Chapter 7 - DEVELOPING A CRITERIA LIST

It is a funny thing about life . . . If you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.
Somerset Maugham

Transplanting oneself from city to country can produce flower or wilt. At ubiquitous summer volleyball-and-potluck parties here in the Ozarks I have often discussed with fellow immigrant hillbillies their successes and trials since arriving from various cities. Certain recommendations commonly result. Pay cash for your land. Stay out of debt. Bring a business or skill that will provide at least basic needs. If you have children, check out the schools very carefully. Expect social opportunities to be farther and fewer. Don’t be in a hurry. Before you decide where to go, make a list of what you want and be true to it.

When we embark on a trip we consult a map. Making a criteria list is a technique to map the direction of our life. Think of your list not only as a map but as a self-written prescription for health and happiness. Discover your preferences, put them on paper, then purposefully find the place that meets them best. Include your values, interests, wants and needs regarding lifestyle, climate, topography, vegetation, soil, acreage, water, health, community, demographics (density, political, ethnic, social, economic conditions), employment, taxes, services, utilities, structures, price, financing.

The criteria worksheet offered here can help you identify all important considerations for your move from an urban to a rural home. The worksheet is an evolving plan that will emerge as each chapter-subject is explored and your wants and needs become clarified. After the worksheet is completed you can use it to write your criteria list.

This is the criteria list I wrote in the mid-1970s as part of a five-year plan to leave city life in the San Francisco Bay Area for country life—somewhere:

  1. Four seasons but milder winters than those I grew up with in Wisconsin
  2. An area of hills and valleys
  3. Primarily wooded
  4. Clean air
  5. Clean flowing water
  6. Land prices low enough to allow purchase of at least 40 acres
  7. Low population density
  8. Low property taxes
  9. Background bureaucracy—minimal local regulations re: zoning, building codes, permits, etc., to maximize personal freedom
  10. Within one hour of a city with a four-year college or university
  11. At least twenty miles away from railroads, major highways and cities, and not contiguous to national forests—to minimize chances of development or eminent domain proceedings
  12. I don’t care if there is a house or not

I applied my criteria to the contiguous 48 states, initially chose seven states, did further research, decided on one area and told a large number of real estate agents in that area exactly what I wanted and when I would arrive to look. I drove nearly 2,000 miles to the area and spent the next two weeks looking at dozens of properties in a band about 60 miles wide and more than 100 miles long.

How did it work out? Wonderful! I got everything I wanted except #10, but, with one exception about which I will write later, everything else is so great that I have no regrets. In fact, because some areas are growing so rapidly, I’m glad I landed farther out in the boondocks than I planned. Our nearest four-year college city is Springfield, Missouri, nearly two hours away. Had I uncompromisingly bought land within one hour of Springfield, I might now find my tranquility threatened by the phenomenal growth of Branson, predicted to become the country music center of America. If heavy summer traffic is a good indicator, it already is. We hillbillies prefer to visit during the more relaxing off-season—unless we entertain visitors who insist on the summer experience.

You will have noticed that my list did not include an income source. My 5-year plan extrapolated my real estate investment equities into a totally reasonable financial formula for supporting an idyllic country life. Alas, divorce and recession later required major adjustments. As Pansy Penner said: “Just about the time you think you can make both ends meet, somebody moves the ends.” Oh well, we all need to learn humility—some of us, ahem, more than others.

With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I realize how many criteria I did not think of back in 1976 and how lucky I was to find a place that, for instance, continues to have clean water and soil and is far upwind and upstream from toxic pollution.

Eleven keys to successful city-to-country migration

  1. Verify that you truly wish to live in the country.
  2. Determine who you are and what you want to do.
  3. Identify the characteristics of your ideal property.
  4. Locate regions that have the climatic, topographic, demographic, economic, and other characteristics that fit your wants and needs.
  5. Narrow your list down to two or three to investigate.
  6. Determine your ideal area.
  7. Look at all appropriate properties in your ideal area, measure them against your criteria, and choose the best one.
  8. Obtain a fair-price contract on your chosen property, with adequate protection to allow withdrawal if you discover a challenge that is larger than you can live with.
  9. Satisfy yourself, through inspections and investigations, that the property has no hidden flaws, and you will be able to do with it as you wish.
  10. Close the sale and take possession.
  11. Enjoy living on your country property. If you took care of the first ten steps and have an income, this one is a natural.

The criteria worksheet includes the subjects we will be considering. Make a copy and use it to make notes as you continue to read Part II. Look at the notes you have made thus far and transfer your priorities to the worksheet.

A final thought: While the purpose of this book is to help you find your ideal country home, a certain reality must be faced—namely, that perfection is, well, impossible. As expressed by Peter McWilliams in You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought, “You can have anything you want—you just can’t have everything you want.” I vacillate on whether that is best considered wisdom or challenge. You choose.


Go back to Chapter 6 - Wants, needs, and fantasies.
Go on to Chapter 8 - Lifestyle.
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