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Sleuthing for the Biggest Landowners



This interview is also available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts


You can “Google” many things on the internet. However, Eric O’Keefe needs a lot of “sleuthing,” too. “We do word of mouth with landowners with brokers, with auctioneers, with appraisers. We obviously use a lot of technology, too, from a database standpoint to be able to go online and look at county records and do searches that way,” said O’Keefe, the editor of The Land Report, a Texas-based industry publication.


You will notice that O’Keefe said “we” several times. He stressed that this is a group effort to find land records that aren’t always easy to locate. O’Keefe praised the “extensive team that follows these landowners all year long, keeps in touch with them.”


Since 2007, O’Keefe and staff rely on relationships across the country to accomplish the arduous task of putting together the “Land Report 100,” an in-depth compilation of the 100 largest landowners in the United States.


On January 9th at the Land Investment Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, O’Keefe will debut the newest Land Report 100.  


RELATED: The 2022 Land Report 100 includes details about how The Malone Family Land Preservation Foundation is researching virtual fencing in Colorado and how Ted Turner’s son, Rhett, captures the work of his father’s efforts to restore natural habitat. Read that here.


ALSO RELATED: The 2021 Land Report 100 reveals how the Emmerson family in California became the country’s largest private landowner. Read that here.


Some landowners don’t make information easily accessible and brokers may need to protect their privacy. “I’ll be straightforward,” O’Keefe said, “…a lot of them deal with NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements) and confidentiality agreements that they can’t violate. And they won’t share with us specific facts and figures on numerous occasions. But when it’s a public sale…when it’s a major auction, when it’s a transaction that draws headlines, we get a lot of information right off the top and that’s exceptional.”


Sometimes, he added, certain investors or sellers don’t seek out attention for a land sale. “There is no incentive,” O’Keefe said, “there is no drive to trumpet or talk about those transactions. It’s an interesting Catch-22.”


But just because landowners don’t announce the purchases publicly, that doesn’t mean that they have sinister motives. “They’re not trying to stay below the radar being duplicitous or secretive…It just doesn’t add anything to their returns to trumpet the fact they they’ve acquired these institutional portfolios.”


O’Keefe said often it’s the small-town newspapers – part of an industry that has declined precipitously over the past two decades – that serves as a valuable resource. Major metropolitan newspapers or the local television news broadcasts frequently don’t include land purchases, “But it might make it in the small county press.”


RELATED: Axios detailed how nearly one-third of the nation’s newspapers that existed in 2005 will be gone in 2024. Read that here. 


O’Keefe’s decades-long commitment to the land has brought memorable experiences with legendary figures from various industries: former president Bill Clinton, actors Clint Eastwood and Tom Selleck, famous chef Julia Child and television personality Jay Leno.


Recently, he profiled Drew Bledsoe, the New England Patriots former Pro-Bowl quarterback who led them to a Super Bowl (He also briefly played for the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys). These days, Bledsoe’s career is wine. After his football career ended, he returned to Washington where he grew up and launched a vineyard in Walla Walla called Doubleback Winery.


“Drew is such a down home Walla Walla, Washington guy. He’s a hometown boy done good,” O’Keefe said of the conversations that he has had with Bledsoe. “With his wife, Maura, they couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming.”


The competitive fire that drove Bledsoe’s football career remains but now it flows in each bottle of wine, O’Keefe said. “Loves his wine…He’s very selfish when it comes to wine. He makes the ones he wants to drink and sell.”



NOTE: Eric O’Keefe and Drew Bledsoe will be keynote speakers at the 17th Annual Land Investment Expo in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, on January 9th, 2024.

 

To check out the full list of speakers, unique experiences and to register, click here. 

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