Written by Courtney Donnell
Normally, when I hear the phrase, “not to sound “preachy,” I instinctively prepare for a spackling of judgement and supposed to’s. Today, wasn’t normal. Today, I met Joey Burns. Joey Burns sells ranches. Big, fancy ranches to fabulous people in breathtaking locations. Joey Burns is also married to a woman he has loved since the sixth grade, a frequent flyer for those less fortunate and a father of five. But, more than all of those things, Joey Burns is a man of integrity, ethics and balance. He is not “Preachy.” He is an example of someone who makes a difference, a difference because of a deal, a deal he made with himself, a dedication to doing the right thing.
What territories do you cover?
We are a boutique ranch company in Southwest Colorado. We deal with multi-million dollar properties that require a level of expertise that I just can’t offer from Argentina to Canada. So, we keep our focus dedicated to Southwest Colorado, within about 200 miles of Montrose.
So who is buying these multi-million dollar properties in your little niche market?
A lot of it is wealth preservation. It all kind of backs into, finding the best place to put your money. So, land works just like bank. Also, western Colorado is a place that many people come to because Montrose is a real calling card. Great air service, healthcare, recreation, premium hunting. We have spectacular scenery. Our part of the world, Montrose, Ridgeway and Telluride, is the Estes Park of the Western Slope. People get here and wonder, “How, can I make this my home?’
What kind of ranches do you sell, are they working ranches?
Basically, we sell working cattle ranches and hunting properties, recreational type properties. Most of our deals are large scale deals, over a million dollars at the lower end and it goes up from there. In the beginning, these ranches really don’t make any sense financially. They are more of a speculative buy, where somebody can buy something and really enjoy it. Spectacularly beautiful, you can hunt on them, it is just a good place to put cash. It is really an asset class. But, it is a specula Dtive buy, because when you buy them, they don’t really generate large amounts of income. One of our main goals is to help buyers own that ranch without it costing them anything. They can enjoy it. Their family can enjoy it. And, then, when they sell it…That is when they get the big return.
“Own the ranch without it costing them anything,” how does that work?
Well, we do our best to help them own it economically. Now, it is bit of a challenge sometimes, depending on the philosophy and the goal of the owner. Owning the ranch is a lot different than buying the ranch. You have to have a philosophy about how you are going to run the ranch. Some guys don’t care. They have large staffs, they spend a great deal of money to maintain them. Other guys want to make sure that ranch doesn’t cost them anything and that they can enjoy it without having to feed the ranch. We always say that when we close a deal, the work begins. Because, we really try to help the landowners own the ranch and find that philosophy where owning the ranch really fits them.
Were you raised in a ranching environment?
I have an agricultural background. My family was all into agriculture. Our family business was raising alfalfa, hay and cotton in Arizona. And, then we had a custom hay business, where we actually put up hay for other people? My whole life was in that. We had a little different business model for farming, where we actually bought all of the hay we produced. We had a retail hay outlet. We had a feed store. Everything I was a part of was in the agriculture, kind of livestock business. It worked easily into what I do now.
When and how did you get started selling ranches?
I have been selling ranches for 20 years. All in western Colorado. I grew up in Phoenix, but had some distant relatives that lived in this area. It was kind of in the 1994-96 era of time and I met a fellow by the name of Ralph Walchle at a family reunion. He met me. I was always in the Ag business. I had a business degree. I liked to talk. I like to sell things. So, he invited me to come up and go to work with him. My wife got a job teaching Spanish. We had no kids. We had no obligations. We had no debt. And, here we are. It was our big adventure.
What is the best or most interesting deal you worked on?
It isn’t the deal. It is the people, the most interesting people that is what it is. I love to ask the question of the guy buying the ranch, “How did you get here?” Those answers are what is so amazing to me.
What is the best answer you have ever received in response to that question, “How did you get here?”
Wow! I will tell you this, every one of them has told me the same thing. They did what they loved. They were blessed way beyond what they ever expected, and there was always an ounce of luck. They are people with high integrity and they have done extraordinary things.
What is the strangest experience you have had showing a ranch?
Oh, gosh. Well, I have been investigated twice by the FBI with people that have come and looked at ranches. That has been interesting. But, one of the funniest stories, that I can repeat, actually happened to my business partner, when the lady in front of him hit a turkey. He had a whole group of people who had never seen a turkey before. They were so distraught and upset about the poor turkey, that they were literally giving it CPR on the side of the road. Yep, kneeled down and blowing in its mouth.
What have you learned is the most important aspect of selling ranches?
You have to know your business. You have to be a professional. You have to be learning all the time. And, you have be able to provide something for your clients more than just, “Hey, isn’t this pretty?” I do multi-million dollar transactions, a lot of times, they are with handshakes. I don’t dazzle people with a lot of salesmanship. I just help them by knowing my business and doing the right thing. There are a lot of people out there in the real estate business who have gone to a whole lot of real estate classes. They have tried to find a formula, “this is what you need to do, this is what you need to sign people up for,” and they are very focused on that. I am completely the opposite of that. I believe my work speaks for itself. I believe people maintain a relationship with me because of mutual respect and professionalism. And because they know, I am somebody they can trust. One of the greatest benefits I get from my work, one of the greatest rewards, is the people that work with me in my business and my clients. I have just had some of the most wonderful people on earth and I would be pallbearer at their funeral, if they died. It is a continued relationship and a tremendous blessing.
How has the market changed over the years?
Actually, when our market changed, when it got soft, we had to make some changes. We sat down and decided that we could either go wide and thin or deep and heavy. We didn’t want to compete with guys from Argentina to British Colombia, so, we decided what we would to do, was find the best resources available to become the authority in our market. We actually started a GIS Mapping company, which allows us to visually depict data on any ranch and layer it in a way to be useful for multiple things. We can take any physical attribute or issue on a ranch and display it on a map; animal hunting patterns, production of fields, waterways, roadways, any assets that pertains to the ranch can be documented and visually displayed.
In general, how do you feel about the industry today?
Well, let me tell you something. We are feverishly busy and working at a record pace right now. It seems like the market has shown some life again. There is some stability in the economy. And, right now, there is a large push for the ranch industry. There are a lot of folks out looking right, and I think they have seen the market hit the bottom. Now, they see it coming back. The stock market is doing well, and people are looking at diversifying their funds. It’s kind of like the perfect storm. The market is back. They have recovered their money. The real estate market has gone through a correction period, and they are able to buy at levels that are ten years old. Just a large push to get into the ranch market, right now.
What do you think is the greatest benefit of owning land?
It is a sustainable, inflationary, protected asset. And, it is one that you can use, for hunting, recreation, personal enjoyment.
What is the thing in life you are most proud of?
I know this article is supposed to be about business, but the funny thing about it, when I think about the thing I am most proud of, very little of it points towards real estate. I take pride in my work, but I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to keeping score. I just do my job. The thing in life I am most proud of… my God and my family, in that order. There is one more thing, I am proud to have the opportunity to give back. I mean, me and my family. We’ve been a very mission- minded family our whole life, from a Christian standpoint. Not trying to sound preachy, but I really felt that, as a dad of 5 kids, and the United States only representing 4% of the world, I needed to know what else was out there. And, I feel it is my job, to share that with my kids. We are blessed. They really have no need for anything. I want them to have a world view and a world perspective, to know what is really out there, what other people are really dealing with. I’ve been to Ecuador 7 times. I’ve been to Brazil. I’ve been to Nicaragua. I chair an organization, called Samaritan Aviation, which has the only float plane that flies into Papua New Guinea. We act as a medical air ambulance on the Sepik River, which is just like landing a plane in National Geographic magazine. These people have lived in grass huts on the river for 2,000 years in the same exact locations. But, they have a real need for medical care which we provide. We base it all on the biblical story the Good Samaritan. I am going to raise world changers, who have a world perspective, who help people because it is the right thing to do.
If you had to pick another career, what would you do?
I thought a lot about that question. Honest answer, I will always do exactly what I do, because I love it, absolutely love it! If I really had to pick something else, it would have to be something that allows me to make a deal. I am a deal maker. That is what I do.