Equestrian centres fail to sell in current economic climate

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At least nine big equestrian centres and yards, including Oldencraig in Surrey and Milton Keynes Eventing Centre, are on the books of estate agents around the country, some for a year or more.

What’s behind this trend and why are so many on the market?

For some, it’s because they are rather specialised.

Hoplands, in Stockbridge, Hampshire, for example, is being marketed as a country house with a top yard, rather than an equestrian centre, partly because it comes with a grand mansion and partly because the centre has been closed to the public since June 2010 because of local opposition to traffic.

“It takes time to find a suitable buyer for a house with extensive facilities of this kind,” said Phillippa Dalby-Welsh of Savills, which has marketed Hoplands since February.

“There has been some interest in it and we very much hope to secure a sale soon.”

But the main issue seems to be one of funding.

As Zoe Napier of Zoe Napier Country & Equestrian pointed out: “We are in a borrowing and lending crisis.”

Ms Napier has been marketing Norton Heath EC, in Blackmore, Essex, for the past five months. She has attracted two potential buyers but, to date, neither has been able to raise sufficient funds to purchase it.

‘Unorthodox’ propositions
Since 2008 mortgage lenders have required applicants to meet strict criteria and provide substantial deposits to secure a loan.

They have also shied away from any “unorthodox” propositions, including the mixed commercial and residential nature of most riding centres.

“As with all commercial finance at present, purchasing an equestrian centre may prove tricky,” explained Sarah Fox-Clinch of Principal Mortgages.

Matthew Allen of Fisher German has also experienced this. He has been marketing Milton Keynes Eventing Centre, in Hanslope, Bucks, for nearly a year.

According to Mr Allen, the property has received “a stream of interest from private individuals looking for a country residence with equestrian facilities, private individuals looking to run a business and businesses looking for a return”. But no one has been able to buy yet.

Owner Fiona Gifkins said: “There are only a few people who want to buy this type of property — but we don’t need to sell, we can stay here. Business is good.”

Expensive outbuildings and facilities
Studs, training yards and racecourses also appear to be suffering a knock-on effect from the wobbly bloodstock market and few private buyers are ready to pick up what businesses can no longer afford.

Buyers have become more concerned with upkeep costs and this is having a detrimental effect on properties with numerous outbuildings and facilities.

“They do not want to feel that they are paying for something that they do not need,” said Ms Dalby-Welsh.

Julian Trim, who runs Dorset Showground, said he has had two buyers interested in this £995,000 property — but neither wanted to continue running it as a show centre.

“We have spent a lot of time building up the property and don’t want to sell it to someone who will develop it in to something else,” he told H&H.

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (1 September, 2011)