On the Market

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Unless you already own the farm of your dreams, chances are you’re going to end up selling and buying a property at some point. You know all about the doom-and-gloom reports of homes going unsold for months and even years in today’s poor economic climate. But don’t despair—when properly prepared, it is still possible to sell your farm. Stable Management talked with three equestrian-real estate professionals to find out what it takes.

Preparing Your Property

Location, location, location is the number-one real estate mantra. The truth of this statement is visible in the disappearance of farms surrounding urban and suburban areas—everyone wants a piece of those conveniently located properties. If your farm doesn’t fall into the prime location category, you can still do things to make it attractive to potential buyers.

In many instances, horse farms are not sales-ready as they stand. Unless your farm is more showplace than working facility, it will most likely require some form of staging, updating or repair.

That’s the second rule of real estate: make the property look as good as it can. “That the farm is well-kept and well-maintained would be the most critical area,” says Bill Justice, owner of Justice Real Estate in Lexington, Ky. “No one wants to buy a property that’s been abused,” agrees realtor Toni Koerber with W.C. & A.N. Miller Realtors in Montgomery County, Md.

Especially in a down real estate market, when there is an abundance of properties on the market, yours needs to stand above the rest. Around the farm, you’ll want to repair fences, mow pastures and pick paddocks, keep aisles swept and stalls cleaned, and ensure gates and barn and stall doors open and close smoothly. “Those tack rooms that are full of mice and feed sacks? Clean them out,” Justice says.

If it’s muddy, use extra care to prevent fields from becoming mud lots—that’s not exactly what prospective buyers want to see when they arrive at your farm.

While the equine facilities are the most important aspect of the farm, don’t overlook the home and yard. Koerber points out that many farms are purchased by a horsey wife and a non-horse husband (or vice-versa). The property has to please both.

To make the home as attractive as possible, it needs to be decluttered—that makes it look larger. Kitchen countertops should be bare, closets purged and organized, and kids’ rooms tidied up. If your walls are painted bright and bold colors, consider repainting them to neutrals, which are more appealing to a wider range of homebuyers.

A real estate agent can often make recommendations for specific updates and repairs, as agents are familiar with what buyers are looking for in your area. “Think of you as a buyer, too,” Koerber says. What do you want to see in a farm?

Visit a few suburban-community model homes to see what current tastes and trends are, then make a trip to the clearance section of home-improvement stores and pick up a few items to spruce up your home.

“If you are serious about selling, be aggressive and show your property at its best. Be prepared for honest feedback. Be objective and put yourself in a buyer’s shoes,” says realtor Pam Murray, broker and owner of Equus Real Estate in Placerville, Calif.

Getting It Sold

Justice says April through Thanksgiving is the prime marketing time for real estate in central Kentucky. This timeline will vary depending on where you live, but early spring through mid-fall tends to be the best time for selling properties.

Price is probably the most crucial factor in getting a property noticed and sold. If you’re priced too high, you won’t even show up on the radar of some people casually searching for farms. “It is so very important to price a property correctly from the start, or you will be chasing a downward market trying to reduce the price later. At that point, you have already lost the attention of potential buyers,” Murray says.

Because the current real estate market is tough, many people are having difficulty getting approved for a mortgage, and others who would be interested in purchasing a horse farm might be fearful of investing a lot of money into a property or business venture at this time. That can make it difficult to determine whether you have priced the property too high, or simply haven’t met the right buyer yet.

Still, if you list your property and aren’t getting interest, you’ll need to make adjustments. “If a property shows really well and it’s not getting any interest, it’s time to lower the price,” Koerber says.

It’s also possible you’re not getting any offers because you’re ignoring a major flaw—a big maintenance issue or really poor staging attempt—or that you simply haven’t found the right buyer yet. Because horse properties are so specialized, it can take some time to find the perfect people to take over your farm. “If you want to sell it, leave it on the market,” Justice says.

Selecting an Agent

While some owners try to sell their properties on their own, there are good reasons for using an agent. There are many legalities to selling homes and farms, and the time investment needed to market a property is far beyond what most people have available. If you’re serious about selling your farm, an agent can be a valuable ally.

Take some time to choose a good agent to represent your farm. In many instances, you can find one who specializes in the horse industry. “It’s a niche market. If you’re selling an agricultural property, selecting a realtor that specializes in that is critical, just from a knowledge base. You’d choose an agricultural property specialist just like you’d choose a condo specialist,” says Justice.

There are several ways to find these specialists. Ask other farm owners who they’ve worked with. Go through current real estate listings and look for listing agents for farms in your area. If you know or have previously worked with a residential real estate agent, ask them for a referral to a colleague specializing in farms.

“Investigate and find a realtor that knows the area, knows about horses and knows how to market the property,” advises Koerber.

Agents with horse or agriculture experience may go to shows and sales and can network with potential buyers. They know what equine professionals are looking for in a farm and can use their marketing skills to highlight the best points of your property. And their experience in the industry will help them to set a fair selling price for your farm.

When you have a selection of real estate professionals to choose from, interview each candidate. A potential agent should be happy to meet with you and present a plan for marketing your property, including Multiple Listing Service entries, flyers, buyer information packets, and local and industry advertising, a comparative market analysis, and references.

Murray says you should have a discussion with potential agents about your selling motivation. Real estate agents have different selling and marketing styles. You should get along with your agent and respect each others’ philosophy.

Also check out each agent’s website. Koerber says she’s sold properties because potential buyers have noticed them while browsing her website. If the real estate agent doesn’t have an Internet presence or if the website isn’t professional in appearance, consider what impact that could have on your property’s sale.

Frustration reigns for many people trying to sell real estate of all kinds today. If you have a farm to sell, use this opportunity to find the right real estate agent, and make the needed improvements to your home, barn and land to get noticed once you put it on the market. “It’s a challenging market, but the good horse properties do sell,” Koerber says.