Rob Pfister, owner of Pfister Land Company in Buffalo, Wyoming, was weaned on the independent-spirit and self-reliance of the American West.
“I was born and raised in Niobrara County,” Pfister, who represents the fourth-generation of Pfisters to call Wyoming home and make their livings based on the land. “Maturity and responsibility were an expectation not an option. I come from a long line of Pfisters who had big personalities and a fire in their bellies.”
His independent spirit combined with the burning desire to be the best makes his choice to be a solo practitioner ideal.
“I am driven to get things done right the first time,” Pfister, who is a licensed and practicing Wyoming attorney as well as a licensed real estate broker in nine states throughout the West, said. “As a vertically integrated solo practitioner, I get to be hands-on in every step of the process. I own it from start to finish.” For instance, he writes all of the contracts and associated documents himself.
It is a system that works well for him and his clients. Since 2001, Pfister has listed, marketed, sold and represented buyers and sellers in hundreds of land transactions.
“I’m the guy for anyone who wants all of the rocks turned over,” Pfister said. “I adapt to change. I don’t quit learning and I refused to be stumped. Plus, I just love the land and the people of the West. They’re what makes this place special and this job so worthwhile.”
Establishing his roots
His great grandfather broke horses for the Native Americans in the Wyoming Territory before hostilities drove him to Niobrara County where he provided mounts for the U.S. Cavalry. Pfister’s grandfather, moved back to Wyoming settling near Lusk after he earned a degree from Harvard. He began amassing the 96,000 acres that became the Pfister Ranch, home to a 3,000 head commercial cow-calf herd, a feed lot and a 14 center pivot-farming operation. After attending college, Pfister’s father and uncles worked side-by-side for 29 years running a successful family ag business.
Raised to value education, Pfister’s father, like his father before him, attended Harvard, earning a degree in economics and returned to the West to earn his JD from the University of Wyoming’s School of Law. Pfister’s Uncle Ron earned a Master’s in Animal Science from Texas A&M University, and his Uncle Rod, only 11 years older than Pfister, earned his BA in Finance from Colorado State University. Pfister, the oldest of 10 grandchildren, followed in those footsteps and became a contractor, a lawyer and a ranch broker.
“When my grandfather or uncles said ‘be ready to go at 3:30 a.m.’, you’d better be ready to go,” Pfister, who was always eagerly ready to go, lived in Lusk to go to school and made the hour-long trek to the ranch to work on weekends, school breaks and during the summers.
“The ranch was always too big for just one family, so in the summers I lived and worked wherever my help was needed, this exposed me to every aspect of the farming and ranching lifestyle,” Pfister said. “I got to see it all.”
At a very young age, he was running farming equipment as part of a crew that put up 25,000 tons of hay a season, riding green horses and doctoring livestock. The farm produced beans, beets, corn, milo, millet, and barley. It was designed to background 3,000 calves and was also a commodities game.
There was enough work on the ranch that Pfister was expected to solve problems and complete difficult jobs alone.
“I learned to work hard and solve problems independently,” Pfister said. “I was raised to get things done no matter the cost because people depended on me to do things right the first time.”
While the work was hard and the responsibility real, it was also a gift.
“I got to experience a lifestyle that not many had the opportunity to, even members of my own family,” Pfister said.
“In my heart, I’m a wild kid on the prairie and I can’t leave the wide, open spaces for very long,”
Constructing a career
Pfister left Lusk looking for a new challenge and proving ground and headed to the University of Wyoming, where he studied before transferring to the University of Montana-Missoula during his sophomore year. He majored in political science with an emphasis in public administration and a minor in wilderness studies.
By the time he graduated in 1991, Pfister was not only well-versed in the political process, but he was a husband and a father to baby Hannah.
“I looked around and said, ‘I have a baby and political science degree, what am I going to do?’” Pfister recalled with a laugh.
The answer was construction. Initially, he went to work as a lead carpenter for a custom-builder in Missoula. After a short time in that role, it became apparent that he needed to strike out on his own. He founded Castle Construction and began building and remodeling houses.
“Everything I set out to do, I try to improve until I’m the best at it,” Pfister said.
He became an accomplished builder in the area, but it came at the physical cost of severe nerve compression affecting his arms. The writing was clearly on the wall that he couldn’t sustain a long-term career in construction as a solo, hands-on, foundation-to-finish builder.
Pfister discussed the potential of law school with his father, who had maintained a successful local practice as a judge and prosecuting attorney while he was managing the ranch’s business affairs. Pfister was accepted to the University of Wyoming School of Law and the young family moved again. Pfister was a non-traditional student, building houses while he was tackling torts and the Socratic method.
“I was building houses, attending school, clerking for an insurance company and a local law firm” Pfister said. “At that time, I wasn’t focused on becoming a practicing attorney, I was focused on learning everything they had to offer.”
By the second year, he was diving into all the areas of law associated with the land such as oil and gas, water rights, conservation easements, contracts, agricultural law and public land use law.
“Clerking in a law firm proved to me that I was too much of a people person to be buried in a law library,” Pfister said. “I was looking for different ways to apply my law degree.”
“I figure if you’re going to be a doctor, you need to be a patient first,” Pfister said. “If you’re going to be a real estate attorney and a real estate broker, you need to be farm and ranch raised first.”
Because he was submerged in the statutes, he researched what it took to become a licensed real estate broker in Wyoming and found he needed a “degree in real estate or equivalent thereof”.
The Wyoming Real Estate Commission reviewed his curriculum and decided he needed to take a course in appraisal and another in statistics. He completed the coursework, took the real estate exam over spring break and got his real estate broker’s license at the same time he received his law degree and welcomed his second daughter, Morgan.
In 2001, the Pfister family sold the ranch, “With 10 heirs, it wasn’t practical or possible for any one person to buy enough of the acreage to maintain a sustainable agricultural operation,” Pfister said. “Not having the ranch to return to was an emotional adjustment for me. I knew I was faced a new and immediate challenge and needed to individuate, so I turned to law and ranch brokerage.”
He hung his real estate license with a local brokerage and joined a second-generation law firm both in Buffalo. Pfister had become familiar with Buffalo and enamored with the nearby Bighorn Mountains as a teenager when he fished the waters of a nearby ranch his grandfather won an interest in over a poker game. Immediately upon moving to Buffalo, he fired up his construction business because that was his go-to to bridge the financial gap.
At the law firm, Pfister was engaged in civil litigation in many facets of real estate law ranging from water rights, minerals, roads, boundary issues, and access—all important issues throughout the West.
By year three at the law practice, it was not uncommon for him to appear in court in the morning and show a ranch in the afternoon. Something had to give, so he phased out of the construction business and law practice and co-founded his first ranch real estate company.
It was a fortuitous decision.
“I’m a workaholic because I love what I do,” Pfister said, “And my upbringing created an enormous sense of urgency in my life and in everything that I do.”
The value of his broad-based experience quickly became evident. One morning, he was evaluating a new ranch listing in the local area. The property had been put together as part of an energy deal because the land had substantial coal deposits. As Pfister looked at the maps, he realized that the land, which was divided by county roads, an interstate and rivers, was vastly undervalued because of “hidden” assets including a treasure trove of water rights.
As Pfister was analyzing the property, his phone rang and it was an entrepreneur from Louisiana who had ties to the energy business. As fate would have it, he and some fellow investors were on their way to see the property in question the following Tuesday.
When they came in, the group had decided to invest in the property and asked Pfister to represent them not as the buyers’ agent, but as the listing agent when they resold. They immediately put him to work preparing to market the property.
Twenty days into their arrangement, Pfister had been busy proving up the market and had a list of potential buyers lined up. The next day, he sent the group 21 legitimate offers. The transaction closed quickly and helped launch Rob’s career representing buyers, sellers and investors by identifying, purchasing and marketing the top investment quality ranches in the region.
“We shot through a multitude of transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” Pfister said. “I learned something new every day, including how to keep my head on swivel so that I didn’t miss anything.”
Pfister Land Company, LLC
At that point in his career, Pfister realized that the only way he could balance the demands of a thriving real estate career and expand his field of law practice was to found his own one-of-a-kind office, so in 2006 he established Pfister Land Company, LLC.
“Founding Pfister Land Company allowed me to wear every proverbial hat that I wanted to wear,” Pfister said. “I created an environment where I, along with my hand-picked team of consummate professionals who share my passion for the land, can provide clients vertically integrated services that are both diverse and specialized.”
The team includes: Charlie Powers, Neil Bangs, and Hannah Pfister, who at 18 is one of the youngest real estate agents licensees in the history of Wyoming.
A believer in lifelong learning, Pfister has continued develop new areas of expertise. He has been an Accredited Land Consultant through the Realtors Land Institute for many years, and has also served on city and county planning commissions, and has been engaged as an expert witness on behalf of large corporations, grass roots ranchers as well as state, county and city governments.
“Over the last 10 years, Pfister Land Company has made its mark by focusing on the quality of our service and performance, not on the quantity of deals done,” Pfister said. “We try not to be ‘typical,’ because we want to bring more value to buyers, sellers and investors by offering services and expertise that can’t be found elsewhere.”
While Pfister counts every day as an opportunity to learn something new, he never forgets that it’s a blessing to make his living working with the stand-up people and the magnificent land of the American West.
“I was privileged to grow up on this land with people who took their stewardship responsibilities very seriously,” Pfister said. “With the lessons of hard work and independence, my family instilled a love of this place and her people. Doing what I do is not a job, it’s a labor of love.”
He continued, “My careers have always required tenacity, ambition and innovation, and although I’ve got 16 years of experience, I’m just getting started. I’m never going to retire or stop being excited by being out in the country or negotiating a really good deal for really good people. I’m forever committed to getting things done—and done well.
This interview appeared in the fall 2016 issue of LAND magazine. Click here to read past issues of TEXAS LAND and LAND magazines, plus to become a subscriber!