Buying Country Acreage
and Rural Properties - To Buy or Not to Buy?
you looking for country acreage?
homestead land to live the dream? Buying Country Acreage is a
to take, with lots of things to think about. Read Jody Hudson's article
to give you a better perspective.
Author: Jody Hudson
Almost anyone can become a rural
property owner; if you are willing to set goals, establish
purposes are, plan ahead and set targets that are all aligned toward
the same result. And, if you can be patient instead of requiring
There is no more $50-an-acre land;
unless you count some of the inaccessible and unusable properties that
are sometimes available in blocks of 10,000 acres or more; and even
these properties are rare. But you can get rural properties
reasonably now than in the past IF you are willing to be creative in
your expectations and in the ways you use and modify the property.
If you are in a big hurry to find rural
property, you will likely not be able to find what you are
Rural properties have fewer buyers who want to purchase them, but there
are plenty of dreamers who have not considered the realities. There are
seldom bargains available because most folks who own rural properties
know exactly who to call first when they want to sell.
If the property
really is a bargain it is gone with one of the first ten phone calls
the seller makes. However, if you are willing to "think outside the
box" of convention you may end up with what is a bargain property for
Twenty and thirty years ago thousands
of folks bought into the "live
on a farm and make a fortune" dream of
owning a chicken house, home and acreage in Sussex County Delaware --
the chicken capital of the world -- where there are several million
chickens for every person who lives here. For a short while it was
possible to take the "contract" from a chicken plant to the bank and
with only that as collateral, get a loan for about 10
acres, a home and
at least one chicken house.
Many folks soon discovered that the so
called contract had fine print and clauses that were all in favor of
the chicken plant and none in favor of the chicken grower. Soon most
chicken growers were working full time to help support the chicken
business they had bought, along with it's mortgage of $200,000 or more,
sometimes much more.
Now when I appraise a chicken farm with
house and acreage I appraise the working chicken farm at zero -- and
that is really too high a value in some cases. There are lots of
easier, better smelling and cleaner jobs you can purchase with $200,000
or so. If you want to make a living growing chickens you should prepare
to spend at least a million dollars, you can finance it of course, and
get several chicken houses built around your home on 15 to 20 acres, if
you don't mind the smell, and then the best bet is to lease the
business to someone who is running 20 or thirty chicken houses at least.
There are some sensible things you can
do in contemplation of moving to and living in the country. First among
those is to start by renting a small home in the area you want to live
-- and either move there or at least visit there often enough to get to
know the area. If you already live close enough to drive to your dream
area daily, start doing that and start frequenting the shops, churches
and restaurants there. Stop at yard sales and to check into cars,
trucks and equipment that is for sale in people's front yards.
honest, tell them you are planning to move into the area and want to
learn about your neighbors and only stop to shop if you are really
interested in what they have for sale and are willing to purchase it at
your price. Rural folk have a built in truth-detector and it is usually
accurate. Don't try to BS them or your reputation will precede any
other data about you.
I suggest that you can subscribe to a
good magazine on rural living, or two or three. One of the best to
begin with is Backwoods Home Magazine; www.backwoodshome.com
Start by visiting and reading EVERYTHING on line, then get a
subscription, then purchase ALL of the back issues which are bound into
soft cover books.
If you yearn for the simple life of old
fashioned living, in a log home for instance, and away from the
downward pull of civilization, check out: www.homestead.org
If you are able to take your income
with you, to maintain your current income, and don't need a job where
you are going. Then I recommend you just rent a place first and start
spending more and more time in a good area as you begin to test your
transition resources. While renting get to know the people and see if
you fit in with them. They are not planning to change to meet your
parameters, I assure you. MOST of the folks who come from the city to
the country start by trying to change the area they have moved to and
the new neighbors, to be more like where they left. They should not
have left or they should get on back there -- and most of the neighbors
will tell you so.
If you move to an area as a renter and
find the people to your liking and they find you to their liking, you
have probably found the right area. However, in rural areas ten miles
can make a huge difference in lifestyle and area ethnicity. Please
don't move to a resort town, like Rehoboth Beach where I work, and then
without checking try to move into a place like Oak Orchard (the little
rural waterfront town where I live) or you will experience some near
terminal culture shock. I love where I live and the people who live
here but hopefully not one of them thinks that I have some intention of
changing the way they live here!
Once you have zeroed in on an area and
visited it many dozen times or better yet rented a place there and
started living there for short stays; I suggest that you start joining
various groups and organizations as a part-time member and let them
know that you are not full time yet, but hope to be. They help. Don't
try to instruct them or help them do what they are already doing
better; just try to help them on their own terms.
You need to learn the
rules of this new game, it's their game and their community. At most
you will be a welcome member of the community. You will never be the
equal to those who have four or ten or thirty generations of family
buried and established there. For instance in our area those who have
only been here for sixty years are still not considered "from here" by
those who have been here since the 1500s or soon after.
Once you have looked at several dozen
properties that interest you, and
that may take a year or two or more; you will begin to appreciate
different micro-cultures in the area. You will begin to notice
differences in soils, roads, well water, septic system functionality
and road access; not to mention the differences in governmental rules
and enforcement of same.
Each time you find the perfect
property; put a
contract on it "pending research and discovery" and during that time
check the neighbors and professionals about the property. You should
check the neighbors first, lots of them, they already know everything
the professionals are going to charge you to tell you.
Hopefully by the second or third
property you put a contract and deposit on; you will have the one that
is right for you. Remember, if the property is a bargain price, you
have missed something in almost every case. What you need to do is
figure out how it is a bargain for you; because you have an unusual
use, ability, or way to change the property easily to suit your needs.
Buying country acreage through a
Realtor has advantages. Sign a buyers agent agreement with your agent
so that his allegiance is to you -- otherwise, by law his allegiance is
ONLY to the seller and by law, you are in an adversarial position to
the seller and the Realtor. With a buyer's agent agreement signed, your
agent is now on your side, by law, and is an opponent of the seller and
the seller's agent.
Ask your agent then to provide you
with all the
comparable sales data from the multi-listing service if there is one.
If not hire an appraiser, once you have the property under contract,
(make the contract contingent upon a satisfactory appraisal) and pay to
have the price evaluated. If you have contracted for too high a price,
renegotiate the contract; if you find you have a real bargain; you of
course double check with your agent and the appraiser to find out why.
It may be that the reason for it's "reasonable" price the reason that
keeps it from selling is not that important to you -- and you do have a
Possibly your employer or the
consulting work or your self employment activities may allow you to
telecommute. But if you can't telecommute to maintain your current
income; before buying in an area, find out if you have a marketable
skill, one which is in demand in that particular region. This will give
you some assurance that you will not become a financial fatality. Most
of the folks who move to rural communities, without checking into how
they will make money in the new location, have to sell their property
at a loss within 5 years, due to lack of income.
If you are retired, be certain that
hospitals, doctors, stores, restaurants, etc. are suitable for you in
the new location -- or be very certain that you will be able to
comfortably reside in the new area regardless.
Some of us are not be able to save
enough money for a cash purchase of our rural dream property
reach retirement age. It is however likely that we can provide a small
sum for a down payment, and we're reasonably certain that we can market
our skills locally to meet payments and put bread on the table (but
please don't just guess about this, check it out).
Even if you find small acreage (10 to
50 acres) for $5,000 or less per acre that has good soil,
available and a good prospect for an inexpensive, workable septic
system -- many banks and mortgage companies are not optimistic about
financing raw land. BUT, seller financing is often a alternative and
easily structured method of purchasing raw land. In fact it is not
unusual to get twenty, thirty or even forty year financing at 10% or
less interest -- from the seller.
Of course, in order to build on the
property, you will normally have to pay off the seller's
your home financing loan. Any of the money you have paid on the price
of the land, down payment as well as principle payments during your
ownership period, and any appreciation of the land value will be
considered as part of your down payment on your home owners loan.
Be careful to set your payments so that
you can afford the land payments along with your current cost of
housing. You can save thousands of dollars in interest by keeping your
loan to as short a term as possible. Also, make sure that there is no
prepayment penalty on your seller financing note.
can however often purchase an
existing home on acreage for a lot less than the cost of acreage and
building a similar home. You can also often rent out the
cover part of your expense while you arrange your affairs for your
eventual relocation to rural bliss. If you are interested in purchasing
a 100 acre horse farm complete with buildings, fencing, paddocks, etc.
you can often save nearly 50% of the reconstruction cost; but there is
little market for renting such a property.
If you find "more than five acres" with
a home and buildings that need work but are structurally sound, you may
save 30% to even 60% of the reconstruction cost. Be certain in this
area, Sussex County Delaware, that you get more than five acres as five
acres or less falls into a non-agricultural zoning classification that
you may not wish to be involved with as you develop your rural
Most people ask me for 20 to 30 acres,
or more. But let's take a look at reality here. A football field is
three quarters of one acre. Thus 5.1 acres or more is a very roomy
place to live acreage wise. If
you want horses however think 15 acres
or more. Each horse will need an average of 5 to 9 acres
how you decide to raise the horse; that acreage is in addition to the
land that your home, driveway, out buildings, garden and other
non-fenced areas take in. Many people are thinking of one, two, three
or four horses for the family enjoyment; if so they need about 3 or
more acres for the home and other human related improvements and should
figure an additional average of seven acres for each horse or pony.
If you have a dream of
the power grid, being away from it all...
this is virtually impossible in reality yet most prevalent when you are
in the dream stage. Coming to terms with what you can realistically
afford and what you can realistically live with before you buy can save
you a lot of headaches later.
Solar power is far more expensive than
buying electricity from the power company, wind power is unreliable,
water power is expensive and hard to arrange; now I expect to get a lot
of argument on this from those who have read all about it but have no
real experience -- but I won't get any valid argument from anyone who
has done it (unless they are simultaneously trying to sell the idea to
There are many good articles in
Backwoods Home Magazine; but most of them leave out the initial
expense, maintenance expense and almost always the expense of replacing
worn components of these so called money saving off-the-grid systems.
You can however design a passive solar home, one with most windows
facing south west and few facing other directions. Most older farm
houses are already designed like this, not all of them are well
is paramount. We Realtors are want to chant "location -- location --
location" like a mantra. It is important, just learn what it means as
location has different parameters for different purposes. Location on a
main road is imperative for commercial activity; location near pleasant
living and good jobs is imperative for residential property; location
regarding rural principles is a matter of sometimes life and death or
at least a matter of doable and undoable for a rural home.
I suggest that the proper location for
rural living is NOT usually closest to the best beach, ski slope or
lake but the more sensible location is near to a rural town where many
or most of the locals are living on rural acreage. In our area everyone
wants ten to thirty acres near the beach; after finding out the price,
they dream about 1 to 5 acres but seldom end up getting it and if they
do the difficulty of finding it, using it for rural purposes and
enjoying it when your neighbors complain about your rooster, tractor
noise or fertilizer odors will often make this semi-rural location less
than your dreams.
If you're not rigidly set on purchasing
land in some popular or scenic wonderland, some good buys can still be
found in the less "romantic" parts of the county, particularly on the
edges of small farming communities. In Sussex County, I suggest the
south west part of the county, west of Millsboro, nearer to Gumboro,
Delmar, etc. for the best rural surroundings and lowest prices. There
are few properties available in that area but even fewer buyers who
have faced the reality of where rural living is better lived.
If you are independently wealthy, that
is a different matter. There are some lovely farms on the cliffs
overlooking the Pacific near Carmel California; where the movie stars
reside and if you can find a hundred acre farm you may be able to get
it for a hundred million dollars or so, plus the value of improvements.
That is about what you can expect to pay for acreage near Rehoboth
also; and it's a little easier to find. The farther you go away from
the "ideal" locations the fewer people are looking to purchase it and
the lower the price is. An interesting anecdote here; I had a couple
come to me a few years ago looking to purchase a hundred acres or so on
the oceanfront near Rehoboth, for horses; they could easily afford the
price of a million an acre or so, but they ended up purchasing land
twenty minutes inland after they did more reasonable research.
Before you go out looking for property,
sit down with paper and pencil and any partners or family that will be
involved. You may find numerous surprises when you all start writing
down importances, desires, and things not wanted. It is most important
that you know what you must have, and what you can do without. Make a
list of the features you feel an area MUST have in order for you to
consider relocating there. This might include things like climate (and,
thus, growing season), being within a certain radius of a population
center (or maybe a certain distance AWAY from one), and availability of
certain facilities or services. Being within 20 miles of an airport or
hospital may not matter to one family, but could be of vital importance
The most important item
on this list is consideration of the social and economic climate of the
area, and how you will fit into it. Even if you're independently
wealthy, the economic circumstances of an area can affect how you will
fit into it. Will a well-heeled but bored-with-society person be able
to move into an economic Appalachia and truly find contentment?
Perhaps, but first consider the "necessities" of the life you'll be
leaving. Do you need to regularly attend the symphony or visit a
high-quality library? Is high quality clothing shopping or other
shopping important to you?
ACREAGE: MAKING A REASONABLE INCOME AND LEARNING ABOUT RURAL
IMPORTANCES - IS PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF LEARNING TO LIVE
IN THE STICKS.
Those of us who aren't independently
wealthy need to consider some means of supporting ourselves in our new
surroundings. "Living off the land" is certainly NOT all it's cracked
up to be, and isn't even legal unless you become a vegetarian; year
around hunting for meat is illegal everywhere. Even gardening or
collecting wild edibles is not legal either, if you try to do it on
Before moving to the country... One of
the important questions to ask (and find out for sure the answer) is;
"Does the area have a large enough population base to give a person a
good shot at finding a job? Another is; "Does it have a diversified
economy? Many communities seem to have good employment opportunities,
but on closer inspection they all turn out to be based on the same
industry, such as recreation, chickens, fishing camps, skiing, ocean
swimming and water sports, timber or mining or farming. If the bottom
falls out of a single industry, or suddenly there is no snow or the
water becomes polluted and is posted against use... as folks from many
towns can attest has happened, the economy of the entire area falls
apart -- FAST... to fast to get out with your investment.
If an area's economy is primarily based
on tourism, such as ours in the Rehoboth, Lewes, Dewey, Bethany,
Fenwick area, there may be many jobs available in the service sector
(motels, restaurants, etc.) But most of these jobs pay very low wages,
and often these jobs are seasonal. Land prices tend to be inflated in
many resort areas, and ours more so than most.
I was surprised a few years ago to find
that the most expensive areas of California were not all that expensive
compared to Rehoboth and surrounding areas.
Minimum wage income is not likely to
enable a person to live comfortably in a resort community, much less
enable a person to purchase property! An extreme example is the city of
Aspen, Colorado. This beautiful ski resort community is an extremely
expensive place to live. The local fast-food restaurants have trouble
getting employees because there is no reasonably priced place for them
to live. Some of these businesses actually have to provide housing in
order to get employees! It is somewhat like that in Rehoboth area. As
you may know, Grotto's Pizza, our largest employer in the area, at one
time provided space for many of their employees. Now, a lot of our
resort help lives communally in "three bedrooms, sleeps twenty) type
apartments and homes. Many more of our seasonally employed folks are
imported from Ireland and elsewhere -- and come to live in dormitory
style, often sleeping in shifts.
If you are a computer professional, you
are very fortunate as the "Information Age" has created a class of
professionals who can survive in depressed rural areas -- the computer
entrepreneur. With reasonably good dial-up ISP service, perhaps a cable
modem (in Millsboro and some areas of southern Sussex County) a cell
phone, computer, printer, modems and fax, people can now roam across
the country and the world by phone and the Internet. Some folks, and
this is a fast growing segment of our buyers, can either work at home
for a distant company (perhaps commuting once a week or once a month or
even in the case of one of my clients twice a week) or create a new
business as a consultant, doing the same job for the same company they
are currently employed by. With a business card and digital tools one
can appear to have a large conventional business, albeit a laptop and
other portable digital tools, and it can be quite profitable.
Computer-based businesses are ideally
suited for rural living. They are becoming increasingly more important
as a means of breaking loose from the grind of commuting to work in big
cities that are fast becoming too dangerous to live in. If you're not
yet into computers, you'll have to consider whether you have a skill
that's marketable in the area you're interested in.
Make sure the place you choose (a) has
a use for that skill, and (b) isn't saturated with unemployed people
who have the same skill. One of my best friends is a fabulous
carpenter, home builder, cabinet maker, and skilled in many other
fields such as welding, auto mechanics, gun smithing to some degree and
perhaps a couple of dozen more marketable skills. He moved to a rural
area of Virginia to his dream home on over a hundred acres and his
income plummeted. He is back here now and I'm glad he is even though I
don't see him very often; it's just pleasant to drive by his business
and know he's back in the neighborhood.
Please, please, please... before you
move to an new rural area; subscribe to the nearest newspaper for the
area you are considering and read the economic and community sections
as well as the help wanted ads. If there is a skimpy "help wanted"
section in the local paper... beware. On the other hand, could this
"depressing" state of affairs regarding employment news probably means
that real estate is bargain priced in that area?
BUYING COUNTRY ACREAGE: OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
What about your
health and age? Do you now or do you expect to
have frequent need for the type of medical services mostly found in
Although they're necessary, think
seriously about staying at least 25 miles away from the nearest freeway
system. These "conduits of crime" that cross the country not only carry
law-abiding citizens but solitary criminals and gangs as well. The
gangs and other thugs tend to use the corridor towns in proximity of
the freeways as their "banks" and they excel in "withdrawals on the
run." One small town the writers lived in was only a few miles from a
freeway exit. One night, two men left the freeway, robbed a motel and
got back on the freeway a short time later. They were never caught.
Imagine what these corridors may become as our cities and suburbs
continue to deteriorate!
BUYING COUNTRY ACREAGE: WHEN YOU FIND AN AREA YOU
Once you've decided generally where
you'd like to relocate, visit it several times, preferably at different
times of the year. Learn which areas are desirable and which have
problems. Check for flood plains, areas with access problems, water
problems (not enough, too much or poor quality), noise problems (yes,
even rural areas can have noisy spots), or other problems peculiar to a
given area. Some rural "neighborhoods" have earned a bad reputation.
Find out why before buying there. If the price seems too good to be
true, maybe somebody's trying to unload a problem.
If you're looking for undeveloped land
on which to build your retreat, find out about the water tables: depth,
quality, and reliability. Find out what it costs to drill a well to the
necessary depth for that area. Water should be one of the most
important considerations in any land purchase. In Sussex County we are
fortunate that we have generally good water (no matter what the press
and Pseudo-environmentalists say) and wells are relatively cheap to
Find out the proximity of utilities and
costs to bring them in and hook them up, if they're not already in
place. In some areas, costs to hook up to the power lines grid are
prohibitive. Some of those same areas may not be conducive to an
inexpensive well or septic either. BUT that can be an advantage if you
are able to think outside of the norm. For instance our Fowler's Beach
property is not conducive to running electric wires, getting good water
from a shallow well or building and inexpensive sewer system. As a
result you can get waterfront acreage for little money on a private
beach and the cost of electric, water and sewer when added to the cost
of the property is minuscule!
Once you've narrowed your search to a
few areas within your target community, look at several properties!
Realtors such as ourselves, can be a big help, not only by showing you
individual properties, but by telling you about the area in general.
It's not necessary to restrict yourself to one Realtor. But as soon as
possible you should choose ONE to work with, get their allegiance and
preferably sign a buyer's agent agreement with them so that they are
looking out for your best interests!!! If your Realtor is too pushy for
you or isn't showing you the type of properties that interest you, find
another one; make sure you void the buyer's agent agreement if you have
one (in writing) and get a Realtor who will listen to what you want and
provide you such.
And don't forget to watch the
newspapers and check out properties in your price range and area of
interest being offered for sale by owner. Sometimes the best deals can
be had by working with owners; and if you have a buyer's agent, the
agent can make certain that you are well informed and protected even
after you view the property with the seller.
You will also need an attorney in
Delaware to assist you with the closing on the property. It is
important to know that all attorney's CAN do real estate settlements
but only a handful are worth using. Attorneys specialize and only three
to five of them specialize in real estate -- for the rest of them, real
estate settlements are awkward and no matter what they say... they
usually make errors and those errors can be horrid.
When you do find a property you like,
don't let it blind you to its drawbacks. Whether or not you're working
with a Realtor, do your homework. Remember, unless your Realtor is a
buyer's agent, he or she is working for the seller. Most Realtors will
be up front with you about all your questions, but they are also bound
by contract to get the best possible price for their client, the
seller. And, by law -- when they are working for the seller there are
numerous things they may NOT divulge to you even when they know about
First, ask the seller or Realtor all
the questions you can about the property. For an older dwelling, this
might include questions about the age of the wiring and plumbing, type
of foundation, and in some parts of the country, when it was last
checked for insect problems. This is particularly important near the
beaches and regarding wooded properties -- where termites are prevalent.
Then talk to the neighbors. In the
rural sense, the "neighbors" are folks living within a five-or-so-mile
radius of the property; sometimes even more, if the property is down a
long road without intersections. Ask them about the area, its people,
any problems with the area, and particularly if they know of any
drawbacks with the property you are considering purchasing. If they
seem reluctant to talk to you, this might be a red flag you shouldn't
ignore: maybe they'd like to buy the property but can't afford it, or
maybe they don't like outsiders buying property in their area. If you
run up against this in several conversations, you might have a hard
time getting along with the neighbors. Buying -- and holding onto --
that chunk of land, with or without a home and buildings on it will
take creative planning, patience, and caution on your part!
BUYING COUNTRY ACREAGE:IF YOU MUST HAVE A DEAL OR
Today's expensive properties will be
tomorrow's bargains. Don't be discouraged by short term obstacles. Land
prices seldom go down in the long run. Obviously, there are a
things to consider when buying rural land as opposed to buying a house
in a city. One of them is the possible problems of buying in a "boom
town" area when you don't want to be part of the boom.
It is important to consider whether
your dream location will become less desirable as more people relocate
there. For this reason it is not uncommon for people who move to a
rural area to want to "close the gate" after they get there. They
realize that if too many people move to the small community they have
chosen, that it will eventually lose the qualities that drew them there
in the first place. Unfortunately, people WILL find these wonderful
places, no matter how hard some people try to keep them a secret. Some
communities handle growth well, others don't. Check to see what kind of
planning and zoning is present in your chosen area. A community that
looks ahead and plans for growth fares much better than communities
that keep their heads in the sand, thinking "it can't happen here."
Growth not only can happen, it will.
But short of a natural disaster or a
devastating man-made calamity, land won't come down in value. Buy it,
use it, live on it, improve it, and love it. Land is the best
investment you'll ever make, for yourself and posterity.
Good luck in your search!
Article Source: Buying
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