It’s the little things that spring up and scream “Gotcha!” when you’re buying a small acre property. So before you take the plunge, save yourself considerable pain and sleepless nights by running through this quick checklist of must-do steps, each one of which I’ve experienced many times.
1. REALTOR CHECK: Find a qualified farm/rural land real estate agent. Purchasing a farm or acreage can be intimidating and complex. To avoid costly mistakes, your first step should be hiring a real estate professional with experience in this specialized property category.
- Does your agent actually own a small farm? (BONUS POINTS if he/she does!)
- How many small acreage farm properties has your agent listed/sold?
- Does he/she understand zoning, easements and other complicated issues?
2. LOCATION CHECK: Identify the best small acreage property for your new farm. You’ll want to make sure the property you buy is strategically located for optimum success. Ask yourself:
- Is the property convenient to nearby communities?
- Is it close to farmers markets (important if you’re selling produce)
- Is the distance from town (and shopping) about right…or a potential deal killer?
- Is the property accessible by safe, well-maintained highways and roads?
- In winter, how quickly and how often are those roads cleared of snow and ice? Will you be snowed in for long periods of time?
3. FACILITY CHECK: Find the ideal property for your needs. For a perfect fit, you’ll have to be smart about the property you choose. Make sure it delivers the features you need for your homestead, equestrian center hobby farm to prosper:
- Does the property have the amount of acreage you require?
- Does the property have the buildings you need? Too many…or too few?
- Does it have adequate level areas, hills, or forested, tillable or usable space?
- Are electric, phone and Internet services in place, or will you have to have them installed?
- Are there any plans to build housing or commercial developments nearby?
- Are there any protective covenants that could impact your plans?
4. WATER CHECK—Understanding the property’s water situation! Water is a crucial component to any farm/acreage venture, especially if you plan to raise livestock or plant crops.
- Is the property connected to city water or a well?
- Has a flow test been completed?
- What ponds, lakes, streams, brooks or wells are on the property?
- Is there a history of flooding? How would that impact pasturing or crop locations?
- Have you tested the water for pollutants? Is it drinkable?
- Can you legally irrigate from any of the water sources on your property?
- Do you share a well with neighbors or other third parties? Who controls it and might that be a problem down the road?
5. SEPTIC CHECK: A septic system is NOT a deal breaker...Usually
- Is the property connected to city sewer or a septic system?
- Has the entire septic system been inspected?
- When was the septic tank last pumped?
- Where is the septic tank?
- Where is the drain field?
- Is the drain field still viable?
- If the entire system has to be replaced, will the county even allow it? And How much will that cost?
6. SOIL CHECK: Ensure that the soil is suitable for your farming needs. Not all soils are equal. Some are fertile, some are dry, unproductive or polluted. Time to get down into the dirt.
- Have you walked the property to look closely at the soil and topography?
- Are there any signs of erosion damage?
- Do new ditches or retainer walls have to be built?
- What percentage of the land is tillable or usable as pasture land?
- How was the land used previously and how might that impact your plans?
- Do some fields need to be converted from crops to pasture or vice versa?
- Is major weed control or soil rehabilitation required?
7. LEGAL CHECK: Research any legal concerns. You don’t want to purchase a property and later discover legal restrictions that prevent your plans. So before signing anything, check for legal complications:
- Is the title free and clear of any claims?
- Do local codes restrict certain types of land usage that would apply to you
- Is there a homeowners’ association?
- Are there easements or access agreements in place that would allow others to use your property
- Is there a nearby garbage dump or manufacturing plant that could endanger your ground water?
- Are any parts of the property designated as wetlands or floodplain?
8. UNPLANNED EXPENSES: Beware of Unplanned for costs
I’ve seen it a thousand times. Someone finds the property of his dreams but suddenly realizes it comes with all kinds of unforeseen fees and charges.
- Have you prepared for this possibility?
- Do the main house and other buildings require repairs or remodeling?
- Have you budgeted for fees like title search, title insurance, closing costs, variance applications?
- Could you be billed for municipal water and sewer connection fees costing thousands of dollars?
- Do you need to upgrade/replace the septic system or well?
- Do you need to install or repave a road or driveway?
9. EQUIPMENT CHECK: Make a list of tools/equipment you’ll need. Identify and budget for the various machines and tools you’ll need to work the farm:
- Do you need a tractor? What kind and what size?
- Do you need a pickup truck or four-wheeler?
- Do you need to install new fencing and watering stations?
- What tools will you need (shovels, rakes, hoses, storage containers, water troughs, etc.)?
10. NEIGHBORS CHECK: Should you be afraid…very afraid? Unlike relatives, you get to choose your neighbors by deciding where to live. So before you make your purchase, spend some time getting to know them in advance.
- Have you stopped by the neighbors for a visit?
- Any axe murderers, moonshiners or serial killers in the group? (OK, just kidding.)
- Are your plans for your property complimentary to your neighbor’s farm or homestead?
11. TAX CHECK: Don’t forget Uncle Sam Understand how taxes can impact your business by paying attention to issues like:
- What is the annual state, federal or local tax burden on this property?
- Is the parcel zoned for farm use (which could lower the property tax)?
- Have you checked to ensure there are no back taxes due (BEFORE purchasing!)
- Is there any reason to expect that taxes will increase soon (new highways being built nearby, new services such as fire, police, etc.)?
Kiss the Gotcha’s goodbye and find your own sanctuary 60 minutes or less from the big city. Both as a farmer myself and as a Realtor guiding other would-be small farm owners, I’ve experienced both sides of the process. I know where the Gotcha’s are and how you can avoid them. Turn your dreams into reality--call or email me today!