Springfield, MO

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Opinion: Why managing real estate, farm is no task for inexperienced

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If you suddenly came into possession of a large, income-producing piece of real estate or farm operation, could you instantly manage the day-to-day activities to support the enterprise?

Not many can say “yes” to that question, and abrupt transitions of family businesses happen often enough where professional management services are needed quickly to sustain operations. You could find yourself one day as the owner of these assets, the kind of private business interests that are not easily converted to more liquid assets, like cash.

And these properties often require extra care in maintaining operations or preparing them for an eventual sale.

In the case of a closely held firm, an appointed family member or trustee involved in a transition may be inexperienced in business operations and find themselves overwhelmed when held responsible for daily business activities. They may not possess the industry knowledge to keep the business operating smoothly.

If this is the situation, it is important to put professional resources in place quickly to manage the enterprise to maintain the value of a property.

We have found over time that a do-it-yourself approach can be a challenge and missteps can cost families large sums of money. A professional special assets manager skilled in managing properties or ongoing businesses can have a competitive advantage over those without the specialized or appropriate skill set.

As a prepared advocate for our clients, we’ve recognized over the years, for example, that valuation mistakes are more likely to occur when there are many minority interest holders in a property. Under our representation on one matter, we were able to better market and therefore command a significantly higher selling price for a client who had a minority interest in a large tract of land. Another minority owner mistakenly thought her property was virtually worthless and sold her mineral rights at a fraction of what they were worth. By doing the homework and waiting just a little longer for the right purchaser, our client profited immensely compared with his neighbor.

We also helped a married couple with a large farming operation when they were confronted with some tough financial choices when the husband suddenly passed away. The wife was faced with the prospect of having to take over the operation of several thousand acres of farmland worth millions of dollars. She had a deep empathy for the many longtime business partners who had been her husband’s key tenants. She needed help in transitioning these assets. The wife decided to bring us in as agent to assist her in reaching her goals for the property. Since all the interested tenants could not immediately raise the funds to purchase the parcels, we also enlisted an outside agent to list for sale and auction portions of the acreage. This allowed us to use their experience to derive the most value for the family. At the same time, this created fair access to the pool of potential purchasers the wife desired. The sheer scope of managing this process made it a complex job.

In many cases, it’s simply too big a task for a single person or someone not accustomed to dealing with large-scale operations.

The work in this field is incredibly diverse in scope. In the Springfield area, we have recently served as a successor trustee overseeing a 10,000-acre farming operation. We’ve even worked with Sotheby’s to facilitate the sale of a significantly valuable art collection. And we’ve sold commercial real estate in nearby states. Many of these transactions include commercial properties and office buildings, farm acreage, and parcels with timber, precious minerals or oil and gas assets, as well as closely held business interests.

Property owners do have options. It pays off for people to recognize what their strengths are and when it’s time to turn to a business adviser with broader expertise where appropriate.

Josh Hartman is a wealth management consultant at Commerce Trust Co. in Springfield. He can be reached at


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