May 2017 - Property Prep Primer
Written by Kim F. Miller
Friday, 28 April 2017 19:48
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De-cluttering is top tip for preparing to market a horse property.

by Kim F. Miller

Low inventory for equestrian property throughout many areas of California puts it in high demand. That’s good news for those contemplating a sale. The next step for prospective sellers is figuring out what upgrades and improvements, if any, will translate into the highest realistic sale price.

A current property listed with Devon Camilleri.

Properties and details like these reflect the style of horse properties represented by Keller Williams agent Whitney Harrington. Photo: Constellation Photography

“There’s no magic formula for that,” acknowledges San Diego realtor Caren Kelley. But one thing’s for sure: consulting a knowledgeable realtor well in advance of marketing a horsey homestead is the best way to sort the myriad variables that define what makes an equestrian estate – modest to luxe lifestyle – appealing to buyers.

Geographic area, price and suitability for various disciplines are a few of the elements that dictate price tags. “You have to begin with the end in mind,” Caren continues. “You have to think about who is going to buy this property and what is important to them.”

Realtors concur that big investments in new stabling or footing rarely increase the profits of a sale. More often, small, relatively inexpensive upgrades will help corral top dollar.

Clutter is every realtor’s nightmare. Agents representing properties throughout the state and at every price point agree that a clean, well-kept property is priority-one for sellers.

Westlake Village-based Whitney Harrington sees too many cases of  “clutter blindness.”

“Have a friend who will be honest with you come and look at your property with a fresh set of eyes. You’ll be surprised how many things she’ll notice that you never even noticed – like that wheelbarrow that’s been sitting there unused for a year because you bought a new one.”

Part of the de-cluttering process is identifying the right amount of personal touches. “We often advise home sellers to leave out a few personal photos, but not too many,” Whitney explains. “It’s the same with stables. If you have a tackroom that’s very special because it has a few personal touches, you’ll want to highlight it.” But avoid the “I love me” wall of personal accolades, she cautions.

Elbow grease goes a long way in increasing appeal and, hence, the price tag. Clear barn aisle ways, tidy tack rooms, coil hoses and rid every nook and cranny of cobwebs. That goes for the stabling area, the hay barn, the arena viewing area and every other structure. “Never ever leave any manure out,” insists Southern California agent Devon Camilleri. “It attracts flies and it’s unsightly.” The same goes for standing water anywhere on the site, especially in this wet year when mosquitoes and other bugs are expected to flourish.

Anything less than a scrupulous approach to maintenance and cleanliness  creates an impression of neglect. If pasture fencing is rundown and chewed in places, the savvy shopper will wonder what else throughout the property is in a state of decay.

'Is the property laid out well so that everything is easy to get to and set up for an efficient work flow?' asks Sean Cadell of Willis Allen. 'That can be a real hot button issue.'

Sandy Blondell’s own K Syrah Ranch house is one of current listings for he and his wife Vicky Vaughn’s agency in the Yosemite area’s North Fork.

Cleanliness and safety for horses and humans go hand-in-hand, in reality and in buyers’ perceptions. Piles of rusted equipment and barn aisles rife with tripping hazards reflect a lack of concern for horse safety, which ranks high on buyers’ priority lists.

“Everybody wants their horse to be healthy, comfortable and safe,” Devon says. “Those are the most important three criteria.”

Working out of her Sonoma Valley base in Northern California, Lisa Thomas often see sellers lobbying to leave piles of fencing or other materials in clear view because they think it will be useful to the next owner. “If it really can be useful, roll it up, tuck it away or stack it behind the barn,” Lisa urges. “You don’t want a prospective buyer to drive in and see that stuff. You want to create the impression that it’s a turn-key property, because that’s what everybody wants.”

Stable functionality is a big priority for the clients Sean Cadell works with in Rancho Santa Fe and surrounding environs. “Is the property laid out well so that everything is easy to get to and set up for an efficient work flow? That can be a real hot button issue.”

Drainage is another important factor for knowledgeable buyers. Ideally, the facility was well-designed for that in the first place, but even if not, there are steps a seller can take. If the arena, for example, is located poorly so that water drains down into it, French drains or “brow” drains are a good option, Devon says.

A French drain is a trench with rocks in it and a pipe that diverts flow and a brow drain is a simple “V” shaped ditch that serves the same function. Bigger might seem better, but usually isn’t when it comes to drains. Run-off diverting systems of any kind need to be dug in a way that minimizes the risk of a horse – likely a loose one on the run – getting caught in it.   

Small or Big Investments?

Curb appeal is just as important for an equestrian home site as it is for a home-home, and most related upgrades are relatively inexpensive. Planting fresh flowers and cute or sophisticated touches that fit and accentuate the property’s feel are always worthwhile, realtors agree.

“Make it look as nice as you can,” says Sandy Blondell, who is based in the Yosemite area’s North Fork. He and his wife and partner Vicky Vaughn currently have their own horse property on the market and are practicing what they preach. “We are not adding facilities to make it more marketable,” Sandy says. “That doesn’t seem to equate to more profit very often.

“We are doing things that make it more presentable.” That includes planting flowers, new paint for the barn and fencing, new stall mats, etc. The key, he continues, is to avoid a buyer seeing things that make him say, “Oh my god, I’ve got to do this or that!”

“There’s no magic formula” for determining what improvements, if any, will bring the best price, says Equestrian Real Estate’s Caren Kelley.

Current listing of Lisa Thomas, Pacific Union | Christie’s International Real Estate

Sean Cadell concurs. “The most important thing is preparing everything so it is aesthetically pleasing, everything has a place and is in it, and makes it as simple as possible for the buyer to take over and convert it for their purposes.”

Targeting a potential type of horse enthusiast as a buyer is a good move, but narrowing your intended market too much or making a major upgrade outlay suited for a specific discipline is a mistake, cautions Caren.

The large investment required to perfect arena footing for a hoped-for dressage or show jumping buyer, for example, could be a bust if the property is otherwise of interest to a buyer with reining horses as their horses go best on very different surfaces. On the other hand, a beautifully-footed arena might be the major selling point for a dressage aficionado who agrees with the seller’s approach to the right riding surface for their sport. Even within each discipline, there are different opinions on what the best footing is.

As a specialist in the high-end Rancho Santa Fe area, Caren has worked with properties that have cutting edge arena drainage, base and footing construction. The likelihood that that considerable investment will translate to a higher sale price is slim, she admits.

As with the stabling, obvious signs of regular maintenance in an arena are the strongest selling points for the broadest pool of buyers. Whatever the footing is, it should be freshly groomed and the ring and its perimeter should be free of weeds and manure.

Horse House or People House?

Whether the horse house or the people house should take precedence in available upgrade budget is another factor that depends on the area, the property and the target market. In multi-million-dollar properties, buyers often expect both to be top-of-the-line in every way. At lower ends of the market, it’s sometimes thought that buyers are mainly interested in the horse set-up.

Recent listing of Lisa Thomas, Pacific Union | Christie’s International Real Estate.

“Don’t forget about the house!” urges Lisa Thomas. “I’m my area there is a stupid opinion in the real estate community that horse people don’t care about the house and that’s not true for most people.

“Generally, if a couple is buying the property, it’s unusual that both are involved horse people,” she continues. “You have to consider that you have two buyers and only one is a horse person.” That’s why she urges her clients to put equal effort into the home and stabling. “Whether it’s a fixer-upper or a turn-key property, if you are not staging the home well, too, you are leaving money on the table.”

Lisa shares a scary statistic that, in her Sonoma Valley area, only about 30 percent of “equestrian properties” are sold to equestrians. “That means about 70% of buyers are not valuing the equestrian part of it.”

For many years large parcels that used to house horses have been planted with grape vineyards or purchased to give the buyers some elbow room. Since the legalization of medicinal and, this past November, recreational marijuana in California, cannabis growers are increasingly honing in on the region’s big acreages. Covered arenas and storage areas and barns are easily made use of by growers to tend their crop.

Even though Sonoma Valley’s strong and entrenched equestrian culture has protected the Valley somewhat from these encroachments, Lisa sadly reports “We are losing a lot of horse property.” The reality does drive up prices. “But the bad news is that horses have a bad habit of making your poor!” A lot of horse people wind up moving further way to remote areas to fulfill their horse-keeping dreams. “If you want to live in an area with good community, arts and culture, you are going to have to pay for it.”

For sellers, objectivity about how the property looks to a buyer and a lot of elbow grease go a long way toward fulfilling a dream price.