Written by Courtney Donnell
What happens when a cowboy gets a “real” job? He excels at it. Because the qualities that make up a real cowboy, make an exceptional man. It isn’t just about being good on a horse or quick on the draw, it is about chivalry, family values, community morals and an iron set of ethics. Noticing a buying trend in his neck of the woods, Dane Mount, traded in his cow horse for a Polaris and quickly made a name for himself in northwest Texas, south west Oklahoma and New Mexico ranch sales.
What is the title on your business card?
I bought the business, so my card says Broker/Owner. But, that is getting way ahead in the story.
How did you get started in the ranching business?
My grandfather and my dad, both, were farmers and ranchers. My grandfather managed a ranch from when he was a young man until the day he died. I spent a whole lot of time with my grandfather on the ranch. So, ranching was just pretty much all I knew. I went to college, because I wanted to get an education. I got out of college. I went rodeoing and rodeoed professionally for about 10 years. Wasn’t married at the time, and was just kind of twisting around when Mrs. Mikkelsen called me and asked if I would come help her build a horse ranch. I told her I didn’t really want to come back or be back there, but I really thought highly of her and that I would come and help her get it started. I would give her six months. That was in 1984 and I am still here and still managing their properties today.
So, you were “a real cowboy?”
I guess I was. Rodeoing, ranching, I went to college on a rodeo scholarship.
What did you do in the rodeo?
I rode bareback horses, rode bulls and team roped. But, mainly, bareback horses were my specialty. I did it for a little over 15 years, 10 year member of the PRCA. I got to meet a lot of nice people. Got to see the country. It was a good time.
When and how did you get started selling ranches?
When I started working for the Mikkelsens, they actually owned, Davis Vernon, which was both an insurance and real estate company. They had a very large property. I ended up managing, about 25,000 acres that was owned and leased. Me and one other guy ran the place. In the early 2000’s, I started to notice a whole lot of people coming out here and buying up all our land. At that time, we had two girls about ready to run off to college and I was thinking about my future. So, I talked to my boss about what I was seeing and asked him what he thought about me getting a real estate license and trying to sell a ranch or two out of my pick up. He thought that would be a great idea. So, I got my license, went to work for Mr. Mikkelsen, and Davis Vernon, selling ranches in my spare time. Several years later, I bought the company.
What kind of ranches are out there in your neck of the woods?
This part of the world, being northwest Texas is real diverse. There is everything from flat farm land, to elevation changes, rolling hills, a lot of prime ranch land. There are several big ranches out here, currently working ranches. It is still considered farm and ranch country. Back then, when I started selling ranches in the early 2000’s, we were the cheapest deal around. You could buy land for $400-$500 dollars an acre. And, that was land we bought for $75 and $80 an acre. Now, it is selling for $1000 to $1500 an acre. Which is still a heck of a deal.
Recreational ranches are a big deal because the hunting is real diverse, excellent deer hunting, big deer, white-tailed and mule deer. There is tremendous bird hunting because it’s the Flyway and all the big wheat fields. The area has always been known for good hunting.
You mentioned there are still several big ranches up there. How big is a “big” ranch?
Oh, you know, I don’t want to make anybody mad. It is just a whole different world out here. As I mentioned, me and one other guy managed 25,000 acres and 3,000 acres of wheat land. That is a big chunk of dirt. So, I guess for me, to call it a ranch, it needs to be at least 200-300 acres. That being said, when you look at other areas of the state, 50 and 100 acre properties are considered a big ranch, and they cost about the same. You can buy about 10 acres out here for the same price as 1 acre in the Hill Country.
What is the first ranch deal you worked on?
It was kind of a funny deal. Before I actually got my real estate license, a friend of mine, a city boy, got early retirement and found himself with very little to do. He didn’t play golf or have any real sports or recreational interests. But, he asked me to teach him how to ride a horse. Next thing you know, he was going with me every day, riding around, working the property. One day he told me, “I am going to buy a ranch.” I never will forget it. He bought about 3,000 acres for $90 an acre. Everybody thought he was a little crazy, that he wouldn’t be able to manage it or to pay for it. He will tell you today, as he is comfortably retired, that it was the greatest investment he ever made in his life even though he didn’t mean for it to be. He kept it about 10 years and sold it $650 an acre. His ranch was the first ranch I sold.
You are the only broker I have interviewed that still actively ranches. How do you find the time?
Well, I don’t have to do too much on the managing side of it anymore. Remember, when I first started, selling ranches was just something I did in my spare time out of my pick-up. I knew what my priorities were, and my priority was managing the ranch. Well, somewhere along the line, it flipped. We sold the biggest chunk of the ranch which took a big part of the pressure off. I have everything leased out and taken care of, so I just have to stop in and make sure everybody is doing what they need to be doing. My main priority now is selling ranches.
Do you miss being on the ranch every day?
I do. I don’t miss it when it’s cold. I don’t miss it when it’s raining. I don’t miss the days when it was miserable to be out there. I miss the people more than anything. You have to really want to love it to be out there. I still have good friends that are really good at it. When I started doing this, they kind of gave me a hard time. It used to be that when I went I went to work, I pulled up with a trailer and a horse. Nowadays, I drag the Polaris around. They like to tease me about finally finding something I can ride.
Are you telling me that there are still men out there, in that part of the state, that still get up in the morning and go to work on a horse?
All day long, every day and they wouldn’t have it any other way. It is hard work and you have to really love it, because it isn’t just the pretty days. Usually when you have trouble, or get in a jam, it is when the weather is bad, in a snowstorm, or the rain, or the mud. But, they are a dying breed and that is a shame, because when it is gone, it is a lost art. I really miss that part of it, the camaraderie. I miss those guys.
What is the best or most interesting deal you worked on?
I actually have a real good story, with kind of a life lesson attached to it. So, one day, this gentleman comes walking into my office. I had never seen him before. He looked like a homeless person. And, I guess the word is out that I am kind of “easy” and that I help people, so I figured he was looking for a little help. Anyway, he comes and sits down and my desk. He smells so bad that I can barely stand to sit there. He has a Big Chief writing tablet, like we used to have as kids. He opens the tablet and shows me a list of properties he wants to me to tell him how to get to, so he can go drive by and kind of take a look at them. I figured it wouldn’t hurt so I gave him a few directions and off he went. Two days later, he walks back in, still wearing the exact same clothes had two days before, still smells like a goat, opens up the Big Chief tablet, points and says, “I want to buy this property, this property, this property and this property.”
Anyway, I was real skeptical about getting my sellers involved at this point, so, I asked him how he was going to pay for the properties. He tells me cash. I am still real skeptical, but I write up the contracts. He comes back in and lets me know that he hired a local attorney to help him out. So, I call up the lawyer and tell him about my concerns. He said, “Dane, I had the exact same feelings as you did. I just got off the phone with an attorney in Chicago, and Dane, that guy can buy anything he wants and he will pay cash.” So for the next three days, the guy sleeps in his van, parked in our office parking lot, trying to get all of this done. It was right before Christmas and he wanted it all done so he could go home for Christmas. He paid $3.7 million dollars in cash, closed on all the properties and has never been seen or heard from again. He never even stepped foot on any one of those properties. But, the moral to that story is you cannot judge a book by its cover. That taught me a lesson and because of it, I never doubt anyone.
What is the thing in life you are most proud of?
I am proud of my accomplishments and have come a long way from where I started. I’ve been very blessed. But, the thing I am most proud of is my daughters and the kind of young women they have turned out to be. Although, I think I need to give my wife 99% of the credit for that because it seemed like I was always working. But, I am real proud of what they have turned out to be.
What is the strangest experience you have had showing a ranch?
That’s easy. I had a gentleman call me one day and wanted to see a ranch. He called me the morning of the showing and told me he would just meet me out at the ranch. I told him that would be fine, loaded up my Polaris, my preferred method of showing a ranch, and headed out. I pulled up to the property and sitting at the gate was a Cadillac Escalade. Which is normal, a guy from Dallas wanting to buy a ranch, but when he got out, he had these boots on, up to his knees, pants all tucked in and two six shooters on him, two guns, John Wayne kind of stuff. I mean, that’s not normal, a little strange. I walked up to him, handed him my card and apologized, “I am sorry, I came a little unprepared. I only brought a knife to a gun fight.”
He let me know that he was prepared for walking the ranch and that the guns were loaded with snake shot. I let him know that yes, we do indeed have snakes, but rarely see them and that we would be riding in the Polaris. As we are riding the property, one of the guns falls out of the holster and lands on the baseboard of the Polaris. I stopped, and we had a little discussion about not wanting any accidents. The guns went back to the Escalade.
What do you think is the greatest benefit of owning land?
First of all, I think it is a good investment. Second, I think it something that you can go and physically enjoy and get something out of it, unlike owning cd’s or stocks or gold, something you can really go and utilize and appreciate. Land has always been a pretty good investment. You know there’s that old saying, “They’re not making any more of it.”
If you had to pick another career, what would you do?
Probably something in wildlife. I think, I might be a game warden. Those guys get to do all kinds of stuff and they have full jurisdiction. It’s not one of those jobs you are going to get rich at either, but it sure isn’t boring.
What is your favorite thing about Texas?
My favorite thing about Texas is the history. This state has a tremendous amount of history. Coming from that part of the state, where there are a lot of really old and really big ranches, legendary ranches, you get to listen to the old timers, talking about settling the land, dealing with drought and indians.
What is your idea of a perfect day on the ranch?
Just being able to be out there, watch and appreciate how everything works. Witness a baby calf being born and just knowing he has to get up and nurse. If you get the time to sit there and really watch how the animals, comingle and work with the land. No phones, no computers, just quiet and nature in all its glory.