This article is featured in the Summer 2022 issue of Texas LAND magazine. Click here to find out more.
By combining the personal service of a boutique brokerage with the powerful reach of a global real estate giant, the TT Ranch Group is making a big mark on the ranch real estate industry.
“TT Ranch Group brings the best of both worlds to our clients,” said Founder Tyler Thomas, who operates the team out of Dallas, Texas, under the umbrella of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty’s Ranch and Land Division. “We deliver the nimble, individualized service of a small firm backed by the marketing firepower and business framework of one of the world’s premier real estate companies.” Sotheby’s International had a global sales volume of $204 billion in 2021.The combination works. TT Ranch Group, which celebrated its second anniversary in February, reached another notable milestone earlier this year. The group’s performance ranked number one across all teams, individuals and divisions of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, which sold $3 billion companywide in 2021. Thomas was the number one individual throughout the company and alone accounted for $200 million worth of sales last year.
“We’re humbled and excited to be operating in the same thin air space as so many other accomplished professionals within the industry who have achieved their own milestones along the way,” Thomas said. “Yes, we’ve created momentum…but we know we’re only as good as our next deal in this business.”
For the team, composed of Thomas, three agents and a full-time marketing professional, working hard and keeping their eyes on the long-game is the order of the day.
“To get ahead in the ranch real estate business, you can either use ‘smoke and mirrors’ or old-fashioned hard work,” Thomas said. “At TT Ranch Group, we work harder. Going the extra mile for every client is standard operating procedure because the greatest compliment we can get is repeat business or a referral.”
To that end, the brokerage’s testimonial page is as important to Thomas as well-deserved industry accolades. The team is confident in telling potential clients to call past clients and ask about their experiences.
“At the end of the day, our goal is not just to sell a piece of property, but to accomplish a transaction under terms and conditions that our seller can be truly happy with,” Thomas said.
And the honesty and integrity that creates long-lasting client relationships also helps the team solidify long-term, mutually beneficial working relationships.
“In ranch real estate, it’s a long game because there is a fairly small number of agents that we routinely interact with, unlike the thousands you will find within residential or commercial real estate,” Thomas said. “There are always two sides to every transaction, and often two agents who are both sharing the same goal of satisfying our client. If we treat our colleagues poorly or color outside the lines, then they won’t be inclined to do business with us in the future.”
Strong industry ties benefit clients as well, especially in today’s market when so many deals are being conducted off market. By positioning themselves as trusted industry allies, the TT Ranch Group team also puts their clients in position to be at the front of the line as deals unfold.
“If we earn the respect and trust of our colleagues, then they are comfortable picking up the phone and sharing deals that they think our clients might be interested in,” Thomas said. “If our phone isn’t ringing or colleagues aren’t taking our calls, then it’s the people who have hired us to represent them who are missing out. In 2021, nearly 40 percent of our business consisted of off-market deals.”
Building the Dream, Building the Team
Land shaped Thomas’ life. Growing up in Austin, his family owned a ranch just west of the city, in Blanco County, south of Highway 290. In the open spaces, his interest in hunting and fishing blossomed. He honed his hunting skills in South Texas and the Hill Country. He is an avid angler, who will happily spend days chasing different species in all types of waters using either fly gear or conventional tackle.
“Being outdoors is where I relax and recharge,” said Thomas, noting that these days he enjoys introducing people to hunting and fishing as much as he does participating himself. “It’s where the priorities in life become clear. Being in nature, slows the day-to-day action and creates a space for prayer and gratitude.”
After graduating from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in 2001, Thomas was en route to a career in finance until a fateful dinner with relatives. During dinner, on the eve of a series of interviews with firms in Dallas, his cousins, who had dealt with the reality of skin cancer firsthand, shared their idea for launching a company based on their proprietary sunscreen.
“It was a chance to get in on the ground floor of something—and I did,” Thomas said.
Fourteen years later, after developing their suncare company into a leading industrial brand and then branching out into niche markets such as outdoor recreation and hotels, the family sold the company. Thomas began exploring options for the next phase of his career, but every opportunity paled in comparison to his passion for land. Even then, he was spending all of his free time on ranches.
He kicked around ideas with some close confidants already in the ranch real estate business. Ultimately, Thomas decided he would always second guess himself if he didn’t give it a shot.
“Honestly, I felt that if I could make a living doing something that I enjoyed so much, then it was a chance I had to take,” Thomas said. “I just jumped in.”
In short order, he took a leap of faith from a secure, steady career to an “eat what you kill” business in which he had no experience. Veteran agents told him to expect at least two lean years, but Thomas enjoyed a shorter timeline for success.
“Because I got started in my late 30s, the people in my personal network were farther along in their careers, too,” Thomas said. “They were ready to start dipping their toes in the farm and ranch market, so I was able to get the ball rolling more quickly than if I had been 22. It was just good timing.”
When Thomas created TT Ranch Group, he made a conscious effort to bring in people with complementary skills and networks. The goal? Ensuring that the team is as strong, well-versed and multi-faceted as possible.
Kade Johnston, originally from Louisiana, has extensive experience in appraisal and development work, with a background in row crop agriculture and wildlife conservation. Patrick Murray, an Oklahoma native and a graduate of the TCU Ranch Management program, brings more than a decade of experience in agriculture finance and a deep working knowledge of the livestock industry. Elaina Kay, who grew up on a ranch and then spent her early career in Nashville performing with the likes of Wynonna Judd and the Old 97s, has a unique network that encompasses both the entertainment and rodeo world. Taylor VanBebber, who handles marketing, has deep ties to the Quarter Horse industry, both racing and performance. While the lead agent may change depending on the requirements of the deal, everyone on the team lends their expertise as needed and Thomas is involved in all transactions.
Clients who are selling their property, get a customized marketing plan that includes a professional write-up, premium photography and videography, web and print advertising all supported by social media. When it’s appropriate, the team also uses special events and other “out of the box” methods to draw attention to their properties. Briggs Freeman is also a big part of TT Ranch Group’s foundation providing access to full in-house departments that play a complementary role in areas such as marketing, legal, IT, accounting, as well as a broad range of transactional support vehicles.
In addition, the TT Ranch Group team’s network includes approximately 400 Briggs Freeman residential agents who specialize in luxury homes around DFW. Every ranch property immediately makes its way onto their radar screens as well as to 25,000 other Sotheby’s agents distributed throughout 1,000 offices in 79 different countries and territories.
“The synergy is incredible,” Thomas said. “The residential agents’ client lists include high net worth individuals who are often interested in recreational ranch properties within driving distance of DFW once they have settled into their primary residence.”
To ensure they can deliver the level of customer service that sets them apart, the TT Ranch Group limits the number of properties they handle. Because they choose to focus on unique, quality listings that match up with their buyer base instead of volume, TT Ranch Group generally has no more than 25 listings at any one time.
“My plan has always been to grow through necessity rather than desire,” Thomas said. “We are a tight-knit group, who share similar values and passions, work well together and manage our listings so everyone stays busy. We have an exceptional sell through rate because we don’t have hundreds of properties that we’re trying to service with a handful of agents.”
While the majority of their business is within three hours of DFW, they have helped clients buy and sell land across America. If the project warrants the distance, then they will tackle it. Past sales have ranged everywhere from a few acres to tens of thousands of acres. Most of their listings are $2 million and up.
We excel at getting select properties in front of a targeted buyer pool, and if a property fits within our parameters, then we’ll take it on,” Thomas said. “If we don’t bring value to a proposition, we don’t do it.”
He continued, “In this day and age we can effectively market a property anywhere in the world from Dallas. Logistics become the main hurdle, but we can usually solve that through our broad network of partners.”
When it comes to working with other agents and brokerages throughout the country, the team has established a successful track record. As one example, Thomas recalled spending a week in Sheridan, Wyoming in pursuit of his Wyoming license and the opportunity to list a 20,000-plus acre ranch. With natural beauty, plentiful big game, trophy trout fishing, open spaces and starry nights, the ranch checked all of the boxes.
“Spending time on that ranch was such a blessing that I never minded the flights or the drives between Texas and Wyoming,” Thomas said. “I gladly participated in every photo shoot, showing and inspection until we sold it.”
At its core, the ranch real estate business is about bringing value in the form of a tangible asset to clients. Thomas believes in the power of financial diversification, and history has proven that Texas land is a wise investment to include in a portfolio.
In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic and in the midst of Texas’ population boom, the rural land market is seeing unprecedented demand and a stellar return on investment for those who are already in an ownership position. Regardless of how buyers plan to use the land, the fact remains that there is a finite supply.
“With ranch land, unlike houses, you can’t just build more,” Thomas said. “The only thing you can do is slice the pie thinner. At some point those shrinking pieces become too small to satisfy the hunger of those with the desire or need to own a larger farm or ranch.”
It’s no secret that the ability to purchase existing sizable parcels of land is becoming scarcer each year.
“Historically, owning an asset with limited inventory and plenty of demand usually pays long-term dividends for those who are fortunate to get their hands on it,” Thomas said. “Throughout time there has always been various struggles over land. We are currently in our own battle between supply and demand within Texas and other robust markets.”
As large properties become rarer, they are holding their value in defiance of conventional
wisdom. High net worth individuals interested in recreational ranches are in competition with land bank investing and developers seeking raw land. While Thomas predicts that the pace of appreciation for land values will begin to correct towards more historic levels over the long term, he does not foresee a price regression. In fact, he is quite bullish on the continued demand and a very competitive market within the foreseeable short term.
Of course, as a lifelong ranch enthusiast, Thomas understands the seemingly insatiable appetite for land. It’s the only tangible investment that pays intangible dividends in enjoyment, memories and quality of life.
“It’s a long-term investment that delivers satisfaction, whether it’s working cattle on horseback, watching crops grow, pursuing fish and game or just having a place to escape from the city to spend quality time with families and friends,” Thomas said. “Land is a lasting legacy and the moments we spend on that land create permanent memories.”
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