By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

BOZEMAN – The market is up for high-end ranch real estate in the West, according to Bozeman-based Fay Ranches.

Greg Fay, the agency’s founder, said the consensus among his agents is that they’re showing a lot of ground this winter in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon.

“Usually people start looking at ranches in April and May, but we’ve got people looking at them now,” Fay said.

Some of that hustle has been due to the unseasonably nice weather, he said, but mostly it’s that more people seem to be trickling back into the market.

“There’s just momentum that was built up in 2011.”

2011 was a record year for Fay Ranches, which has been doing business in the Rocky Mountain West for more than 20 years. The company didn’t bring in top sales in terms of dollar amounts, but it closed more transactions than it ever had in any previous calendar year.

“We closed $29 million in December alone,” Fay said. “It kind of put an exclamation point on the year.”

Bill Mercer, a real estate agent with Clearwater Montana Properties in Ennis, says he’s seen something similar.

“I’ve had quite a few inquiries from people wanting to look at ranches from November up to now, more than in the last couple years,” he said.

Mercer doesn’t think buyers are spending more. Instead, they’re looking at ranches as a good place to invest. And, he says, the prices have lowered and are now more attractive.

“I think this slump is turning around a little bit,” Mercer said. “There’s people coming out saying, ‘I think I’m going to buy something.’”

The Big Timber-based broker Sonny Todd agrees, too. Todd’s agency works exclusively in Montana and Wyoming ranch properties.

“We’ve sure had more activity since the first of year,” Todd said. “We had activity before the end of the year, but nobody was signing anything. [Now] it looks like we’re going to get a couple of good sized buy sells here in the next couple weeks. I would say the activity has definitely picked up.”

As the market gains traction, Fay said he’s seeing an adjustment in values and a transition reflecting a realization that real estate values aren’t what they were.

“When you have an intersection of landowners pricing their product appropriately, and buyers starting to recognize it as a value, … that’s the beginning of a turnaround in the marketplace,” Fay said.