(Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a fantastic series from Realtor and writer Kathryn Roan. You can read the first part here.)
Finding the perfect farm is best categorized as online dating. You put your criteria into a search engine, and you get a 100 smiling, shiny faces in return. And like anything else, a ranch’s listing online is the best version of itself. Each profile shows only the best angles, and begs the viewer to “Pick Me! Pick Me!” Only the best features are shown, rarely does the listing mention the crumbling shack with 13 cars in the yard across the street. Much like dating, at the beginning farm shopping is somuchfun and there are just so many possibilities (!). And then you turn 30 and it seems like all the good ones are taken, and the leftovers have serious mommy issues. Sorry, I seem to have over-mixed my metaphor…
I am going to be honest with you. If you don’t drink heavily now, you may start sometime during your property search. For one, it will feel like the perfect property is just out of your reach financially. This happens to everyone, and I mean everyone, no matter the price range. Ok, maybe not those with $10 million to spend, but I don’t know any of those people. (If you do, please direct them to Kathryn@TexasEquestrianProperties.com).
The shopping process can be a beating. You’ll find farms where you love the location, and hate the house. Or you love the house, hate the location, and it doesn’t have a barn. Or you love everything, but it’s on the wrong soil. Inevitably, you’ll find several that look great on paper, only to find out that the only reason it’s in your price range is that it is right next to a rail road track and there’s a decent chance the next door neighbor’s a drug dealer. Most importantly, do not shop way out of your price range. If you cannot afford to buy a Lambo, do not (and I repeat, do not) go test drive a Lambo. Everything else will feel like a 1991 Honda Civic with no doors in comparison. You’ll only set yourself up for disappointment.
But, I’m going to encourage you to not get discouraged. First of all, make sure you are working with a farm and ranch agent. If you meet your agent for the first time and they are wearing anything other than boots to show you property, save yourself some heartache and move on. (Tennis shoes might be acceptable, but that kind of says to me “I don’t actually own any boots, or I would have worn them” – Red Flag Numero Uno). A farm and ranch agent not only knows what to look for in a farm property, but they also know the nuances of the area. Where the good soils are, what areas might be just a touch ghetto, which properties are in a good school district (or are driving distance to private schools), how to tell if a property drains well, how much it will cost you to put in fencing or a barn, and so on. There’s also a good chance that they’ve shown some of the properties on your list, and can tell you if they’re worth pursuing. Especially if this is your first ranch purchase, an agent well versed in land purchases will be an invaluable resource to you.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, understand that depending on what you’re looking to buy, your dream property may not fall under traditional financing guidelines. Lenders like collateral to fit into a nice little box, where preferably the majority of the value is in the residence. It becomes very confusing to underwriters when a barn is worth more than a house. If you are like many of my clients, you want as much acreage as you can get, a great barn, and (oh, yeah), somewhere to live that has indoor plumbing. Often, these properties have homes that are worth only 30 to 40 percent of the total value. Your average lender prefers the home to be worth 70 percent or more in comparison to the land and improvements. What does this mean to you, as a buyer? Everything. If you’re buying 5 acres with a home and a small barn, you’re probably okay with traditional financing. If you’re thinking more like 50 acres with a 10-stall barn and a 2,000-square-foot home, you’re likely looking at having to use an ag lender. It is best to be prepared. No one likes to be surprised when they find the perfect property, and then find out they will need to perhaps put down a larger payment or have a shorter principal term on their note (aka: higher monthly payments).
So you’ve spoken with your lender, are pre-approved for a certain amount, and you’ve figured out what down payment and monthly payment you’re comfortable with. Now, it’s time to actually start going to look at properties in person. Keep in mind, as spread out as some of your choices may be, combined with the fact that it usually takes 30 minutes to an hour to view an entire farm, it is likely only possible to see four or five properties in one day. It is best to narrow your choices down based on price, location, amenities, and photos. This is not like subdivision house shopping, where you can reasonably see 20 homes in one day. And once you start looking, be prepared to compromise. You are not going to find everythingyoueverwantedandmore all in the same property. Be open to the fact that you may have to build a barn, put in fencing, go five acres smaller than you wanted, or add 10 more minutes to your commute in order to find the right thing.
Overwhelmed yet? It’s normal. Decide what is most important to you. Do you want a big house or more acreage? Would you be okay driving 45 minutes to work instead of 30? For me, personally, above all I wanted 25 or more acres with close highway access. Due to the nature of my work (aka, driving all over North Texas, occasionally pausing at horse property), I wanted to be as close to a highway as possible without actually living on it. And I downright refuse to live on black gumbo (I just can’t even…), so areas immediate to Dallas were out. Everywhere else within 60 miles of Dallas was fair game. I scoured the Internets. My emotions ranged from elated to hopelessness, often in the same eight hour period. I saw one I loved: Darling house, lighted arena, 12-stall barn … but I felt queasy about the location. I saw many that were a hard “no” from the minute I drove up. My list of Prince Charming rejects grew. I began acquiring cats.
But one kept popping up in my searches, and I had continuously blown it off. It fit my criteria, if we were being technical, but that’s where the similarities stopped. The property had been on the market for quite some time, with several different listing agents. The house was outdated, to put it kindly. Yes, it was 55 acres and well within my price range, but I was looking for a horse farm, not a… well, whatever it was. The photos of the barn showed tools, equipment, hay, and junk stacked to the ceiling. It looked like where power tools go to die, not the well swept manicured barn aisle I had in my mind. However, beggars cannot be choosers, and I had The Itch bad. Out of desperation, I went to look. After driving merely one mile off Interstate 20, I found myself turning into a long, curving driveway towards a pleasant looking Mid Century Ranch home that looked like it would be more comfortable in East Dallas than in the country. Yes, the interior did have wood quite literally everywhere… but that included pristine original wood floors under the beige carpet. I could work with this.
Naturally, I assumed the barn would be a dealbreaker. It was beige metal and industrial looking, a former grain processing plant. I was expecting the worst. The photos showed a dark barn, loaded to the brim with equipment and 50 years worth of powertools. What I was not expecting was a clearspan of 14,400 square feet, with almost 20-foot-tall ceilings and eight wall-sized massive doors. The owner proudly informed me that in “the day,” they had driven 18-wheeler tractor trailers right down the center aisle. I could believe it. As the owner enthusiastically told me about the barn’s heyday as a grain plant, I quietly walked off stall measurements. “Dear gosh, I could fit 20 stalls in here, easy,” I thought. He showed me the old office, which was audibly begging me to clear out all the raccoon poop and convert it to a tack room. “What’s that over there?” I asked. “Oh, that’s the bathroom,” he answered. I nearly fainted. The barn even had it’s own separate septic system, an absolute necessity in my book.
It came down to the arena. So far, I had only seen roughly 20 acres of the front part of the property. If there wasn’t a nice, flat, large space to put in a riding arena relatively close to the barn, no dice. I had a dream of a massive arena, with room for a full jump course and dressage arena in the same space. This girl was tired of avoiding dressage cones while schooling jumps. And I’m lazy. I just really dislike hiking half a mile from the barn to the arena gate. The owner slides open the back doors of the barn, and suddenly I’m looking at pipe fence, and beyond that, 30+ acres of… flat. Just flat grass pasture land. Paul Bunyan could build his riding arena on this. At this point, it hit me. This could really work.
And work it would be. All that 50 years worth of junk in the barn had to go. The front was fenced in pipe, but the back was all barbed wire, which would have to be removed and replaced. The barn hadn’t seen a broom in decades, and the house had most recently been renovated in 1971. I knew I had done it before, but this was a massive scale. Thousands of hours, dollars, cuts, scrapes, bruises and sore muscles would be required to even put a dent in this place.
So I went home and wrote an offer.
Kathryn Roan is an Keller Williams Realtor focusing on farms, ranches, and equestrian properties. Kathryn lives on a 55-acre working ranch in Wills Point, TX with her eight horses. Contact Kathryn at Kathryn@TexasEquestrianProperties.com