Unless you’re a die-hard city dweller, chances are you’ve dreamed of living in a rural or semi-rural area with land and room for a big garden and enough acreage to justify a riding lawn mower. If you’re one of the millions of Americans dreaming of owning rural property, here are the six basic things you should consider before you buy:
1. Hire a Buyer’s Agent
Hire a buyer’s agent, preferably one knowledgeable about farming, as well water, soil and things like mineral rights. The seller’s real estate agent is working for the best interest of their client — the seller, not you. They can and do bring a lot of critical information to the table, but they’re still not working in your best interest. Home transactions and transfers are complex enough, but rural properties include so many more speed bumps and loops you must jump through. Hire a Realtor the minute you know you’re serious about rural property. Things like water rights (especially if you plan on farming) are complex and critical. Search Homes.com for Realtors who specialize in rural properties in your state.
2. Detail What’s Included in the Sale
You loved that vine covered gazebo and the red cedar bridge that spanned the small stream by the barn. The only problem is, once you purchased the land they disappeared–the seller took them to his new property. Unless you specifically list every feature, structure or building as part of the sale, anything that can be moved probably will be. When writing up the contract you need to include a detailed list of everything you think you are buying. This list should include, but not be limited to things like:
- Fencing and fence posts
- Movable or portable sheds
- Livestock panels
- Shelters or livestock pens
- Miscellaneous equipment (tractor, shovels, plows, etc.)
- Existing farm or hunting leases that give other people the right to be on, farm, graze, hunt on, or camp on your property
Be sure to read through, and have your attorney explain things like easements and encumbrances for things like irrigation, power lines and roads.
3. Buy (or Check Into) Title Insurance
What many buyers don’t realize is that farmland, particularly larger, more remote tracts of land, has often been used as a dump-site for toxic chemicals. Buying title insurance, or checking the title for the specific property, will let you know if the property has been listed as a toxic dump-site, or a hazardous waste site.
4. Talk to Rural Resources
Depending on how rural you are, it’s important to realize that the farther you are away from the city, the more likely you are to turn to your neighbors for help and information.
- Southern States: Southern States, owned by farmers since 1923, is one of the largest and most well-known farm co-operatives in the United States with some 1,200 retail locations in 23 states. Owned by more than 200,000 farmers, the cooperative purchases, manufactures, or processes feed, seed, fertilizer, farm supplies and fuel. Not only do they sell farm and livestock feed and equipment, their employees have hands-on experience with farming and rural property. “Our employees are one of our greatest resources,” said Turner Gravitt, Director of Corporate Events, Member Relations and Governmental Affairs at Southern States Cooperative. “The web is nice, but the best information we offer comes from our employees. People rely on our employees for a lot of information — everything from what kind of fencing they need, to selecting the proper feed for their livestock needs. Technology changes, but our people keep up with it.” Because Southern States, like most farm cooperatives, knows the farmers and much of the land in any given area, they’re a perfect resource for the new rural property owner. If Southern States doesn’t have a cooperative in your state, look for another farm supplier that does.
- County USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office: The FSA office administers programs that help rural property owners with conservation issues, including pond construction, erosion control, wildlife habitat and other challenges the city dweller doesn’t have. Visit the local extension office and introduce yourself to the local extension agent. This is the one person who will be aware of everything, or almost everything, related to the ag-zoned property in the county. They can tell you what the challenges are, where to find the resources you need and answer any question about rural living. Once you purchase your property you’ll need to take the deed to the FSA anyway to register it and to find out about and transfer any Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) or base acre payments to you.
- Mechanics, Electricians, Construction and Neighbors. The brutal truth about living on a rural property is that at some point you’re going to need help — and neighbors and local tradesmen, from mechanics to someone with a tractor to pull you out of a ditch, is going to become your best friend or best resource, so get to know them before you need them, and at least meet them before you buy. Meet your neighbors before you buy. Bad neighbors in the city can be ignored. Bad neighbors in the county, even though far away, can become your biggest nightmare.
5. Get a Survey Done
You can ask your agent, but no one is going to ensure the exact number of acres you’re buying. They will ensure a legal description, usually in terms of a rectangular or meets and bounds description. If you want to know for sure what you’re buying and will ultimately be taxed on, you’ll need to visit the county assessor’s office. Once there, pull the information on the property. Compare it to what the Realtor or seller is listing. If there is a significant discrepancy, talk to the assessor and find out why.
6. Consider the Costs
You’re gonna need a bigger chainsaw, or tractor, or 4-wheeler, or fence or something. It’s inevitable. If you’re strapped for cash now, you might want to rethink a 400-acre spread and settle for 10. Be sure and factor in all the costs you’ll be facing over the next 5-to-10 years.
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