Thursday, March 17, 2011

We found a keeper

Stacy and I been dreaming of moving our family to an acreage for about ten years -- since just a couple years after buying our first house in town.  We talked for a while about carving a lot out of my family farm, which is now inside town, but that didn't work out.  After searching periodically for acreages just outside town, we finally found something in March 2011.

My family farm certainly had a lot of sentimental value.  My grandparents bought the 40-acre farm when they married in 1938 and originally raised dairy cattle.  My parents built their house on a corner of the farm in 1973.  My dad and I both grew up there.  With the farm being engulfed by the city, my dad planned to subdivide the farm after his parents died.  We initially considered taking a half acre or so in the new development -- bordering the creek where I spent so many summer days -- so that at least a little piece of the farm could stay in the family for another generation.

As time progressed, my daughter fell in love with horses (which you can't have inside the city limits), and we decided that we wanted a little more elbow room than we could get inside the city.

To that end, we periodically looked into availability of plots between 2-10 acres within 10 miles south or east of town.  That size was big enough for a horse, but small enough to be manageable as we grow older.  We saw some great places with awful, 30-year-old houses in which I couldn't stand to live.  We've spent enough time fixing other people's problems in our current 120-year-old house, and we didn't want to go to the expense and trouble of moving, only to take on a whole new set of problems.

In March of 2011, we ran across a 3-acre lot on the MLS (multiple resource listing) search engine that looked promising.  It was located just 3/4 mile outside the city limits in a quarter section that had 20 years earlier been subdivided into 3-acre lots.  This lot had originally been the side yard of a 6-acre lot.  It was split by the previous owner, with both halves sold separately.  It was located a quarter mile off a paved road, even closer to church and school than we currently live.  It's just 1.5 miles from a large shopping center including Walmart & Menards, with a major highway on the far border of that.

Despite its proximity to town, it's wonderfully quiet due to its location over a large watershed ridge.  The first time we visited the site was 6pm on a weekday, and the only noise we could hear were birds.  The lot was landscaped 20 years ago and has nearly 100 trees and shrubs which further contribute to the quiet.  There's a small drainage creek with mature trees that defines the rear lot line, although it only has running water when it rains.

The lot was east of the road so a rear deck would be shaded in the evenings.  It slopes about 20 feet from the road to the creek, allowing for a walk-out basement.  The covenants are very loose, and allow the large workshop that I've always wanted.  Several residents in the neighborhood already had horses, so my daughter would be in good company.  Asking around turned up quite a number of young kids like ours in the neighborhood.

It sounded like a prefect fit.

We've prayed all along that when the right place came along, it would be obvious.  God answered that prayer, and we hit green lights at every turn.  This was the place for us.

After a bit of haggling, the sellers accepted our offer of 8% less than their asking price.  We're so excited!  We can't wait to get the ball rolling on this place.

Our new neighborhood (our acreage outlined in orange)
A close-up of our new acreage (outlined in orange)

So here are a few points that we considered when choosing an acreage:

1.  Location:  How secluded and quiet is it?  How far away are playmates for your kids?  How self-sufficient do you want to be?  How far is it from modern conveniences (like a place to buy milk or cough medicine at midnight)?  How much time & money will you be spending driving to work/school every day?  A friend of mine recently moved from a nearby village into the "big city," and his family saved $130/month in gas alone.

2.  Roads:  What are the roads like?  Ten miles of gravel isn't a big deal near Tuscon, but it's a major consideration in North Dakota, where it snows non-stop all winter.  Can your vehicle handle a few miles of un-plowed road?  Is your job flexible enough to let you stay home or arrive really late when the roads are bad?  Hilly, gravel roads aren't the safest places after dark.  If you've got young drivers in your family, this could be a concern.

3.  Water & sewer:  Is the area served by a rural water system with a monthly fee, or do you need to drill your own well?  Is there a sewer system?  Will the ground support an underground septic system?  Do you need to have an above-ground lagoon?

4.  TV/Internet access:  Does cable TV serve the area?  Can you get reliable access to DSL or cable Internet service, or do you need a wireless connection, or can you piggy back off a reliable cell phone data connection?  Dish & related TV solves the TV problem easily enough, but broadband Internet access can be slow or unreliable if you don't have wires running to your house.

5.  Maintenance:  How much of your land can be left as wildgrass?  How much time do you want to spend every week mowing your lawn?  How long a driveway do you want to snowblow or plow (forget about scooping)?  With lots of trees but no buildings, our 3-acre lot can be mowed in about 3 hours with a 54" tractor.  Tractor mowers are a lot more expensive than push mowers, BTW.

6.  Covenant restrictions:  Many people who buy acreages plan to get a few animals or put up some large out buildings.  Even though the state/county allows it, many acreage developments (like ours) still place further restrictions on what is allowed at the site.  As with any house purchase, read any covenants carefully so you don't get any surprises.

7.  Future expansion:  Consult the 10- to 40-year master plan for your county or any nearby cities.  Will your livestock plans be nixed if the city envelopes you in five years?  Does the state plan to put a new interstate highway right through your back yard?  Maybe there's a reason this beautiful acreage is dirt cheap.

8.  Lay of the land:  How is the lot oriented?  Will your back deck be shaded in the evening?  How good is the view from your porch?  Are you on the top of a hill where the wind will never stop?  Can you have a walk-out basement?  Does the land funnel all the water run-off directly into the prime building location?  How much dirt or trees will you have to move in order to get a trouble-free house where you want it?  Is the layout conducive to any renewable energy plans you may have (solar / wind / geothermal)?

Those are just a few of the things you want to think about before you buy rather than after you move in.

This is going to be a fun ride.  We're glad to have you all along for the ride.  Feel free to leave any questions or comments below.

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