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How to find and buy a mini or hobby farm

How to find and buy a mini or hobby farm

Whether inspired by the desire to move from the big city to the country; to live a healthier life; or just the goal to farm on your own, we all at some time have dreamed to live amongst the stars, under tall oaks and have countless animals around. As these popular trends grow, it has made a commodity out of farms that are versatile or 3 to 40 acres in size - like never before!

Though “farm” covers a broad range of particular properties, we have focused on the most prevalent ones. As always, choosing a full-time, professional agent that specializes in farms will save you time and money. The following decisions will help you avoid the cow pies and find a farm best suited for your needs.


Do

Do consider your needs and strengths

Your answers and the level of importance to the following questions, will determine what and where you will be looking for in a farm. How far from home do you want to be? Do you need to be near a metropolitan area to sell produce, pelts, etc.? What amount of land or outbuildings will you need? How much can you afford? Farm-friendly banks or the Department of Rural Development are the best bet in procuring financing. As a general rule of thumb, pricing may become cheaper as you venture further from a big city. Zoning for horses, cattle or other animals may be different from county to county. Remote rural areas may allow you to do a variety of things, but could be too far from a population center to be worthwhile.

Do understand organic versus chemical farms

Whether you want to raise your own crops for your family or for market, you’ll want to research all you can about choosing which crops to grow. The history of the subject property will dictate your choices; however, surrounding farms and waterways can play an important role in your farm’s future. For example, your hopes of growing organic vegetables for your family on a four acre mini farm, may be squashed if the adjacent land or even a farm downstream uses chemicals. Buffer zones may alleviate issues like these, but it is best to know in advance. Local colleges or agriculture groups often have classes or seminars on these topics. I suggest attending all that you can.

Do understand the uniqueness of horse, dog and animal properties

Finding properties with paddocks, chicken coops or dog kennels can be tedious. Some counties have ordinances that do not allow hoofed or farm animals. Even animal waste or smells and sounds may affect what you can do on the property, due to proximity to other homes or towns. A real estate professional specializing in these farm types will be very valuable in finding and choosing the best one.

Do understand the hobby farm

This is another term that has a lot of meanings - from country estates to hunting property to a home with outbuildings for business or recreation. Often the most important aspects are the size, quantity and/or quality of its outbuildings. Floor type (dirt, gravel or concrete), insulation, electric and water plays a key part in these buildings' value as well. Interestingly enough, I sometimes find that the farmhouse is in fabulous condition and the outbuildings suffer - or vice versa. Your decision may rest on whether it is easier to remodel a house or erect outbuildings as needed.

Do understand which crops or orchards are right for the land

Soil types, climate and terrain all affect the yield of the land. As part of my expertise, I asked a viticulturist from the University of Illinois Extension in Lombard, Illinois, to educate me on 3 year grape vines being grown locally. Midwestern hybrids were 5 feet tall and luscious. Napa Valley Cabernet vines stood 13 inches tall and were fragile! Where apple orchards might flourish, peach trees may succumb to a late frost. Once again, as you search from area to area, doing your homework will prove to be fruitful.


Don't

Do not drive & seek For Sale signs

We have all done it - driving around on a sunny afternoon in the country. Excitement gets the best of us, and we call on a farm that has a For Sale sign out. Before we know it, we are signing on the dotted line without knowing who serviced us or even what we bought. Worst idea in the world! I have seen consumers purchase a property that they will never be able to use; buy a parcel that is flood prone; or end up buying too far away.

We spend time seeking out the best butchers, bakers and candlestick makers but we’ll use anyone to make the largest transaction in our lives. Do your homework. Choose a full-time, professional agent who specializes in farms to ensure a proper transaction.

Do not underestimate the aesthetic quality of the land

Through the course of a search and purchase, this is one of the least discussed aspects of a rural property. A flat piece of property with lackluster views of the countryside is less desirable than a parcel with views of gentle rolling hills and tall trees. A pond, lake and river view or access will increase value as well. In contrast, I have never met a client who asked for the views or smells of a garbage dump, pig farm, nuclear power plant or asphalt parking lot. Square or rectangular shaped parcels are ideal for many.

I once showed a farm which was shaped like a “Z”, hence very dysfunctional for most applications. Be aware of your surroundings and safeguard your investment.

Do not underestimate the importance of your outbuildings

Many consumers, agents and even appraisers do not place rightful values on these improvements. Some of my clients think buying a home on acreage and erecting outbuildings will be cheaper. Since the size, doorways, insulation, floor type, floor strength, water, electric and heat all add to the cost, one has to be prudent. Replacing siding or fixing a barn roof may be the more cost effective way to go!

Do not believe that bottom ground will never flood

Bottom ground is cheap for a reason! With riverside parcels or bottom ground, this affects the overall value of the farm. Every river will overflow its banks. Bottom ground will take water. It is just a matter of time. Tributaries are funneling more and more water as areas become developed. In my estimation, 100 year flood-plains can’t keep up with all the progress. Flooding affects your insurance, property, shoreline and home. Do your homework to determine how prone the property is to flooding. If a seller or their representative tells you that bottom ground does not flood... run away quick!

Do not forget the tractor, livestock and corn crib

Within a transaction, many sellers may include or wish to sell farm equipment, horses, chickens, etc. Comparing the cost difference between farms that offer these items and ones that do not, will help you evaluate the farm properly. Make sure personal property offered with the property is written in the contract.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

Whether for a better way of life or out of necessity, your farm will become a significant part of your life. Relying on the expertise of a real estate professional specializing in farm property will make the process effortless. Not only will you be a caretaker of your own little ecosystem, but you will be living a lifestyle that many dream of - but few realize. Every decision you make will affect some part of nature. Choose wisely!


More expert advice about Buying Real Estate

Photo Credits: Morning Barn by Jerry Grodesky; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Jerry GrodeskyManaging Broker. Farm and Lake House Real Estate

21 years as a full-time Real Estate sales leader. Former trainer for ReMax & Century 21 agents. Relocation certified. Illinois foremost authority on farm, river and lake house living. Guest speaker on radio shows. Produced Coast Guard video on r...

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