Buying Your First Horse Property

by Amber Hodge/Quarter Horse News

The right facility is one of the most important tools a horseman can have. Whether you are a professional trainer or a breeder with a few mares in the pasture, the right facility can make horsekeeping at home easier. However, many people find the real estate search to be intimidating and overwhelming. A few real estate professionals in the horse industry and some experienced buyers offer their advice on the matter of buying that first place.

When it comes to real estate, almost everyone has heard the saying, “location, location, location,” and it serves its purpose well in the horse industry today. Texas real estate broker McAllen Coalson has 23 years of experience buying and selling equine property. He says the first and most important step is to know where the hub of your industry lies, and get as close to it as possible.

“You need to be where the heart is, if you are really going to be serious about it,” he explained. “That way, you‚ are able to meet more people, see more people and engage with more people in that particular industry.”

It’s good advice for trainers seeking out new facilities, competitive non-pros wanting to hit all the major shows and market breeders looking to sell young stock. A location farther away from horse-heavy country results in a smaller client base for trainers, and longer hauls to shows and sales for competitors and breeders. Subsequently, according to Coalson, it can be harder to sell at a future date.

There are some exceptions, however. National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Professional Luiz Barros, Ormond Beach, Fla., took several factors into consideration when he began looking for his first place. 

“If I was thinking exclusively on my reining profession, I should be thinking about moving to Oklahoma, Texas or Arizona,” he said. “Places that have more customers and [where] the industry is a little bit bigger.”

But for Barros, his search was limited by the geographic constraints of his wife’s job and his four daughters’ school situation. He felt it was more important for him to be able to spend more time with his family, rather than taking care of a large facility with a lot of horses. He found a modest property that meets his needs as a horseman and also has a house that he and his family can enjoy. 

“It’s all about location,” said Texas real estate agent Debbi Rousey. “[Buyers] have to pinpoint the area they like.”

Coalson and Rousey agree that finding an agent who knows the prime horse locations is key. Barros added that asking other horsemen who are well established on their own property can also be helpful. Experienced buyers know the downfalls that can be involved in finding the perfect place and can point you in the right direction or offer helpful advice.

 

Lay of the Land

Make sure water supplies are sufficient for animals and extras such as arena watering. Photo by Jordan Snider

Once you’ve zeroed in on a location, it’s time to start thinking about land and resources. One of the biggest things a buyer should look into is the availability of water, Coalson said.

The easiest way to check on natural water sources is to see if stock tanks or ponds are full. If they aren’t, that’s a good indication something is wrong and may need to be fixed. If there are water wells, it is wise to know beforehand how much they are producing or if they are contaminated. Wells not producing enough water will require the installation of other systems, which increases out-of-pocket expenses. 

“Somebody who’s only getting half a gallon a minute, that’s pretty hard to make work [for horses and livestock],” Coalson explained. “They’ll have to get a large holding tank that constantly tries to keep it full, [so] in case they need water quickly, they will have access to it. You can’t have a big sprinkler system that runs off a [poorly-producing] well.”

Testing the water ahead of time will prevent any surprises down the road. If any major issues are found, you can choose whether or not you want to pay to have the system fixed or updated, or move on to the next potential property on your list.

Lipan, Texas, cutting horse trainer Jaime Snider learned the hard way about the importance of pre-purchase water inspections. He had to run additional water lines from the existing wells on his property to meet his needs. However, underground water keeps the grass growing in the summer, he noted, allowing cattle to be grazed and horses turned out, cutting down on feed bills for both.

In addition to having water sources inspected, house and barn inspections are also highly recommended.

“The only way to prevent surprises is to get an inspection,” Coalson said. “I always recommend getting one done, just so the buyer knows what’s there. You may not get [any problems] remedied at the time of the purchase, but at least you’ll have an idea of what you will eventually need to repair.”

 

Home Sweet Home

Property growth comes with time and success. Photo by Jordan Snider

Once you’ve picked a location and considered the land, it’s important to prioritize what you desire most from your first property. Is it more important to you to have a facility designed first and foremost for the horses, with a large, show-quality barn and groomed arenas? Or is it more important to have a large house with moderate horse facilities to go along with it? What is more important – flair, functionality or a combination of both?

Luckily, there is a lot of middle ground when making this particular choice. Barros is one who found that middle ground. Because he needed a place for himself and his family, and also a place to train, he found a property that allowed him to expand on both. 

“I looked at several properties,” he said. “I wasn’t looking for only a place to work. It took me a while to find exactly what I wanted, and I didn’t try to do anything in a hurry. I just waited until the perfect setup came along.”

He also encourages other horsemen not to be in a hurry. He made up his mind going in that the place he found was going to be a permanent setup, and with that caveat set, took the time to look thoroughly. 

When Snider first moved to Texas, he leased a small property in Burleson, south of Fort Worth, before beginning his search for a permanent facility. It took nearly three years for him to find and buy the right property, but he said he was better off waiting.

“For a long time, I would see a place and think, “Oh, that’s going to be perfect,” he said. “There were two or three other places I tried to put contracts on, and luckily, it didn’t work.

“Make sure you take your time and don’t get in a hurry,” Snider advised. “And, make sure you know what you want and what you can have.”

Corsicana, Texas, cutting horse trainer Steve Oehlhof leased several properties before buying his own place. His reasons for leasing were dictated by the real estate market and finding an affordable property that fit his needs. In the long run, he believes buying is a better decision than leasing.

“At least if you’re buying a place, you’re putting money toward something,” he said. “If you’re leasing, you’re not.”

If you are buying a facility, Oehlhof recommends having a considerable amount of money saved – above and beyond the usual down payment and closing costs – ahead of time. 

“[Facilities] cost a big chunk of money to operate each month,” he said. “That’s not counting your land payment. If you don’t have a decent amount of money saved up for operating costs, you’re sunk before you ever get started.”

Horsemen looking for their own place not only have to take into account the cost of the facility, but the cost of taking care of everything that goes along with it. For trainers, that means paychecks for the help and the cost of maintaining client horses. Owners with full-time jobs and horses at home may want to hire extra help for feeding, barn chores or even outside maintenance. 

Another way to decrease the amount of your initial investment is to take a steppingstone approach. Find a smaller facility that can be built on as time goes by.

“It’s much more prudent to buy a smaller facility and become better and better,” Coalson said. “And when you need to have more, maybe sell or add on or buy more land. [It’s better than] going in and buying a powerful facility and not doing well. If you start at the top, then you have to stay at the top. You have to be able to maintain and keep what you’ve got. You’re just better off to start smaller and work your way up.”

Regardless of the size of the property a buyer is looking for, knowing what each property has to offer will help shed light on the final decision. According to Coalson, doing a comparison/contrast list is a great way to see which properties are better suited to the needs of the buyer.

“See what each property has to offer,” he said. “Ask yourself, ‘What is the best value, and where do I get the most for the money I’m spending?'”

With those questions answered, you should be well on your way to finding and buying your first horse property.