Finding Your Country Place Part 1

There is no one perfect country place. Instead there are many, each suited for the people who plan to live on it. The chances of finding this dream country place are slim, but you can try.

How do you decide on your perfect country place?

Our search began in a United States Department of Agriculture yearbook. We wanted to have the four seasons. We wanted a rural, agricultural area. We wanted to stay in the middle of the country.

The yearbook went state by state describing each area. We went over the climate data, the commercial data and settled on Missouri, the Ozarks area. It was far enough south to have milder winters than up in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. It was far enough north to have the four seasons. It was rural.

Like so many people wanting to move to the country, our funds were limited. This means making compromises with that dream place. What is most important to you?

neglected country place

It doesn’t take many years for a pasture to grow up in cedars, sassafras, brambles and buck brush. Fence wire gets broken. Posts fall over. Most prospective buyers take one look and go elsewhere.

Decision 1: House or Land?

If your funds are limited, this is an important question. Nice houses have big price tags. Livable houses have lower price tags. Bare land has the lowest price. Smaller pieces of land have higher prices per acre than larger pieces.

We wanted the most land we could afford. Our lives center on being outside in the garden, with the livestock and walking the hills. A house is nice protection from the weather and can be fixed up.

The country place we chose had an ancient barn and an old hog house on it, no house. But it had lots of land with a creek, a dug well, overgrown pastures and falling down fences. The hog barn could be used as a house in a pinch but there was a nice spot to build a house.

This was an option for us as we had no children. A family would need something different. However, a used mobile home can serve as a place to live until a better house is built. My parents lived in a tent for a year while my father built a house.

Another consideration in Missouri is the lack of building codes in rural areas. What looks like a nice house can be a hidden nightmare. Look over that house with someone who knows about building houses before you get some unwelcome surprises.

We found out about this when the house and property across the road became available. Nothing in the house is square. Five different people had added onto the house, none of whom tried to coordinate with the rest of them. A simple job like putting on new shingles requires a lot of preparation as no one had ever replaced the wooden shakes now a hundred years old, no one put metal flashing or edging so parts leaked or were rotting and the haphazard roof additions weren’t tied in correctly so had to be rebuilt.

A friend’s house is much nicer to look at but has many more problems needing fixing. These may or may not be mentioned before you buy, probably not. That leaves you fixing the problems.

reclaiming a country place

Using a bush hog knocks down that overgrowth. Some people use herbicides, but those kill desirable plants too as those so-called weeds have more nutrition in them than grass. Even cattle will eat tender new growth. Goats relish the variety.

Caution 2: The Neighbors

In the city neighbors are right next door. Fences and walls separate neighbors to minimize conflicts. That changes for your country place.

Neighbors come in three classes. The best ones are people you love to know. I was blessed with one such neighbor when I bought my first country place.

Mr. Kesner explained how to build a fence, how to arrange my place, how to fix up the house and broke my pony to work my garden. I learned about his hunting dogs and tales of town when it was younger. If anything went drastically wrong, I had help right next door.

Another class of neighbors ignores you. They and their animals don’t bother you. Often you are on speaking terms, just not friendly ones. A disaster will garner help.

Then there are the nightmare neighbors. These are the people who live across the road and raise dogs that bark any time you show your face. Perhaps they go by the animal shelter or just collect stray dogs and let them run. They raise cattle but never fix the fences. They have loud parties and strange visitors at all hours. They steal your livestock and other belongings. They shoot your animals for the target practice.

Please, I am not making these instances up. We’ve been lucky but I know many people who haven’t been. It’s important to check the neighbors out before you buy even a great piece of property.

This is another reason to buy as much land as you can. It puts the neighbors farther away. We own both sides of the county road so no one can move in across the street.

That doesn’t mean we are complaisant. We rarely go anywhere together leaving someone here most of the time. People cruise down the county road at five miles an hour checking everything out. The local paper has long lists of burglaries.

country place reclaimed

Once pastures are reclaimed, it isn’t hard to keep them looking nice. We bush hog in late summer giving grass time to grow back for fall and winter grazing.

Hint 3: Real Estate Agents

Real estate agents are normally friendly people. They have to be as their living depends on selling property. This bears repeating: real estate agents make their money from their commissions. The higher the price you pay, the more money the agent makes.

When we bought this property, there was no internet. Today properties are listed with pictures and descriptions. You can take your time with no one breathing down your neck and check out the listings in your target areas.

I’m not good at bargaining, mostly because I don’t do much of it. Real estate and car sales still operate on bargaining. That can work for or against you. If your target area is popular, you may have to offer more than the listed price to buy the property.

Lots of rural areas are not so popular. That gives you the chance to make lower offers on properties listed at more than you want to spend. All the owner can say is no.

As soon as you tell a real estate agent the price range you are considering, the agent starts making a mental list of properties to show you. The agent will assume you want a nice house on your country place. These may or may not be what you are looking for. This is where you push to see properties that are closer to what you want.

We wanted to garden and had goats and chickens. One property the agent took us to see had one flat spot big enough for a house. The rest of the place was a steep hill. It is possible to garden in terraces but setting them up takes a lot of time and work. Plus you are either going downhill or uphill anytime you step out the door.

Another piece was miles off the paved road. A gravel road, at least it was called a road, went to the property. Actually the road went down a dry creek bed that split the piece in two. High water would mean being stuck for the duration.

Then there was the property with five miles of rutted driveway leading to it. The nearest town was a blink and you miss it kind of place.

That does bring up the towns. Take a look around. You will be going into town to shop. How far away is town? The local library was a big deciding factor for us. Do you feel comfortable in the town? If you need to find a job, what is the employment situation? These things matter if you, like us, plan to live there for years.

Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t settle for property totally unsuited for what you want to do. Don’t pass up a good piece because it is overgrown and needs work to be that great place of your dreams.

Knowing a Good Property

There are signs to look for when you go looking for that country place. This is where a little botany really comes in handy. Buying a good tree guide will help.

Part 2 will go over some of these signs.