Cherishing the Legacy of Bell Mountain Vineyards.

In 2016, I was asked to sell a 75-acre property known as Bell Mountain Vineyards located in Willow City, just north of Fredericksburg, Texas. Bell Mountain Vineyards was one of the oldest wineries in Central Texas, started in the early 1970s by Bob and Evelyn Oberhelman. The property consisted of a primary residence, a wine production and bottling facility, a tasting room and approximately 50 acres of vineyard of which about 20 acres were planted. A 91-year-old widow, Evelyn was still healthy, active and doing her best to honor the legacy that her husband began decades earlier.

After several months of marketing the property, I negotiated an offer in early 2017 from buyers who had a vision to restore the property back to its original beauty, but during the escrow, a challenge arose. A new survey of the property revealed that there were approximately 13 acres of what is known as “excess acreage.” In Texas, excess acreage stems from old, original surveys that were mis-measured. In this case, the original survey was from an 1837 land grant recorded as approximately 900 acres. Unfortunately, that was a miscalculation. The actual acreage was later discovered to be about 1,100 acres, but due to the lack of accurate, technical methods of measuring land in the 1800s, miscalculations were not uncommon.

Over the 150 years since the original land grant was given, the property had been divided into many different parcels and sold. The new survey revealed the 75-acre subject property contained 13 of these excess acres, which put a cloud on the title. In Texas, excess acreage is owned by the state and there is a long, detailed process by which a property owner must apply for and purchase the excess acreage from the state. The rule of adverse possession does not apply to excess acreage.

After making some inquiries, I discovered my seller would need to make a formal application to the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The process involved the GLO reviewing the survey to confirm its accuracy, bringing a team of GLO appraisers to formally appraise the property and making an offer to the seller to purchase the excess acreage at 50 percent of current market value. Once an agreement was reached, the State School Land Board—the beneficiaries of excess acreage sales—still needed to vote and formally approve the sale of the land.

While the process seemed simple, I was informed by the GLO that it normally takes “many months or even years” to resolve cases—but I had a contract to sell the property and my seller was 91. We simply did not have many months or years to get this done!

I immediately contacted several local politicians and a local lobbyist, all of whom helped highlight the plight of the seller and move the case through the GLO more quickly. Some months later, the GLO did make an offer to sell the property—but I discovered the seller did not have the cash to make the purchase. After managing to keep the contract together for months past the original close date, I now needed to find another way to get the deal to the closing table. I negotiated with the buyers to purchase the excess acreage and amended the contract to credit that amount back to the buyers at closing.

The Result: Patience, Perseverance, and a Remarkable Outcome.

We still had to wait for the State School Land Board to vote for the sale, but thankfully, that was approved with no issues.

Ultimately, it took eight months of hard work, creative problem solving and the grace of God to complete the transaction, but at the closing table, the attorney involved commented that she had never seen a property get through the GLO so quickly.