Ahh, Green Acres is the place to be, farm living is the life for me! But if you have never owned a country home those green acres can turn brown real quick. Here are some tips when checking out a country home.
In my last post HERE I gave a list of things you might not know to check when buying a home. The points in that last Blog post are also applicable here, and this is a slight spin off from that Blog post but intended for people buying a home in the country. Country properties have some very unique points that you won’t find in city homes. So make sure you read that post first as in this post I will only cover the special things to look for in country properties.
Before Making The Purchase Offer
Think long and hard about your plans for a country property. It’s very important that you sit down and write out what your plans for a country property are now and what your dreams, desires, plans are for the property in the future. If you plan or dream about making any changes to what is currently there then you need to be very careful about your research. It might sound like a lot of work but make a drawing of what you plan to change, where it will be placed, etc., etc. I am sure my little Blog can not account for every persons dreams and plans. As a result I will most likely miss something here but you will pick up on it later and might find conditions or stipulations that can derail your plans. There would be nothing worse than buying a 20 acre property just to find out you really can’t use the property the way you want to!
Another very important aspect that many people seem to leave out unintentionally are the costs of what you plan to do with the property. Large properties and even the least work intensive agricultural operations have costs beyond purchasing the property and making written plans. You also need to think what additional resources you might need just to maintain the proerty let alone run some type of agricultural operation. For example here are just some items to think about costs for.
- Farm machinery and equipment. At the very least just to maintain the property you’ll need a basic ranch tractor and not just some high horse power lawn tractor either. Fields need to be mowed, gravel driveways maintained, etc. Think long and hard about what you will need, how big, how powerful, etc., and price these items both brand new and used. Don’t grab lowball prices for used equipment either since it can result in more maintenance expense than had you bought it new.
- If you plan to run livestock what are costs to purchase them, feed them, provide appropriate veterinarian care if/when needed.
- If you’re planting what does seed, any needed chemicals, irrigation water, etc., going to cost. By the way when we talk about chemicals you should be aware that you just can’t go down to the local Ag store and buy all of the agricultural grade chemicals you might need. Ag grade chemicals typically require an Applicators license to buy and that takes training and licensing even if you will only use them on your property.
- Will you need any special structures or other amendments for your operation that are not already on the property? How much are they going to cost and can you even build them? Depending on what it is there might be County ordinances or other laws, rules, or regulations, prohibiting them on your chosen property for some odd reason.
Know the type of sewage system/disposal method for the property. Most all country properties are not serviced by a local sewage plant and instead have some type of On Site Sewage Facility (OSSF) typically called a septic system. These can be very expensive to repair and/or replace and occasionally during an inspection we do find major issues with them. These are some steps and information to know to help perform at least a pre-check of the system before making an offer on the home.
- The Texas Commission On Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is the State agency that writes the rules and laws regarding septic systems and also licenses the various septic systems specialists. The link above is for their home page which includes a lot of very useful information other than the laws and rules. It also contains license search functions for the specialists licensed to install and maintain these systems. It is well worth surfing their site to become familiar with the available information.
- TCEQ can not do the actual leg work involved in running the program around the entire State. As a result they have delegated the responsibilities and authorities to local governments. The ones that do issue permits, handle problems, etc., are typically at the county government level, and is usually the Health Department for the county you are in. If you don’t know who to contact at the County level TCEQ does have a search function to help you find who it is. The State rules and laws are the minimum requirements and the local governments are allowed to write additions to the laws if they are equal or more stringent than the State laws. I would highly recommend that you do find out who the local controlling authority is, contact them, and ask if they have additional requirements over those required by the State. When you purchase the home you will also need to transfer the septic system in your name anyhow and they are the ones you would be dealing with to do this.
- It is not always the case that the local County Health Department is the controlling authority as some small cities and municipalities have chosen to control septic systems in their jurisdiction. Another major factor is if your home and system is near an aquifer or reservoir it might well be under the control of the Army Corp of Engineers or other group. I broke this out from number 2 above for a reason. Those groups that have chosen to control septic systems in their small jurisdiction, or those near aquifers and reservoirs, might have some very restrictive rules and requirements on septic systems. It is well worth using the TCEQ search function above to determine who does control the permitting and licensing where the home is located!
- You should consider adding another “Team Member” to your team and that is a licensed and reputable septic maintenance company. Not only do ALL septic systems require maintenance but as previously stated they can be expensive to repair or replace. It is very important that you do perform a FULL septic evaluation during your due diligence period. If it is an aerobic septic system I have written this BLOG post on how a proper and full evaluation is performed. If it is a standard system the only difference is the electrical components and how the final effluent is distributed. Do not let any Home Inspector blow smoke and use mirrors when trying to tell you that they perform a septic system inspection! As you can see from that Blog post there is no way a Home Inspector can do any more than a limited inspection of an aerobic system, and even more limited for a standard system. A good Home Inspector will do everything they can and help identify issues they can find. But you should still have a full evaluation performed.
Look at what is around the property you are considering making an offer on. Never assume that just because you’re buying in the country you’ll have the peace, quiet, and Green Acres type atmosphere. You need to know what is around you and with today’s technology that’s not hard to at least perform quick aerial mapping for miles around the property to see if potential problems are there. One good example of this is that Texans love their auto racing! There are many small race tracks located in rural areas and they can be very annoying on what you had hoped to be a peaceful night! When you’re out looking at properties these are some items to consider. During your option period you have some time to perform more due diligence checks if you find them.
- Before you even go out to look at that property use one or more of the many mapping services to see if something is close by you just are not willing to deal with. Don’t look just at the next door properties but look at several miles around you. Using the racing example above even a small drag strip can be extremely noisy several miles away! How about an active and large land fill (dump) a half mile away that can really turn your stomach under the right conditions. When you do this not only use satellite views but also use low level street maps from one of the free mapping services that also provide markers for local businesses with their names on the marker.
- Not all mapping services use the most updated aerial views or even street maps. Things change way to fast for them to keep up with everything happening so you still need to go out and drive around the area for at least 1 – 3 miles to see what is currently going on. When you’re driving around the property make sure you have a digital camera so you can take pictures of potential concerns and check them out later.
- When you do go look at the property take a little time to drive up and down the road it is on as well as roads immediately to the other three sides of the property, even if those roads are way on the other side of a property or properties next to yours. When you do this look for any type of marker pole, or unusual placards on nearby telephone poles along your property, along the properties across the road from yours, and the roads around you and in the general position of your property. Take a clear picture of these markers and make a note where that marker was. I’ll discuss the reason for this shortly when we speak of utilities, oil, gas, etc. lines below.
Oil and gas pipeline checks. Many people just do not realize how many different oil and gas pipelines criss-cross the State of Texas. These range from fairly new to very old lines. Many of these lines are buried very deeply and come with a forced “Right Of Way” (ROW) over and around them. That means you are very limited with what you can do over and around them in that ROW area. When these pipelines were buried the ROW should have been recorded on the deed information for the property. Many either do not get properly recorded or were recorded on much larger parcels of land that this property might have been a part of. Over time the land is subdivided and the ROW information does not get transferred properly to the new deed for the smaller parcel. Regardless of whether the deeds were properly annotated and managed these pipelines must be approved by the State. When they are, the State records their location and you should check if any pass through your property. Above I had mentioned to take a picture of any markers along the roads as these pipeline companies are required to mark the locations which includes where they cross the road. This can help you identify if a pipeline exists and who the pipeline belongs to. Even if you do not find markers the State agency that tracks all of these pipelines is The Railroad Commission of Texas. On their site HERE they have an interactive mapping system to display where these are running. Use this to see if you have any pipelines running through the property.
Do you have enough available water for whatever your plans are? Anyone that has been here any length of time in Texas knows that a lack of water can be very problematic even for city properties. Texas has been in and out of varying stages of drought for the past decade and the future prospects don’t look like significant improvements are coming. You need to look long and hard at what your plans are for the property and will you need large amounts of water as a result? Here are some very good considerations to check into.
- I would highly advise that you purchase a property that has a public or private water source for at least the main home. You should find out who the water provider is now so if questions arise you are ready to call them during your option period. You might also want to discuss what their rates are now so if you have livestock barns or other buildings supplied by that water source you can get an idea of what it might cost you.
- Almost always the water provider will place their meter at the road and the line from the road to your home is going to be your responsibility. Keep this in mind as a talking point and information to obtain when you start your option period. It is important to know where the line actually runs, what it is made of, and how deep it was buried. All of these can affect what you do with the land between the house and road.
- Does your property have “Stock Tanks” or ponds on them. These can be a source of water if they are deep enough. Typical stock tanks are not deep as they are used for livestock and are very susceptible to drying out during extended periods of no rain. If you choose to dig your own tanks or ponds you should already have an idea of where you want to put them to know they will not interfere with the rest of your planned use.
- If all else fails you can drill a well but this can be an expensive undertaking. Wells are licensed in Texas and you need to be over an aquifer or other water source that is not excessively deep to reach. The Texas Water Development Board has information regarding the depth and types of water sources. One item on this site of high importance is the “Submitted Driller’s Reports” link. This is a database of the wells that have been permitted. You can search the area of this property to get an idea of how deep drillers had to go to find water. The deeper the drilling the higher cost of course.
Stipulations in your offer contract. Before you make the offer on the home you should have your offer requirements planned out to include what stipulations you will be placing in the offer contract. These are just some items to discuss with your Agent before you write and submit that offer to the seller.
- Buying a home in a city can be trying to accomplish all of the due diligence checks and inspections in a typical “Option Period” time frame. This can be even more trying when buying a country property. Even though you already have your “Team Member” list of trades and professions you’ll be calling on when you need them being in the country might delay having them there when you want them. A typical option period is 10 days and you may well want to request and pay a higher option period fee for a longer option period time.
- If the home does have a septic system consider requiring the owner to have all septic system components identified by flagging or marking their locations, the history of the system available to include routine maintenance and repairs as well as who performed them, and to have the owners registration information with the local county also available. It would be very helpful to have it required that they provide these to you by the first day of your option period. Septic systems are expensive to repair and replace and if there is going to be a problem why not know about it before you put the money into all of the various inspections (not just the septic inspection) that you will perform during the option period?
- If the home does have a well then you should consider stipulating the same information be provided for it as well as any last well performance records (draw tests) be provided.
- The land is a large piece of property and many times not mowed down or kept manicured well. After all it is country property and some just want the space and elbow room but might not be using it for much else. This can pose issues for you to see what is really there under all of that high grass and/or weeds. I’ve inspected properties and found large junk piles, old and filled 50 gallon drums, etc., all under tall grass and weeds. It is also hard to see the actual grading of a whole piece of land when the weeds and grass are 5′ tall. You may well want to add a stipulation that the entire property be at least rough cut to bring the vegetation low to the ground so you can see these things and general lay of the land. It is also well worth having the ground immediately around any structure manicured (just like you mow your lawn) for several hundred feet as well.
- Country properties, especially large ones, are typically fenced and cross fenced for livestock as well as other potential reasons. Your lender is most likely going to require a new survey performed and you might have noticed special features (tree groves, ponds, etc.) that caught your eye and made you want to bid on the properly? You might also have seen other issues or problems that appeared to be on the neighboring properties. Even simple barb wire and steel fence posts are not cheap to replace when they are rusting and falling apart and the fences themselves might be yours to begin with to maintain. The good and bad features seen might also not be in your favor as well. You might want to consider requiring the owner to mark the property boundaries to the best of their knowledge and identify what is and is not on the property and who owns the fencing. Marking can be as simple as tying ribbons every couple of hundred feet on fencing or placing inexpensive marker flags out after mowing.
Plan your due diligence steps. There are plenty of potential pitfalls along the way when your due diligence is being performed. You will be paying for specialty inspections above a normal city property such as septic inspections, etc. You should look at your own finances (what’s in the bank) as well as your loan conditions (if you can extend the loan amount for repairs) and plan the order you want to do your inspections and paid for checks. Set a dollar limit and expectation limit with cut-off points along the way in your due diligence process. You can always go through your entire due diligence process and attempt to negotiate repairs at the end. Depending on the circumstances of the sale (short sale, repossession, owner already stated they have no money for repairs, etc.) you might be in for a big surprise! If you already know that the property is definitely for sale without much hope for concessions or repairs then set a cut-off point in dollars, time, and potential aggravations that you’re just not willing to go beyond. Ask your basic team members what they charge on this property for a home inspection, septic inspection, foundation engineering inspection, Wood Destroying Insect inspection, and well inspection. Unless there are known problems with the three specialty areas I would recommend that you follow the three basic steps first. If there are known problems in any of the specialty areas that highly concern you, and potential repair costs could make you decide to pull the plug, you might want to consider having those inspections performed first if they are less expensive. The concept is to draw the line to prevent paying for a series of inspections when you might not have
- Perform the general home inspection first. The Home Inspector might well find more items and conditions than you are willing to deal with.
- Have your various trades and contractors out to estimate repairs for the items noted in the home inspection report. Always obtain estimates from the professionals regardless if you think you can do the work. Remember if there is something you think you can do you still might not get to it and wind up calling out a professional to do it.
- If you are still progressing with the purchase then start having your specialty inspections performed.
During your option period you have additional time to check for issues and conditions that can affect what you plan to use the property for. New information might come up during one of the inspections or from any of your due diligence you were not able to get to before the offer. Whatever you do though do not delay any of the due diligence actions and complete them all promptly. Your option period, even if an extended one, can pass by very quickly!
Keep in mind that what is described above is in addition to my last post HERE . This all sounds like a lot but you’re getting ready to commit yourself to a very large purchase and a very large responsibility. It is well worth making sure that you can not only purchase the property but do all that you hoped for.
Good luck on your purchase and hopefully your Green Acres will remain green forever!
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