Tag Archives: buying property

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.


Water Is Vital

People, gardens and livestock require water. Cities and towns generally have water departments and pipes taking water to houses and businesses. Some rural areas join together to form water districts to supply water to their members.

Most rural areas leave water supply up to the land owners. There are generally four sources in the Ozarks: drilled well; springs; rain; and surface sources such as dug wells, ponds and streams.

Ozark Water Facts

I love to garden. It’s a great way to take out frustration pulling those persistent weeds. It’s relaxing to dig in the dirt. Those little sprouts are exciting to see. Fresh, home grown food, especially food you grow yourself, prepared for dinner is so satisfying on several levels.

Floods or, more accurately, high water events are not uncommon in the Ozarks. They are usually short-lived but destructive. The bedrock of the Ozarks accounts for this.

water carved bluff rock

This bit of exposed bluff rock has some cavities in it but they don’t open into any caves we know of. There is no water coming out from this rock but it stays moist from the creek just below. The rock is pitted with cracks both horizontally and vertically.

Lesson 1: Missouri has Lots of Caves and Rocks

The Ozark Plateau is a Karst formation. This is a huge block of limestone riddled with holes formed by acidic rainwater seeping through the rock and dissolving some of it. Such an area, and there are other Karst areas around the world, are known for caves, sinking streams, sinkholes and springs.

A common belief is that water seeping through soil is cleaned of much of the debris in it. This is not true in a Karst area. Debris falls through or is dumped into sinkholes and sits for decades with water flowing by. A stream can carry debris with it as it flows down through a crevice and disappears. The debris may or may not arrive at the spring where the water reappears.

Parts of the Ozarks have a granite bedrock. Everywhere the rocks break into small pieces. The soil seems to grow a new crop of rocks every year. Rarely is the soil more than inches deep.

My garden soil has a lot of gravel in it. This is annoying when I try to rake a seed bed smooth. But big rains rarely make a mess of my garden as the water drains through quickly.

Other people I’ve talked to have more clay and their gardens can stay muddy for weeks. Still, the vegetables usually survive or even thrive with the moisture.

Drought is different. Drought creeps up as day follows day with no rain. The garden starts drying up. The plants shrivel. The weeds curl their leaves and droop. Only water can help them.

captured rain is a water source

Rain barrels under a drain spout or eave overhang fill quickly. Mosquitoes can be a problem. I have an aquarium fish net and sweep them up every day or so to keep the larva from hatching into adults. The larva dry out quickly when tossed on the ground.

Lesson 2: Supplying Water to the Homestead

Filling jugs in town is possible but a real nuisance. There is never enough. Buying bottled water is expensive. The best way is to have water on site.

Rain is one source of water. In the Ozarks rain is a feast or famine proposition. That is where rain barrels, ponds and streams help. Some old houses still have cisterns under them filled from rain funneled down from the roof.

I use rain barrels for watering my garden. There are two roofs overhanging the garden and I place the barrels there to catch the run off from March to November. Plastic barrels do not do well filled with ice.

During long dry spells, I supplement the rain barrels by refilling them with water pumped from a nearby creek. This method works fine during short dry spells. The creek disappears under its gravel bed in droughts. Ponds dry up. Even springs can stop flowing.

All of these are lumped under surface water. This means the water can pick up all kinds of things from debris to manure to chemicals from the surfaces it flows over. Garden plants and soil filter out much of this. Using these for drinking water without filtration is risky.

A neighbor uses a spring for house water. The spring has a fairly large flow but does fluctuate according to the rainfall or lack of it. The amount of mud and debris flowing out of the spring increases in wet weather. The water must be filtered carefully at all times as a spring is basically surface water and can have any number of pollutants in it.

Another is a dug well. This goes down into the water table. The water in the well is surface water and the level will rise in wet conditions and fall in dry conditions. Heavy manure or fertilizer applications will taint the water quickly.

I have a dug well and do use it for livestock water buckets. The water temperature stays about the same all year so the goats appreciate relatively warmer or cooler water depending on the season. The well is above my garden so compost doesn’t affect it. We have no close neighbors above the well so the water stays palatable to the goats.

This water may be used to cool off in the summer but is not used for drinking water. Lots of creatures call the well home even though the top is covered. I occasionally pump up amphipods, little white shrimp like creatures.

The other option is a drilled well. Having one put in is expensive but the well rarely goes dry even during a drought. The well requires a pump, pipes and pressure tank.

A well bucket can be used in a drilled well. The bucket is dropped down into the water to fill then pulled up using a crank. This is a lot of work for a small amount of water, about two gallons. I’ve done this before and did not enjoy it.

Drilled wells with good casings to keep surface water out of the well are the most reliable source. The amount of water flowing into the well determines how much water can be pumped out before there is no water to pump. The water level will gradually rise again but doing this is hard on the pump and can ruin it.

dug wells are surface water

The original dug well has a cement slab over it with a small opening. We covered this opening to keep chickens etc. from falling in and put in the hand pump. The pump must be easily removable to change the leathers or flexible ends on the pump pipe that control the water flow out while you are trying to pump the water up the pipe.

Lesson 3: Considering Water

How much water you need depends on how the water will be used. Gardens and livestock take lots of water. Washing machines, dishwashers and long showers take a lot of water.

The garden can be left to die in mid summer when rain is scarce. Clothes can go to the laundromat. Showers can be timed. Water is still an issue.

Water is definitely on your list before you go looking for property. Having more than one source is an advantage. Having no sources is a recipe for frustration.

The property here works well. There is a creek that flows all year. It supplies water for livestock out in pasture and my garden during dry times. There is a dug well with a hand pump to supply livestock water at the barn. There is a drilled well to supply the house. Rain barrels supply additional water for the garden and container plants.

We knew before we bought any property we would need water for all these things. When we looked at different properties, we checked out the water sources. If the property didn’t have water sources on it, we kept on looking. Yes, looking gets tiring and you are tempted to compromise. If you compromise on the water you need, you will regret it as long as you live there.

creeks are surface water

Creeks are nice on a property. They do bring problems with erosion – preventable with a riparian zone – and fencing as high water carries fences away.

With Great Trepidation

Deciding to try living in the country, maybe some homesteading is not an easy decision. It can be downright scary. Maybe it should be at least a little scary.

Picking out that piece of property needs to be a little scary as it is not only a big financial investment but where you will try to live this new life style. The wrong piece will doom you to unhappiness, struggle and failure. The right piece can make you wonder why you waited so long to move.

How do you know a good property from a wrong property? The next two weeks may help.