Maclay Ranch fails to sell at auction

Maclay Ranch
The Maclay Ranch south of Missoula failed to sell at auction last weekend, though negotiations continue between prospective buyers and Met Life, the property’s owners. (Photo by Albert Burney)

By Martin Kidston

An auction to sell the historic Maclay Ranch south of Lolo came and went last weekend, and while interest was high, the bids were lackluster and the property failed to sell.

Chris Janssen, a broker with Live Water Properties – the company selling the property on behalf of Met Life – said bidding on the 2,670-acre ranch wasn’t as active as anticipated.

“We had a lot of response at the auction as far as people, but we weren’t able to get the bids we needed to get it to a successful transaction,” Janssen said. “We’re in negotiation with a couple of people who showed up at the auction, and we’re hoping for possible success there.”

The ranch’s former owner, Tom Maclay, spent the past decade working to transform the scenic property at the northern end of the Bitterroot Valley into a ski resort, though he was unable to secure the necessary permits from the U.S. Forest Service.

Met Life backed the project, though it foreclosed on the property when Maclay defaulted on payments in 2009. A sheriff’s auction was held in 2012 and Met Life submitted the winning bid of $22.5 million.

Met Life attempted to auction the property last Saturday, both in parcels and in its entirety. Janssen said bids were received for 11 parcels, along with the ranch as a whole.

“There’s an unpublished minimum, and the auctioneer is in control of where we start – what we think is a reasonable starting point,” said Janssen. “We were not able to get the bids we needed.”

Janssen said no follow-up auction is currently planned, though negotiations between Met Life and several bidders continue. He said the negotiations are for the entire ranch and include potential buyers from both inside Montana and outside the state.

“The property still looks great,” Janssen said. “From someone who sells ranches all over Montana, I’m a disappointed. Ultimately, the market decides how these things go and on that day, the market was much lower than the seller thought they needed.”

Janssen said typically buyers come from as far away as Asia and Europe looking for recreational ranch properties in Montana. On occasion, he also represents buyers from inside the state.

As a whole, he said the recreational ranch market remains strong, though the presidential election has some buyers nervous.

“We’ve had a good year, but I would not say the recreational ranch market is white hot,” he said. “Election years are typically slower. People are nervous. They’re curious about what changes are going to take place.”

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