If decisions were a choice between alternatives,
decisions would come easy.
Decision is the selection
and formulation of alternatives.
Towards a Better Life, 1932
Don’t fall in love until after the marriage
Yes, I know. You have painstakingly developed your criteria, have researched the entire northern hemisphere, have looked at every place available in your chosen area and have found your absolutely perfect piece of property without which you will not be able to live. Congratulations. But calm down. Chill out. This is the time to keep your cool, maintain composure, evidence dignity and mature calculating discernment. You’ve come too far to blow it now.
Once you have seen the place that appears to be “it” you must return at another time to inspect it thoroughly. To not do so is to risk overlooking a condition you cannot live with. An equal risk is paying too much, which will brand you as a dumb city person and is the sort of thing for which newcomers are derided and talked about for decades.
You will already have filled out the property scoresheet when you first looked at the property. Review each item with a low score and decide if you can live with the condition, or determine what the cost will be to correct it. Such costs should be deducted from the price you would be willing to pay for the property if it were in top condition. You will need those dollars to correct the deficiencies.
If you did not determine at the initial visit that water is both plentiful and of good quality, now is the time to do so. Water is a clearly understood necessity, so if there is a correctable problem you may be able to persuade the seller to fix it.
If water is supplied by a well, a good test for quantity is to fully open an outside faucet and let it run while continuing the property evaluation. It should be running just as strongly an hour after turning it on. If there is a problem with a well running dry, the seller will likely bring it up at this point and ask that the water be turned off to avoid a household shortage.
Look at the pressure system equipment and ask how old it is and what problems have been experienced. In cold-weather areas the pressure tank and piping must be protected from freezing. Run each faucet to determine if flow is sufficient and steady. With most home water systems the strength of water flow and temperature fluctuate slightly as the pump motor cycles on and off. The better systems have a large pressure tank and three-quarter inch or larger piping. With such a system, if the pressure switches are correctly adjusted, pressure fluctuation will be minimal. This is essential—especially adequately-sized piping—to avoid the dangerous spectacle of a naked human being (you) doing the hula dance to avoid butt-burn in the shower.
With a small pressure tank, pressure fluctuation may not occur even with only one faucet wide open, as the pump may run continually. Turn the shower on and observe it. Flush the toilet and see if the pressure drops. While running faucets, observe how well drains work.
Water system problems in operating households are unlikely to be of great enough magnitude for you to reject the property, but you should be aware of them, as you may use them to affect the price and terms of purchase.
Quality may first be checked by tasting the water. Expect well water to taste different than the chlorinated city water to which you are accustomed, but it should not have an off taste. Toilets, shower heads and faucet nozzles may show color or crust buildup which indicates a high mineral content and can cause plumbing problems.
Structural and energy-efficiency inspections are typically made after contract acceptance. If you feel inspections are appropriate, make them a contract condition, with your disapproval adequate reason for the contract to be cancelled. At this point you should satisfy yourself, by asking and by looking, of the general condition of the house. Items to check include quality and condition of foundation or basement, siding, roofing, insulation, doors and windows, heating system—including a lined masonry flue, electrical and plumbing systems, appliances and general overall condition. If you intend to work with a fax-modem, listen to the telephone line noise. If snap, crackle and pops are substantial, you should talk to the phone company to see if they are sensitive to your needs. Most house or utility deficiencies may be acceptable if they are reflected in the asking price.New homes may have more problems than older homes that have been very well-maintained. In Crumbling Dreams, Ruth S. Martin details personal and national problems with incompetent and sleazy builders.
If farming or market gardening is your intention, make your acceptance of soil tests a condition of the purchase contract. You can observe the general condition of the soil by what is growing well in the garden and in yards, fields and woods. You may wish to review the material on soil quality in chapter 10.
The only sure way to know what you are buying is to walk the property lines. Country property corners are usually identified by surveyors with monuments—pipes driven into the ground, or large stones or stone piles, often painted red. Property lines running through wooded land may be indicated by red surveyor’s tape tied to branches—they will be close but are often somewhat off the line. Occasionally a tree will be blazed by cutting off the bark and marking the smooth wood with red paint. Here in the Ozarks, purple paint on trees is used by many property owners to mark their boundaries, to deflect deer and turkey hunters.
Fences and roads should not be relied upon as property-line proof. For many reasons they may have been built within or beyond true property lines. One of the fences on our property is about thirty feet north of the line marked by surveyors.
Country surveyors are like people in other professions—they are limited by their training, experience, integrity. In some states they are not required to be certified or licensed. Additionally, large parcels of relatively inexpensive acreage has created an attitude of “it’s not important to get the lines marked perfectly—a few feet one way or the other is of no consequence.” And rough, hilly land is difficult to walk easily, let alone survey or carefully mark. A place originally surveyed “on the ground” may be deeded as “40 acres more or less.” Surveyed using modern instruments, the same property may be many acres less. If in doubt, you may wish to make your offer based on dollars per acre, with acreage determined by a new survey, so you only pay for what you receive.
We have friends who built a house near what they believed was the edge of their land. Years later they discovered their house was on their neighbor’s land. Such a situation is at least embarrassing, and could be very expensive to correct. Our friends were fortunate in having understanding neighbors, who sold them a few acres.
This is to alert you to the possibility of mismarked property lines. If the value of your target property is substantially affected by a feature—a building, spring, waterfall, cave or a certain tree close to the property line—you may wish to hire a licensed surveyor to make a modern survey.
Take your time
Take plenty of time inspecting the property. Do not allow yourself to be hurried by the agent or the seller. Satisfy yourself that this is indeed your ideal country home. Make notes of all deficiencies that money can correct. Tell your agent to ask the seller to correct them, in writing, in your offer. Expect the seller to counteroffer. You may do the same. Once you have an accepted contract and are certain of your financing you can start falling in love.
You’ve come a long way. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed the journey. Happy country living! Believe nothing,
no matter where you read it,
or who said it
—even if I have said it—
unless it agrees
with your own reason
and your own common sense.