A pretty suburban house, a front lawn and a lush back garden have populated British homeowners’ dreams since Roman times, according to Bath archaeologists, who last year, discovered a first-century AD suburb. But for property buyers who also have to accommodate four legs, the fantasy of living in suburbia often clashes with reality.
“Many applicants seem to keep searching, hoping for that perfect property to come up,” says Sue Maxwell Smith of Pegasus Equestrian Properties.
But the hard truth is that riders looking for a home within a 30min drive of a town or city centre usually have to adjust their expectations. The supply of smallholdings and farms in semi-rural locations has decreased steadily over the years.
As a result, “some compromise is usually needed in either location, facilities or size of house”, says Sue Maxwell Smith.
The biggest compromise riders will have to make, according to Richard Greetham of Bradleys, is to accept they may not find a house with enough acres to fit their horses. In this case, he recommends enquiring whether there is any land available for rent.
“Try to find a semi-rural location close to the edge of town. You’ll find that most of the land has been bought by long-term developers who are quite happy to have somebody using it for a nominal rent while they fight the planning department,” he says.
“Many people don’t buy a property due to it having no land, but renting a field — adjacent, or nearly adjacent — is a perfect compromise,” agrees Robert Fanshawe of Knight Frank. “Look to rent on flexible terms. A landlord will always have a good tenant. Don’t compromise on space, but don’t feel you have to own anything.”
Finding good outriding close to town may also prove a challenge, according to Peter Illingworth of Illingworth Wood: “Close access to bridlepaths is likely to be limited and, therefore, space to park a horsebox or trailer is likely to be essential,” he says. For the same reason, a manège is a big plus.
The lucky few who do find a suburban home with land and good outriding must be ready to act fast.
“An equine property of character within 30min of a major town is more often than not snapped up immediately,” says Tom Oates of George F White. “Interest in two equine properties being sold within 30min of Durham was phenomenal, with more than 100 particulars sent out within a week and a closing date within two weeks.”
It follows that buyers must also expect to pay “lots”, as Robert Fanshawe puts it. “Space in the built environment is expensive. If it isn’t, there’s probably a good reason, and it won’t be good for horses,” he says.
The question of how much to spend is particularly thorny for equestrian businesses, which usually need to set up shop fairly close to a town to be viable. They need to budget enough for a good site, but must not to pay over the odds.
“You’ll find old council farms on brownfield sites,” says Robert Fanshawe. “You should pay less than you think. If they’re selling to you, it’s because the developers can’t have the land. It’s therefore worth less.”
Prospective businesses must also check there are no restrictions on the property they intend to buy. Both private and business buyers must also be prepared to face hostile neighbours — who may worry about noise, bolting horses and traffic congestion — and difficult planners.
To maximise chances of application success, Robert Fanshawe urges buyers to be careful, do their homework and answer planners’ questions honestly. But they should also try to curtail unnecessary development. Not only does this reduce the planning hassle — it also helps protect their investment.
“Remember the future sale,” he warns. “The market for equestrian against residential properties is five per 100. Don’t overdevelop, and be able to take it apart if necessary.”