By Mike Ghia
Vermont Field Agent, Land for Good
There are many ways that buyers and sellers of farms make connections. Many farms are never advertised on the open market and sell by word-of-mouth or via long-term relationships between the buyer and seller. Others are offered publicly as for sale- by- owner, increasingly with the help of tools such Vermont Land Link and New England Farm Finder.
Additionally, licensed real estate agents often play a role in the sale of many farms. They typically have a sincere interest in seeing working farms stay in production. However, while there are a number of real estate professionals in Vermont knowledgeable in selling commercial farms, some have little or no familiarity with the production side of farms or the related interests and needs of farmers that affect their requirements for farm purchase. These agents may be very skilled and well-trained in selling a farmhouse with a large tract of land associated with it. However, they may have less experience with assessing the barn for commercial potential, and may know little or nothing about soils or soil mapping, forest management or other issues that are important to a buyer who is looking to make a productive income from the farm. They may also have only cursory knowledge of conservation easements, and not be familiar with outreach tools such as the land-linking programs.
With funding from a grant from the John Merck Fund, Land For Good (LFG) , in cooperation with the UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) are developing and offering training courses for real estate professions about the considerations farmers bring to a land purchase.
On January 16, Ben Waterman of UVM, Jon Ramsay of VLT, and myself representing LFG offered our first ever “Tools and Resources for Working with Farms with Commercial Agricultural Potential” Course in Middlebury. With enthusiastic assistance from the Vermont Realtors Association, we were able to obtain approval to provide Continuing Education Credits for the re-licensing of the Real Estate Agents. Helen Hossley of the Association arranged for all of the course logistics including advertising to the real estate community, resulting in 17 real estate professionals attending the training.
The training was well received by the real estate agents who attended, with excellent questions and the cross-sharing of information. It also provided an opportunity to start a dialog between those of us working on farmland access and real estate professionals, so we can learn from each other more in the future.
We hope to repeat this course in the Upper Valley sometime next fall. Additionally, at LFG we are developing an online guide specifically for real estate professionals that will include the resources provided during the workshop plus new resources under development. We’ll be adding this guide to our website this spring.
It is important for farmers working with real estate agents to understand that, unless you have contracted with a “Buyer Broker” to work on your behalf, the Agent who you are dealing with is otherwise working on behalf of the Seller and the seller’s interests, not you the buyer. Regardless of what type of broker you are engaging, and their level of expertise in farmland transactions, it is still important for you to do your own “due diligence” to make sure that you are getting through and accurate information on soils, water, Current Use Taxes, Conservation Easements, and farm infrastructure before committing to a purchase. And in any transaction, you should also be working with an attorney. Staff at UVM and Land For Good are also available to help you along the way. To contact me for a consultation, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our website www.landforgood.org