Buying on a budget: can you buy an equestrian property for less than £500,000? *H&H Plus*

  • Is it possible to find an equestrian property in today’s highly competitive market for £500,000? Martha Terry investigates

    “I HAVE lived all over England, and now I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” says Trista Shanks, who moved 400 miles north from Yorkshire to Moray to enjoy having her nine horses “on her doorstep” at an affordable price.

    “We bought a ring-fenced 17-acre field, with planning permission, for around £60,000; we’ve put up field shelters and internal stables in a barn. We’re living in a static caravan for now, but I’ll take the rough with the smooth. I look out my window over snow-capped mountains and my horses grazing – I used to look into my neighbours’ windows!”

    Trista’s story is one that will resonate with many equestrian property buyers, although few are brave enough to make such a leap. Many of us are tied, either by employment or emotion, to a certain area; others prioritise proximity to regular affiliated competition or simply don’t have the energy to start from scratch.

    The property market is enjoying its biggest boom ever seen, particularly in the rural sector, but buyers seeking equestrian properties can still find value for under £500,000 if they know where to look, or are prepared to make a few compromises.

    PRICES may be surging, but one real-estate constant is the impact of location on value. David Rumsey runs Pelhams estate agents, experts in equestrian and country property based in the south-east.

    “It’s almost impossible to find an equestrian property with a dwelling for £500,000 in the south-east – you’re lucky if you can get land for that price,” he says, citing a small stable yard with seven acres in West Sussex going for £370,000, up from £150,000 in 2018.

    “In my area around the M25, even for a modest house, by the time you add land, you’re well into the £600,000 bracket. But once you’ve gone over an hour or so from the M25 prices do start to drop. But then there are other areas like the Cotswolds, which aren’t near the motorway, where people just want to live because they love the charm.”

    Edward Oldrey, a director at nationwide equestrian and rural property agency Rural Scene agrees: “The more remote you go, the more you get for your money. As an equestrian buyer, the best value is in Scotland.”

    And within Scotland, the more far-flung the better when it comes to your bank balance.

    “If you’re seeking value for money above all and aren’t concerned about transport links, it’s astonishing what you can get for your money in the Scottish Islands, such as Orkney and the Shetlands,” Edward says. “The next option would be north-east Scotland, the Highlands or Caithness. The land is affordable, you’ll get lots of outbuildings and there are thousands of miles of riding over open landscape. You can ride forever without the worry of roads or traffic.

    “The area around Huntly, between Aberdeen and Inverness, is worth a look. It’s a little more expensive than the far north, but about a third of the price of down south.”

    Trista Shanks is living out her dream in Moray, having found the plot on the website Preloved.

    “I sold a 14-acre field near Doncaster for nearly double what I bought my field for in Moray – and it was poor grazing, muddy clay, on a dangerous road,” she says. “I fell in love with the scenery here, the views and the people.

    “The hacking is so nice, over beaches and forests. We can do a different ride every weekend for six months,” adds Trista, who is planning to set up a trail-riding business. “There are several riding centres within half an hour and the country shows are fantastic. Entry fees are a fiver, with £25 to the winner and £50 for champion. It’s pleasant sometimes to come home with a profit.”

    For those looking to live in a bit more comfort from the outset, Louisa McElroy, managing land agent at Fine & Country South Scotland, reckons £500,000 would buy “a useful three or four-bed house with 15 to 20 acres and stables, potentially an arena, in a rural location in the south of Scotland.”

    Moving down to England, Edward highlights the east as popular for equestrian buyers on a budget.

    “For those needing to be closer to the motorways, the Fens in East Anglia, up through South Lincolnshire to Skegness are common searches,” he says.

    “Newmarket itself has huge prices, due to the racing money creating a false market, but just an hour away you’ll find the best value within a couple of hours of London.

    “It’s definitely possible to find a private equestrian property there for £500,000, if you’re happy with something fairly basic with four to five acres.”

    Lili Redman, who has a hunter and a retired horse, has just moved into her “forever home” with her partner in rural south Lincolnshire, where she hunts with the Belvoir. As a singer and cabaret compere, she needs to be close to transport links.

    “To call it a smallholding is generous, but there is an acre of paddock and we plan to build a small stable block,” says Lili, who paid £435,000 for the property. “We’ve thrown everything into buying it, so we’re going to have to save like hell – no hunting for several seasons. That hunt sub is basically a pair of bifold doors or several tonnes of bricks. But we wake up every day so grateful to be here even though we are stretching ourselves.”

    On the other side of the country, Wales offers similar value. Like Scotland, the more remote, the cheaper.

    “Mid Wales, Powys, Carmarthenshire and Swansea are all good places to look,” says Edward. “It’s certainly feasible to pay £500,000, even £400,000 if you’re prepared to compromise.”

    Daniel Thomas, of Fine & Country’s Cardiff office, says there are plenty of options in Wales.

    “All across the country there are properties with four or five acres – even more – within that price range, some with stables already,” he says. “They may not have a manege or gallops, but they’ll have paddocks, and easy access to bridleways with fantastic countryside.”

    Deborah Jodrell, who has two ex-racehorses and a Dartmoor and competes in British Dressage, bought an equestrian smallholding in Carmarthenshire this year for £331,000. It has 20 acres, 10 stables and an outdoor school.

    “It was a lot cheaper due to being a repossession and the level of interest was insane, so it was incredibly stressful and we waited over a year for it,” she says. “The house and buildings are a total renovation, so I’ve hardly ridden since buying it but eventually we plan to have a few liveries.

    “The farm is a quarter of a mile from our other home so while we have been waiting for that to sell we have been able to plod on and work on the smallholding.”

    THIS proximity to Deborah’s previous house meant the area was already familiar, but being open-minded about new pastures is the most obvious way a buyer can stretch their money. Edward Oldrey has buyers come to him saying: “This is our budget, where can we go?”

    “And I’ll suggest areas they’ve never heard of,” he says.

    Caroline Cavill is looking to relocate from Suffolk to west Wales essentially for affordability.

    “I’d love to stay in Suffolk, but the lottery ticket has not arrived yet,” says Caroline who wants to run an equine B&B. “You need a million-plus where I am currently and I have a budget of around £450,000. I am flexible on location and am prepared to do a bit of work, but it’s like looking for a unicorn, even with local spies.”

    Edward’s suggested compromises include “being on a big road, or near a busy industry, or hemmed in by neighbours”. But one cheaper solution for those who can’t budge on location is to buy the home and the land separately.

    “Ideally your house would be overlooking the horses, but you could buy an end of terrace cottage and then a stable yard 300yd down the road,” he advises.

    This can be complex, as Charlotte Roberts-Barr of country and equestrian property specialists Fox Grant points out: “Lenders tend to offer only 50% loan to value for land and we favour selling to cash buyers. And prices have really surged – we’ve just sold two acres and three stables in North Wiltshire for £170,000 in three hours. Arenas add more value still – £45,000 to £50,000 for a 20x40m outdoor, £70,000 to £85,000 for a big outdoor and £250,000 for an indoor.

    “Small equestrian properties in slightly cheaper areas such as north Devon and Somerset that sold for £500,000 last year will be considerably more now and buyers need to be prepared for competing bidding.

    “In this market, you need a bit of luck,” Charlotte adds. “Auctions are very competitive at the moment, but probate sales can be good value because it tends to be a property owned by someone who has lived there for decades, it’s fallen into disrepair and the family don’t want to invest, so stick it on the market for a quick sale.”

    David Rumsey says that if you are restricted to the south, land should be the priority.

    “It’s the old adage of ‘they can’t make more land’, so if you can find 12 to 15 acres and put the stables up, develop that land – you can get the dwelling later,” he says. “It’s a long, hard route, but you’ll get there eventually. It’s almost impossible to get a home and land in the south for £500,000.”

    Sally Amey did manage to do just that, for £440,000, in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire – but it was pre-pandemic and it is now looking like a bargain.

    “It was a two-bed semi-detached with four acres and no outbuildings,” she says. “We needed three bedrooms, but the horses came first, so my son used to sleep in the dining room. I sold my Audi to finance the arena, and drove round for four years in a £700 car with a dent in every panel.

    “It’s taken time and effort, but there is nothing like drinking wine in the garden and watching your daughter ride in the arena.”

    Over the Irish Sea

    IRELAND currently holds extra appeal for the competition rider wanting to ride in Europe due to the post-Brexit issues. Plus, Ireland’s jumping and eventing circuits are thriving, every other horse is for sale and you certainly get plenty of bang for your buck when it comes to the housing market, particularly with the current exchange rate. Here are three properties under £500,000 to check out.

    Anbally Stud Farm, Claregalway, Galway €455,000

    For the horses: 10 stables, tack room, sand arena, storage sheds in 5.9 acres.
    For you: family residence with its own stud farm, 15 minutes’ drive from Galway city. Four bedrooms (two double) and two bathrooms. Michelle Burke Auctioneer and Letting Agent, +35391 868080, michelleburke.ie

    Windrush House, Ballinamona, Menlough, Galway €425,000

    For the horses: 60x60ft shed with three looseboxes and four double kennels, plus three acres of paddocks.
    For you: large house spread over three floors, including eight bedrooms and five bathrooms. Landscaped gardens with manicured lawns. RE/MAX Professional Partners, +35361 315885/+35390 6417024, remax-ireland.com

    Weneytown, Duncormick, Wexford €480,000

    For the horses: two wooden stables with tack room, hay shed and manege, on a spacious five-acre site including cross-country fences. Fifteen minutes from top-class equestrian centre holding events year-round. Minutes from the beach for excellent riding.
    For you: dormer-style property in pristine condition with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Brian Wallace Auctioneers, +35351 560958, bwallace.ie

    You can also read this feature in the 27 May issue of Horse & Hound magazine.

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