Picking That Perfect Country Place
We went looking for a place in the fall. Most property is sold in the spring and summer when plants are green, birds are singing and land is all dressed up. By fall the sellers are wondering if they are stuck with the property for another year.
Our list was basic: live water as a stream or pond; a large flat area for putting the house, barn and garden; acreage for pastures; and a nice town not too far away. We were older and would need to work. Driving thirty miles or more one way to go shopping or find a job wasn’t so appealing. Good pastures and gardens need good soil and we didn’t want to spend years developing it.
Investigation 4: Finding Good Soil
Trees can tell you a lot about soil and water on a place. Annual plants grow for a single season and may compromise so they can bloom and set seeds. In a good year they are lush. In a bad year they are scraggly.
Trees live in the same spot for years and only thrive when conditions are to their liking. When they grow well, the soil and moisture in that area are what they like.
Sycamores and willows love having their feet wet. They will grow happily along creeks, streams and wet weather creeks. They are important to have there to slow erosion. Lots of water is great for a water garden but not a vegetable garden.
Oaks and hickories tend to grow in drier areas. Blackjack oak especially indicates poorer soils usually dry, thin and rocky. Oak makes good firewood. The heavy leaves don’t break down well. They often grow on slopes with thin soils.
We looked for black walnut and white oak. Both of these trees like deep, rich soil with moisture but not swampy areas. Elms and locusts are other trees to look for.
Trees tell you more than about the soil. Tornadoes and high winds are not something you want to visit you. Tornadoes tend to follow pathways leaving twisted and shattered trees as evidence of their passing. They are broken off, not uprooted. If you see this kind of tree damage, expect a tornado to visit the place again at some time in the future.
In the Arkansas River valley where my father lived there was just such a pathway. About every five years a small tornado roared down this little ravine. It took out a new hay barn one visit. It destroyed a goat dairy five years later. A stronger one went through some years after that topping the hill, destroying another goat dairy there and killing the owner.
High winds leave big uprooted trees behind. Trees do fall down for other reasons. The tip off to high wind damage is having the trees all fall in roughly the same direction. The valley we live in has a bend at the beginning of our property. Most of the high winds get shunted aside by that curve and go up over the hills across the valley from the house and barn.
Looking 5: Walk the Property
Real estate agents will tell you very few people really look over the place they buy. We sold a two story house to people who never went upstairs. We looked at a piece of property and only found out the property line was thirty feet behind the house because we went out looking.
Trash is a big problem for people in the country. There are companies starting to have regular pick ups but many times you are left with disposing of the trash yourself. One method was to find a hollow or sinkhole out of site of the house and dump it there. Such dumps are a mess to clean up and an unwelcome, unnecessary surprise. They can contaminate the soil and water.
County roads are public roads. People do drive down these roads with loads of trash such as shingles, appliances and tires. They find a quiet place, stop and unload it. If the trash is on the right of way, the county might eventually come out and clean it up. Usually the landowner gets to do it.
Walking around a piece of property lets you get a feel for it. You see the place from various angles and can see how it fits or doesn’t with your plans. You can get a feel for the property. We looked at one piece that had possibilities but gave me a panic attack. We found out later there were problems with the property and it was definitely not for us.
If possible, try to look over the property on different days at different times of day including early morning and late evening. Our valley has another valley just over a set of hills. That valley funnels in all the traffic noise from a state highway. It is most noticeable at night and early in the morning. The hills shield us from that noise.
As you walk around, you get a better idea of the work needed. What will need doing first? How big a challenge will this place be? How expensive will these improvements be and can you afford them?
Wear comfortable shoes. Expect to walk on your own. Most real estate agents know little about the property and will not be thrilled to go hiking. The agent who showed us our place was wearing high heels.
As has been noted earlier, check out the house and other buildings.
Convenience 6: Utilities
The electric cooperative has lines going across our property. The electric cooperative comes in to cut trees and brush in the right of way. These are an important route so get fast attention after storm damage. Being at the end of a line means waiting longer for the crews to get there.
Living up north, we had no electricity. It’s doable but I do like running water and lights. Solar is a possibility but hooking to the cooperative is convenient and not that expensive, at least for us as we heat with wood, use propane for hot water and cooking and watch how much electricity we use.
Propane is available in rural areas as is heating oil. The companies generally rent out the tanks and charge by the gallon for filling the tanks.
Phone lines are important for most people too. We have a land line only. The house is in a dead zone with no regular cell service. If cell service is important to you, check it out before you buy. Satellite service has several drawbacks including being affected by storms and being expensive.
Internet service matters to most people now too. With only a land line, our service is called dial up which is not worth the bother. We manage quite well going into town and using the library’s public access computers.
There are several satellite services available. They have varying customer satisfaction reports and costs. Check out the possibilities for the place you are interested in.
Is This Everything?
Probably not. I covered things we thought were important. You may have other priorities. Different kinds of livestock have different requirements. Perhaps you have special needs for hospital access. It’s important to know these before you go looking for property and take them into account.
I also made the assumption here that you are planning a life style change for the long term. People may do a lot of moving around on a statistical basis but homesteading is a long term commitment. It takes years to build up a really good garden spot or put up miles of fencing by yourself.
Once you buy a piece of property, another set of considerations begins. A crucial one is owning a dog. That is next week.