The process of property hunting
Over the last year or so, Johnny and I came to the realization that our lives would be easier if we lived in a place where the horses could live with us. The facility where they’re boarded is absolutely excellent, and they receive top-notch care, but it’s a 45 minute drive each way. I understand that for many of you, that’s nothing, but for me, it’s kind of a lot of driving for a hobby.
We waffled on the decision of where to live for months (and still do, some days). We looked at houses in cool neighborhoods in Tulsa and imagined what our lives would be like if we could bike along the trails bordering the Arkansas River or eat at some of our favorite downtown restaurants without a special trip. We briefly considered moving east of the Mississippi, as neither of us are particularly attached to Oklahoma. That idea fizzled and died when we thought about the logistics of finding new jobs that weren’t terrible and moving cats, dogs, and horses a thousand miles.
Once we’d settled on the idea of staying in Oklahoma and living on enough acreage to support the horses, a whole new host of questions appeared. Should we buy undeveloped land and build something? Should we look for a property with structures (house, barn, fences) already in place? What length commute were we willing to drive? How much acreage did we need?
Neither of us were willing to drive more than 45 minutes one way for work, which restricted our search area. The search area combined with our budget answered the rest of our questions.
We decided we would look for a developed property on 10-20 acres. We were somewhat flexible- for example, if a place didn’t have fencing or a barn, we could possibly make that work if the price was right. We had vastly different opinions on a house; Johnny joked that I would happily live in a tent if the land was good, while he wanted a house with a two car garage and real closets. (True.)
I began the property hunt by using Zillow extensively, and had a few saved searches set up; Zillow would email me any time there was a new property listed that met my criteria or if a saved property’s priced changed. The first property we contacted a real estate agent about was a 40-acre horse farm. That wasn’t the right property for us, but the real estate agent added us to an email list that worked similarly to Zillow’s. I spent the next several months combing through those emails every time they appeared in my inbox.
I got a feel for what a typical price per acre was for which areas and what sort of structures seemed to add value to a property and which didn’t make much difference. I read through a lot of property records via county assessors’ office websites (available for free in many places), put my degree in natural resources management to work by interpreting soil data (also available for free via the NRCS’s web soil survey), and read a lot of information from the OSU Extension Service on pasture management techniques. I priced farm equipment, fencing, steel buildings, and made adjusted budgets that included those things.
When the barn owner mentioned she thought the neighbors would be listing a small property adjacent to the barn, I kept an eye out for the “For Sale” sign. It eventually appeared, and I browsed the listing with mixed feelings. The list of pros was long: a relatively new house with modern closets and bathrooms; a 4 stall barn with a tack room, bathroom, and wash rack; an equipment/hay storage shed; covered parking for the horse trailer; proximity to Tulsa; proximity to the barn (and its arenas). The only real cons were the acreage (only 7 acres total, and only about 4 of that pasture), and my commute would increase from 5 minutes to 45 minutes.
I talked to my manager about working from home a few days a week. I don’t actually need to be in the office to do my job, so he was amenable to this arrangement. After that problem was solved, I tackled the next one. The native grass in Oklahoma is certainly not good enough to keep 3 or 4 horses on an equal number of acres, and I didn’t want to feed full rations of hay year round. I read a lot of articles on keeping horses on small acreage and techniques to maintain and improve such pastures. What I read made it sound doable, and after that, we pulled the trigger on buying the place.
The process of finding a suitable place has been, at times, both tedious and exciting. We’re now in the the process of packing, moving, and preparing our old place for sale. I can’t wait until we’re totally moved in, and I can do fun stuff like shop for the barn and see my ponies every day!