Image credit: John Reed / Unsplash

Here’s why a residential real estate platform acquired FarmlandFinder

September 2, 2021

There’s a common saying in agriculture that farmers tend to be asset-rich and cash-poor. Between equipment, crops, livestock, outbuildings, and more, farmers can easily amass over $1 million in assets. The most valuable thing they usually own, however, is their land.

Online real estate platform EasyKnock is hoping to offer farmers a way to improve their cash flow with its recent acquisition of ag-focused counterpart FarmlandFinder.

New York-based EasyKnock, which describes itself as a ‘proptech company, offers a residential sale-leaseback service. It offers homeowners the opportunity to sell their property to investors via EasyKnock and lease it back from them, providing quick access to their equity.

“The farmland footprint is very large, so for us, this is a natural extension,” EasyKnock CEO Jarred Kessler tells AFN. “And there’s a huge need. A lot of farmers want the benefit of running their farms without having to move. They want the liquidity so they can invest in another property, invest in equipment, or just enjoy their lives but also maintain their farms.”

The lightbulb moment for Kessler came during Covid-19 as many urban dwellers decided to uproot their city lives and find quieter, less populated accommodations in rural spaces. 

“We think there will be a big push and a nice boom in the farmland community over the next five years and we want to be able to help farmers thrive,” he says.

Launched in 2016, Des Moines-based FarmlandFinder has two primary offerings.

First is its web platform which allows users to view farmland properties for sale. If users sign up for a premium membership, they can access a goldmine of data about listed properties, including soil maps, satellite imagery analysis, and crop yields.

Second is a sale-leaseback program for farms akin to what EasyKnock offers residential homeowners.

The road to EasyKnock’s acquisition began when FarmlandFinder CEO Steven Brockshus reached out to Kessler on LinkedIn, seeking advice on how to grow his business.

Soon, Brockshus and Kessler began having conversations about how the two companies could work together. Sale-leaseback programs require large amounts of capital – especially for farms covering many acres, Brockshus explains, making an established player like EasyKnock an appealing partner.

As for EasyKnock, the deal gives it an instant foothold in the farm property market.

“We get a lot of leads coming from rural communities and we’ve been wanting to figure out a [solution] organically for a long time,” Kessler says. “We’ve been looking for a company like FarmlandFinder but they really don’t exist. So, as soon as I saw FarmlandFinder, I thought it was an amazing opportunity for us.”

Interested farmland owners can provide basic information about their property, farming practices, and background to EasyKnock in order to get pre-qualified for a sale-leaseback deal. They then work with a land support specialist to determine a rental price; once approved, the owner will be connected with investors who are interested in adding farmland to their portfolios.

There are a few details left to figure out for the newly merged company, including some of the specific financing, underwriting, and legal requirements that apply to farmland transactions. They’re also aware that winning farmland owners over to the sale-leaseback model may require a different tack to the residential market, given how closely connected many farmers are to land that might have been in their family for multiple generations.

Brockshus himself is a fifth-generation dairy farmer and no stranger to navigating the cultural landscape of a rural agricultural community – including skepticism to new business models.

“Farmers are always looking for good partners to grow their businesses,” he says. “For a long time, farmers have relied on debt and banks. That’s worked, but it can only go so far. When farmers are looking for an equity provider to help them grow their operation [they’ll] look to investors, absentee landowners, and other folks who can help them grow.”

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