Be sure to know exactly what you want—and where you’re willing to compromise.
The dream of bringing your horses home—being able to glance out your kitchen window, coffee cup in hand, and see your horses contentedly munching grass on your own property—all starts with a farm search.
Looking for a property to house you and your horses multiplies all the house-searching frustrations exponentially. Not only do you have to consider the livability and style of the house for the human inhabitants, but you also have to assess the viability of the land and buildings for the equine members of the family as well.
Here are five real-life stories of finding the perfect (or as close as you can get) farm.
From The Ground Up
Debby Jenkins searched for less than six months to find the open land she wanted.
“I wanted vacant land so I could put up exactly what I wanted. The places I looked at with existing barns needed too much reworking,” she said.
Jenkins, who performs administrative work from home, bought 5 acres with a house and shed just outside Crown Point, Ind., surrounded by soybean fields. She keeps one or two horses on the property.
To make it suit her needs exactly, Jenkins, who rides dressage, added a two-stall barn with tack and feed rooms, an attached indoor ring and fenced-in paddocks. “I had to apply for two variances for the indoor arena—both
for height and square footage. This required a zoning board hearing where the community was allowed to protest. It made for some nervous moments until I got the variances passed,” she said.
Her first priority in shopping was the land. “I was looking for nice, flat land to build on and that it was zoned for horses. The second thing that sold me on this property was the house. It was in very nice condition. It helped that it was close to town and the highway but still surrounded by other small acreages.”
The sale of her house in the city funded Jenkins’ new home and barn. She would have preferred land with an existing house in move-in condition, but major house renovations would have stretched her budget too far. “With my experience I’d say go for the vacant land if the budget can handle building to suit,” she said.
She waited seven months from the sale of her original home to the arrival of her horses on her new property.
But for Jenkins, it was more than worth the wait.
“It’s priceless knowing when they are happy and healthy, or when they are not quite right—not having to hear it secondhand from a barn owner or barn manager at a boarding barn. And the best thing about it is going out for night check in my jammies and sitting in the aisle, barn cat on lap, listening to horses munching hay,” she said.
A Kentucky Log Home
Larke Marvin looked for two years before she and her husband found just the right property. They then had to wait nine months for their former house to sell before they could buy the 10 acres they’d found in a small suburb of Lexington, Ky.
Their new property includes a log home, four-stall barn, run-in shed, large tobacco barn for storage, three pastures, a fenced grass arena and a spring and creek. They keep four horses for trail riding and pet goats there.
“Everything we looked at before this one, we either liked the barn and pastures or the house but never both. This came the closest to meeting all of our ‘wants.’ We looked at both open land and established properties but really wanted something already fenced and with a shelter to keep costs down,” she said. “We love it there, and it’s a dream come true!”
Marvin’s other priorities included a house that required minimal renovation and good areas to ride. “In our area, there are a lot of steep hills and rocks. We wanted flat and/or rolling pastures,” she said.
For her, the house was secondary to the horse facilities. “However we’ve always dreamed of having a log home, and that is what we bought,” she said.
Marvin, a quality analyst for a financial shared services company, experienced a surprise common to first-time farm owners: the cost of accessorizing. “Our farm came with a tractor, but we could use an even bigger one. Now we need a manure spreader and an all-terrain vehicle as well for chores. And we’ve bought literally tons of gravel and still need more. Plus, there’s the expense of gas to run all the random things we need for mowing and up-keep,” she said.
They also ran into a hurdle in the closing process. “Our appraisal wasn’t near as high as we’d hoped. The appraiser didn’t place as high a value as we did on a newer barn and fencing, the outbuildings, water and electric in the barn, etc. Also it was hard to find comparative home values for log homes,” Marvin said.
It’s All About The Land
Heather Richards searched for 11⁄2 years to find a property that would work for her and her husband, as well as their two horses.
“I’ve looked at more properties than I want to count. I probably set foot on 30 to 40 properties,” she said.
They currently are in the process of closing on a 10-acre farm in Culpeper, Va., with a four-stall barn and riding ring where Richards can enjoy her love of dressage.
“We had an idea of the kind of topography we wanted, more than anything. You can’t change the land—you can change everything else. It needed to be open and have a high percentage of usable land, and it needed to be easily fenced if it didn’t already have fencing. It was our preference to have an established property. The more we looked, the more we considered the possibility of buying just a house on some land and building our own barn. It’s expensive to do it that way, and that’s why we weren’t that excited at the prospect.”