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Training real estate professionals to better connect farm buyers and sellers

by: Mike Ghia, LFG VT Field Agent

There are many ways that farm buyers and sellers connect. Many farms are sold 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 as Vermont Land Link and New England Farm Finder.

Licensed real estate agents also have an important role to play in farm purchase and sales. Many real estate professionals have a sincere interest in seeing working farms stay in production. Land For Good (LFG) and our partners are helping these professionals to help you find and buy farmland. While there are real estate professionals in Vermont who are knowledgeable about selling commercial farms, others may have little or no familiarity with the production-side of farms, farm infrastructure, and the interests, needs and requirements of farm seekers. Most are experienced in selling a farmhouse with a large track of land associated with it. But many have less experience with assessing a barn for commercial potential, for example, or 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 not be familiar with conservation easements or outreach tools such as farm linking programs. To address this need, LFG secured support from the John Merck Fund to offer a training course for VT real estate professionals in cooperation with the UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Vermont Land Trust (VLT).

This past January (2015), Ben Waterman of UVM, Jon Ramsay of VLT, and I offered our first “Tools and Resources for Working with Farms with Commercial Agricultural Potential” course in Middlebury, VT. With enthusiastic assistance from the Vermont Realtors Association, we provided Continuing Education Credits for the re-licensing of the participating Real Estate Agents.  Helen Hossley of the Association arranged for all of the course logistics including advertising to the real estate community.

The training was well received by all who attended with many excellent questions and cross-sharing of information. It gave us an opportunity to learn from their areas of expertise, and to begin looking for ways for those of us working on farmland access to work more with real estate professionals in the future.

We plan to offer a similar training in the Upper Valley of VT next fall, and LFG is developing an online guide specifically for real estate professionals that will include the resources provided during the workshop plus new resources under development.

Farm seekers: If you are working with real estate agent, you need to understand that unless you have contracted with a “Buyer Broker” to work on your behalf, the agent you are dealing with is working on behalf of the Seller. Regardless of the 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 thorough and accurate information on soils, water, current use taxes, conservation easements, and farm infrastructure, for example, before committing to a purchase. And in any transaction, you should always be working with an attorney.

If you’re in Vermont, contact mike@landforgood.org for a consultation. Mike and staff at UVM are available to help farm seekers and real estate agents.

Elsewhere in New England, contact LFG through our website or email info@landforgood.org.

Editor’s note: LFG will be replicating this pilot training in NH in 2015, and in other New England states soon thereafter.

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