Young Couple Buys Ranch with Government Money

Kirk and Tina Sczepanik had a dream. They wanted a ranch of their own. But with the rising cost of land and the demands of raising three young children, the possibility of realizing their dream often seemed remote.

Kirk, 29, grew up on a ranch. He earned a degree in Agriculture, and now works for a construction company. Tina teaches Spanish at their local high school in South Texas. From the time they got married, they had their eye out for available ranchland. They investigated financing, and they learned they would need a down payment of at least ten percent.

Most area banks required twenty percent. On top of the purchase price, they would need to finance any improvements, equipment, and livestock. If the property they selected didn't have a home already built on it, they would need to finance construction of a house. Despite the apparent obstacles, they never gave up hope.

Tina spent months researching on the Internet. She followed up on every lead for ranches and financing. Finally, she came across a reference to a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Farm Service Agency. The program, called the Direct Farm Ownership Program, is designed to support and encourage people just like the Sczepaniks to settle in rural areas and either farm or ranch, or both.

Immediately, Tina contacted FSA and they completed an application. In order to qualify for the funding, they first had to be rejected by conventional funders.That part was easy. Tina simply explained her need to local banks, and they wrote her a letter verifying she would not qualify under their guidelines.

Although the program is available to all Americans, there is a set-aside of funds earmarked especially for minority applicants. Because Tina is Hispanic, they qualified under the set-aside, and were approved in the summer of 2003. With a guarantee of funding, they began looking in earnest for the ranch of their dreams. Through one of those strokes of perfect timing, they learned from friends of a ranch that was soon going to be put up for sale, but had not yet been listed.

The ranch was 140 acres, and included a frame house. The house had been built in the 1930's, then added onto twice. It had fallen into some disrepair, but it was in good enough condition to merit renovation. Three middle-aged siblings had inherited the property upon the deaths of their parents. None of them lived close enough to the ranch to want to keep it, but they had grown up there, and they wanted it to go into the hands of a family. They quickly accepted Kirk and Tina's offer.

Working closely with helpful staff officers at the Farm Service Agency, Tina and Kirk structured their financing into two loans. They used the acquisition loan to buy the property and finance a portion of the repairs on the house. That loan had a term of forty years, at an interest rate of 3.75%. They also took out an operational loan for seven years at 5.25%. The second loan financed the remainder of the renovation of the house, as well as fence repair and the purchase of cattle and equipment. No down payment was required for either loan, although the couple did put down some earnest money and paid a portion of the cost of the survey.

When they closed on the property, the real work began. They made the money stretch by doing a substantial portion of the repairs on the house themselves. Kirk's construction skills, and his relationship with vendors, were a definite benefit. Everyone in the family, including the children, helped with the renovations. Tina sums it up, "Essentially, we just gutted the house and rebuilt it from the studs out."

That work took several months, but finally, in September 2004, the family moved into their new home. For all three children, life on a ranch is a wonderful adventure. They have room to roam, and opportunities to make a real contribution to the family as they help their parents put things in order.

Joseph, now 12, is working on business ideas of his own. He plans to participate in a youth business opportunity program of FSA, which allows young people from ages 10 to 20 to borrow up to $5,000 to start a business. And Tina's father has taken responsibility for one field, where he has already planted a large garden to keep the family in vegetables. Tina laughs, "He's out there all the time on the old tractor that came with the house. He's having so much fun."

Meanwhile, Kirk has rebuilt some of the fences on the property, and has moved his three horses into their new home. His pride in their ranch, and in his wife, is evident as he talks about their new life. "You know, I'm the one who knows about ranching, and cattle and horses. We can make this a wonderful place. But it never would have happened if Tina hadn't been so determined, and gone out and found this program."

2004 (c) Jillian Coleman Wheeler

This article is condensed from New American Land Rush: How to Buy Real Estate with Government Money, by Jillian Coleman Wheeler (c) 2004. For more information, to go: For more about grants, visit: You may reprint this article, if you credit the author and include this resource box. Please notify the author of publication information: [email protected]

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