Bookmark this extensive list of questions to ask when buying rural land. Save a lot of problems by knowing the answers to these very important questions.
Are you looking to build a homestead, but you are still trying to decide where to locate it? It’s a difficult decision, but there are a few things that can help you decide if you should be buying rural land – and if you should buy THAT specific piece of rural land.
First, please keep one thing clear in your mind – no one else’s criteria is going to fit your family perfectly. Perhaps you place a higher priority on being close to family or neighbours and want to ensure someone is always within a good walk in case of emergency.
Other people might prioritize seclusion and eliminate any land or property that is in sight of a road.
Look through these questions and do your best to answer them. Figure out your priorities and make sure that they are backed by logic.
Should I move to a rural homestead or am I still okay with homesteading in town?
Even if “everyone” is moving to the country, it still may not be the right choice for you. Perhaps that’s not something a homesteading author should be telling people, but I would never advise everyone to get out of town and move to the country.
I have written about homesteading in an apartment and that is a very viable option for many people. In fact, it can be the ideal place to get started and for many people it can be a perfectly good place to continue homesteading.
There are a number of reasons, for example, that a family might need easy access to a hospital. Unfortunately, rural areas tend to be quite far from hospitals, and ambulances may take half an hour or more to reach isolated communities. One of my regular readers and her husband are doctors committed to serving those in the inner city. Obviously a move to the country would bring them far from their life purpose.
A time may come, however, when you have learned everything that you can learn in that spot and when you are ready to expand your knowledge and skills. After all, it is generally difficult to raise chickens, goats or other small livestock in town.
Spend some time considering whether or not a rural homestead is the right option for you before you take a huge, and expensive, step.
It is certainly possible to homestead – that is, to develop a higher level of food, energy and resource independence than the average person – while living in a town. AND don’t overlook the fact that there are varying degrees of rural.
We lived for three years in our cabin in the deep woods, and then moved into a small rural village where we have the best advantages of both town and country!
Am I familiar with this area?
I am always surprised by people who assume that they will pick up and move to a place where they know no one, are unfamiliar with the food and climate and have never even visited.
Do not pick your homestead location with a dart and a map! Certainly there are people who have done it, but unless you know that you’re that sort of person, think about this very carefully.
Am I relocating to a province/state/country of which I know nothing, or have I lived in this general area before?
It is going to be much more difficult to settle in to a new province/state or country. Certainly it is possible.
My friend Daisy, who blogs at The Organic Prepper, made the incredible move from Ontario, Canada to California, USA. I really don’t know how she did it. I couldn’t!
My friend Mike, a retired British soldier, made his home in Latvia, a tiny country bordering Russia.
When we decided to buy land, though, I came back home to Nova Scotia, to the Maritime environment and land that I know. In fact, I’m a ten minute drive from the house where I grew up.
Am I familiar with the climate, the attitudes of the people and the food and resources that are native to the area?
Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that everyone is just like us. Even within a country, though, this is not usually the case. For those of us in North America, consider how different the East Coast (Maine, Nova Scotia) from the West Coast (Washington, British Columbia).
These three questions are all similar, but take time to consider the nuances of them and make sure that the area you are investigating is right for you.
What are the problems?
No matter where you live, there are going to be problems unique to that place. Take the time to assess the difficulties you will face in order to be prepared for them.
From weather to animals to insects, what are the problems I might face if I buy this rural land and can I deal with it?
I can tell you right now that there are some things I simply refuse to deal with. Chances are, you have your deal breakers, too. Some people hate being cold, for example, while others like a cool climate. Years ago, I had a chance to live in the beautiful, warm American state of Texas.
It seemed like a great idea – and then I learned about fire ants. Then during Hurricane Harvey, I heard about fire ants forming a living raft to float on the flood waters.
When I feel tempted to growl about shoveling snow and carrying firewood, I think about fire ants, scorpions and tornadoes. Y’all can keep ’em down there.
If the driveway is extremely long and the winters are very snowy, am I able and willing to shovel?
Shoveling snow, of course, is my comparison with fire ants and scorpions because it’s a difficult, tedious job that pretty much everyone hates. (Okay, that doesn’t describe fire ants and scorpions, other than the hatred.)
Hospitals hate snowstorms because they know they’ll get an influx of shoveling-related heart attacks.
Other problems are aggravated by hours of shoveling snow – blood pressure goes up, knees and backs go out.
Snowblowers are useful, but sometimes (like February and March 2015 in the Canadian Maritimes) the sheer volume of snow makes them useless. No one can snowblow 6 feet of snow. If snow is an issue, make sure that your driveway is a length that you can keep safely cleared.
Options include shoveling by hand, snowblower if the depth is reasonable, your own truck/horse with a plow or a hired plow. One thing we learned about our very rural property – folks with plows on their trucks didn’t necessarily want to come five miles up the mountain road to dig us out. They are more than busy with customers who are easier to reach.
My father tells me that farming old-timers never shoveled long driveways. Instead, they would pack it down as best they could, digging steps from the house and barn doors to the packed-down path. Of course, as he says, they didn’t have cars.
So keep that in mind if you expect snowy winters and your driveway is long.
Am I prepared for the storms or natural disasters that are normal in that region?
Every region has typical storms and natural disasters. Earthquakes and tornadoes terrify me, but I can happily weather the powerful blizzards and hurricanes that batter Nova Scotia. Other people, though, are terrified at the thought of a snowstorm that can dump three or more feet down over a couple of days.
My brother, who lives in Taiwan, once posted online “Headed for work this morning and almost fell into an earthquake. Day off – can’t get across the city.” Again, I’ll stick with snowstorms!
What sort of storm or natural disaster are you prepared to deal with? Make sure you know what is typical for the area where you are planning to move.
Am I too far – or not far enough – from people?
Is there any danger of “urban sprawl” changing the property from rural to suburban?
Am I at least an hour’s drive from the nearest skyscraper?
A friend of mine, Valerie, bought a 5 acre property in what was definitely farm country outside of Ottawa, Ontario. Ten years later she is noticing the city edge closer and closer.
Other friends, Leona and Abner, have the same problem outside Kitchener, Ontario, with subdivisions now going up on former farmland. Local farmland, once affordable, is now too expensive for their children to buy. When even a small farm requires a million dollar mortgage, young people have difficulty getting set up in the only life they know. In fact, as of June 2017, they relocated to rural Prince Edward Island, where there is good farmland for sale without a single metropolis in sight.
Look carefully at the property. Is it land that might eventually be attractive to developers? For some, that may not be an issue, so take time to consider how you would feel if a housing division … or ten … popped up around your property.
Would this destroy the rural life for you or provide you with a ready market?
How far away is the nearest vet who understands and treats the animals I want?
Notice that I did not say the nearest vet!
If you have any intention of keeping animals, take some time to find out where you can find veterinary services. Very rural communities might have a farm vet who works out of their own farm and can handle small matters but will refer to the larger vet in town for surgery, horn debudding and other major issues.
Alternately, you might find that you simply do not get along with the local vet, or that they do not handle the type of animals you plan on raising. A vet who specializes in horses may not know a lot about alpacas or even goats. And, of course, a vet who focuses on chemical treatments may not be suitable if you want to use natural remedies. If that is the case, you may find yourself traveling a great distance to find a vet.
Under what conditions, and for what cost, will that vet travel to my location?
No matter if the vet you find and can work with is local or in a nearby town, will they travel to you? Find out the cost for this ahead of time and methods of payment.
Vets may refuse entirely to come to very remote locations or ones that are difficult to access.
How long would it take help to arrive if we had a serious injury, disaster or need for medical assistance?
In 2015, an elderly seasonal neighbour of ours fell on the ice and cracked his skull. Luckily we saw him fall and hurried to help, calling 911 immediately. Even so, it took the ambulance just over an hour to reach him. With half an hour to assess and load him into the ambulance and an hour to reach the hospital, more than two and half hours passed between his fall and when he saw a doctor.
Think it can’t happen to you? During the time we lived on the mountain, my husband has dropped a tree on his foot and mistook his thumb for a roofing nail. Our toddler sprayed cleaner in her eye and once swallowed five watch batteries, the preschooler decided caramel-flavoured dog dewormer tasted great, one boy threw a rock at his brother’s face, and I gave birth on the property.
No matter how young or old you are, things happen.
If your property is going to be extremely rural, take the time to find out if there is an air ambulance, the cost of this service and what requirements they have to come out.
Some of the pressure can be relieved by having at least one member of the household trained in emergency medical care. In our case, my husband is trained Medical First Responder with special training in emergency childbirth. However, while this gives him the training to assess and provide care, we still need to keep in mind how long the Emergency Medical Technicians take to arrive.
Does the fire department service my location?
Of course this only applies to the extremely rural locations, but it’s an important thing to consider. A house fire is usually devastating, but how about a house fire when there is no help available?
Of course, even if the fire department will service the location, it makes sense to take precautions and have an emergency plan in place.
Am I in a location that would deter people like tax assessors, police and other “officials” from visiting?
If I am, is that a good thing?
For many who decide to move to a very rural location, a lack of government presence is a very good thing.
Consider the tax planning department that tells you “Where you live? Build what you like. If there’s someone out there who dislikes you and they complain, you’ll need to pay the building permit, but we won’t fine you. And we really don’t want to drive out there. You need a four wheel drive on that road?”
Yes, that’s exactly what we were told about building on our rural property.
On the other hand, that same reluctance might deter police from addressing problems with trespassers, poachers or vandals.
How far am I from the nearest small market for selling my goods?
The nearest large market?
Most of us need an income. If that income is going to depend on a farmer’s market or other physical venue, how far away is it? Even when gas prices are low, this can add up.
How far am I from a major urban center?
Back-to-the-land guides from the late 1800s suggested that people buy property that is within a two hour train trip to the city. That allows for you to visit with family, see a city doctor when necessary, and both buy and sell.
Most of us don’t take the train these days, but think about those occasional trips like an appointment with a medical specialist or a major shopping trip. More than two hours makes for a tedious trip and a very long day. Worse, it often means spending the night in town. Are you within a two hour drive of the places you need?
And that includes jobs, by the way. As I said, at least some income is usually necessary!
What are the neighbours like? Is the area known for welcoming strangers or is a newcomer anyone who can’t point to the house where his grandfather was born?
There’s a definite feel in different communities. Some are downright xenophobic. We have lived in places where we were pretty much told that we’d never be considered from the area – but our children might, once they had stayed there, married local and had children.
Where we live now, a ‘come from away’ is someone who comes for a job and then returns to their home when the job ends. We get a lot of those. If the job ends and you stay, though, you stop being from ‘away’ and you’re considered local.
How close am I to family?
That can be a good thing or a bad thing. My mother is looking for a new home and she says she wants to be ‘close enough that I can visit anyone when I want to, and far enough that I don’t have to when I don’t want to.’
Am I near enough to my neighbours (no more than a 30 minute walk) that I can become part of the community through volunteering and social events?
My Old Order Mennonite friend Leona often says “Your neighbours don’t need you, but you need your neighbours.” In our new home in the village, the fire station is literally a five minute walk away.
It can be lonely without people to socialize with.
It can be dangerous without people to call on in times of trouble.
Are there people near by with whom I can barter goods and services, rely on for mutual aid and protection, socialize and share tools and resources?
I know of a number of people who have tried to live in the middle of nowhere as lone wolves. It doesn’t work.
It simply doesn’t work.
Okay, this is a LONG post. 95 questions, most of them with explanations. I have a reputation for over-delivering. I hope that’s okay.
How much usable land do I have?
How much of the land is actually cleared and usable?
Am I willing and able to clear anything that is wooded?
How much of the land consists of steep hills, cliffs, ravines, swamps or other land that is not easily used?
Here’s a trick played by a lot of realtors and sellers. We went looking for one property that advertised fifty acres of land. We arrived and, by anything we could see, there was about an acre of land stretched all along the side of the road. The rest of the land was down a gully and had been clear cut within the last twenty years.
Literally none – except that long, skinny acre – was usable for any purpose we could think of.
Do I need pasture for animals?
If so, how much land do I need per head in this area?
Is the land suitable for pasture?
Is there a suitable, south-facing place for growing food or is the entire property shaded by trees?
Is it possible to have a barn and other necessary outbuildings within easy reach of the house?
Is there a safe area for recreation?
Do I need an orchard and is there space for one?
Is there a mature, properly maintained woodlot sufficient for our needs?
What is the growing season?
How many growing days can I expect in a year?
This is especially important to know if you aren’t extremely familiar with the area.
Can I extend that with crop covers, cold frames or unheated greenhouses?
With the amount of available land, can I reasonably grow a year’s worth of food?
What is the soil like? If the land has been used in the past, is it depleted or has it been well-maintained?
What is the water situation?
Do I have a well that will adequately provide for the property?
Is it a dug well or a drilled well?
Are the pipes insulated enough so that they do not freeze in the winter?
How many gallons of water per minute does it provide?
How recently was the water tested at a reputable lab?
How expensive is water testing in the area?
This is really important because well water should be tested every six months. Town water is tested constantly for bacteria, but if you have a well, YOU are in charge of that.
If there is no well, or if it does not supply all year, where is the nearest safe, frequently tested, public source of water?
Could I access that without a vehicle, if necessary?
Are there ways to store water, for example, a cistern, outside of the well?
If winters are cold, are these storage containers in a place that does not freeze? If there is no well, what is the cost to have a well drilled? Is the cost more than I can afford?
Wells are expensive.
Are there streams and rivers nearby, or on the property, that I can access?
It might not be a deal-breaker for some, but I wouldn’t want to buy land without a water source.
Is the property located in a flood zone?
That would be bad, by the way.
What is the septic situation?
Is there an actual, real, working septic system?
Some people might be staring at that question and wondering what the alternative is. There are many alternatives, actually!
My father tells me that his father dug out a “septic pit” fifty years ago by digging a very deep hole and lining it with upright logs to keep the soil from filling it in. Ten years ago, my uncle dumped a load of dirt on top of the pit, which was now completely filled in, and he installed a proper septic tank.
In older, rural properties, the “septic” can be a lot of things, many of which are an environmental disaster. When we had our new septic system installed, it turned out that the old one consisted of three metal barrels with pipes connecting them, which completely disintegrated when the back hoe touched them. Removing the sewage was not even an option.
When was the last time it was emptied?
This only applies if there is a real, modern, concrete septic tank. They need to be emptied every few years. Newer ones need to be opened and have some parts rinsed off and inspected annually.
“Well, it was dad’s house not mine, and I guess he must have emptied it.” That’s not an acceptable answer.
Can I get proof of that?
Home owners get certificates when a septic system is installed, and they get them (or at least a reciept) when the septic tank is emptied. If they can not provide written proof of a proper septic system that has been cleaned on an appropriate schedule, then assume it does not exist.
If the septic system exists but has not been properly clean it, request that the seller arrange and pay for it to be emptied and then provide you with proof.
How old is the leach field?
The leach field is the gravel and sand area beyond the septic tank in which liquid slowly leaches. It tends to last much longer than the septic tank, but eventually it, too, needs care. More importantly, if the leach field was installed in the 1950s or 1960s, it is likely not up to modern septic system standards.
If the septic system is “a couple of metal barrels”, do I have the available money to have a septic system installed?
Depending on a number of factors – the location of waterways, the slope of the land, the condition of the soil – a septic system can cost up to $15,000. I know! This isn’t even a matter of choosing the more or less expensive options since most of the criteria are completely out of your control.
The design of the septic system alone will be over $1000. Add to that the cost of the tank and pipes, the gravel and sand and soil that must be brought in to create the leach field, and the hours of labor and heavy machinery costs, and it is easy to see how a septic system costs thousands of dollars.
ALMOST done – read on for the rest of the questions. There’s a lot. You’re probably going to want a printable.
What buildings are already there?
Is there already a house on the property?
Depending on your location and climate, that may be a major issue. With small children in an area with harsh winters, we could not even consider a property without a (somewhat) livable dwelling.
Does it need or have a basement?
Many people tell me that urban properties don’t need a basement. I disagree with them because I think basements are incredibly useful. For one thing, urban properties rarely have pantries. However, a well-designed house in town might only need a good foundation and not a full basement.
Rural homes, though, need basements. There is just no way around that. First, like houses in town, they need a foundation and, in areas with cold winters, a frost-wall. Frost heaving can and will move your house around, making doors shift, cracking walls and destroying the roof.
Rural properties, though, can always use extra storage space for winter gear (snow shoes, snow suits, skis, toboggans, boots), off-season clothing (for a large family, that can be a lot of clothing), root vegetable storage (potatoes, carrots, turnips), home-canned food storage (because cool and dark is the perfect place to keep them), a water cistern and so very much more.
When you can’t easily run down to the store to buy what you need, the storage provided by a basement is invaluable.
Is the house properly built and insulated for year-round residency?
The cabin in which we moved in 2013 has no insulation on the floors. Nor, in fact, were the bathroom or bedrooms insulated. It turns out that wearing slippers and sweaters, while a perfect solution for adults, is more difficult for babies and toddlers to follow.
A residence that is insulated for “three seasons” means that it will be cold, difficult to heat and downright miserable during the winter. Children will get more colds since they tend to play on the floor and toss blankets off regardless of the temperature.
If buying a “three season” property, make sure to do a complete assessment before moving in and then immediately take steps to close up drafts and add insulation before winter arrives.
And ventilation – a three-season cabin might not have the ventilation necessary to prevent mold.
What repairs and problems do the inspector’s report show, and can I afford to deal with them? (A building inspection is not optional. Ever.)
Let’s repeat this together, shall we. A building inspection is not optional.
The seller will try to convince you, perhaps, that you’re going to buy it anyway, so why waste your money. A building inspection is not optional.
The local building inspector can’t get out until the snow thaws, so that will delay the closing. A building inspection is not optional.
Why do I know this? Because, like so many things, I learned the hard way. We bought our cabin without a building inspection. Yes, we would have bought it anyway, and yes, it would have delayed the closing. Had it been inspected, though, we could probably have dropped the price by $5000 based on some of the awful things we’ve found since, like mold in the attack, a complete lack of insulation in the bedrooms, and a hot water tank that should have been retired ten years before we moved in. (It dramatically took self-retirement six months after we got here.)
Is there a barn or will we need to build one?
My Old Order Mennonite friends tell me that a full-size barn costs about $200,000 to build, and that’s when it’s built by a barn-raising crew of experienced builders.
Barns are expensive to build and, unless you have a Mennonite or Amish work crew ready to pitch in for a weekend, it will take a while to get it built. Even a small 14×14′ barn with hayloft took us several months to build. Of course, it turned out to be better built then our cabin was – we should have installed plumbing and moved into it.
Of course it is possible to build your own barn – including a large one – but take this into account when buying the land. If a barn is not on the property and you need one, someone needs to build it (and pay for it).
Is there an existing chicken coop, storage sheds or other necessary outbuildings?
Again, if they’re going to be needed, and they aren’t already there, someone needs to build them.
My ideal property would include a full-sized barn, at least one large chicken coop, multiple storage sheds, a wood shed, a greenhouse and a smokehouse. Even better if it also has a play house for the children!
If not, am I willing to wait on livestock until I have the necessary buildings?
Perhaps I’ve worded this wrong. If you plan to buy property that does not have appropriate animal shelter, you need to wait. Do not order chicks until you have a hen house. Do not buy goats until you a barn big enough for them.
If you absolutely cannot wait, then hold out until you find a property that includes animal shelter.
What services are available?
Is there landline phone service?
Do cell phones work? Would they work with a cell phone booster?
Do cell phones work in the vicinity around – ie., can I call for help if I go into a ditch two miles from home?
This actually deterred a lot of people who considered visiting us. Many people are nervous about driving up a bad dirt road that has no cell phone coverage. The year after we bought the cabin, we drove home from church one March morning and saw an elderly lady walking along the side of the road, miles from anyone. She and her husband had turned down a logging road they shouldn’t have and were stuck – and they couldn’t get cell service.
Do any internet providers service that property? If not, is satellite an option?
For the record, I hated being on satellite. Consider it only as a last resort.
Is there electricity available? If not, am I prepared to provide my own power?
Will gas providers make deliveries and service calls?
Is the road well serviced and maintained as necessary to be safe year round?
If there are children in the family, does the school bus come to, or at least close to, the property?
What schools are nearby? Do children go to a local elementary school and then travel to the big town for high school? How much time would the children spend traveling?
How far do I need to travel to access my bank, a gas station, the post office, a grocery store, a doctor or a hospital?
When you are sitting in the city and planning your rural retreat, it’s easy to think that you won’t need these. Think, though, about what you’ll do if you can’t get from the gas station, home and back to the gas station without a jerry can on hand. Of course it’s possible, but needing to plan ahead for a trip to the bank requires organization and cash on hand.
What are the laws in this area?
Are there any restrictions on what I can build or do on my property?
Am I willing to live with those restrictions?
How strictly are any restrictions enforced?
What is the zoning on the property (residential, mixed-use, commercial, industrial, agricultural, etc.)?
Does the zoning on the property match my needs?
What are the homeschool laws?
As far as I know, homeschooling is legal in all parts of North America. But legal doesn’t mean that they’ll make it easy for you.
Have I spoken with homeschooling locals to find out how those laws are interpreted by the school board?
How far away is the nearest police station?
If I had a serious problem, how long would it take for police to arrive?
How high are the taxes?
Are the taxes on the property within 1-4% of the full market value?
Do not assume that rural or small town automatically means lower taxes. For reasons I do not understand, my very tiny home village (all of 3000 people when I was a child) has the highest property taxes in the county.
Are there ways to lower the taxes, like registering as a farm or declaring it a woodlot?
Make sure you know any drawbacks to that. For example, in our area, if you register as a farm but later remove that registration, the new tax rate is calculated retroactively. Registration as a farm is a permanent decision.
Rates vary for managed woodlots. In rural Nova Scotia, a dedicated woodlot is taxed at a token twenty-five cents an acre. If you have a large area of woodlot, it’s a good idea to look into this option if it’s there.
Do the taxes cover services like garbage collection?
If not, how far away is the dump?
And let’s make it really clear – the woods are not a place to dump your garbage. When we bought our cabin in the woods, we had an interesting situation. We were paying a $150 fee for driveway garbage collection even though the nearest garbage collection was five miles away!
Is there a good chance that property values will remain low so that taxes remain affordable?
This ties in with encroaching cities and towns. If property values have been steadily increasing, you can safely guess that that they will continue to do so.
What are problems unique to this property?
Are the woods around this property actually the unofficial dump?
After moving to the cabin, we visited several rural properties and the woods are quite often the unofficial dumping grounds. Moving onto a place where that has been happening for years means that you will have countless hours of clean up to make the woods safe for walking and foraging.
In the woods around our property, we have found:
- an old television
- a bed frame (which we turned into a holder to keep building lumber off the ground!)
- hundreds of broken and unbroken glass bottles
- dozens of empty propane canisters
- rusty truck parts
- a ceramic fox
- hundreds of feet of rusty barbed wire (Isn’t THAT fun to find?)
- countless garbage, just gross, broken garbage
Do I have driveway? If not, can I afford to have one put in?
We were lucky that our property had a driveway but many of the places that we looked at did not. While it sounds like a simple thing, a driveway is a fairly expensive thing to create. Our driveway needs to be completely reworked and rebuilt – two years ago, a sinkhole opened in it and our SUV dropped in down to the bumpers! We have found that it is not easy or inexpensive to build or repair a driveway.
If you need to build or repair it, keep in mind that it will take time and money.
If there is no driveway, do I have a legal access to the public road or is the property landlocked by other privately owned properties?
Do not ever buy land unless there is clearly written, guaranteed access to the public road. We have known people who lost access to their seasonal property because logging companies or the Department of Natural Resources bought the land all around them and refused to honor the unspoken agreement of access.
As much as I tend not to be anti-government, this is a known, and really scummy, tactic that DNR uses to get people to sell their properties back to the government for ridiculously low prices. No one wants to keep paying taxes on land that they own but are not allowed to access. (I live in an area that is slowly becoming a “protected area”. What I’ve seen has not impressed me.)
If it is not in writing, legal and signed and official, it does not exist.
Am I buying land that has been used by the locals for hunting, trapping, fishing, partying, ATVing, snowmobiling, etc.? If so, am I prepared to deal with that?
This happens all the time. There are several people, just in our local area, who have moved here from away and, after buying their property they found that the ATVs and snowmobiles regularly went through their back yard. One man told me that, a year after he moved in, he went through the woods and found two hunting blinds set up that had not been there before. Another lady told me that many people think her property is just perfect for setting up picnics (she sends her dog to run them off!)
Our situation was more extreme than most, as the previous owner had encouraged people, over the past forty years to gather here for hunting and partying. When we would tell people we lived here, we often had the reaction of “Oh, I’ve been there MANY times!” It was a hard habit to get the locals to break, since we had no intention of allowing people to shoot deer in front of our house!
Are there any neighbours who feel they have a claim to the property? Do I know the local politics about the property?
This is a very difficult one to find out ahead of time but it is important.
In our case, a cottager who owned property next to our cabin had been using almost two acres of our land for years. He had moved the property markers, mowed and planted flower gardens and had his firewood and burn piles deep in our woods.
Local property law says that any such “adverse possession” must be established and recorded before the closing of a property sale, which gives the new owners the ability to back out of the sale or come to a mutual agreement. In our case, he stated very clearly to us that he wanted to use the property but have us own it and pay taxes on it. He had no intention of paying a fair price (about $1000 per acre) for the land he was using. We were unwilling to do that and, fortunately, the law agreed with us. Unfortunately, this caused a great deal of bad blood, including among people who thought we had “taken” land that actually belonged to him.
With that said, though, property laws are not always the same, and it is easy to get burned. Before buying property (especially, but not limited to, rural property) talk to the neighbours and find out if anyone can make a claim of adverse use or squatting.
Has the land been used commercially and are there any environmental concerns?
While not something we have had to worry about, I have spoken to people who have bought land that, unbeknownst to them, had been used commercially and still had toxic residues in the soil.
If the property is extremely remote, can it be insured, at a reasonable price, for year-round residency?
Even if the fire department is willing to come out, does your insurance company think that the distance is too far? Many insurance companies will require that a residence be within a certain distance of a fire department and fire hydrant.
Even if you think that this won’t matter – you’ll take the chances of living without house insurance – realize that this has other effects. For example, if you want to get a farm board loan to expand your livestock or produce production, insurance is almost definitely going to be required. If you need to build a new house or barn on the property and want a mortgage to spread out the cost, banks generally require property insurance.
For a very remote property, check to see if your department of natural resources (or equivalent – the people who deal with land) has future plans for that area. Have they been buying up land all around in order to create a wilderness zone?
As I mentioned briefly, this is an issue in rural properties. At first it may seem like a good idea to have the Department of Natural Resources manage the local wilderness areas. After all, they have the best interest of the land and the public at heart, right?
Although I am certainly not anti-government and very rarely conspiracy minded, I have come to consider this trend – of the land branch of the government buying up land – to be disturbing and harmful, at least when their policies are based upon issues of department revenue.
A number of the clear cutting operations, which I consider to be an environmentally devastating practice – are on DNR lands. Protected wilderness areas are technically “no motorized vehicles” – except for the many cottagers who pay rent to DNR and have the right to bring their vehicles. And, as I mentioned earlier, we have spoken to a woman who is being pressured to sell her small property because DNR has destroyed the road leading to her property.
Think long and hard before buying property in the middle of an area in which they have future plans.
Can I afford the property?
Do I need a mortgage to purchase this property?
People who live in urban areas may be a bit confused by this question. The fact is, though, very nice rural properties can be purchased for shockingly low prices. In my home village (which has an elementary school, post office, grocery store, two banks, a thrift store and a diner that serves the best food around), very nice three-bedroom houses on quarter-acre town lots can be purchased for $20,000.
How much of a mortgage can I qualify for and do I even want one?
Before you even begin looking at a property, if you are planning on buying with a mortgage, make an appointment with your bank’s loan officer or with a mortgage broker, and find out how much you can actually borrow. There is no sense planning to buy a $300,000 farm when the bank will only let you borrow $100,000.
Is it possible to buy this property without a mortgage?
How would a person go about buying a property without a mortgage?
The first step is to have as much money in savings as possible. If a farm or homestead is part of your vision for the future, learn to love rice and beans so that every extra penny can go into the bank.
The second step is to locate a property that is affordable once loans and savings are taken into account.
If a private loan, with a good interest rate, is possible through a friend or family member, that is definitely something to be considered, but be aware that borrowing and lending has destroyed many a relationship in the past.
Another option, if you have saved enough money, is to apply for a line of credit instead of a mortgage. Although it may seem like the same thing, a line of credit is more like a credit card with a very good interest rate. Payments are more flexible and the credit is available if needed for house repairs and other necessities. (Of course this presupposes that you are careful with your spending and do not carry a credit card balance!) After it has been paid off, the line of credit is still yours to use as needed. Our bank tells us that 30% of the property cost is necessary in order to get a line of credit instead of a mortgage.
Can I find a similar property in an area with lower property values?
I was shocked to find out that my little home village has the highest property taxes in the province. This is something to know ahead of time because there is always going to be another property in an area with lower property taxes.
If the property value is extremely low, do I know why and am I willing and able to deal with those issues?
Beware the dreaded “as is where is”. It covers a multitude of sins. Usually when the property is too good to be true, there are very good reasons. Of course if the plumbing is completely busted and you have a plumbing business, perhaps you will have no problem handing that. Most of us need a home that is livable right away.
At this point, you should have covered all of the bases!