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farm buying saga continues...

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  • farm buying saga continues...

    So my farm search that I mentioned months ago is ongoing and we have looked at more farms. To recap, last time, we were trying to decide whether to buy a pricier place and plan on boarding or buy a smaller place, possibly the next town over.

    Since then we have decided we really want to be in the horsey area near town, near the trails and conservancy and pony club, and not the town over. Prices are a little higher but we think it's worth it. We've agreed on that.

    We're dealing with only places that are not actually on the market so pricing and such is a little mushy, but through word of mouth, we've managed to see 4 places in the exact target area (all within 1 mile of each other).

    The dream farm which was over our price range is still on the table, but want to go back to the owner and see if she'll consider a lower offer that would still work. It's basically a nice house and nice barn on 15 acres (some woods). She's had some big changes in her life and may be more interested in selling.

    But we've had a hard time finding places that are decent houses with decent lots, and not mansions or dumps.

    The options right now are:

    Option 1: 7 acre ranch house with no barn. Near to the trails. Could ride over to indoor nearby but it's probably a good 15 minute ride including partially on the road. House is a well built 60's quality 2400 sq ft house that's been well-maintained by the old folks who lived there but not updated since the being built. Literally the same carpets, linoleum, paint, etc! So updating everywhere would be in order (old bathroom color schemes are really something), but it's totally liveable right now, it's just old. Has a newer roof and mound and gigantic basement with high ceilings. However, we'd need to build a barn and an outdoor arena. Has anyone managed to add on money to a mortgage for purchase for that sort of thing? I assume we'd have to buy the house (which is pretty reasonable and at the low end of what we expected), then get a home equity loan to put up the barn, then get the whole thing reappraised after we've done updates to combine the mortgages and try to lock in these nice low rates.

    Option 2: 11 acres of raw land literally with horse trail across the front. I've talked with a builder called UBuildIt that lets you be the general contractor but helps you through the building process considerably so you can buy more house for the money and do some work yourself. We would directly pay subcontractors and could opt for having friend contractors or DIY on certain aspects of building. We've had a meeting and talked specific costs and they think it's possible for us to put up an 2000 sq. foot home that would meet our needs for about 200k (doing some work ourselves). The site costs could be kind of high, but we could probably do the whole thing for about 50k more than buying the ranch and building a barn on it. I realize it's a ton of work but I've been a project manager professionally and I don't think this is too much for me. I'm also calling other builders for quotes so I'm not going in blind. Just as an aside, I like the idea of building an energy efficient home right away (geothermal, very insulated, LED lights).

    The land has a couple quite small areas of (perhaps artificially created due to the road) wetlands on the edges of the property that are pretty dry really but I would need a DNR permit to put in a driveway across one to access the property (no other way). I've got a call in the DNR and a guy is working on telling me the likelihood of this happening, and of course, we'd put the offer contingent on being able to get a driveway permit.

    Otherwise the 11 acres is on a slight slope above the property to the south and has a lot of quite usable land. I lose probably 1.5 acres to the trees, trail and wetland areas.

    Both properties we'd need to build a barn, outdoor arena and fencing on. I got one ballpark budgeting builder quote for a 6 stall pole barn at 35k. Still working on arena ballparks, but I'm guessing 5000-10,000. Got a pole building kit price of 14,000 for just a shell at 36 x 48 with estimate of 50%-70% extra for costs for someone to put it up. We also know some folks who we could probably put it up for a low price.

    I've talked to a lender who works with UBuildIt so they are ok with the DIY general contractor thing. It's a local bank offering a 1.9% ARM that resets every year. Cannot jump more than 2% in one year and the max rate allowed would be 6.9%. It is not a balloon mortgage. We could plan the barn and arena plans and present them with the house building specs for appraisal to pay for the whole thing in one construction loan (including purchasing the lot) so no second mortgage needed to buy the barn. Would probably refinance with new appraisal after construction within 2 years to go to a fixed rate 30 year mortgage while rates are low.

    Myself, I'm leaning build, but with trepidation, because 4 extra acres (or even 2.5 useable extra acres) seems pretty good to me for not worrying about overgrazing or limiting the number of horses tightly (for a few boarders to defray costs - not counting on them) and have enough room for the future. It is also within 5 minutes by horse of 3 indoor arenas (1/3 of a mile including from barn door to barn door) and directly on the trails. The trepidation comes from having to buy every darn thing from scratch, knowing that overruns and mushy estimates are likely.

    The ranch house seems like a decent safe option financially but we'd have to more self-sufficient because I just know in the middle of our cold WI winters, riding 15 minutes by horse to an indoor arena is not going to be likely. Also we would have to figure out how to build the barn/arena with a second mortgage instead of being able to include it.

    We are planning on staying put at least 15 years for this, if not much longer. What say ye, wise COTHers? Let me know your thoughts and advice. Any other considerations I should keep in mind?

    Trying to sift through needs/wants/affordability/value/future needs...We still need more info to really decide, but the difference mortgage payments is not all that much, especially with the 1.9% rate. Sorry or super long post! Thanks for reading!

  • #2
    First, I would talk with the owner of the dream farm. Explain that you love her farm but are not sure of how you could afford it. Perhaps she can offer a price reduction, seller financing, a second mortgage at a low rate, a lease purchase agreement or some other creative way to make it work.

    The land sounds good, if you can keep building costs from creeping up. Everyone I know who has built something has had some sort of a crisis that has raised costs far above what was expected. Our neighbor had trouble getting well water and spent thousands of extra dollars digging the deepest well in our part of the county before he hit water. Someone else we know ran into trouble with the septic and spent $60,000 on a mound septic before he could get the county to approve his home. One of my coworkers is 6 months behind schedule on building her house because of some sort of governmental dispute because the next door neighbor does not want the driveway in the location that the zoning people say is the only acceptable location. We know people who dealt with rapidly escalating mortgage rates when they were ready to pay off the construction loans and get a 30 year mortgage. Make sure you have plenty of extra money before you decide to build!


    • #3
      Skip option 2.... We have bought raw, old, existing and after dealing being self contractor on new...returning old....best is what we have now...fairly new existing basics you can upgrade and expand on...also more bank friendly well septic already there..


      • #4
        Skip the raw land and go with the house.
        I bought a nice ranch house with 10 acres and built a barn.
        We looked at hundreds of homes, farms and raw land, before we found what we wanted.
        I now have a beautiful house, a custom built barn and plenty of pasture. I'm so happy I waited, until I found what I wanted.


        • #5
          Buying it already done is ALWAYS less expensive

          Really, feel free to ask me how I know.


          • #6
            And if the second option isn't fenced, never under estimate how much that will cost!
            "Dogs are man's best friend. Cats are man's adorable little serial killer." -- theoatmeal.com


            • #7
              With the current market, at least where I live, I wouldn't dream of building right now. Construction costs are still plenty high, and near me, I can buy places for less than it would cost to build them right now. But if you are set on something specific and can't find it already built, and have plenty of money, I suppose building might be on the table. Being committed to a certain area would certainly make it more difficult.

              We did build our place, using a general contractor. Money well spent, if you ask me, and I don't begrudge him a penny as he earned it. We built when housing was booming and building seemed like the smart choice...having watched our assessed value plummet over the years, I sure wish we'd sold that first year or two when everything around us was selling for $$$!

              We planned for a contingency of about 20% over budget when we built, knowing we would make changes (ooh, i like the $$$ counters....) and things would come up...we went above and beyond that. First hiccup was when the excavator was doing work on the garage and driveway area, smoothing away and a stick popped up. Black and burnt. When the place was logged years prior, they buried the stumps and semi burnt crap in pits around the place. You have to dig it out, and pack full of stable material otherwise it will rot and cause a depression, which would be BAD to be built over. $5k extra in labor, disposal, and materials just for a pit. When we built my arena this past year, I was dreading finding another!

              In your shoes, I'd sure be talking to the dream farm person again to see if it could be worked out. If building is going to be a reach at the quoted prices, I'd really think hard about it as it will cost more. Guaranteed. Even if you GC it yourself, which I wouldn't ever do myself as I'd probably kill someone. What I saved on Paying the GC would be spent on my murder defense!


              • #8
                I would go with option #1. The house may need updating, but that can be easily done a little at a time as the money to do things is saved up . Getting a barn up is pretty quick and fairly easy to do and between that and fencing I wouldn't even think about the hassle of building everything from the ground up!!


                • #9
                  Ditto, buy what exists already. Fewer headaches, you can live in it a while and then decide what you want to fix, repair, replace. Plus, you can sit tight on the land and see in real-life how it drains, etc.
                  <>< Sorrow Looks Back. Worry Looks Around. Faith Looks Up! -- Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.


                  • Original Poster

                    Thanks for the thoughts!

                    We have a search budget of roughly 300-400k and keep finding places that are dumps for 250 but need immense amounts of cash or 500k places that are way more fancy houses than we really need (or want).

                    We definitely are planning on trying to work with the dream farm owner again. It can't hurt and is the only thing close to finished with enough land that we would want (full barn, fencing, old grown over sand arena, move in ready house). The mound system needs to be replaced is the one drawback, but she was already figuring when she gave her number that's around 75-100k more that we can get pre-approved for. Being a dressage rider, I would want to put in a good outdoor ring (or better indoor but that's probably a never coming true dream) but I could live without for a year if needed. Of course, her number was basically pulled out of thin air and probably heavily influenced by the values of things in 2006! So it's worth another try to see.

                    Both the ranch house and the raw land would need barn, fencing and arena from scratch. So there is a large cost there either way.

                    The idea of buying the ranch, sinking some money in for the horses, then watching the land in case we decide we want more acreage is interesting. I'm not big on buying and selling (tend to buy and hold on to things - like my cars until they die on me) and historically low rates are not going to last forever. But I could see improving the ranch and reselling it down the road as an option. However, spending 35-40k on a barn and fencing and arena will make me feel a bit bad considering how much updating needs done in the house!

                    How did you finance your barns if you built one after the purchasing? Home equity? Building financing? Farm bureau? Financing the barn for 30 year rates at historical lows is very enticing...

                    thanks, keep it coming if you think of other things. I have gotten good independent references for UBuildIt, the DIY GC building company, so I'm not totally dissuaded. I know it would be cheaper, but it might be more fitting for us long term. We don't have tons of money available so it does make me nervous.


                    • #11
                      Don't forget the rule about remodeling or building from scratch: Everything costs twice as much, and takes twice as long as you thought it would. And from personal observation, once you finalize the plans and start building you shouldn't make changes, because every change costs a bundle more, and adds to the build time.

                      You can also save big on remodeling if you do it a piece at a time, with an overall plan of priorities, and take time to shop around for cheaper suppliers, and clearance items.
                      You can't fix stupid-Ron White


                      • #12
                        Since OP wants to build I will chime in. Im still waiting for someone to suggest what a friend of mine did 15+ years ago, she bought a nice piece of land (Im guessing 20 acres most of the mountain anyway) & moved a trailer (house not horse) onto the land & lived there with 5 kids until she could build ginormous dream house/barn/fencing/outdoor/chicken coop. Her place now is just gorgeous worth the wait for the house & barn & pastures. That way you also get a feel for the land & what you want & dont want where, Ive never built either house of barn but Ive sure remodeled a bunch so thats fine to.
                        “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Peter Drucker


                        • #13
                          ^ If you don't live where there are tornados, that would be an option. Personally, I would never live in a trailer without a storm shelter. I have NO problems with trailers but I have HUGE problems with storms. After the storms that rolled through a couple of years ago in April, I'll never live in a house without a basement again.
                          "Dogs are man's best friend. Cats are man's adorable little serial killer." -- theoatmeal.com


                          • #14
                            The problem with 'dream-house-owners-not-on-the-open-market' is that they are not motivated to sell. They have no incentive to take a realistic look at the price they are asking for their property. They are not broke, or needing to move to another city. They are time wasters from a buyers point of view.
                            As a buyer, I want to know that the seller is really a seller, not a wishful thinker.
                            Stick with properties that are actually on the market.

                            I'd look very critically (in a positive way) at the old folks house.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by JohnDeere View Post
                              Since OP wants to build I will chime in. Im still waiting for someone to suggest what a friend of mine did 15+ years ago, she bought a nice piece of land (Im guessing 20 acres most of the mountain anyway) & moved a trailer (house not horse) onto the land & lived there with 5 kids until she could build ginormous dream house/barn/fencing/outdoor/chicken coop. Her place now is just gorgeous worth the wait for the house & barn & pastures. That way you also get a feel for the land & what you want & dont want where, Ive never built either house of barn but Ive sure remodeled a bunch so thats fine to.
                              I've had family members do this. One barely escaped intact (I thought they would end up divorced or with someone murdered - couple with three young kids in basically a travel trailer). My parents did this and spent the winter freezing in an RV when the home builder delayed and they were stuck. Works for some, but not for all, and I'm sure depends on your climate.

                              Here, our CC&Rs would have prevented it. Which I am glad as I would hate if we had neighbors do it...I have visions of Vacation and the RV pumping sewage down the street. It would be a creek instead of street here.


                              • #16
                                Well, an alternative to the temporary trailer idea is to design a home that will easily allow you to build in phases. For instance, you could build a three-room structure which would be a bedroom, bathroom, and small great room which would function as living, dining, and kitchen. The great room would have the beginnings of a nice kitchen and would later become a very large kitchen by adding more counters and cabinets, but not by removing or replacing the existing cabinets. So the stove and sink would be placed where they will end up in the final phase of construction. You minimize windows to the bare essentials and frame in more to be added later so that your initial phase will be less expensive (assuming this saves money -- it will depend on how a new window will affect changes to your siding).

                                Design the first phase, I'll call it the Cottage, in such a way that the addition can be added without interfering with the existing roof. For example, the cottage might have ten or twelve foot ceilings so that subsequent structures can be butted up to the exterior wall. Here's a photo showing a wing which happens to have a flat roof with a deck, but it butts up to the side of the house (which is a large three stories in this case). This is a large house which I'm just using as a visual example to show how the roofs don't touch. You can see that the wing could be much taller if there were no windows in the side of the main structure, and that the wing could have another roof style, such as a gable or shed shape:


                                Or you could attach the addition with a breezeway like this:


                                Then design everything to make it easy to add on, such as electrical panels sized properly for the final product, septic system designed for four or five bedrooms, doorways framed in so that when you add on the new section, you will just cut out the siding and walls, but the framing is already there, properly done. You could even put in an exterior door which will convert to an interior doorway. The idea is that you always add but never have to tear down or replace because you have a master plan for the final product.
                                "Random capitAlization really Makes my day." -- AndNirina


                                • Original Poster

                                  The RV idea is a nice one if you're trying to be ultra shoestring but I don't see that being a huge benefit to us. A construction loan to buy, lot, build house and barn with 1 year to have it up makes more sense to me when rates are 3.5% for 30 year loans. I think this would allow us to get it up and then refinance to the long term loan before rates have gone up. My idea is that we build a house we can afford now along with a barn, with good bones and can move in and enhance as we go. Or put on an addition later or whatever. I know some constructions go awry but not all do, or people would never do it. I think we can make a firm plan and not get carried away with finishes, appliances, fixtures, etc which seem to be where people get excited and blow their budgets. If standard contingency money banks require is 20%, then that is probably the amount that they find accommodates most overruns. I think if we keep those overruns in mind as we go, we'll make a lower budget to start with. The building in phases thing doesn't necessarily make sense to me as long as we keep it close to budget because money will probably never be cheaper to borrow. I'm a frugal type but I like to buy quality where it matters. I am actually more concerned with getting carried away overbuying the barn than the house!

                                  It would be easier to buy an existing home, but when the choices are so limited and there aren't suitable homes there (with enough land), the "you get more house for your dollar when you buy an existing home" adage seems less meaningful. We never thought of building seriously until we had such trouble finding reasonable options.

                                  I totally agree about "not on the market" sellers, but if we weren't looking at off the market homes, we wouldn't have anything to look at all (there are exactly 2 listed in the target area, both full service equestrian facilities for over 600,000). I feel lucky I have located the handful we have through word of mouth, a couple of which were on the market 2 years ago and did not sell. So really only the dream farm is someone no hasn't had an appraisal an whose price is not very reliable. My plan is to go there with our realtor and think about a reasonable offer, being upfront with the seller about our limitations and see what happens. She has a horse there so maybe free board for a certain number of years would be a perk we could offer. Everytime I hear about low number of homes being a problem in the current market, I find myself nodding in agreement. But we aren't putting our duplex up for sale either (we'll rent it) because we would lose so much money right now, lol.

                                  I guess one of my biggest worries is if we go with the 7 acres, we'll regret not having more land
                                  , and that the proximity to indoor arenas being tough will lead to 2 months of boarding or 2 months off every year for my horses. Maybe that's ok, I don't know. What do the farm owners think? Is the jump from 7 to 11 worth a higher initial investment?

                                  I have 2 horses, I want to breed a little, sell a little, have a couple boarders and a pony for the kids. Maybe 8 horses ultimately over the years.

                                  I'm coming around to the 7 acres slowly, even mentally scheming to see if we could put barn money towards a barn with an indoor instead. We could even build a build leanto for my guys, store hay in the garage temporarily and work on the house to raise the value for more home equity and then go big on the barn...


                                  • #18
                                    I wouldn't necessarily buy house #1 as old houses have their drawbacks too, if I did I would have it VERY well inspected. But I wouldn't go the land route either. I would keep looking for a decent house you can live in without fixing a thing on the amount of land you want. Then (I) would work on my dream barn, riding arenas, indoor, hay barn, etc. first and then go back to the house. 7 acres is probably enough if you A) don't need to waste a lot of space on lawn and B) make individual runs for sacrifice areas and then larger paddocks and pastures for grazing that you can rotate around or keep them off totally (like in mud season).

                                    If I did buy just land I would only consider land that already has well, septic, electric (for example one that had had a trailer on it), then buy a modular home (not a trailer but one of those that are built in a factory and put together on site). You can get some very nice ones and you can get some that are easy to add on later. You can then get moved in pretty quickly and then start working on the horse stuff. I'd avoid anything with official wetlands, I've known some real nightmare stories concerning tiny patches of drainage marsh. Definitely don't underestimate the fencing costs. It's wicked!!
                                    Every mighty oak was once a nut that stood its ground.

                                    Proud Closet Canterer! Member Riders with Fibromyalgia clique.


                                    • #19
                                      Your description of that future/ideal horse operation would take more than 7 acres to be sustainable. ie having room for arena, barn, a little parking area for boarders, grass to graze, manure mgmt, etc. So you may need to scale that back a bit. If that makes this 7ac property more of a short-term play, then be careful about any horse-related capital improvements you put in-- chances are high that you won't recoup the costs. The next buyer will LOVE to have an indoor but prob won't want to pay for it. (When we were shopping for horse acreages, my husband was always like "I'm not bailing out some guy who couldn't say no to his wife's folly". )


                                      • Original Poster

                                        Interesting comment about overbuilding for the horses - we found one place that had quite the barn including indoor, nice modest house but sadly only 4 acres and 30 feet from the neighbor's house. :-( That layout and limited space is just not what we want.