SPECIALISED rural property agents, often operating as ‘lone wolves’, are emerging as a force to be reckoned with, securing multi-million dollar sales for their international clients.
A good example is this week’s sale of the 78,000ha Charleville grazing property Oak Park Aggregation, in south-west Queensland, to Australia Aulong Auniu Wang (AAAW), the Australian subsidiary of Chinese retailing giant, Dashang Group.
Oak Park had been listed with several larger agencies in the past few years, but was sold for a reported $13.5 million to $15.5 million by Rural Sales Australia sole operator Patrick Hurley.
The Tamworth-based agent has had a strong recent track record in selling large-scale rural property in New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory on a confidential basis to domestic and international clients.
Oak Park has an estimated carrying capacity of 8000 to 10,000 head of cattle. Over the past 15 years, 55,000ha has been cleared and improved to buffel, with potential for further development. Low edible mulga covers about quarter of the property, providing a valuable feed resource through adverse seasons.
In fact, it’s not the first or only sale Mr Hurley has made to AAAW. In May last year, he sold Millera and Wootton, the 3500ha leading Upper Hunter operation and its 1100 head Kuro Kin Fullblood Wagyu herd, for about $20m.
At the time, it was thought the sale was an off-market transaction between the buyer and the Bishop family of Bunnan, who had held the aggregation for more than 100 years.
When it sold, AAAW managing director Michael Wang said the purchase of Wootton would help establish important supply lines of high quality Australian beef into China.
“In a country where providence and food security is the number one priority of the customer, AAAW aims to establish a fully integrated beef supply network in Australia and to produce Wagyu cross cattle for the live export trade into China.”
The new Oak Park acquisition in Queensland will be used as a large-scale Wagyu and Wagyu cross calf factory, integrating with the operations in the Hunter.
Some months later, Mr Hurley sold AAAW another Upper Hunter Valley property, the impressive 2000ha Brindley Park, owned by stockbroker Greg Moore and his wife Libby, also for a reported $20m.
The Brindley Park property, which was also originally listed by other larger agents, boasts almost 5km double frontage to the Merriwa River. It was renowned for running one of the better Merino stud flocks in the country and features an historic woolshed with 110 restored shearing stands. Both Brindley Park and Queensland’s Oak Park were inspected by AAAW personnel while listed earlier by other agents.
In 2015, AAAW paid $45m for the 30,868ha Glenrock Station near Scone in the Hunter Valley and $3m for the 1019ha Clear Hills grazing property near Captains Flat outside Canberra. When asked whether he was involved in either of the sales, Mr Hurley declined to comment.
Over the past 18 months, Mr Hurley been involved in $170m worth of noteworthy transactions, and he claims the number of off-market transactions taking place is ‘mind-boggling.’
“A large number of international investors are unable to purchase within on-market timeframes because the approval process (Foreign Investment Review Board) may take some time. The prices these investors are paying are in line with current market values achieved for on-market sales, without the stress and cost of an exposed campaign to the landholder,” he said.
Off- market or on-market?
Two weeks ago, CBRE’s Danny Thomas told Beef Central he couldn’t understand why a vendor would choose an off-market campaign.
“If someone wants to do a deal off-market for what looks like good money, the question you need to ask is, ‘If I am being given this money unsolicited off-market, what am I leaving on the table for not having put it on the market?”
But Mr Hurley disagrees, saying publicly-listed properties may exclude larger local and foreign investors.
“Most corporates prefer to operate discretely. They don’t like dealing with the exposure generated with marketed properties and as a result are prepared to pay for the privilege. The fact is that most corporate-scale farms are showcased to prospective buyers prior to listing anyway. Marketing is a great backup,” he said.
Mr Hurley said the key to off-market transactions was good connections.
“In my business I am not reliant on advertising or dartboard databases. Connections and referrals are key. The advantage of being a single operator means you can control most of the process – you are not relying on the skill set, or lack thereof, of anyone else.”
Looking to build supply chain
His client, AAAW’s Michael Wang, offered insight as a purchaser with considerable plans to further invest and expand in Australian agribusiness.
“It is important to find the right investment opportunities for the supply chain that we are looking to build in Australia. There are a plethora of investment opportunities and properties for sale, but not all of them are the right fit for AAAW,” Mr Wang said.
“I have dealt with a range of agents who set out to achieve a number of different objectives. Most of them are obligated to service the vendor’s interests, which fundamentally causes a conflict for us as the purchaser. Not many agents bother to really understand what serious investors in Australian agribusiness are looking to achieve, the consequence of which is that unsuitable investment opportunities are presented to me,” he said.
Mr Wang said as a result, AAAW’s interests are never correctly aligned with the opportunity.
“Patrick operates differently, in that he commits the time and effort in understanding what I am looking for, which is done through understanding the business we are trying to build here in Australia. He is relationship-driven and understands that the focus in agribusiness is long-term. It is quite ironic that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find people in this industry who have a big focus on these two key attributes.”
In the meantime, Mr Hurley is negotiating a number of significant large-scale properties, but cannot disclose the details just yet.
Keep an eye out on Beef Central’s future Weekly Property Reviews for details.