First time buying a horse farm? Here are expert tips to help you discover your dream property.
Investing in an equestrian property is perhaps one of the most expensive purchases in a lifetime and will require due diligence to find the right fit. Follow these expert tips to find the perfect horse farm!
Begin with the basics
Allen Kershaw breeds and races thoroughbreds and is an experienced realtor with the horse farm experts at Justice Real Estate in Lexington, Kentucky. “The property basics for a healthy home for horses include land, barns, and water supply,” Kershaw says. “Consider soil quality, which is very important [for grazing], to sustain a horse population.”
Washington State’s beautiful Whidbey Island is where Tammi Escalle, a Principal Agent with Redfin outside Seattle, has stabled her horses. Escalle says safety is first and foremost. “Start with a pasture free of poisonous plants. Provide safe fencing for horses, made of vinyl, wood, metal, hot wire or hot rope,” she says, cautioning against barbed wire. “Enough room is essential for regular turn-out, or riding trails, or an arena, to provide horses with adequate exercise space.”
As an island resident, Escalle focuses on how farm buyers will source enough food and water for their horses, locally and affordably. She always requests well inspections that include gallons per minute (gpm). “For a horse property, you want 12gpm or more depending on how many horses will be on the property. If you’re using public water, you may need a special water permit to run the amount of water needed.”
Lori DePucci, meanwhile, is an equestrian and leading horse farm realtor with Harry Norman in North Atlanta, Georgia. “You’ll want water lines and a no-freeze faucet located close to your pastures to fill water troughs easily,” she says. “If possible, to limit mud, place the water troughs at the lower end of the pasture fence line.” DePucci advises against buying inexpensive flood plain farms. “Horses can get thrush and other hoof ailments if standing in wet pastures. Also, flood plain is not a good real estate investment. You cannot build on it; therefore, appraisers usually only give about 25% to 50% value per acre.”
Buying inexpensive wooded acres is an option, DePucci says, but developing a pasture can take several seasons. “You will need to check with the city/county for their land disturbance (clearing) policies as some areas restrict the removal of trees or have an acreage limit.” To safely build up pastures, she says, “You will experience root holes for several years as the underground [tree] roots decay. Be prepared to walk your new pastures regularly for the first few years to fill holes. Overseed and fertilize your fields in spring or fall, or both. Lime as much as you can and often. Spray weeds in the pastures in June or July, if needed.”
Kershaw says the barn should be in good condition and safe, with proper, healthy ventilation. Escalle agrees and performs a thorough walk-through of a property with the prospective buyers, “Identify that there is nothing that could cause punctures or cuts to horses, and no boards that need replacing,” she says. “Any concrete areas should be smooth. If there isn’t a barn, evaluate whether there is room to build one, or at least a lean-to for shade from the sun and sides to shelter from wind and rain.”
DePucci strongly recommends hiring a licensed electrician to inspect the barn. Ideally, all wiring should be placed in conduit, and outdoor rated fixtures should be installed. “In more populated areas, the municipalities have special set back regulations to keep barns with livestock farther away from property lines,” DePucci says. “If you intend to build a barn, this is also important to verify.” She suggests a detailed conversation with your insurance agent. “You’ll need structure coverage for your home and barn, as well as a liability policy. If you intend to have boarders, this may put you in an entirely different insurance policy.”
Finding the right horse farm for your needs
Deciding how much acreage you need is important. “I usually recommend no more than one horse per acre,” says Barb Gould Uskup, a realtor with Carolina Real Estate Company in Aiken, South Carolina, and a polo player who used to compete on the international show jumping circuit. “Also keep in mind that a healthy pasture and paddock need to be cleaned or dragged regularly. The topography is also a consideration. Some disciplines prefer a level property, (for example, where a flat dressage arena is wanted), whereas others who trail ride or fox hunt may enjoy a bit of elevation.”
The ideal distance between your home and the barn varies, according to Uskup. “If horses are closer, it’s easier to care for them in inclement weather and to hear or see if anything is happening at the barn, such as horses getting loose or becoming cast in the stall. The downside of being too close is the possibility of odor or fly issues for the residence. I’ve had clients who prefer to be close, and others who prefer a good bit of distance.
“A workable barn permits for good horse husbandry, allowing for dry, secure areas for hay, feed, and necessary equipment,” Uskup adds. “If you’re getting a little older or have physical limitations, make sure the area is walkable and accessible for you (for example, can you reach items in the tack room?). An infrastructure to support healthy horse care, with competent vets, farriers, and good help when you need it, is essential. This is one of the reasons I live where I do, Aiken is the most horse-friendly community I have ever encountered.”
A note about financials
“Real Estate Investment is all about location,” says DePucci. “If you are buying your home for having horses, location is a key factor based on the need to commute to work, schools, etc. The closer you are to a populated area and a good school district, the better your investment. Farther out in a rural area, you should be able to get more property for your money.”
Most lenders will offer conventional loans for a home on ten acres or less for a hobby farm. “There must be comparable sales in the area to support the value and transaction,” DePucci says. “Typically, lenders require the house to be considered 70% of the value of the property. For larger training facilities, farm loans and small business loans are available, and usually require historical proof of established equestrian business income.”
Searching for the right property for you and your herd can be a lengthy process, but don’t lose faith! Take the time you need to ask the right questions, view a number of different options, and make sure a listing checks all the boxes before making an offer. By keeping all the above tips in mind, you’re sure to find a beautiful horse farm to call home.