View Full Version : Any advice-buying land!

JackSprats Mom
Aug. 2, 2010, 09:38 PM
Ok so I'm in the process of buying a small farm with the idea of building an arena and boarding 12-14 horses.

Here's the thing, I'm new to all this and is VERY scary.

I am going down to planning and permitting this week to talk to them about the land (it has a house on it) but how do I know whether I can build on it till I buy it if there are no obvious restrictions (my biggest worry is unmarked 'wetland' or 'NGPA').

Also what else should I be thinking about and looking in to (I know this is a huge question).

I have looked at building to erect and gotten prices of those and permits.

Any advice/thought?


Aug. 2, 2010, 09:47 PM
You don't have to own it to figure out what can be done there. You can go to the soil conservation service and get maps and probably great advice about it (wetlands etc). You can make your purchase contingent on getting all necessary approvals before the closing, this is common with developers.

You didn't ask about this, but I have to say (I have a private farm w/5 boarders) that while my boarding generates cash flow, it does not pay back the capital costs I've put into the facility. I would not buy property with a view to building a boarding business (I'd see if buying an existing barn/pastures/arena made sense instead).

Aug. 2, 2010, 10:50 PM
Ah country living - nothing quite like it! IF you have enough water from wells that don't go dry in the summer, if you can get perk for the septic field, and permits for all the buildings you want to put up. Or if there is a creek that floods.

Take a look around the neighbourhood and see if there are any mushroom, hog or chicken farms nearby for smell and flies.

JackSprats Mom
Aug. 2, 2010, 10:52 PM
You didn't ask about this, but I have to say (I have a private farm w/5 boarders) that while my boarding generates cash flow, it does not pay back the capital costs I've put into the facility. I would not buy property with a view to building a boarding business (I'd see if buying an existing barn/pastures/arena made sense instead).

I appreciate the input. The price of a facility already set up is out of our budget. This is a highly populated horse area so there is demand.

That said I'm not too sure I care about making back the capitol per se. The investment into the property will pay for itself in 10+ years (property is bank owned atm).

I am only looking to be able to work from home (rather then for the man). So I don't need to make millions.

So the way I look at it, I could invest the capitol into stocks etc work for another 15 years have a decent retirement (but have to continue working for the man) OR put the capitol into the barn/land quit working in 3 years and manage the barn (I know still work but one I ENJOY). Probably work longer before I retire but enjoy it more then I do now.

Aug. 3, 2010, 07:50 AM
re: your land question:
Those are the 2 most important considerations.
If possible visit the property after a heavy rain and see how the existing buildings handled it.
And your local govt center whould be able to show you plats of the land including 100yr Flood Plain info.
Correcting poor drainage can be a neverending, uphill battle if the land is fighting you.

You say you are new to "all this".
Does that include running a boarding business?
There's a saying:
"If you want to make a small fortune in the horse business, start with a LARGE fortune"

I'm sure 99% of the boarding business owners here will tell you that is the Truth.

You say your investment will pay for itself in 10 years.
Does that factor in repairing damage done to the property by boarders?
Managing pastures so 12-15 horses can make some use of them?
Amortizing cost of equipment you will need to care for the property properly?

And of course you have to deal with the personalities/quirks of your customers - the boarders, as well as caring for their animals.
How thick is your skin?
What you consider adequate care will often not match your boarder's expectations.
How good are you at managing conflict (= Barn Drama)?
And no matter how much you love caring for horses (and I love caring for mine) remember it is a 24/7/365 job.
You feel sick? Too bad - horses have to be fed, stalls gave to be cleaned, chores need to get done.
40 Below and the water froze? Better have Plan B for getting troughs filled & kept filled.

IIWM, I'd keep the paying job and build up that retirement fund.
And perhaps consider boarding a smaller number of horses.

If you have taken into consideration all of the above and still feel you can make a living - not a fortune, enough to get by - then go for it.

Desert Topaz
Aug. 3, 2010, 11:18 AM
Know what your weeds are and what the laws are regarding them. I don't know about Washington, but in Colorado land owners must disclose any invasive, noxious weeds to the buyers. Land owners are required, by law, to take care of the weeds on a certain list. Unfortunately, this isn't enforced very well, so those of use that are responsible have a harder time. It's an additional expense I hadn't been planning on.

Aug. 3, 2010, 01:57 PM
Get a survey, be sure the owner has clear title on the property with no liens or loans against it. Get a soil test. Does it already have power, phone, water, etc? If not, you'll need right of ways from your neighbors to have it run and check the costs -- we had a real struggle with that when we bought our current property. A friend of mine is buying and had a topography map done and worked with an architect about where to put house, barn, etc. according to the lay of the land. Build on a higher area! Ask about mineral rights. If it's a well, find out all you can about the water under ground and if it's available year round and what to expect it have in it (minerals, etc.) and how far must you drill for it to be clean.Neighbors can be a challenge, so it wouldn't hurt to do some research about who is living close by. If the property is within city limits, you might have limitations on livestock.
Good luck!

TB Fan
Aug. 3, 2010, 01:58 PM
You can absolutely get your questions answered about the property without owning it. Go to the town hall and tell them you are interested in prop "A" and here's what you want to do. You will need to know about zoning, set backs for buildings, wetlands, among the main priorities. They should be able to walk you through the process and even have a topo map of the entire process. You may want to find out about tax increases once your buildings are up as well.

I am doing something kind of similar. I bought an 8 acre prop with a house. I am building a 6 stall barn when I only have two. That way, the option of boarding is available to me later on.

You'll also want to think about costs to clear, fence and construction of the facilities. Good Luck! It can be done.

TB Fan
Aug. 3, 2010, 01:59 PM
One other thing to plan for is water. You may need to dig a second well since you are looking to house that many horses.

Aug. 3, 2010, 02:39 PM
If you get serious about it, get a good local lawyer.

Make sure there is no hazardous waste on the property (and that the previous owner will indemnify you if any is found). Make sure the oil tank (or any other tank) is not buried.

Subscribe to the local newspaper; call the editor and ask if anything is going on around your proposed farm. Twenty years ago 3 garbage facilities were slated to open within 1/2 mile of each other on my road (one opposite me). You need to know things like that!

Aug. 3, 2010, 05:11 PM
Here we are required to get a Land Development Plan for any structure over 1,000 ft2 - this can be serious $$$ So I would make sure there are no things like that where you are.

Check zoning, here 1 type allows boarding, but NO lessons, while another zoning allows boarding and lessons (the area is run by a racing breeder, so they only cared in making sure broodmares could be boarded for foaling and breeding and lesson language was never put in)

Aug. 3, 2010, 08:36 PM
Running a boarding business is not to be taken lightly! And honestly you will NEVER EVER make money boarding. It is damn hard to cover costs! The only way I "make anything" is thru lessons and marketing horses. So if you are going into it thinking you will make money, guess again! Then factor in the fact you CANNOT leave the farm EVERY without a major production! THat is unless youa re going to pay hired help to run the barn for you. You CANNOT jsut up and take a vacation. I am getting resady to leave on my annual vacaton, four days three nights! Not much right? well get used to it! And to do this feat of magic I have to make SURE absolutely SURE everything is covered to a "T". If you have a boarding operation you cannot make a decsion to feed later or earlier than usual just because you have plans for the evening! Boarders rely on a set schedule, so get use to it. My advise to you is go and work at a baording barn, clean stalls and feed for a while and see exactly how things work, and also see exactly how SOME people will treat you! I have good boarders and don't get talked down to etc, and if such a thing does start to happen I nip it quickly in the bud! But you will find boarders who are crtitical of EVERY LITTLE MOVE you make or don't make! Sorry but this is the harsh reality of boarding horses, get a very thick skin if you want to pursue this.

Aug. 3, 2010, 09:54 PM
Don't forget to check with your farm service agency, that will have great maps and much advice on soils and water and such.
You may even find why the farm is selling if there is a problem with it.
Also ask if you may qualify for some of their programs, if you need to add a well, fences or establish grasses.
If you do, they will cost share whatever you do, at times paying you up to 70% of the cost.:eek:

If you don't already have one, a real estate certified attorney now, to look at the situation and contracts, is very little money to maybe save you more than the farm is worth.

Attorneys live off the mistakes that those buying land make when they don't use an attorney.;)

Aug. 3, 2010, 09:57 PM
I also think that people don't factor in the sunk costs. We do pasture board, and to fence four fields of 20-ish acres total it cost us approx. $25,000 (using our own equipment with hired labor). Renovating the barn for horses was about $10,000. Digging a well and installing four automatic waterers $10,000. Installing electricity at the barn $5,000. Buying new tractor $25,000. Three run-ins $15,000. We did it over time, and a few years ago so my numbers are approximate.

(This also doesn't include the truck and trailer I got when I started).

So I'm up to $90,000 in sunk costs. I *do* live in an expensive area, but that also allows me to charge $425 for (mostly) pasture board (they have stalls for horrible weather).

I hire someone to help with mowing/repairs but not for the horses which I do twice a day every single day. If I have five boarders I "make" money in that my own two horses' costs are completely covered and I pay myself. If I had to amortize that $90,000 and pay it back -- no way.

If you keep in mind that I had existing barns, and that these costs are for 7 - 9 horses, yours will be proportionately higher with more horses. And even though I'm guessing you probably live in a cheaper area (most people do!) if you do, you will have to charge proportionately lower board.

Aug. 3, 2010, 11:25 PM
I don't know anyone that averages a profit on only boarding, not if they use the right figures as ROI, return on their investment.
With boarding only, it would not give you a profit you can live off, trade vehicles, keep your house bills covered, mortgages and insurance and all that you need to live and it would take more than a lifetime to pay for a place.

Now, if you are already living there and figuring you are there caring for your own horses and you consider boarders secondary income, they don't have to make money on that total of your investment that lets you provide that place for them to board, just pay for the direct operational costs, hay, feed, bedding and such, then you may say you are averaging maybe a small profit.

As others in the horse business here have already said, their real income is from lessons, camps, shows and selling horses and training and all other, although boarding is necessary to get much of the other business.

Everyone around here I know that boards horses for the public has another "real" job in their family, if not two and jobs that provide them with a steady income and benefits, insurance and such.

Who knows, maybe you can make it work after all.
Won't know unless you try it, right?:)

Aug. 4, 2010, 01:22 AM
My aunt has run a successful boarding barn for more than 15 years. Her husband works off farm and makes a good living, but her income supports the farm infrastructure and her horse habit. They have 40 acres and she boards ~15 horses in the upper midwest.

JackSprats Mom - since you're looking in Arlington, here are my tips.

1. As for salmon, wetlands, etc - pay a visit to the Snohomish County planning department. Ask to talk to a naturalist and they'll pull up the aerial and other records and tell you what to look for and what the implications might be. The salmon laws were tightened WAY up in late 2007 and you want to be sure you won't be restricted by them. We passed up several fantastic properties because we weren't 100% sure that we'd be able to do what we wanted to.

2. Have the well tested, particularly if it's a dug well. It's worth the $140 or so to know what's going on. Also, be sure to smell the water. Sulfur is a common issue in the area.

3. Pay attention to the slope away from the barn and/or in any area you might use as a winter sacrifice area. You'll want to be sure that the water will drain away so that once you get gravel/sand/hogfuel in it will stay mud free.

4. Have fun looking!

JackSprats Mom
Aug. 5, 2010, 10:18 PM
Ok to answer some of the questions on the piece we're trying to get right now:
Already has a house, well (drilled), electric, shop with apartment. Place is already totally fenced (not crossed fenced) and hotwired (the whole 10 acres). We will inspect well/house/septic before buying.

Does not have areana/stalls (getting price quotes on buildings now)

Land has no wetlands and is not in a flood area (YAY!) or streams and is gently sloped all the way down for drainage. location is 3 min from town so ideal with a TB breeding farm about 1 mile away.

Ironically we began with a wet summer when I could have rechecked the land but now its dried out but does not appear from plant life to have drainage issues.
We've been to DAP and confirmed we could put up a barn and areana of the size we're looking at and board (all within zoning requirements)

Worked in the animal industry for years worked with and around horses for years not worried about that aspect. Already have 2 horses on self care, 3 dogs and 2 goats so its not like I can up and leave for vacation with ease as it is. My vacation this year is 5 days to see family so used to being around alot and not having much vacation.

So I think I've got my i's dotted and t's crossed. Anything else I've missed??

Fingers crossed they accept our offer.

Aug. 6, 2010, 10:08 AM
Second the soil test as something very important. What looks like beautiful farmland can turn into a squishy, bumpy mosh pit for a good deal of the year when horses are on it, the rest of the year when it is very dry it can become compacted.
Or, if you are clearing land, all the water that those trees drink up will be left behind when the trees are gone. This is fine of the soil is the correct composition. I lived on a beautiful farm that had a high clay component and even on the sloped pastures the soil held the water like a sponge. A very slippery sponge.

Aug. 6, 2010, 05:37 PM
Definitely check out what type of soil the farm has. It's not enough to say "it looks good now and it's been we and dry". Go to your local soil conservation service and find out the soil type and what type of uses are best suited for the soils on the property.

Generally speaking, if the horses are going to be pastured, they will need two acres per horse. This is of course, pie in the sky and you can do it on less, but if you're starting from scratch, and you're asking for advice, start out on the right foot with acreage and soils.

The acreage needs to be able to support the infrastructure. For example, a farmhouse and large barn on two acres is not sustainable, b/c there is no land base to generate money to pay to maintain the barn. The same is true for horse farms. You will need enough acreage that if you alter your enterprise, the land will be able to support the infrastructure maintenance (fencing, roofing, painting buildings, repairing concrete, etc)