6 innovative ways to market your farm

Offering a unique experience or a bespoke deal could be the key to building interest in a property and finding the best-suited and most-committed buyer.

Whether it’s extending a viewing day to a viewing weekend, emphasising the site’s special features or piquing the interest of an unlikely bidder, the campaign can often help the cause.

However, heading off the beaten path of traditional marketing methods brings with it both pros and cons, so it’s important to assess the situation before making a decision.

See also: Planning a farm dispersal sale: What you need to know

1. Test-driving land

Rural consultant Baileys & Partners offered a wilderness immersion weekend for interested parties to test-drive a large sporting estate in north Ceredigion.

About 1,040 acres of land and sporting rights on Bugeilyn Moor was on the market for £500,000, and the team felt it was a great opportunity to try something different.

The itinerary included wild fishing; clay pigeon shooting; a walking tour of the estate with a local nature expert; local ale, wine and produce tasting; and outdoor cooking with optional overnight camping and stargazing.

The property was sold before the weekend was able to take place, perhaps due to the interest created by the campaign itself, but the plan was for the vendor and the agent to share the cost of the event.

Edmund Bailey, director of Baileys & Partners, said: “It was a first for us and we would do it again. A site with leisure, amenity or lifestyle interest would fit this approach.

“It’s something different, ensures everyone understands the property’s attributes and makes the whole selling process more personal.”

However, Mr Bailey warned the process takes time and risks feeling like an open day, which not everyone will like.

2. Try before you buy

A couple interested in buying a farm in south Warwickshire were convinced to put in a bid after spending a weekend in the property’s holiday cottage.

The 50-acre unit also included a farmhouse, range of buildings and stables.

Philip Hoare, director of farm agency at Savills, based in Banbury, suggested the idea and the vendor was more than happy, as the couple paid for their stay.

He said: “They got to know the farm and the area better, eat out at the local pubs, get comfort about the lack of road noise – which was an initial concern for them – and see the farm and farmhouse at different times of the day to see how light and other variables affected it.”

This works best where there are additional residences for the prospective buyer to use without the vendor having to be too involved, rather than, for example, a B&B within the main house.

From the vendor’s perspective, the buyer might see or hear things that deter them from entering a bid, but it is better that they establish whether the property will work for them or not before they start the legal process.

3. Sale-and-leaseback deal

Tom Watson, director at Cundalls, negotiated a five-year sale-and-leaseback deal for a retiring couple who wanted the security of staying in their home while searching for the right property.

The 150-acre livestock farm in North York Moors National Park was marketed with the option to purchase subject to a leaseback over the house, buildings and 20 acres at a peppercorn rent, with the remaining land vacant possession.

Within the offers received, one was from an investment purchaser who was happy with the leaseback for up to five years.

Mr Watson said: “This will hopefully allow our clients a gentle retirement and move, and puts them in a great situation as a future buyer. From the outside very little has changed, but financially they are much more comfortable.

“It’s a method I would use again in the right circumstances. I think it works best where there is an investment angle to attract tax-driven purchasers.”

However, he warned the legal process was much more complicated than a usual sale and several scenarios had to be considered for the leasehold arrangements.

4. £1/year tenancy

In 2016, the National Trust offered a £1m 145-acre farm in north Wales for a £1/year rent in a bid to protect its rare and fragile landscape.

Parc Farm on Great Orme has grazing rights to 720 acres of headland and needed a farmer to take on a “nature-first” approach.

The successful candidate got a 10-year farm business tenancy, and conservation charity Plantlife pledged to buy a flock for the tenant.

The £1 tenancy sparked international interest and calls came in at the rate of more than 100 an hour for days afterwards before Welsh shepherd Dan Jones was chosen.

5. Online auction

Fisher German launched an online auction facility for land and property in 2018, which runs 24/7.

It offers a less-pressurised environment than an auction room, encouraging buyers to participate, while retaining the transparency and legally binding exchange of the process.

Buyers remain competitive and are verified and approved to bid, while the online system provides flexibility about the time and date of the sale.

6. Raffles and competitions

Another innovative way to sell a property that has gained popularity in recent years is to offer it as a raffle prize.

However, raffles are overseen by the Gambling Commission, which regulates commercial gambling, because they involve entrants having to pay and the result is based purely on chance.

These should only be run by charities or not-for-profit causes. If you run an illegal lottery, you could face prosecution and, if convicted, a fine or imprisonment.

Instead, people can legally dispose of their home by running either free draws or prize competitions, which are not defined as gambling.

A free draw must have a free entry route. It can also have a paid route, but both must be advertised to all participants.

Meanwhile, a prize competition must depend on the exercise of skill, knowledge or judgement by the participant, and not just pure chance.

Sometimes traditional is best

The traditional route may be the best option for some vendors, allowing them to develop a relationship with their agent, says George Hipwell, director at agent Davidson & Robertson.

“The personal element is crucial in the buying and selling of property, as it is often one of the biggest decisions people will make in their life,” he said.

“Agricultural properties are often in the same ownership for generations and so taking the decision to sell can be emotive.

“There is definitely a place for modern technology with sales, but there is still no substitute for doing business with people.”