For anyone who loves horses, owning a horse property  is likely a lifelong dream. For them, the ability to walk out the door and go riding whenever they want, or the chance to spend time at the barn without driving there beats a day at the beach every time. Then there are the horse enthusiasts who crave a live-work arrangement, where they can turn their passion into a viable business with no commute.

The good news is there are thousands of horse properties for sale across the United States. Ranging in size from one acre to hundreds of acres and ranging in price from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars, each one offers a world of possibilities. The bad news, especially for the uninitiated, is that buying one could potentially cause a world of headaches.

Here are five legal considerations to take into account when buying equestrian real estate:

How You Take Title to the Horse Property Depends on Your Situation

In any type of real estate transaction, the title is simply the document that serves as proof of ownership. Accordingly it must be cleared to ensure that no one has a legal claim on the property, and transferred anytime a property is sold.

How the new owner takes the title depends largely on his or her situation. Are you buying the equestrian estate as a second home for private, recreational use? Are you going to start a new business or operate an existing business there? Do you want to have ownership transferred to your spouse or children in the event of your death?

Your answer to these questions will determine which of the following options is best for you. Individuals can hold title to real estate in the form sole ownership, joint tenancy, tenancy in common, tenants by entirety, and community property. For business purposes, you could also take title as a corporation or partnership.

A business or real estate attorney can help you decide how to take title to your equestrian property.

Getting Insurance for Equestrian Property

When startled, angered, or irritated, even the most docile horses react instinctively. They may rear, buck, kick, and lash out with their hooves. They may even try to bite. Given how big and powerful these animals are, this clearly puts anyone who happens to be too close at risk for serious injuries. A forceful kick can also cause considerable property damage.

And then there’s the matter of horseback riding. Because horses are big, powerful and fast, this is an inherently risky activity. Even riders who take proper precautions, such as wearing approved riding helmets, know that any fall can potentially result in serious or even catastrophic injuries.

So you clearly need insurance for your equestrian property. The question is, what kind of insurance should you get? That depends on your unique situation. In some cases, the provisions in your homeowners insurance may be enough. In most cases, you will also need liability insurance, which protects you if your horse or horses hurt someone on your property. An insurance agent or real estate attorney can help you decide which policy is best for you.

Choosing a Real Estate Agent Familiar with Equestrian Estates

If this is the first time you are buying an equestrian property, having the right real estate agent is a must. If you are looking to upgrade from your existing property, it saves a lot of agita.

In this context, the right agent  is someone whose knowledge is not limited to property clauses and the elements of a real estate contract. This is also someone who knows about everything that goes into caring for horses. Therefore, they are familiar with if not well versed in the nuances of a horse’s medical needs, safety, relevant liability issues and land management.

The right agent is also someone who isn’t afraid to put you on the spot. He or she may ask pointed questions to help you focus your search. That way you won’t end up with buyer’s remorse.

The Importance of Researching Local Zoning Laws

Researching local zoning laws is one of the most important things you can do prior to buying a horse property. Why? Because these are the rules and regulations that determine what you can — and cannot– do on the property. These rules are typically dictate:

  • How many horses you can have (based on acreage)
  • How big the property has to be to accommodate a home (and other structures)
  • How many buildings and structures you can have on the property
  • How far buildings, fences, indoor riding rings and so forth must be from the street or property line
  • How tall buildings, structures and fences can be
  • How much of the property can be used to accommodate buildings and structures
  • What type of fences you can have
  • If your horse property can be used for commercial purposes such as riding lessons, boarding and so on

If you are not familiar with the local zoning rules before buying an equestrian real estate, you can easily run afoul of zoning officials, and your neighbors. This can be unpleasant, expensive and time consuming, turning your dream equestrian property into a nightmare.

Things to Consider During the Inspection

An inspection clause is one of the elements of a real estate contract. A standard inspection clause allows a professional inspector to check the property for any problems before a sale is finalized. During a residential inspection, the home inspector usually checks to make sure the house is structurally and mechanically sound. The buyer reserves the right to make a lower offer, ask the seller to fix any problems, or walk away from the deal.

The inspection of equestrian real estate is more complicated because of the additional structures involved. A home inspector can check the structural integrity of a house, barn and any other outbuildings. Beyond that it is up to you to inspect the property. Check for:

  1. Adequate fencing in good condition
  2. Areas that provide protection from the elements
  3. Adequate drainage
  4. Erosion issues
  5. Sufficient water sources

These are just a few of the considerations you need to take into account. If you aren’t comfortable evaluating the property on your own, try to find an inspector specializing in equestrian real estate. He or she can also inspect and assess the main residence and any additional guest or staff accommodations; the stables, indoor or covered riding rings; and breeding facilities (if any).

The Bottom Line

Finally, it is important to have the right real estate attorneys representing you in this transaction. They will not only provide legal advice and guidance with respect to the issues we have discussed. They will also draft and review all relevant documents including the seller to pay closing costs clause. That way, you can be sure all of the paperwork includes pertinent property clauses and conforms with buying law. With qualified professionals at your disposal, you can make your dream of buying equestrian real estate a reality.

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