For years, property prices refused to grow beyond every expectation. Now they seem to have slowed down. Is it the beginning of a downturn, or is the market finally stabilising?
The Horse & Hound index, which tracks activity in the equestrian property sector through the advertisements placed in the magazine, shows that the market grew by a smallish amount during the first eight months of 2004. Prices increased by 4% over the previous year, but remained level between the first and the second quarter of 2004.
The typical property advertised in Horse & Hound now costs around £750,000 and comes with a three- or four-bedroom house set in five to ten acres of land.
Crabtree Farm, in Hastingleigh, near Ashford, fits this profile to the finest detail. Calcutt Maclean Standen (tel: 01233 812060) is asking £750,000 for a grade II-listed farmhouse, which stands in nine acres on the North Downs. The main house dates from the 18th Century and retains plenty of period character.
A brick and flint link joins it to a converted barn that provides further accommodation and could be separated off in a self-contained wing. An L-shaped block contains loose boxes, adjoining a garage and tack room, and there is a 13.5x6m barn that could be used for hay storage.
Interest in properties with land remains lively and riders vie with lifestyle buyers for the best houses.
“Buyers without horses are purchasing their view – it is almost a measure of one’s wealth to be able to be able to say ‘I have a house with 10 acres’,” says Zoe Napier of Walkers Country & Equestrian.
“There is still very strong demand for small areas of land for horses, and buyers are prepared to travel some distance from their homes to secure paddocks,” says Christopher Lucas of Dreweatt Neate. “I have recently sold or been offered £8,000 to £10,000 per acre for blocks of up to seven acres.”
However, equestrian demand as a whole appears to have slowed down: “In each sector – stud farms, training yards, competition yards, and equestrian centres – there are still buyers, but competition is not always guaranteed,” says George Windsor Clive of equestrian specialists Windsor Clive (tel: 01672 521155).
By contrast, the drought of good properties that marked the beginning of the year has finally come to an end. The second quarter of 2004 saw a significant increase in availability, which remained high throughout the first two months of the third quarter.
“We are seeing a lot of properties coming on to the market, compared to the demand. Unless you specifically have to move now, it is better to wait a bit before selling,” says Russ Brown of East Anglia Equestrian Property. “It’s like an election; it doesn’t take a big swing to make purchasers understand they now have negotiating power because they have plenty of properties to choose from.”
This means that prices are unlikely to grow during the rest of the year, although there is a possibility they will start to shift slightly downward, depending on the Bank of England’s decision on interest rates,” says Hayley Brown of East Anglia Equestrian Properties.
There is some debate over the potential impact of a further increase. Windsor Clive thinks that “the market will suffer if interest rates restrict the amount of disposable income because the horse world is primarily reliant on spare money”. But, he points out that a number of other factors are just as likely to influence the various segments of the equestrian property sector throughout the rest of the year.
“If bloodstock prices are strong, prices for training yards and, to a certain extent, stud farms will be strong. Until breeders know how well they have done, they will not decide whether to expand or sell up. And, if prices are strong, trainers will have a lot of horses and nowhere to put them, so they will look to buy.
“The bloodstock sales this autumn will tell us where the demand will go.”
Brown agrees that early autumn will be the testing time for professional and residential properties alike: “it is usually a very busy period, so we’ll see how the market is really going. I don’t think it’s going to rise.”
Evergreen equestrian hotpots such as Lambourn or Newmarket – and county hotspots such as Braintree, in Essex – are unlikely to see much of a slowdown.
Some markets, such as the New Forest, in Hampshire, will be driven by local circumstances: “Coming to National Park status in 2006, we feel the prices will hold well, says Kristina West of Fells Gulliver in Sway.
And throughout the UK, prices are likely to remain extremely high compared to the rest of Europe. This is pushing an increasing number of prospective buyers to move abroad, according to Brown.
“A lot of people are selling to move to France or Spain, where you get a lot more property for your money,” he says.
Windsor Clive is asking €1.9m (about £1.3m) for Haras de Menil Jean – an equestrian complex in Putanges, Normandy, complete with 33 loose boxes, an indoor school, two outdoor arenas and an all-weather track.
“You couldn’t buy those facilities in England for less than £2.5m” Windsor Clive says.
Some buyers are venturing further afield in the pursuit of their dream home.
“This year alone we have had clients move to Thailand, South Africa and New Zealand, all with equestrian destination properties,” says Rowell, who also notes that “buyers are looking for potential income from their equestrian purchases. Not just livery or grazing income, but the ability to rent a barn, cottage or yard.
“A growing trend seems to be for a large country house to be bought with equestrian facilities which are then let on long-term tenancies to help pay the mortgage.”
Farm lettings are the other big trend to emerge in 2004 that look set to impact on the market in the early months of the new year – and it is good news for riders who are thinking of renting.
“A lot of farmers are leaving the business but they are not selling their farm because they do something else with their land. This ahs thrown up a lot of redundant dairy buildings, which farmers hope to let to professional horsemen, such as breeders, trainers or eventers,” says Windsor Clive.
“This should mean that there will be a much greater supply of good sites for stabling in 18 months’ time. And if demand stays the same, rental values will fall.