This article is featured in the Fall 2021 issue of LAND magazine. Click here to find out more.
By partnering with ranch brokers and their clients during every phase of ranch real estate transactions, Western Heritage Consulting & Engineering can ensure the journey to ranch ownership is a dream instead of a nightmare.
“From due diligence and engineering to construction, we’ve got the expertise to identify and deliver what the new owners want—and help them avoid any pitfalls along the way,” said Rikki Altenburg, who, along with her husband Ryan, owns and operates Western Heritage Consulting & Engineering. “We’re a client-oriented firm that brings a common sense approach to solving problems.”
While the firm is relatively small in number, it’s big on results.
“Unlike larger firms that can be unwieldy, we pride ourselves on responsiveness and adaptability,” Rikki said. “Land is different. Clients are different. Dreams are different. Cookie cutter approaches have no place in an industry where no project is the same.“
With a call to a single point of contact at Western Heritage Consulting & Engineering, brokers can access the expertise of a real estate division as well as civil and agricultural engineers and construction professionals who can make all of those detailed plans physical realities.
“We understand the formalities and technicalities of property transactions and are equipped to handle all of the research necessary during due diligence in areas like water rights and permitting and address the issues we find,” Rikki said. “With our in-house surveyors, engineers and construction crews, WH Companies is a one-stop shop for farm, ranch and recreational property development.”
Each division of the company works in synergy with the others. The civil engineering group creates the ranch’s infrastructure foundation. Within its wheel house, the team improves access roads, enhances drainage and designs and installs the systems that will deliver water, power and other utilities to houses and other improvements.
The agricultural engineering division tackles land-based issues such as siting and designing fields, irrigation systems, impoundments ranging from small ponds to expansive lakes, and reclaiming streams for wildlife habitat. The construction division provides turnkey design and professionals with skills necessary to build homes, barns, shops, covered arenas, airplane hangars and anything else that will make a ranch a one-of-a-kind destination for the buyer.
As an added bonus, all of the firm’s team members live the western lifestyle. The company’s ranks are filled with people whose roots are deep in farming, ranching, hunting, fishing and the outdoors.
“We live the realities of the land and we know the rules and regulations,” Rikki said. “In that context, we have the ability to get permitting, design and construction done efficiently and effectively.”
In addition to its in-house professionals, Western Heritage Consulting & Engineering, which is based in Casper, Wyoming, has a network of affiliated talent, such as water rights attorneys and technical professionals, who are vetted and held to the same exacting standards.
“Brokers don’t have to struggle to find a complete team of technical experts, we’ve amassed it—and the expertise is never more than one phone call away,” Rikki said. “Once they make that first phone call, clients discover our biggest strength: we deliver what we say we will, when we say we will.”
And the team delivers on its promises, the western way, through sheer determination and grit.
“We not only adapt and overcome, but we just get the task done,” said Rikki, noting their survey team often works when temperatures plummet to 40 degrees below zero or when the mercury pushes past 126° F as it did on a recent job in Arizona. “Our people are bad asses who get the work done for our clients with enthusiasm, attention to detail and pride.”
As is the case with people of the land, the team at WH likes to keep things simple, direct and as efficient as possible.
The process all starts with a phone call from a broker or a potential ranch buyer.
“The first phone call is very general,” Rikki said. “Sometimes it’s nothing more than: ‘We’re looking at 10,000 acres near X-town, Montana, the money is starting to firm up and looks like it could be a good fit.’”
The introductory phone call prompts a conference call to discuss the property and the project in more detail. If, after the call, the broker, client and the WH team are all in accord, the vision planning begins, and more often than not, a site visit to the property is the next step.
“We spend a day or two with the broker and client riding over the ranch to get a real feel for the property and the client’s goals and visions,” Ryan said.
During this ranch visit, the team begins to understand the client’s motivations. Is he or she an avid angler who wants to restore streams so they and their family can fly fish? Or is the project an investment in agricultural productivity, so it will require irrigation systems and other infrastructure? Or does the vision include big game hunting and outfitting hunters?
And the team begins to get a literal lay of the land, its potential and the inherent challenges. First-hand knowledge of the property fuels the brainstorming that is part and parcel of Western Heritage Consulting & Engineering’s work process.
“We go and come up with initial ideas and then let them ‘simmer,’” Ryan said. “Often, after carefully considering the options, someone on the team will have an epiphany and say, ‘We need to scrap the first idea and pivot because this is actually the best approach.’”
While one part of the Western Heritage Consulting & Engineering team focuses on the “what can be,” another part tackles the “what is” as the transaction moves into due diligence.
“When it comes to research we know where to look and what to look for,” Rikki said.
Thoroughness on the front end prevents ugly surprises on the back end. In the West, water rights are tantamount considerations. In early August, for the first time in history, there was a call on the Colorado River and its rights.
“Now more than ever, senior and junior water rights and their rank are important,” Ryan said. “Water availability can raise or lower the value of a ranch by millions of dollars as well as dictating plans for the land’s use. People can’t afford to just guess what they have.”
Rikki continued, “Our goal is to head off problems by finding the facts and addressing any issues on the front end of the transaction. When we work on the front end, our clients have options. When we’re not brought in until the back end, our clients may be coping with surprises and having to settle for Plan B.”
While no one likes to deliver bad news, the professionals at Western Heritage Consulting & Engineering believe honesty is the best policy. They deal in facts and workable solutions, not hopes and sugar-coated maybes.
“If it’s bad news, we deliver it. If it’s good news, we deliver it,” Rikki said. “Regardless, our clients can count on an honest, fact-based response.”
Recently, they had to tell a client, who hired them on the front end, that the gravel mining he was counting on as an income stream for the newly acquired ranch wasn’t a viable option. Instead of leaving him high-and-dry, the team identified wind energy as a workable solution for the property.
“We adapt to many different scenarios and challenges, both the foreseen and the unforeseen,” Rikki said. “The bottom line is that we take a common sense approach, backed by calculations, to deliver custom-made solutions.”
While the team has worked most extensively in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Arizona, Western Heritage Consulting & Engineering has left its distinguished mark throughout the nation and the world.
“If a car, plane, train or boat can get there, we’ll come,” Rikki said.
Once the due diligence is done, the deal is negotiated and inked, the final transition occurs. The broker’s client becomes Western Heritage & Engineering’s client. All of the plans that have been developed as the transaction has played out come out of their folders and get put to work immediately.
“On sale day, our team puts its boots on the ground and begins to make that collectively developed dream a reality,” Rikki said. “From beginning to end, we strive to make the journey to ranch ownership a dream come true.”
Since its inception, Western Heritage has existed to provide a common-sense approach to engineering in an efficient and effective manner. Every client that buys a piece of land, big or small, has a vision or dream in their mind of what they want. The team at Western Heritage takes that dream and makes it a reality. They are highly experienced in construction and engineering, and their team members have agriculture, hunting, fishing and outdoor passions and experiences that allow them to bring real-world understanding to each project. Find out more→ WesternHCE.com
Ryan is the Co-Owner and Principal of WH Companies. Having worked in natural resources for over 20 years, utilizing his Agriculture Engineering degree from Texas A&M University, Ryan works to combine engineering principles with biological and agricultural sciences, allowing him to develop systems and processes that help improve water and natural resource systems and how they are managed and operated. He has passion for helping landowners define their vision, then he and his team create it. When Ryan isn’t working, he enjoys fishing, hunting, roping and spending time with his wife and two young children.
Rikki, Co-Owner of WH Companies, holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Colorado Mesa University and brings 20 years of management and client relations experience in leading WH Companies’ daily operations, with the company culture being built around her customer service standards, honesty and integrity. Rikki is a licensed real estate agent and strives to bridge the gap between the property closing, through the design and construction phase, to the final reality of a client’s vision. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two young children, lake life and barrel racing.