Living with Horses - Literally!

Many horse owners are bringing their horses home by building houses with attached barns. Here are some things you should consider before you join this growing trend.

For anyone responsible for the daily care of horses, a house and barn combination offers many conveniences. You can perform routine chores such as feeding and medical care while being protected from the weather. One owner of a combination facility said, “I don’t like rain, I don’t like mud and I don’t like cold. This facility comes as close as you can get to turning horsekeeping into an indoor activity.”

Breeders have even more advantages. Foal-watch duties are simplified when you can step out of your house directly into the barn-a huge improvement over a cot in the barn aisle on a cold night. The same is true when handling any medical situation that requires constant vigilance or round-the-clock care.

When your house and barn are attached, you will hear noises from the barn when you are in the house. While this could be annoying during a suspenseful episode of Law & Order, it can be a blessing when a horse gets cast in his stall and the noise of his thrashing against the wall allows you to reach him before he hurts himself.

Such facilities have less-obvious benefits also. Gil Ryan, an owner of a combination facility, said that the barn’s wide aisle way makes a great place for the Ryans’ small children to play when the horses are all in stalls or turned out and serves as a perfect place to entertain friends without regard to the weather.

Rudy and Benita Watkins keep Arabians in their combination facility and enjoy having their horses so close that they actually have a window from their bedroom that opens into one of the stalls. One of their horses would knock on the window so that Rudy and Benita would open it and the horse would “watch TV” with them.

Combination facilities primarily come in two styles. One places the living quarters and the barn on a single level, with the house and barn sharing one or more walls. The second places the living quarters above the barn, using its loft space. A lesser-used split-level style keeps some part of the living quarters on the ground floor but extends to a second floor in the barn’s loft area.

Many who have built one of these facilities love it and have no regrets about the decisions they made to build it. However, you should be aware of disadvantages to this kind of facility, most of them financial.

Dennis Rusch of Morton Buildings said that about 5% of the barns Morton constructs each year contain attached living quarters. Often these consist of small apartments, but some incorporate full-size houses into their plans. Whenever a client asks for a house and barn combination, Morton account representatives discuss some of the problems to ensure that clients are aware of the potential drawbacks. They emphasize four main areas of concern: 1) future marketability, 2) loan difficulties, 3) insurance and 4) noise and odor control.

Future Marketability
Whenever you build a structure with a specialized use, such as a barn, you decrease the number of people willing to purchase the property. This population of possible buyers becomes even smaller when you combine the house and the barn into one structure.

Therefore, owners of a house/barn combination facility should expect an extended marketing period when placing their property up for sale. They also may not be able to recover their full investment upon resale, especially if the property must be sold quickly.

Loan Difficulties
When building or purchasing a facility, most of us must finance our project through loans from a financial institution. This means dealing with loan officers and appraisers.

Loan officers will take a much closer look at a proposal that includes a combination facility. The loan officer will be concerned with the future marketability of the property, since the bank will be holding it as collateral and will need to sell it if you default on the loan.

You may have difficulty finding a bank willing to accept the property as collateral. This means that you will not be free to shop the mortgage market looking for the lowest mortgage rate. Owners of combination facilities should expect to pay higher interest rates than people owning a more traditional property. Banks may also require you to have a higher equity in the property, limiting the amount they are willing to finance.

Appraiser Rand Bouldin, a member of the Appraisal Institute, explained how the limited pool of prospective buyers affects a property’s appraisal. Because of the difficulties associated with resale, the property will have a higher functional obsolescence than a standard home accompanied by a free-standing barn. Thus, the appraisal value of a house/barn combination will be less than a comparable property where the house and barn are not attached.

When valuing property, appraisers often use comparable sales of similar properties within a reasonable distance. It is difficult to find comparable sales values for house and barn combinations because they are unusual. So the only available “comps” will be homes on similar acreage with a freestanding barn. Since the comparable sales properties will differ, loan officers will have more questions and examine the appraisal more closely.

Rand cautioned horse owners to be aware that the addition of a barn to their property, especially an attached barn, can be a financial liability. You are unlikely to recover the actual cost of the barn unless inflation increases your land values enough to cover your investment. This is especially true if your barn has a high cost per square foot.

One of the biggest prob-lems for owners of combination facilities is in obtaining home owner’s insurance. Insurance rates are based on risk. Homes are considered low risk, but barns are considered high risk, especially for fire.

Generally, horse owners have a higher percentage of value in their home and a lesser percentage of value in their barn. If the house and barn are separated, this does not pose a problem. The home will be insured at a lower rate, and the higher-risk barn will be insured at a higher rate. This equation generally results in a reasonable insurance premium.

However, the picture differs greatly for owners of a combination facility. The entire structure will be assessed as a high-risk property because the high-risk barn is attached to the house, resulting in considerably higher premiums.

In addition, having horses on the property can limit the number of insurance companies willing to insure it. This is especially true if you board horses that don’t belong to you.

Adding all of these difficulties together, owners of combination facilities can expect to pay insurance premiums three to five times greater than a comparably priced property in a residential neighborhood.

Noise and Odor
When building a combination facility, take into consideration that you will be able to hear the horses in the barn when you are in the house. Some of the noises can be annoying, such as the new weanling left in the barn calling for his dam or the horse kicking the wall because she doesn’t like the horse in the adjacent stall. Lazy Saturday mornings can be rudely interrupted when impatient horses start banging their feed buckets against the wall because their breakfast is late.

Most of these problems can be handled by careful planning of your facility layout to minimize the amount of noise that penetrates to the quiet zones of your house.

Anyone considering a combination facility should also plan for barn odors. This is especially true if you are building the living quarters above the stable area.

The seriousness of the problem varies based on several factors. How many horses are in the barn? How much time do they spend stalled? How often do you clean the stalls? How well ventilated is your barn?

If you keep several horses in the barn most of the time and you’re not meticulous about cleaning the stalls, you’re likely to have barn odors seep into your living space. The same is true if you keep the horses stalled a considerable amount of time and the barn is not well ventilated.

But odors in the house aren’t inevitable. Controlling barn odors is certainly manageable by practicing good horse-keeping practices and good facility design. Pay close attention to the location of heating and cooling units so that they don’t draw odors from the barn into the house. Good ventilation in the barn is vital both for reducing odors and for the health of your horses.

Other Considerations
Pests that are minor annoyances in the barn can become major annoyances around your home. This means that you’ll have to focus more on pest control when your home is attached to your barn. Common problems include flies, mice and birds, all readily found in nearly any barn.

House flies can be effectively controlled by installing an automated fly-spray system in the barn. Barn cats or poison can effectively control mice. Birds, especially barn swallows, are nearly impossible to control and create a huge mess. Barns with tall ceilings and doors are more likely to have bird infestations than low-ceiling barns. The most effective deterrent is to have stall guards on all exterior doors to prevent the birds from getting into the barn.

Also think about dirt management. You will be constantly tracking dirt from the barn into your house. When planning your facility, arrange for a buffer zone between the house and the barn (a mud room or hallway) where you can leave dirty shoes and barn clothes. This will save your carpets or hardwood floors. Also plan for a bathroom in the barn, so barn visitors don’t have to track into your house.

Is this lifestyle for you?
Despite these drawbacks, owners of combination facilities feel that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. If you’re considering pursuing this lifestyle, do your homework thoroughly. Here are some areas to consider before you move forward with your plans:

How long do you plan to live here? Since marketability can be an issue, you should think about whether you plan to live here for only a short time. If inflation has not significantly increased the property values at the time you plan to sell, you risk losing money.

Is there a possibility you may need to sell on short notice? If so, a combination facility may not be the right choice. It will take you longer to sell a combination facility than a more traditional property.

Can you get financing that you can afford? Talk to loan officers from as many institutions as possible to determine who will be willing to finance the property, how much equity they require and what loan rates they can offer. If you are purchasing an existing property, it will be easier to get a commitment. If you are building a new facility, have detailed plans drawn up with cost breakdowns so that the loan officers can see exactly what they will hold as collateral when the property is completed.

Can you obtain insurance you can afford?
This can be even more difficult than obtaining the mortgage loan. Get a commitment from an agent before you build or purchase a combination facility. If you have a good relationship with your agent, he may be willing to write a policy on your combination facility.

Be sure that the agent understands exactly what type of facility you are building. Show him the property or your detailed plans.

Gil Ryan had a verbal agreement with his insurance agent, but the agent didn’t understand the plans and when he saw the completed structure, he was unable to insure it. Gil had to pursue other avenues and pay much more than he originally anticipated.

What about fire prevention?
To reduce your insurance costs, incorporate fire prevention measures into the design of a combination facility. Fire extinguishers should be located in easily assessable areas.

A separate building should be used for storing hay and power equipment such as tractors, mowers, blowers, etc. Check with your insurance agent to determine how much distance needs to separate the buildings to decrease the fire risk. Fire alarm and sprinkler systems are also excellent additions but may be outside the budget range for many home-owners.

If you do your homework, you can avoid many of the potential problems of a house/barn combination. Then you can enjoy the many advantages of truly living with your horses.

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