View Full Version : Buy developed or build?

Jun. 11, 2010, 11:05 AM
This is a very forward thinking thread as we have at least a year or two before we start looking for a farm seriously.

The multitude of threads recently about under-appraised horse farmettes got me thinking- does it make more sense to buy acreage and build your own dream farm? We have been browsing a lot lately and it does seem hard to find the sort of property we're looking for anyway.

What we want:

-15+ acres, some wooded but enough open that we don't have to deforest to make pasture. We'd like to do some small scale farming as well, so there needs to be enough open land to have pasture, riding ring and growing space.

- Reasonable lay out for horses, not cows. I've seen plenty of dairy barns converted to working horse barns, but many of the dairy barns I'm seeing on listings are in terrible disrepair and would require either major rehab or complete tear down.

- A good view from the house of the horse facilities. We plan on living on a the farm we buy for the rest of our lives- I'd like it to be a pretty place to spend all of our time. Again, the dairy farms are often laid out in such a way that there isn't a view of the pastures from the house.

- Space enough to build an indoor. The few horse properties I've found don't seem to have room.

Financially, it seems like it makes more sense to find something already developed for horses, so long as you can get a mortgage for such a place. Building barns and rings is expensive, I know. It seems you'd also avoid the sudden drastic tax increase that would come with developing open land, and you'd already know that things like septic and water are established.

But is the cost of rehabbing existing facilities to fit your needs prohibitive enough that you might as well just build what you want from scratch? I'm OK with long term planning; we don't need to have everything immediately.

What are the other pros/cons I'm not thinking of? Tell me about your experiences with building or refitting existing facilities; was it worth it? Would you go another route if you had it to do over again?

Zu Zu
Jun. 11, 2010, 12:02 PM
Find as much "existing" as possible and then adjust/ remodel to your needs ~ neither is an an easy road but I think (IMHO) the building from scratch to be overwhelming time-wise and money-wise not to mention Patience-wise.

Jun. 11, 2010, 02:13 PM
There are pros and cons to both.

The only good answer would be: It Depends. ;)

It depends on what you can find where yoou are when you're actively shopping. You might find a place with everything done already in your price range, you might find a place with buildings and fencing done but run down...for a lot less and you can then afford to have it redone the way you want it still within budget. Or you might find the ideal piece of land for the ideal low price and be able to have enough cushion to afford to build.

Please do take into consideration that construction will 99% of the time run way the heck over what you budget for it. And that's even when you get many varied written quotes AND give yourself a huge percent over as a buffer.

The most important thing when farm shopping is the land. The land you're buying and the land surrounding it. Those are things that you either can not change no matter what (land around you) or that you might be able to change but will take enormous chunks of your time, income and sanity to do so. (like adding drainage or proper clearing or what have you)
And both your new lot and the surrounding area needs to be checked very thoroughly for liens, easements, future development, permits, zoning, psycho or non-psycho neighbors, etc. ;)

If you get the right piece of land, anything and everything else can be tweaked. Maybe not on a time schedule you want, but over time on a lifetime property it can happen.

We bought property with the size land we needed, house already here and in very good condition and needing obvious land work (clearing and drainage) and horse facilities. Even having the house already here and not really needing anything, and doing things a year at a time...we're way the heck over budget. BUT...my barn and facilities are slowly getting done 100% my way. And that's a good thing that it's taking time because a lot of things I thought I wanted a certain way have turned out better in a different way. And I'd never have realized that had I not lived here all along and paid attention to the land itself and the topography and worked here getting to know what does work and what I thought would work but doesn't.

Brand new or already there...it will be a bit of a money pit. Things always need changing, improving or repair.

Just concentrate on the right piece of land...everything else will happen and fall into place sooner or later if you have the right land and area surrounding area. And realize that land might have great facilities already built, might be raw land with nothing on it, might have a house but not barn and might have everything there and most of it needing work or replacing. So when you do start looking, look at all types of properties because you never know what type will have the best lot for you. And start now making a budget for each type of property...so you'll know what you can realistically afford for each type when you go looking.

Jun. 11, 2010, 02:25 PM
Pasture needs to already be established or your already a year behind trying to grow grass after you've had trees cut and removed. If it's grown up several cuttings and one or two good sprayings will right that wrong so don't pass on a place because the grass is out of control. I purchased 30 acres with no fencing, barn, driveway, water or electric. I signed the papers in July and finally moved in in December. I worked my ass off every week-end mowing, building fence putting in stalls etc and it's still a work in progress 6 years later. The fencing I wanted was not what I could afford so have several options in mind when you start to shop or build. Good luck, I wouldn't trade my place for anything. (because IT'S MINE!)

Jun. 11, 2010, 03:22 PM
My uneducated opinion is that is is cheaper to buy ready-built than to build yourself. In other words if you built a $100,000 barn, and put in $50,000 worth of fencing, and $30,000 worth of landscaping on a property with a $300,000 house, I think that property would sell for something like $375,000, not $480,000.

Jun. 11, 2010, 04:24 PM
My uneducated opinion is that is is cheaper to buy ready-built than to build yourself. In other words if you built a $100,000 barn, and put in $50,000 worth of fencing, and $30,000 worth of landscaping on a property with a $300,000 house, I think that property would sell for something like $375,000, not $480,000.

This is very true. Especially in western NY. :sigh: I put my farm on the market in '05 for a little over a yr. Before talking to any realtor's I figured what it would cost to rebuild my barn/indoor, fencing, tiled and graded outdoor, buy the amount of land needed to even do the size of my barn/indoor in my area as the zoning had changed drastically and it came to almost $600K and that didn't include a house! :eek: Now, admittedly, I didn't take depreciation into account but, much as I would have loved to have put a $600K+ price tag on my property, I knew I couldn't.

I did have a realtor ask me about selling last spring, over 2 yrs after I took the farm off the market. He had a buyer for close to what I had advertised in '05-06 and I told him the farm wasn't really for sale anymore but if the buyers really had their hearts set on the place, the FIRM selling price would be over $200K more than I had asked back then.

I bought a 10 yr old house and land I could live with 20 yrs ago, added a barn/indoor, tiled and graded outdoor with lights and fencing and it's still a work in progress.

I think that unless you win BIG in the lottery, most farms are a work in progress. I was lucky in that I was using $ I had inherited so I was able to buy the house/land with a reasonable mortgage and pay cash for the barn/indoor, fencing and outdoor, but I know most people aren't that lucky.

Jun. 11, 2010, 05:14 PM
Right now I just can't see that it would make economic sense to buy bare land and build. I know in this area, I can find some fairly nice places priced lower than it would cost to put those same buildings/facilities up. Between foreclosures and short sales and lack of buyers, prices aren't going anywhere but down, it seems. Even if a place isn't totally ideal as is, you can perhaps find something close and then modify to fit your needs.

While real estate prices are down, the price to build really hasn't changed as far as I can see. Lumber, concrete, etc. haven't gone down.

But sometimes it isn't all just a question of what makes economic sense. Maybe you really want to live in a certain area, and really want to design and build your own place -- there is some benefit to that and only you can decide if it is worth the $$$.

Jun. 12, 2010, 12:02 AM
Buy and fix up. With so many new regulations for building and federal stormwater management requirements, the cost of building can get out of hand very quickly. I have written some articles on this subject and in interviewing people, I heard some real horror stories.

If, however, you have deep pockets and can handle the $urpri$e$ that come with building, it would be fun to have your dream farm built just the way you want it.

Jun. 12, 2010, 07:02 AM
Based on personal experience, it is generally less expensive to buy something already built than build from scratch; however, if major improvements are required, frequently it is more expensive to remodel than build from scratch.

In addition, if you already have horses that need housing, you need to factor in the cost of board until your fencing is in (and the barn up, unless your horses live outside 24/7). 12 months or so of board for multiple horses while a farm is being built really adds up.

Jun. 12, 2010, 08:43 AM
We started looking at farms in our price range and all were major remodels (mainly very old with few updates). many had cattle barns or were just farms with no barn (maybe a run-in). Definitely none in our range had any riding arena (in-outdoors)

We ended up buying a 30 acre parcel that was farm land. We kept 18 acres leased to the farmer and he preped and seeded our pastures. Built a house and hired an Amish company who put in 10 acres of fencing, a run-in and a 2 stall shed row barn. The next summer we had a barn/indoor built and added another larger run-in.

There are still projects as money is always the limiting factor. That means many projects are DIY. So my arena still needs footing and my wash stall is not complete. I am hoping by winter those will be done.

So while its not a fantasy facility, the house sits atop a small hill overlooking the pastures and barn and I'm living my childhood dream.

So really it comes down to your budget and whats available in your desired location. if I had huge sums of money, I would have purchased someone elses hard work and had everything done.

Jun. 12, 2010, 04:52 PM
It figures that moments after posting this, I found something PERFECT online; great location, lovely spot complete with spring fed pond, beautiful 8 stall barn built in 99, plenty of acreage and room for rings, nice house, and very reasonably priced. It's just a year or two too soon. :( I could cry, it's just beautiful.

I'm going to keep telling myself that it probably has major drainage issues or something. Yeah, that's it. It IS heartening to see a nice horse property in our price range though, and I appreciate all the insight thus far. Lots of things to think about.

I'm trying very hard to hold off on buying a horse until I have someplace to put one; it's a motivating factor to get ourselves situated to sell, let me tell ya. :D

Jun. 12, 2010, 05:08 PM
Rubyfree - don't give up hope on the place you found. Sometimes farms sell immediately and sometimes it takes years.

My friend had a farm for sale and she and hubby were SO SURE it would sell immediately that they bought another farm in a state further south and away from NY taxes. Four, yes, 4 yrs later and over 200K drop in price the farm finally sold. The town dropped the appraised value and the taxes on it went down 7K.

Another farm in the general vicinity was priced very, very, very reasonably and sold in 2 wks.

When I had my farm on the market in '05 and 06, the realtor was sure she'd sell it immediately. Well she didn't in the 4 month period she had it listed. I switched realtors and re-listed for 1 yr. I didn't get what I considered an acceptable offer in a good market. Last yr, in a bad market, I had a realtor tell me he had people interested and would I take $XX, which was about what I had it listed at before? I told him the farm wasn't for sale anymore and if the people were really interested, the price had gone up about 100 K more than I had had it listed.

So, go look seriously at the place and tuck it away in your mind. You might want to watch it and see what happens. If you see it off the market, you might ask a realtor if the listing was withdrawn or if the farm sold. Who knows, in a couple of yrs, the farm may still be for sale and the price a bit lower.

Good luck. :)

Jul. 7, 2010, 04:55 PM
I thought of this thread as I worked outside this morning alongside the Very Big Tractors.

We went for location -- reasonable commute for DH, a couple of miles to a nice little town, on a quiet (but paved) road.

I got 20 acres, but I can only see about five of it. The rest, we call the enchanted forest. ;) And it costs about $1500 a day to change it from forest to barn or riding arena site -- that's what is going on now.

If you have big trees, it is _not_ a DIY project to get the trees down and the stumps out. It's quicker if you don't want to save the logs, but we took down some nice hickory and oak that's about to be turned into boards for my barn. Up on the hill in the pines and sweet gum, they are whacking away indiscriminately.

It can be done, but it's expensive, and you won't get back in property value what it costs to build a barn or arena.

Jul. 7, 2010, 05:39 PM
We just got back the appraisal today on the farm we're purchasing and it mentions that property prices in that area are going to continue to decline. We're paying just over half of what the farm was originally listed for 2 years ago. It is, however, a foreclosure and needs around $100k worth of work. As someone said above... the answer is always "it depends". It depends on what your budget is, how handy you are, how much you've got in savings, what type (if any) of loan you're going for, etc.

We're going with an FHA 203k loan which lets us rehab the property, but there's a whole 'nother set of issues / regulations we're having to deal with just to get the property. We made our first offer December 31st 2009, went under contract March 11th, 2010 and today is day 119 of the loan process. Fun stuff, eh?

Jul. 8, 2010, 12:09 AM
My uneducated opinion is that is is cheaper to buy ready-built than to build yourself. In other words if you built a $100,000 barn, and put in $50,000 worth of fencing, and $30,000 worth of landscaping on a property with a $300,000 house, I think that property would sell for something like $375,000, not $480,000.


But is it my EDUCATED opinion, after having owned three farms - all purchased with at least house and some fencing. I also own several rental properties (and one is a small farm) and am always, always aware of what things are worth near me.

I priced building from scratch, I priced mobile/modular homes. I priced all sorts of barns. Any way I figured it, it was cheaper, and I could get a much larger, nicer house if I bought 'used.' And this was when the housing market was MUCH stronger than it is now.

When you buy existing, your house is already depreciated somewhat, but that doesn't affect its livability one iota. You will also pay lower taxes becuaase of that. And taxes are forever. And, if you build from scratch, you better plan on living on it a good long time, since it most likely will be 5-7 years before you can sell it for close to what you have in it. I have seen more than one person build from scratch, need to move, either for job or financial reasons, and be 'underwater' on what they spent on their farm vs what they could sell it for.

Now, this is all based on where _I_ live - near Houston, TX, where housing is way below national average.

Jul. 8, 2010, 10:37 AM
Buy existing and fix it. Buying raw land and building will eat up your $$ and life. If the barn is doable, you fix it as you go. And a 'used' house with an ugly a$$ linoleum floor is a place you can live, and in time, either decide you can live with the floor or replace it.

we've had to build from scratch as I found DH after DH found the land we live on, beautiful deep woods, hills, and crappy soil :) I love it but it's been a long time coming, and there's no $$ to turn our woods into pasture. Hay, anyone?? LOL

Jul. 8, 2010, 11:49 AM
I think "It depends" is a really good answer. I think you have to look at each prospect and list the pros and cons........for us we would want bare land.......but we are builders and we don't like fixing up someone elses mess.....we find renovations more expensive than buiding from the ground up. You can always start on a smaller scale then add as you go but design it in at the beginning...........that is what we did .......we started with a 4 stall barn......then added a hay barn .....two more 2 stall barns then a wash rack, a manure bin......and we have continued working on cross fencing.