Maybe your coaching business has grown to the point where you are ready to open your own riding school and boarding facility. Perhaps your horse collection has expanded and it’s now more economical to own your own farm and take in a few boarders to help pay the bills. Owning real estate in horse country can be an expensive proposition, whether you are looking to buy an established equestrian facility, a country property with potential to develop, or a small hobby farm. We asked a few experts in equine-related real estate for their take about what you should consider before signing an offer to purchase – and where to find the best deals.

Know what you need about real estate

Meghan Bailie is a sales representative with Coldwell Banker RMR Real Estate in Durham Region, Ontario, one of the most horse-populated areas in Canada (and right next to York Region, an area that boasts the most horses per capita in Canada). Bailie, who represented Ontario at the North American Young Riders Championships a decade ago and continues to ride and train horses, says equine properties come in various configurations and you have to determine what best suits your needs.

One affordable scenario may be a nice barn and house, but no arena. Some properties come with arenas, but they may be older, small and dark, and need upgraded footing and lighting. In the long run, building a new arena might not be a bad proposition, says Bailie, and options such as a Coverall arena or similar structure are a little more cost-effective.

Perhaps the house is great, but the outbuildings need work. “I find a lot of properties in the lower price range have barns that are really run down. If you are buying to start a business, you have to figure out how long it’s going to take to fix the barn, and at what cost, before it is safe for horses and boarders.”

Nancy Benson, sales representative for Keller Williams Ottawa Realty and an amateur who competes in jumpers on the A circuit, says most people shopping for a small hobby farm are more interested in the house than the outbuildings. Pros, however, tend to focus on the barn and arena, rather than on the state of the house. “You can finance a house, but you can’t finance a barn,” she points out. “The bank only attaches 10 acres to the house when determining financing and outbuildings don’t have a lot of value to a bank.” Thus, a nicer home on an acreage will allow you to procure more financing than a rundown house on the same amount of land, even if it has a better barn.

Telf Maynard is a Vancouver-area realtor with ReMax Select Properties who grew up on Southlands Farm with a family involved in the international equestrian community (he is the brother of Tik). He says some lending institutions want the value of a house to be at least 10 per cent of the property’s purchase price – which could be a problem if a house is in poor condition, yet on a large piece of valuable land.

Benson says many sellers think outbuildings add more worth than they do. “People put a lot of value on a barn, but unless it’s kept in good shape, it doesn’t [add value] and some people prefer building new.” She recommends dealing with local financial institutions close to the property, as they will be more familiar with the area and the market. If financing is still an issue, she says, “there are lots of ways to have the current owners finance the sale. We are going to see more and more creative financing.”

The reality of realty: Comparing prices

Benson says in the Ottawa-Carleton area, depending on how close a buyer wants to be to the city, a nice horse farm can be purchased for $400,000 to $900,000. People looking to establish a commercial stable tend to want to be within 30 minutes of downtown Ottawa to attract urban clients, and can expect to pay the higher end of that spectrum for a suitable facility.

People doing Trillium and A shows tend to settle just east of Ottawa (giving them easy access to Montreal-area shows in Quebec) where properties are the least expensive. One recent example is a 65-acre property with five-stall barn, five paddocks, lit outdoor ring and a beautiful home with pool that came with a price tag of $500,000.

Expect to increase your budget if you’re looking west of Ottawa, which is more popular, especially with casual riders, although there are some show barns. Benson cites areas such as Dunrobin and Stittsville. “If you want to show at Palgrave, it’s closer for driving, and you are close to Wesley Clover Parks (formerly the Nepean National Equestrian Park).”

There are deals to be found just south of Ottawa. About a half an hour from the city – a good choice for a hobby farmer – expect to find offerings such as a 50-acre property with Coverall arena, wood-fenced paddocks, 12-stall barn and nicely renovated bungalow in the $600,000 range.

Gatineau, QC, just across the river from Ottawa, offers prices about 10 per cent less than on the Ontario side, but Benson says the area tends to be rocky and hilly – a plus for event riders, but not so much for hunter/jumper and dressage people. Those with a limited number of clients or private barns should look at communities west of Ottawa. “Places like Kingston, Napanee and Belleville are starting to become popular and real estate is definitely less expensive there,” says Benson. “You have access to shows in Vermont, New York, Toronto, or Montreal, and are not paying the price you would close to Ottawa.”

She says a property near Kingston sold recently for $410,000 and offered 30 acres, a newer barn with five rubber-matted stalls, and a 12-year-old house. Benson adds that an advantage to the Kingston area is that many young riders who attend Queen’s University bring their horses with them – and need a place to board them.

Some professional barns are also setting up in the Brighton and Cobourg areas where property is still reasonably priced and within a reasonable drive of Toronto.

Don’t expect to find many real estate deals in Durham and York Regions. “Generally, in Durham you’d be hard-pressed to find anything turnkey with an arena for under $1 million,” says Bailie. “The ones under $1 million tend to be small acreages and need work. Hobby farms tend to run from $450,000 to $800,000. In York, the only bargains you will get are on rundown properties or those with no acreage. In Caledon and Erin, you’ll find similar prices to Durham.”

She cites a recent example in rural Scugog Township that sold for $692,500 that sat on 11 acres with a nice house, a small arena, and a barn that needed renovations. A 10-acre site in Orono, east of Oshawa, sold for $677,000 and had a nice arena and barn, but a house that needed improving.

Turnkey equestrian facilities will command considerably more. One in rural Uxbridge, convenient to shows at the Royal Canadian Riding Academy or Caledon Equestrian School, sold for $2.5 million and included 100-plus acres, two newer barns, a large, bright arena, two houses and an apartment. Another currently on the market near Port Perry is listed for $2.9 million and includes two beautiful homes, several apartments, retail space, two large indoor arenas, a 50-stall barn, a cross-country course, and several outdoor rings.

Bailie sees the Kawartha Lakes area as the source of good deals where for less than $1 million you can find the whole package with nice house, barn, and arena – and about half that price for a hobby farm.

Westward Home

While not a realtor, Welsh and hunter pony breeder Tracy Dopko knows real estate. She owns Daventry Equestrian, a 10-acre farm located 45 minutes from Edmonton. “When you’re looking to buy very close to Edmonton or Calgary, prices are through the roof. For places like Okotoks or Airdrie that are about 30 minutes from downtown Calgary, prices drop substantially,” says Dopko.

A quick scan of recent real estate listings confirms this: a ranch on 98 acres five minutes from Calgary, with an upscale bungalow and eight-stall barn, was listed for $3,650,000; in Linden, an hour outside of the city, a 20-acre property with small barn and nicely finished bungalow plus mobile home was $697,500. Two and a half hours away in Leduc, $550,000 will buy you 80 acres, a modest home and a five-stall barn.

Those looking for a turnkey equestrian facility can find a 40-acre property with bungalow, indoor arena, outdoor ring, and 35-stall barn across from a national park with extensive trails 40 minutes from Edmonton for $1,650,00. Another property for just under $2.6 million on 160 acres boasted two homes, an indoor arena, and two barns near Claresholm, 90 minutes from Calgary.

Maynard says there is an extensive range of properties in the Vancouver area – but what is lacking is “really fancy” facilities such as you might find in Europe or at upscale York Region equestrian centres. He says you can buy a horse property right in the City of Vancouver, although don’t expect to get much land. A property with a house and barn on one-third of an acre recently sold for $3.5 million. Another larger site one acre in size, with a house but no barn (permits are available), sold for $5 million.

Half an hour outside the city, you can find five acres for $700,000 – but that’s without a house, barn or any other buildings, says Maynard. A full equestrian facility with 40 stalls, arena, and cross-country course recently sold for $1.5 million.

Langley, half an hour away, is a good place to bargain hunt. The most expensive neighbourhood there is close to Campbell Valley Park and its network of trails, popular with pleasure riders. The opposite end of Langley, home to the Thunderbird Show Park, is much less expensive. Expect to pay around $2 million for a small parcel of land, house, barn, and arena in “decent” shape, says Maynard of this popular area where many professionals tend to settle and call home.