Todd Renfrew, broker and owner of California Outdoor Properties, has his dream job—and he’s not interested in changing it.
“Selling farm, ranch and recreational real estate is my dream job,” said Renfrew, who founded the company based in Vacaville, Ca. with his wife Marty in 2008. “I have absolutely no interest in doing anything else.”
He says this with the assurance of a man who spent 20 years wearing suits and attending meetings as part of California’s fast-paced telecommunications industry. While the pay and the benefits were significant, corporate board rooms were not Renfrew’s preferred habitat. As a lifelong hunter, angler and outdoorsman, Renfrew yearned to get off the concrete and into the country.
“I wanted to be able to forge my own destiny,” Renfrew said.
He and Marty made a major change. The couple bought 675 acres off the grid. They built their own home, installed a solar power system drilled wells, put in a septic system, and developed roads throughout the property. The experience gave them firsthand knowledge about what it takes to carve a ranch from undeveloped country.
In addition to running his own operation, Renfrew worked for a neighbor who ran a 10,000-acre spread. They loved ranch life, but soon realized production agriculture is a tough way to support a family of seven.
Then, in 2006, Cabela’s entered the California rural real estate market and Renfrew earned the opportunity to represent the corporation in northern California.
“My initial introduction to rural real estate was a ‘eureka’ moment,” Renfrew said. “I could be in the country I loved working with people who I enjoyed and make a good living for my family. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Cabela’s is no longer in the real estate business, but the Renfrews used the opportunity as the launch pad for their own brokerage. Since 2008, California Outdoor Properties has grown from Todd and Marty to 24 agents at seven branches throughout California.
“Each year has just been a little better than the last,” Renfrew said. “We’ve been blessed.”
Eventually, Renfrew sold his ranch to concentrate on the real estate business. Today, the family operates a much smaller place along with some leased land, so “we can run enough Black Angus cows to make a little money and give me an excuse to have a horse.”
Renfrew eschews the golf course for long rides in the pasture checking stock.
“Livestock is my relaxation,” Renfrew said. “I like my horses about 12-years-old and well-broke. I just want to get on and go. I don’t have time to be worrying about an unpredictable, green broke colt.”
A family affair
Renfrew and Marty met 30 years ago at Myrtle Beach during Spring Break. He was a football player at Princeton. She was a radiology student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Soon after, he flew her up to Princeton for an ill-timed visit.
“I’ll never forget it,” he said laughing at the memory. “The ticket cost $29 on Piedmont Airlines. She was from a farm in McLeansville, North Carolina. I brought her up during finals and I didn’t study a single bit. Princeton was already challenging enough for a public school kid from the Bay Area.”
After the visit, they lost touch for five years. Then, Marty and a friend took a trip to California. While she was there, she called the number Renfrew had given her five years earlier. It was his parents’ home and his mother passed along his then-current phone number.
“The rest, as they say, is history,” he said. The couple has four daughters and a son. Three are in college. The twins will be high school juniors in the fall. Everyone is home in Vacaville for the summer, either working in the real estate company or on the land.
“It’s a busy, loud place right now,” Renfrew said. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
He continued, “I love what I do so much that I probably work too much, but I’m fortunate to have a wife who I work with and live with—with equal amounts of happiness. It’s a rare thing, so I really appreciate the gift of a true family business.”
A team sport
As an athlete, Renfrew learned the importance of teamwork early on. Teamwork is central to the philosophy and success of California Outdoor Properties.
“A long time ago someone told me that running a business was like putting together a football team,” said Renfrew. “You didn’t need all quarterbacks or linemen or running backs, you need a group of people with different talents.”
The team at California Outdoor Properties is diverse bringing experience as foresters, equestrians, hunters, anglers, farmers and ranchers to their clients. Each agent has a “territory” and recognized expertise, but instead of competing they work in concert to find their clients the property that will best fit their needs.
Carrying that concept a step further, California Outdoor Properties is also part of the LandLeader Network, a consortium of forward-thinking rural real estate brokerages from 29 states. Renfrew serves as president of the network which currently carries a land inventory valued at $1.6 billion and has dedicated $1 million to marketing in 2015. Again, the participating brokers don’t compete, but help clients find appropriate properties in their respective states, he said.
“Good real estate professionals are matchmakers,” Renfrew said. “Our job is listening to clients and finding a piece of property that really meets their needs.”
Because Renfrew’s life experiences have been so varied, he is well-equipped to talk to anyone from anywhere about land.
“I’m comfortable in an office building discussing investments with a dot commer or in a café talking about rotational grazing with an old rancher,” Renfrew said. “I can bring my personal experience to bear, which helps develop a good working relationship built on trust.”
The only thing more varied than the Renfrew’s experience is the landscape of California.
“California is special because it is so diverse,” Renfrew said. “You can be at the beach in the morning and snow skiing in the afternoon.”
His time on the East Coast helped him appreciate the unique beauty of his home state.
“On the East Coast, things are older and more developed,” he said. “There I get a sense of history. On the West Coast, I get a sense of possibility.”
Despite the state’s vast natural attributes, he finds himself reminding buyers that there is no such thing as a perfect ranch.
“I tell clients to make a list of everything they want in a property,” he said. “When we visit a ranch, I encourage them to revisit their lists and tell them to check off the boxes, so they know what each property offers for them specifically.”
He avoids “selling” people on a property that isn’t a good fit for them.
“My favorite phone calls come five years later, when a client calls and says, ‘My ranch makes me happy,’” Renfrew said. “Sometimes professionals start chasing the commission instead of taking care of people to the detriment of everyone involved. I’ve found when you take care of people the commissions take care of themselves.”
Sellers can count on the same personalized service and consideration.
“Sellers have built something, whether it’s a fourth-generation ranch or a top-notch recreational property that was purchased and improved as an investment,” Renfrew said. “Sellers are entrusting you with their dreams. It’s an awesome but rewarding responsibility to pass a dream onto its next owner. Everybody wants to own their own slice of heaven—and we get to help them find it.”