Dallas, the firm’s “back yard,” the ranch sales group does business across the state.
The similarities don’t stop with their love of the land. Both men are lifelong Dallas residents. Burgher’s ancestors arrived in the area in the 1840s. Ray is the third generation to call Dallas home.
After raising their five children in Dallas, Burgher and his wife, Pam, now split their time between their country place in Bosque County and the city. Ray got his taste for country life in Bosque County on his grandfather’s ranch near Valley Mills.
“A perfect day ends with an awesome sunset with a big sky,” Burgher said. “There’s something about being in the country that allows you to focus on what’s important and be at peace. Plus, when you live on the land, you have to deal with the things at hand, so you’re constantly learning new skills and becoming more self-reliant, which is empowering.”
And then there is their passion for the outdoors. In a perfect world, Burgher and Ray would spend every day afield. They are avid hunters with wing-shooting being a particular passion for both. After a lifetime of hunting, Burgher laughingly admits to being “a lot less mad at big mammals than I once was.” Ray is a serious saltwater fly fisherman who has convinced his wife of two years, Melissa, to select their vacation spots based on fly fishing opportunities. Burgher is learning the art of fly fishing from his son who is a professional fly fishing guide.
Nature is full of wonders if we stop and pay attention to the intricacies. It’s incredible to witness.
“Hunting and fishing is less about what you take and what you catch and more about what you get to see when you’re outdoors,” Ray said. “Nature is full of wonders if we stop and pay attention to the intricacies. It’s incredible to witness.”
They both enjoy horses, but through very different disciplines. Burgher’s wife Pam practiced the English disciplines of hunter jumper and dressage, but has switched to western pleasure so she can enjoy horseback riding with her husband. Ray is a team roper. He took the advice of a mentor and “focused on one end of the steer” becoming a header. To date, he hasn’t a lost finger to an errant dally, a well-known hazard of the sport. This is important because he’s also a gifted guitar player.
And for the record, they truly appreciate their wives.
“We’re able to do what we do because of the love and support of our wives,” Ray said. “They understand the unpredictable nature of this business and make it possible for us to meet the needs of our clients.”
With so many things in common, it was almost inevitable that Burgher and Ray’s paths would cross. They did thanks to the persistence of Michael Stewart, who is Burgher’s brother-in-law and a volunteer with Ray at Young Life, a weekly ministry for teens. He knew both men would connect through real estate as well as many other interests.
“Stewart kept saying, ‘You need to meet Burgher. You guys have a lot in common,’” Ray said. “I had a great job working in commercial real estate in my dad’s firm, so I just kept putting it off. I wasn’t looking for something else.”
Ray’s father Robert Ray, also a long-time real Dallas estate broker, had known Burgher for several years and encouraged his son to meet with Burgher after he started the Briggs Freeman Ranch & Land Division.
When Burgher and Ray finally met for coffee, the meeting lasted for several hours and the conversation ranged from professional goals to faith, family, friends, hobbies and the world situation. They discovered they were standing on a lot of common ground including varied real estate experience. Between the two of them, they had experience in commercial and ranch real estate, appraisals, development, and oil and gas.
“We had a wealth of diverse experience that we could bring to bear on the ranch real estate industry,” Burgher said. “Life is about continually learning new things and applying your knowledge in new arenas.”
Soon after, Burgher who was managing the Ranch & Land Division at Briggs Freeman, offered Ray a job.
“When I told my dad, who I was working with at the time, about the offer, he said, ‘What are you going to do with that great opportunity?’” Ray said. “I answered, ‘I believe I’ll do it.’”
Burgher and Ray quickly gravitated toward one another and began working on deals together.
“From the beginning, it was just easy,” Burgher said. “I knew he would handle clients and business the way I would handle clients and business. We didn’t force the relationship, we inherently trusted each other.”
And, they enjoyed each other’s company.
“We laugh a lot—and sometimes it’s not even appropriate,” Ray said. “We take our work seriously, but ourselves not so much. When your job is fun, no day ever seems like work.”
After several years of managing the Briggs Freeman ranch team, Burgher wanted to get back to selling real estate. When Burgher stepped down as manager, he and Ray agreed the next logical step for them both was formalizing their working relationship.
“We envisioned a group that could deliver the customer service of a tiny boutique agency and the marketing power of an internationally recognized firm, so the Burgher-Ray Ranch Sales Group was born,” Burgher said.
Today, the Burgher-Ray group has grown to include their assistant Barbara Kurilecz and Ranch Sales associates Tyler Thomas and Clayton Warren.
“We’ve expanded so we can all back each other up and provide clients’ top-notch service at their convenience,” Ray said.
They couple this with the marketing power of Sotheby’s International, which offers avenues unavailable at other brokerages. Sotheby’s International offers an international website, exclusive New York Times and Wall Street Journal websites, as well as the Biggs Freeman network. In addition, there is access to a cadre of 400 residential agents affiliated with Sotheby’s International, which is a prime source for referrals.
The combination has proven effective. The group earned Top Producing Ranch Sales Team 2014; individual Top Ranch Sales Associates in 2012, 2013 and 2014; and D Best Realtors in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Their clients have included international buyers from Australia, Mexico and China. Plus, a host of out-of-state buyers who are interested in staking claim in Texas.
Success has not brought complacency nor arrogance.
“Every day is different. Every client is different. Every property is different,” Burgher said. “We approach each client and each property individually with the expectation of success. To do that, we strive to make the most of our talents and gifts while using our clients’ best interests as our guiding force.”
While the team has scored notable successes like the sale of the 35,643-acre Bitter Creek Ranch in Donley and Hall counties, the brokers steer the conversation away from the particulars of a deal to the unique features of the property or the outstanding characteristics of the people involved. They talk animatedly about the “high-end horse property just 45 minutes from downtown Dallas,” the Robinson Ranch that was “homesteaded in 1885,” the ranch that was “the site of Indian raids described in Empire of the Summer Moon [a novel by S.C. Gwynne],” and that “beautiful place on the Brazos River with the lodge decorated in Ralph Lauren featuring mounts from all over the world, and the clients who were incredible to work with and have become dear friends.” But they conscientiously protect the privacy of all involved.
“Our business is taking care of people, which includes being discreet,” Ray said.
Burgher added, “If you take care of clients and put their needs at the top of the heap, then everything else falls into place—including referrals.”
While they are in the business of helping clients buy or sell real estate, they also serve as a bridge between urban and rural Texas. Burgher and Ray are a repository of knowledge that can help new landowners prepare to become land stewards.
“If you’ve never managed rural property before, there are a lot of questions,” Burgher said. The duo familiarizes themselves with the resources in any given area to help point their clients toward the most reputable fence builders or bull dozer operators or building contractors. They know the local expert agency professionals who can answer questions about hunting and fishing, range management, livestock management or construction. And they can point people in the direction of the best local cuisine.
“Sometimes people just want to know where to find the best cheeseburger in town,” Ray said. “Little things can make a big difference.”
The duo believes the long-term outlook for ranch real estate in Texas is strong.
“While there may be ups and downs in the market, we believe the long-term demand for rural real estate is going to remain strong,” Ray said.
One reason is simply supply and demand. In 1950 there were 7.7 million people in the state, but by 2012 there were 26.2 million people in Texas. By 2050, populations is expected to reach northward of 50 million people.
“As our cities grow, so does the demand for places for people to get away from it all,” Burgher said. “And the slice of rural land available will continue to get smaller, translating into the potential for a significant return on investment.”
While the team never loses sight of the business side of ranch real estate, they focus on a much bigger picture.
“We’re called to be good stewards of time, of finances, of land and natural resources, and of relationships,” Ray said. “The responsibility of stewardship doesn’t encompass just one thing. When you pick up the mantle of stewardship, it challenges you to be all you can be in every facet of your life and to bring your best to bear for others.”
- Favorite stretch of Highway in TX: HWY 6 between Clifton & Meridian
- Favorite local eatery: Mitchell’s – Clifton, TX
- Favorite thing to do outside: Horseback with my wife
- Favorite stretch of Highway in TX: HWY 22 between Hamilton & Meridian
- Favorite local eatery: Lone Star Bar & Grill – Canyon, TX
- Favorite thing to do outside: On horseback or fly fishing
- Favorite stretch of Highway in TX: SH 16 from PK to US 180 west of Palo Pinto
- Favorite local eatery: Hammonds’s BBQ – Glen Rose, TX
- Favorite thing to do outside: Bike riding & kayaking
- Favorite stretch of Highway in TX: HWY 118 between Alpine & Terlingua
- Favorite local eatery: La Familia Mexican Restaurant – Junction, TX
- Favorite thing to do outside: Riding fine horses through new country
- Favorite stretch of Highway in TX: HWY 337 between Medina & Camp Wood
- Favorite local eatery: Pecan Lodge – Dallas, TX
- Favorite thing to do outside: Fish & Hunt