This month is the second of our three articles covering:
The Number One Question I'm Asked as an Equestrian Properties Specialist
"This property is great, but can I build a barn and/or riding arena on it?"
If we pick up where we left off last month, we find ourselves with an acreage property you and your agent have identified as one of interest. You've not purchased it yet, but your goal is to build a riding arena and/or barn on it. You've taken the parcel number to the county and asked them if it's possible to build your dream facility on the property. Together with the county, you have determined where (if any) possible critical areas on the property are. The county's answer to you at this point is "maybe you can build". Now what?
Most counties will not give you an iron clad answer without engaging in the formal permit process. This is not something you can effectively do prior to purchasing the property. Your initial trip is really a cursory fact finding mission to determine what possibilities or restrictions for the property could be. Your next steps can vary depending on what the topography maps show of the parcel.
I have seen 20 acre parcels that look flat, dry and buildable to the naked eye but upon closer review with the county have shown only a small portion as buildable. I've also seen 2 acre parcels that are entirely buildable, and everything in between. Just because you see horses in the neighboring field doesn't mean that your particular parcel will be right for your needs.
At this point, if there are remaining questions, the county and your agent can help find you specialists, who for a fee will come to the property, walk it, and give you an 'official' analysis on what you are up against. These specialists identify which areas of the property are best suited for your needs. You might feel comfortable moving forward with an offer on the parcel at this point, but if questions remain, now would be the time to request a feasibility study as part of the offer. A feasibility study is a catch-all contingency – you are telling the seller that you want the property, and offering a price, but you will not be obligated to purchase the property if the feasibility comes back prohibitive. It's the best protection if the parcel requires building to meet your needs.
A word of warning…there are many listing agents out there who will tell you they believe the property is buildable for horses. "Just look next door, they have 20 horses over there." This is where you and your agent have to be extra diligent on your fact finding mission. The worst case would be to buy something, then go to get a permit and discover it's either impossible or prohibitively expensive to do. Be your own advocate here and insist on the necessary due diligence from the seller.
There are different types of feasibility experts you can employ at this phase of the process. If the property is heavily treed, you may want an arborist to come and confirm how many trees you can be removed with or without a permit, as well as identifying any that are harvestable for commercial timber. Or, you may want a geology specialist who can perform tests of the soil to confirm its' quality and drainage. You may want a critical areas or wetlands specialist to give you a fairly firm idea of where your critical areas are, and give you an estimate of how far those environmental setbacks will impact your building plans. The county has a list of these specialists. These specialists are not employees of the county, but independent experts who are trained to educate you on the process and challenges of permitting. You will learn a lot about your potential new property by just following this person around on their walk. Spending time with these folks will eliminate any potential surprises after your purchase.
Next month "I've purchased my property, now how do I build my dream barn?"