Land is such a premium these days that it is no longer unusual to come across equestrian properties set in less than an acre, with the odd loose box squeezed in between the garage and the ornamental pond. But how difficult is it to get a house with enough acreage to accommodate plenty of stables, proper paddocks, a mange and perhaps a cross-country course?
The answer obviously varies depending on location but, throughout the country, it is harder than one may think. Uncertainty over the Mid Term Review of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy has resulted in a shortage of land across Britain, because farmers – who represent the largest group of vendors in this category – were wary of selling until they had a clearer idea about the level of EU grants the reform would now allow them to qualify for and the impact it would have on the value of their land. Meanwhile demand from equestrian and other lifestyle buyers showed no signs of abating.
“Last year, the number of farms available for sale was 40% of what we would have expected and, while we are seeing more coming to the market now, it’s not the level we had before the CAP review,” says Alex Rew from Stags’ Exeter office. As a result, the average value of land increased by some 3% since January 2003, according to FPD Savills’ latest Agricultural Land Survey, in what was otherwise a quiet market.
Although the broad lines of the reform have now been disclosed, farms and estates continue to be in short supply, so prices look poised to grow further in 2004. “I think we are going to see quite a change in the market when we know the small print of the Mid Term Review, as we might end up having a two-tier system: properties which can get grants and those which can’t. Everyone is waiting for the details before they decide whether to sell, so good quality properties with 30 plus acres are fetching a good price,” says rural and equestrian specialist Guy Sherratt.
A quick survey of farms and estates for sale in England shows that, when you throw in some land, a decent house and equestrian facilities, it proves very difficult to find anything with more than 30 acres for less than 700,000, which is the asking price a farmhouse of that kind would command in Devon.
Further east, however, prices shoot well over 1 million. The palm of most expensive county goes, unsurprisingly, to Surrey. It is incredibly hard to find a house with acreage this close to London and the very few that come to the market are priced accordingly. “There is a shortage of land here,” says Edward Rook of Knight Frank’s Guildford office. “So you would be looking at spending at least 1.5 million for a property with land and equestrian facilities, depending on the type and state of the house.”
Although it is more expensive in the short run, buying a house with impeccable facilities may ultimately turn out to be cheaper. The asking price represents only a portion of a property’s true cost and maintenance needs to be factored in when deciding whether to make an offer. “Looking after the stables, raking the mange over and making it look smart will require a groom. It could be a full time employment on the basis of five horses per person to cover feeding, exercising and mucking out,” says Edward Dyke, who co-ordinates the newly launched equestrian service of estate agents Humberts. “But running costs will depend on each property’s age and condition. As for a cross-country course, if it’s a good set up, it shouldn’t be horrendously expensive to keep it going. I’d say that, all in all, you are looking at spending 20,000 per year plus whatever maintenance you spend for the house.”
This is hardly an insignificant sum and could be greater if repair work is required. Dyke advises prospective buyers to keep their eyes peeled on the details – such as the state of fences – before they commit to a big purchase. “Obviously, when you are making an offer, you take into account the condition a property is in. The less tidy it is, the more margin you have to negotiate, but it could end up costing you more in terms of maintenance, especially as people may not have an exact perception of what will cost them to repair fences or stables. So it is worth getting a good survey done – and paying attention on whether the stable doors are falling off.”