A Closer Look: Jeffrey Obrecht
“The Dirt Dealer,” Peoples Co.
Friday, May 30, 2014 6:00 AM
So, you’re wondering, what’s with “The Dirt Dealer”? It’s simple, really. Jeff Obrecht has been selling farmland for the better part of three decades, so a few years ago, he decided to identify himself by what he does. And he did a pretty good job of it, having sold more than $250 million worth of land in the last seven years with Farmers National Co. His expertise has been featured on “CNN Money,” “Rock Center With Brian Williams” and “The CBS Evening News.” He joined Clive-based Peoples Co. last month. Obrecht also owns a 240-acre farm near Bondurant.
Education: Iowa State University
Family: Wife, Becky; two children, five grandchildren
You’ve had success running your own business and working with Farmers National. Why the switch?
I had an opportunity to go to a company that was a little more progressive, a little more forward-thinking in the real estate business. (Peoples Co. President Steve Bruere) has a lot of great ideas; the rest of the people involved in the company are ambitious. I felt at this point in time in my life, I had three choices: I could stay where I was, I could retire or I could continue doing what I love to do. I felt that this company gave me the opportunity to continue doing what I’ve been doing since 1981.
How do you describe what you love to do?
Selling dirt. I am The Dirt Dealer. That is copyrighted, by the way, and I’ve had to several times defend that copyright. There are links on the Internet set up so that when you click on them, they go to them rather than to me. What I didn’t realize was that when you have a copyright like that, you have to defend it. It’s a brand that I started six or seven years ago. The company that I was with fought me all the way on it. As it turned out, I think it proved itself in that out of 300 sales agents in 24 states, I was the top sales agent five out of the last seven years. A lot of times when people call me, they don’t call and say, “Is this Jeff?” They call and say, “Is this The Dirt Dealer?”
Your degree is in industrial administration. What led to farm real estate?
That’s simple. I had to take 12 hours of chemistry for a degree in ag finance. I had never taken a chemistry course, and I wasn’t about to take one at Iowa State. I started selling farmland during the farm crisis. I rode this land value up. Some of those years were very thin. The last five years have been very good. In 1976 through ‘81, I worked for Farm Credit, or the federal land bank. That’s kind of where I got my basics. I was a farm boy and I loved dealing with the farm people. In ‘81, I thought, “I’m a country boy, I’m independent and maybe I should do something different.” I’ve always enjoyed working with the people out here in the country. It’s just in your blood, I guess.
You’ve sold a lot of land. What is driving prices?
When farmers make money, and in the last five years they have made good money, and it’s about time in my opinion, they buy one of two things: dirt or iron. That’s the nature of the business. In the farm real estate business, I see a lot of opportunity. It used to be that our farm economy was based on local things. But anymore, we have such a worldwide market that anything that happens across the seas affects markets here. I don’t see that changing. I think it’ll probably affect our markets more and more every day. If you look at Iowa, I think there’s $260 or $270 billion worth of farm real estate, probably 70 percent of that is owned by people over 60. A good portion of that ground is going to turn over in the next 10 years.
Are the land prices driven by commodity prices?
One of the driving forces is interest rates. When I left Farm Credit, the farm interest rate was 13 percent. Now, when you’re at 4, 4.5, percent, it just works a lot easier. Commodity prices have helped a lot, but to me, the biggest thing is the interest factor.
What’s the key to selling?
The No. 1 thing that you have to do in this business is be honest with people. I’m in two segments that are difficult. One is selling and the other is auctioneering. (Obrecht also has auction and appraisal businesses.) People think you take your commission and run. But if you’re honest and upfront with people, it might cost you a sale, but in the long run, it might get you two.
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