Thursday, May 24, 2012

So You Want to Move to the Country

This post was written by my wife, Joetta Napolitan.

So you think you want to move 'to the country'. The allure of living in a rural location has reached out and grabbed a hold of your imagination inspiring you to dream of owning a country house surrounded by gardens, chickens, and maybe even livestock. Our biggest and best recommendation for anyone wanting to move 'to the country' is to find a rental and sit with it for a year before making a final decision to make it permanent. Our town sees tremendous turn over from folks who buy here only to find it’s not their cup of tea, so much so in fact people were asking us when we plan on selling before we even finished moving in. Once you decide to make it permanent it is necessary to identify your wants and needs beyond 3 bedrooms and two baths with an ok kitchen. As rural buyers, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. It’s not impossible and though not intended for rural buyers I absolutely love the article I received in my inbox today. It talks about choosing the right neighborhood before deciding to purchase a home. It's a wonderful article and spot on if you want to live in urban or suburban areas. You can read the article for yourself if you'd like, the link is below. I think a lot of the information applies to the rural buyer as well but first I'd like to pass on one tip from personal experience.

You will no doubt look at a few different homes and after awhile they will blend together in your memory. When we were looking we kept a buyers notebook. We wrote down the homes address, the asking price and other pertinent information such as square footage, acres of land, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, how many stories and so on. We also wrote a description... i.e. white and purple exterior on hill facing east, dirt road, few trees, two out buildings, chicken coop. Then we made a list of positives and negatives---while on site! We also photographed each property and noted the number of pictures (photos 1-54) on the entry since many times we would see more than one house in a day. Take photographs of the positive, the questionable, the negative and things you'd want fixed if you were to put in an offer. This helped us tremendously in sorting out not only if we were ultimately interested in the property but in narrowing down what was really important to us. One change that I would make if we go through this process again would be to have separate notebooks for each member of the family and always have everyone do their own little 'inspection' and critique then compare notes.

In regard to the email I received the first part that applies from the article is about location. Does it meet your needs for employment, shopping, social activities, schools, etc. and are you ready for a change in life style. Generally speaking you can't just run to the store if you forget or run out of something and your commute to work will likely be longer. Can you live without that twice a week latte, going to the gym, and seeing a movie at the theater when the mood takes you? In this way all the same rules can be applied to the rural area as in the suburban area. However, there are many more things to keep in mind when looking for a country home. For instance, what are your plans for the property? Will you have a garden, chickens, goats, a milking cow, or horses? Do you need extra out buildings or land? It's very important to know this when buying as there may be restrictions. You may be able to have horses but no cows or be limited to a certain number and type of animal per acre for example. In our case we may have hens but no roosters. Also keep in mind your personal preferences and what you would be willing to live with. As wonderful as it is to have neighbors who also garden are your gardening practices compatible? Ours are not compatible with our neighbors but it's acceptable in light of the other benefits of our property, so we can live with it.

The second bit that I think applies is to Visit the property you are interested in at all hours. Be sure to notify someone before your visit and get permission. After all it is rural and you never know if a neighbor has been asked to keep an eye or gun on the place. Write down some questions you might ask yourself at each visit. How's the wild life at night vs. during the day, including the neighbors. Does the property or the neighbors’ property have security lights? Where does that light shine? What are the sounds you are hearing? Keep in mind that at night sounds carry further.  What seems like a medium length drive to town in daylight can seem much longer at night. Are there places to stop if you need to? Trust me, as a parent of a small child, potties along the way are important! Are the roads lit? What are the speed limits? Is there a lot of traffic using their high beams? Can you find your turn offs? A road that is easy to spot during the day may disappear until you are right on top of it at night. How will the area change seasonally? Will there be snow, if so how about snow removal? A house that feels serene and calm to you during the day may feel very different during a night visit not to mention a thunder or snow storm.

Third is Utilities. This is something not covered in the article I received but then it’s something most urban/suburban buyers never even consider. It is a necessary and valid question for every rural buyer to ask about. Who provides what? Is it off grid? Who provides power? Can you get cable and internet, telephone or even receive a radio signal? Does the property receive municipal services or does the property have a well? Water is extremely important because those animals you might wish to have will need additional water and you need to know if that part of the well or water usage is permitted? In addition to all this information you need to keep in mind that whatever your neighbors do to their land may end up in your well water. So it’s important to ask how deep that well is and will the terrain around it naturally filter the water before its arrival in the water table. Questions about the actual well pump and well maintenance are also necessary. Does it pump at a rate to meet your needs? When was it last inspected? While expensive it can be worth it to have the well inspected prior to purchase. A good inspector will check the mechanical parts including the pumps and holding tank. They will also check the flow and for a few additional dollars they can also test the water quality. If you will have locally provided water instead of a well what are the usual treatment practices, fees and other necessary arrangements for service? Some places will provide service with just a phone call, others may do credit checks that take a couple weeks. In either case ask, does it work when the power goes out? At our previous residence we had a well, if the power was out so was the water. How is sewage treated? Is it a septic system or municipality provided sewage system? If it’s a septic system, when was it last emptied?

Last but not least the article mentions emergency services and doctors. I have experience with medical needs so I will address that first. If you have medical needs that require regular doctor visits make sure you find out if your insurance is supported by local practitioners. Likewise if you require care by a specialist check for availability and travel distances and times. Beyond that you may want to check the local clinic or doctor’s office to make sure they meet your standards for care and what the turnover rate is. Some rural doctors’ offices have a low practitioner turnover and will know and treat your whole family. Others may have a high practitioner turnover rate and you will find yourself explaining things many times over and wading through stacks of conflicting notes in your file. Proximity is also important if you know you have medical conditions that may need immediate medical response such as allergies with anaphylaxis, bleeding disorders, or heart problems. In addition there is always the possibility of snake bite, wild life encounters, severe tractor or machinery accidents, or broken bones. I have found that not much of that stuff actually occurs and I even suffer common ailments much less frequently. My exposure to them is somewhat minimized by our location and the limited number of people I come into contact with. Usually if I catch something, it’s after our monthly trip to the big town for supplies. Emergency services such as Police or fire department may be limited and response times may be delayed. Our previous residence fell under the care of the state patrol and the Fire Department was all volunteer. We didn't have a need for their services so I can't really comment on response times but one of our friends who lives farther out recently lost their home to a fire. They haven't commented on the response time so I believe it was acceptable.

We bought somewhere in the middle, choosing to purchase a home in a small town on 1/2 an acre. We had to include present circumstances as well as future goals. We have a second grader who wanted to live closer to her friends. This current circumstance was an influence defined by renting in our previous location. Our rental location was much more rural and the only time she saw her friends was at school. At the same time we still wanted room for our garden and chickens or rabbits in the future. In our current location there is also municipal water and sewage, a fire dept., and police department. It’s not ideal. There are no wide open spaces as we live in the center of town. I mentioned our differences in gardening styles compared to our neighbor and we miss the well water in all honesty. We also miss the darkness of our previous home as there seem to be security lights everywhere here. However with a young child those same security lights make it possible to play, garden, and enjoy our outdoor spaces after dark in the heat of summer without needing additional lighting. Something else that became very clear to us as a rural family was the fact that in our previous location we spent on average just as much time in the car as we had in the city. Sure they were now long infrequent trips or mid range weekly trips but when we broke it down it was no different than a lot of small short trips in the city. Now, being in town, we make one long trip and next to no mid range or short trips as everything is now within walking distance. It takes time and effort to find the proper fit just as with anything else in life. Moving to the country has been a blessing for us. It has fulfilled so many of our wants and needs that we heartily recommend it but we also realize it’s not for everyone.

We hope that this information helps you with your decision and indeed the process of moving 'to the country'.

Here is the article that got me going on this:

As always, feel free to visit my companion sites:

1 comment:

  1. Please be sure to check with the county zoning office of the property you're interested in purchasing. Be sure to ask them if any industrial wind farms are planned for the future. So many people in our county are just sick to find out that their dream home will soon become a nightmare when they are surrounded by 400 ft tall blinking wind turbines. I'm fortunate that I live a few miles away from the newest project being proposed, and have many trees that obscure the view of the blinking lights. It really is important to see what type of zoning is allowed, as you can rest assured your area will remain rural for your time living there. It's a tough and expensive lesson to learn the hard way!!