What to Know and Consider when Buying or Selling a Horse Property

--for the safety and comfort of both you and your horses

by: Marie Griffith,
Website Manager,

DEFINITIONS FIRST: 

PART I

Horse Property Defined

Horse property is a general term for land suited generally for horses (slope, soil, grass) but may be also suited to many other types of animals, such as, cattle, sheep, llamas, or even a vineyard or crops.  Sometimes it is property that could just as easily be farmed; however, property with too much brush and a steep slope is better termed "goat property," and suitable for neither horses or farming.

People who breed and raise horses sometimes call these horse properties "horse farms" or "horse ranches." For general purposes, however,   properties under 20 acres are usually referred to as  Horse Properties or Equestrian Estates.  These two categories are differentiated only by price.  Properties with at least 20 acres and up are usually referred to as Horse Ranches.

When looking for horse property or a horse farm or horse ranch,  it is usually assumed that is property between 2 and 50 acres and zoned for horses; Many Horse farms are often between 10-25 acres. However, in a few residential areas, one acre or less is satisfactory if the land is surrounded by city services and all useable and flat. Two horses per acre, however, is a good rule of thumb, unless the town services provides a method to remove manure weekly and zoning and city water and sewer allow for  more horses.  In Glendale, CA, you have as many as 2 horses on a 6,750 sq. ft lot; for some people this is very hard to imagine.)

To be classified as any kind of horse property, it must also have adequate water and enough level space for a barn or shelter as well as paddocks and, hopefully, some small pasture, and a place to wash and tack up your horse. Preferably, a place to park your horse trailer.  Importantly, desirable horse property is usually close to community or public horse trails or arenas, and training facilities. Last, but not least, a feed and tack store should be located nearby, and preferably a few horsy neighbors for company and/or information and needed support or help in emergencies.

As mentioned, in the city of Glendale, CA, near the middle of the movie industry, two horses can live with their owners on just 6,750 to 9,000 sq. ft. lots, less than 1/4 acre; Note: A 1/4 ac lot is about 10,000 sq.ft.;  In Sacramento, two horses are allowed on 3/4 acre in some county areas close-in. In El Dorado County (Placerville, Garden Valley, Shingle Springs, through Cool and Pilot Hill and Georgetown) there is no limit, as yet, on the number of horses per acre (El Dorado county is a very horsey county, located in deep in the middle of the Gold Country); nearby, in Placer county, (the Loomis, Lincoln, and Auburn areas) the zoning is usually one horse per acre in most areas. When moving, be sure to check the zoning regulations in your area of choice.

Be wary when a  horse property is advertised as a "view property" because a view property often has steep banks or rocky soil because it sits near or on top of a hill, unless that hill has a number of gentle acres surrounding it for pasture. Then you have the best of two worlds.  Horse property is ideally grassy, rolling or level land for the most part, with good draining soil. Horses benefit from living on rolling or sloped land as they need exercise, but it should not be more than a 15% slope. Ideally, most horse folks are looking for 3-5 acres when shopping for a horse property. However, extra land is always useful for pasturing, breeding, casual riding, lay-up, access to trails, roping, or even team penning. People without horses sometimes shop for horse property just because they know it is mostly useable property, easy to build on, and of greater value.

Equestrian Property Defined

This term has more to do with those parcels used by persons who primarily ride, jump, or show horses in dressage  or English riding events or have property closer to more populated areas. Additionally, to make it more confusing, both horse property and equestrian property are often used interchangeably.

Ranch Property Defined

Ranches are usually properties for raising horses or cattle on 50 acres or more (in my opinion) and could be much more. Some people refer to their property as a ranch with as little as 10 acres. However, with the price of California land escalating, you see more and more 10 to 50 acre parcels advertised as ranches. To qualify for the Williamson Act Tax Advantages your horse ranch must be a Cattle Ranch (now horse people are joining to ask the Department of Agriculture in CA to reclassify Horses back to Agriculture as they once were in California. This will allow horse owners all the benefit of the Farm Tax, Rescue Grants, and Disease Research Grants (according to the American Horse Council in Washington DC)

However, many times you see people referring to ranches, informally, with as little land as 9 acres, like my husband does to our horse property in Garden Valley. Most large ranches in California, however, are over 500 acres, many at 1,000 acres and more. In the dictionary a ranch is defined as a large farm for raising horses, beef cattle or sheep. A large ranch in Wyoming would probably be 20,000 acres. In Glendale, CA, perhaps 1 acre.
Q. What are the main considerations buyers must take into account when purchasing a horse/equestrian property/ranch? 

A. You must ask yourself "What is the main reason for purchasing a horse property/horse farm and will this property satisfy that need?" How do I use my horse? Does my family mainly like to trail ride or also do arena work? Does this property have access to trails? How far do we have to trailer to public trails or horse events? Does my show horse require a state-of-the-art barn, dressage arena?  How much of the property is fenced and is it adequate or is it dangerous to horses and/or need to be replaced?
Nice fences can run as much as $10/foot to buy and install. 

All of these issues need to be considered when shopping for horse property. Also, of course, know your budget and how much loan you qualify for. Most Realtors will want you pre-qualified before they show you horse or ranch property. Property owners are also asking if the buyers are pre-qualified before they will allow the Realtor to show their property, which is only right. It does take more effort to show a ranch/horse property than a track or custom home. The barn has to be cleaned, floor swept, tack room straightened, and the tractor and animals put away,  

Always ask yourself, what do I really value most and have I informed my agent of these desires? (finding an agent that is experienced with horses and the specific needs of horse folks is an important subject for another article; obviously I  highly recommend you find a horse or ranch property specialist to work with you; to some, unfortunately, this is not a high priority).

What do you really need  included, and what can you really live without and add later? Will the location, topography, schools, trails, property condition and/or distance to shopping and local services meet my needs? Is the community, horse friendly? Is the floor plan suitable? Is there room if I want to expand? Where is the home in relation to the barn?  Is the property worth what I am paying? Will I have to invest too much time or money for the condition I need -- based on the price being asked and my immediate situation?

Buyers are looking for horse/equestrian property for a variety of reasons. An important priority by any buyer is to get absolutely clear about what they want and why they want it. Oftentimes, however, this is a process. You have to be shown 3-10 properties, perhaps before you can verbalize to your agent exactly what you are looking for; in other words, when you see it you will know it (because it will make your heart beat fast). 

Do you want more pasture or just to enjoy seeing your horses in your own backyard?  Some are looking for more land for an arena and barns? Or, closer to trails?  It is for better drainage, richer pasture, more plentiful water, better riding conditions, more like-minded neighbors who are horse friendly? Or is it just for a larger home? Then, remember to number your reasons in the order of their importance and discuss them with your chosen agent. Sometimes it is just to scale down with less horses and less acreage to maintain when you are in the retirement mode. 

. . . continued at the top of the
right column



 

Q. What are the main considerations sellers must take into account when selling their horse property?

A. First, is their horse property in "selling condition." If not, are they selling the property "as is."

If it is "AS IS," then the seller is looking for a buyer who is handy and/or who wants to and has the resources to supervise the changes. Sellers should also be savvy to market conditions, interest rates, whether they are willing to carry paper. Knowing their target move date, they should obtain a timely market analysis from at least two-three Realtors (unless they already have a contact with an experienced horse property specialist.) For land, or for a property or Ranch with larger acreage, as 50 acres or more, a good fee appraiser, horse property savvy, may be a must (especially if there are no similar parcels in the area; sometimes appraisers will go out of the county on occasions for other comparable sales, and do adjustments for location). 

Zoning, topography, location are all very important. If the Zoning allows subdivision into smaller parcels, this most likely will greatly increase the value of the property because the owner can then split off 5 to 10 acres and reap the profit as needed. Also, how many horses per acre does the zoning allow? Buyers will often ask.

It is also a good idea when trying to determine value  to ask your Realtor for three properties in the area that he/she feels may be "competition" for your property so you, the seller, can do a drive-by and get a feel for what else is on the market with similar improvements and acreage, and at what asking price. Of course, the "SOLDS" are primary when placing a price on your horse property. Sellers can ask anything they want, and sometimes do, so asking price does not mean selling price. What is on the market, what is a pending sale and mostly what has SOLD  is what the appraisers and buyers will be looking at. 

It is also a very good idea for sellers to order all inspections, up front, if possible, like a Structural Pest control Report (Termite Report) and a general Property Report so you can be knowledgeable about what the buyer may be willing to accept and what might be offered "as is." (Most often these inspections can be put into escrow and paid for at recordation of deed out of proceeds of property.) 

For instance, if the wood burning stove is just about worn out with missing fire bricks and worn out seals and is called on the Property Report, the buyer may well ask the seller for a new one (often priced at $2,000 and up) while if sellers are notified of a problem in advance, they can make preparations to repair or replace with a good "used" one before home is sold--- or price their property featuring a new wood-burning store. The same goes for a roof or old plumbing or wiring that won't pass inspection.  A septic inspection and a well report also provide good information to seller before home is sold  but often buyers can order these during the inspection contingency if sellers do not anticipate any problems with either well production, potobility (drinkable) of water or adequate flow of leach lines when they are "water tested." Sellers must remember, it is always harder to negotiate when the buyers pay for and order inspections after making an offer as buyers feel that if something is not in proper and normal working order then these items should have been disclosed up front. When buyers order and pay for inspections they often ask sellers to fix more items than sellers anticipate or want to fix.

Q. When is the best time to buy or sell?

A.<   The only real answer is: when you are ready. In the spring everything is green, but in the fall, things are more relaxed, not as much competition, and you will get a better picture of what hot weather does to the grounds.  August is always a slow month in real estate (based on my 30 years in the business) because people AND REALTORS have to get in that vacation time in if they are ever going to take a break before school starts and/or before the summer is over  Also, families like to be moved and settled in by August.





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Copyright 2010 Marie Griffith. All rights reserved. The above article is the property of the Author, Marie Griffith, and may not be duplicated or redistributed in any way without permission

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NOTE: The above information deemed accurate but not guaranteed. This is for general information only and buyer and seller should make their own investigations
to confirm with other reliable sources.
 

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