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Waresley Park is one of the best equestrian properties on the market.

Set in 120 acres of paddocks and parkland, the home of eventer Eddy Stibbe, has everything: a jaw-dropping manor house overlooking verdant gardens and a lake; a four-bedroom gate lodge; a staff cottage and hostel flats to match any groom’s dreams. A floodlit indoor pool, more than 50 stables, indoor and outdoor schools, a dressage arena, two all-weather gallops, grass gallops, schooling grounds and a cross-country course laid out through the parkland complete the set-up.

“It would make a fantastic home among the ‘blue riband’ of horse properties,” says Robert Fanshawe of selling agent Knight Frank.

The only drawback is the price. At £6.5m, Waresley Park is for very deep pockets only. But savvy buyers with smaller budgets can still nab an excellent home if they focus on the features they really need and avoid paying for those they don’t.

How much land?

Take land, for example. It is easy to be tempted by homes with many acres, but only riders with several horses will genuinely require vast expanses of land. A home with just one or two acres will be cheaper and easier to find.

“The new equestrian is probably having horses at home for the first time, and may not be used to the hard work of stable management,” says Diana Andrews of Churchill Country & Equestrian. “They would need two stables, a school, two paddocks, nice hacking country and access to a livery yard just in case. Land that floods or gets too wet for turn-out should be avoided, and access to busy roads only is a big no-no.”

James Baker of Strutt & Parker also suggests that newcomers to the equestrian market should choose a house with well-made stables in good condition to minimise maintenance.

And because a first buy often becomes a platform to upgrade to a bigger equestrian home, Robert Fanshawe recommends “never compromising on the resale value”.

Prospective buyers who already own a high-value residential home and are prepared to trade rooms for acres by downsizing should be able to find their first equestrian home. However, all entrants in this market should be prepared to spend time researching their move and securing the right property.

“Buying a home with land is so different,” says Robert Fanshawe. “The jump is so big to make for many people.”

He advises planning a 12-month search and getting a trustworthy agent who can help less knowledgeable buyers make the leap into landowning with confidence.

People can expect to pay from £500,000 for an entry level equestrian home, depending on location — in the south-east, the price range is more likely to be £700,000 to £1m.

Property for children and ponies

Like new entrants, pony-owning families may not need lots of land. Instead, they should focus on a well laid-out home with small, well-fenced paddocks and the right yard to ensure that riding is safe for the children.

“As little as 1.5 acres can suffice,” says Zoe Napier of Fenn Wright. “But they do require somewhere for children to ride — a manège or safe hacking, or both.”

To boost safety, Emily Cooper-Reade of ECR Properties also recommends a home “with stables, exercise and grooming area in view of the house”.

The trick is to choose a property with scope for safe riding and as much land as you can afford. As an alternative, Zoe Napier suggests buying a place with the potential to buy or rent neighbouring land in the future.

But, warns Robert Fanshawe, beware of buying a plot of land and a house that form part of a break-up of a larger plot — such as a farm that has been subdivided — because you won’t know how the rest of the land is going to be used or developed.

Fanshawe adds that the residential element drives the value of such a property and estimates that people can easily spend in the region of £1.2m for a home with some land and a good house. For those who are happy to accept a slightly more modest home, “the price is similar to entry-level properties at around £500,000 plus”, says Zoe Napier.

Owners of horses, rather than ponies, will face higher property prices. For this reason, they should never compromise on location, which is key for resale.

It also pays to keep an eye on the quality of grazing in the area — and its ease of access. A good location will not only fit with riding interests (and commuting needs), but will also be popular enough and sufficiently accessible that it will help a property retain sound resale value.

Together with location, the quality and size of the house is usually critical for residential buyers and ultimately drives prices, which vary enormously. Although residential requirements differ from family to family, expect to struggle finding anything for less than £1.5m, warns Robert Fanshawe.

Homes for professional riders

Obviously, professional competitors have more stringent requirements in terms of both location and yard. The best home for an ambitious competitor is often one with little or no equestrian facilities to start with. This is because a property with a good yard often commands a premium, but rarely meets the buyer’s exact needs. A house with potential can be tailored around each competitor’s specific needs.

Good basics to look for are a reasonable but not princely house — to avoid “wasting” money on the residential element — an annexe or cottage for grooms, enough flat, free-draining land to install an appropriately sized manège and a large quality outbuilding to turn into an indoor arena.

“Many professional competitors like to purchase a blank canvas to create a yard — where some need facilities for jumping, others need land to practise cross-country,” says Zoe Napier.

There is, however, an exception to the “build-your-own-yard” rule. Riders who are planning to move in an area where planning is restrictive — such as Surrey, for example — might find it hard to get consent to install a manège from scratch.

Equally, those who require grooms need to make sure that the property they buy already has secondary accommodation or planning permission to convert an outbuilding.

“A good self-contained annexe makes grooms happy. These are often converted from a barn or existing property on the premises,” says Zoe Napier.

Be aware, however, that homes set up to provide guest accommodation only will not be suitable for grooms.

“There are differing rules between secondary residences with permanent permission for someone to live in and ancillary accommodation created for the occasional guest,” warns Zoe Napier.

Once again, the top investment worth making in this market segment is a home in the right location.

“Access to major road infrastructure must be available, as most competitors have huge lorries,” says James Baker.

This kind of home starts from about £700,000 — if the residential side is relatively low in value — and can go beyond £2m.

Livery yards and riding schools

Other equestrian professionals — those who plan to run a livery yard or riding school — should also spend most of their time and budget on the right location. Many would do better to choose a property with plenty of outbuildings but with a house of mid to low residential value. And, of course, planning remains critical.

“Many properties run livery yards without formal permission, so check the agent’s wording on the property details — for example: ‘26 boxes (registered for 10 liveries)’ or ‘Offering livery potential subject to planning’,” says Zoe Napier. “Livery yards can mean increased traffic in rural areas, so planning is often required. Some yards will have established use and may not be registered with the local authority — and formal registration could bring on huge business rates.”

Which brings another critical factor into the equation — earning potential.

“The past three years’ accounts should be available, or if the business has ceased trading, you should consult a business plan,” says Diana Andrews. “Insurance is obviously very costly, but is an essential factor and therefore should be given priority on surveys. There will not be many successful riding schools on the market, so ask why it’s for sale.”

“Make appropriate inquiries,” agrees Zoe Napier. “Work out your own costings as to what your takings could be. Look at the business rates, too. If you’re buying with the intention of setting up a livery yard, don’t rely wholly on the current income. It’s a typical case of caveat emptor — buyer beware!” H&H

This property feature was first published in Horse & Hound (17 May, ’07)

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