Posted by: A Part of the Solution | September 11, 2009

Farm Hunting the Modern Way

I don’t drive. I’ve never driven. I’m not interested in becoming a driver. I don’t get on well with combustion engines. That said, I’ve been stalking the real estate market in our target county for fifteen months. And I do mean stalking. As in?

I’ve spent hours and hours (and hours) on the internet learning our proposed area by heart. Terrain maps, flying views of the earth, soil surveys, development zoning, you name it. And I’ve spent untold time at the clearing house sites for realty (zillow, trulia, realtor.com &tc. &tc). I circle in for more info at the individual realty sites. There I gather financial details, find more pictures, and collect mapping data.

Furthermore, I’m good at what I’m doing. Really good. How do I know? Well, each and every property I’ve liked enough to show my partner, or forward to my more tolerant friends and family members has sold. Even in this amazingly difficult real estate market. Every. Single. One.

Aperiodically, we head on up there for the day to tour the properties currently on my best-in-show roster. Mostly, we do this to eliminate the contestants and refocus our search. And we’re every kind of picky we can think to be. Maybe not the same kind of picky as ‘already’ farmers. Still, we’re very comfortable not liking what we drove more than two hours to see.

Sunday, we looked at four possible farms with our realtrix, whom we’d never met in person. Ah the joys of the long-distance professional relationship! It was the best of days. It was the worst of days. Though the weather couldn’t have been any prettier if it had had advance notice of our interest.

The last place we looked at was the least unaffordable of the batch. It was big enough, at 127+ acres. It had a huge and functional barn. It had a ‘slaughterhouse’–though it was locked so we didn’t get to see what that might mean first hand. It had a recently renovated farmhouse and two full baths.

But the fields were steep enough you could hold a tractor-rolling competition there every week of the year on a different part of the various slopes. The woodlot was some of the scraggliest, most invasive-infested, post-WWII trees-in-a-clump I’d ever seen. How many goats, and for how long, would it take to make the woods somewhat more appealing? The water was sourced solely from a couple of wells. Plus it was the farthest north of any location we were considering by a good twenty-five minutes driving time.

The third place we looked at had great views. The house was in fine shape. The stone spring-house was as sturdy as the day it had been built.

But the outbuildings were listing like little, wooden Towers of Pisa. The property was mostly wooded, and steeply so. The kitchen had last been redone in about nineteen fifty-two from the looks of the stove, sink and fridge. And someone had told the legatees of the estate a few years back that the place was worth $600K. That might have been true in ’05 or ’06–but since then things have changed a little in real estate.

The second place we saw was brick built and huge. The barn was in great shape–shiny new roof and all. The kitchen was modernized. The pocket doors still rolled in and out. There was a front staircase, and a back staircase from the first floor to the second. The porch was large and deep.

But the former occupants had left all their stuff and some of everybody else’s too (given that there were at least three rooms into which we could not get on account of all the furniture, boxes and general detritus piled up). At least four squatters were living there–as evidenced by the mattresses and blankets and toothbrushes and stuff in the fridge of an ‘unoccupied’ property let alone the open back door. It had the smell of an animal having died in the walls. The fields were scrubby, and flooded annually according to the disclosures. And it was right on the busy through road out front. With all the noise from traffic, one would never feel lonely (or as though one had attained the peacefulness of country living). We couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

The first place we looked at was everything we’d ever dreamed of as a starting-point and more. Really. How often is a place prettier than its listing photos? How often is it even more spacious without being sprawling? How often is it better maintained than you could believe? How often do retirees who don’t farm have the entire bank barn foundation completely redone–just as one of many fer-instances?

The former two-car garage had been remade into a woodworking shop. It wouldn’t be past believing to re-envision it as my commercial-kitchen-to-be. The large pond is spring fed. The guest wing (!) they’d installed has its own full bathroom, and the bedrooms each have their own door onto the back porch. The kitchen/dining room in the house is 15×27. And there are built-in bookshelves and clothes pegs everywhere. As well as boot porches on two sides of the house.

The woods were adorned with a lovely, well-maintained walking path. One secluded meadow surrounded by trees on all sides seemed like the perfect, drift-free place to start the truck garden which we hope will be the foundation of our future CSA. And the neighbors (who all have the same last name as the name of the road–and about one business in six throughout the county) are friendly!

So you’re wondering about the BUT in all this. Given the condition of the house (superlative) and the outbuildings (outstanding) and the size of the property (perfect), this place would be worth a good deal more in any part of the real estate cycle but this one. Maybe if the present owners weren’t moving two time-zones away next month they could hold out for more money. Lots of the bigger and better properties in the area are on the market for more than a year before they find a buyer. This one’s only been on offer for five and a half months. And the price has been reduced, substantially, once already. And it’s still way more than we’d ever seriously considered spending. Right up until we saw it with our own eyes and talked to the owners and walked the land.

Now we’re doing everything in our power to make this lovely property the foundation of our dreams come true. Anyone with innovative methods of acquiring great funding on the cheap should be sure to let me know. ASAP! Because if I like it, it won’t sit on the market much longer.

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