What is it like to own an old-ish farm property with a pond and stable?
November 16, 2013 8:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently on the market for a house, and have made a critical error in my house hunting quest - I've fallen in love with a house - which is a 1970s era home with stables, a horse paddock, and a pond. I have thus lost the ability to be objective in my assessment of said house, and so I turn to you, AskMe….

The property in question has the following attributes:
- At the end of a culdesac.
- 10 acres of land, of which about 1.5 are part of the 'yard' and the other 8 are wooded/wetlands
- The 'yard' is a grassy meadow with a pond (small, but large enough to ice skate on) which drains into an adjacent marsh via an underground PVC pipe. The owners say it has never flooded.
- There is an attached 2 car garage, a detached 3 car garage, and a stable that would be very nice to keep up to 3 horses in. The stable has an attic that could store many bales of hay. It's attached to a paddock which is connected via an electrified fence to a small meadow. There are raised beds for a vegetable garden and the gardens around the house are carefully tended perennials.
- The land is adjacent to a town-owned open space, you can walk right across the yard into this open space and use it for walking, biking, riding if you had horses.
- There is a 4 bedroom house, custom built in 1977. I've had a contractor look at the house and he says it's solid construction/well built. However, most of what's inside is typical of the style of the late 1970s - dark/dated cabinetry, a few tacky looking painted brick fireplaces, some awful gaudy wallpaper, small rooms. The kitchen is updated and nice, but every other room in the house needs at least the walls and the floors done, and ideally, we would want to do a few major things like knock down some of the walls downstairs to make a more open floor plan, expand the size of the master bedroom, and finish the basement.
- The house has city water and sewer (although it also has a backup septic system) and is heated with oil, but is also connected to gas (but only the stove is connected to gas, the furnace is for oil).

About us:
- We are a husband and wife, with a baby daughter and 2 indoor only cats. We plan to have 2 or maximum of 3 kids. We both work very long hours and so we currently use a full-time nanny, but would strongly consider an au pair in the future.
- We've never owned a home more complicated than a new construction condo. We are not handy. We know nothing about renovating houses.
- We do not own horses. We never foresee ourselves owning horses. However, in the future we would like to cut back on our working hours and have a hobby farm where we might undertake things like keeping animals (not horses but maybe goats, sheep, pigs, chickens). Beehives. Alpacas. Cheesemaking. I have no idea. Whatever we decided would be fun and useful. Keep in mind neither of us have any experience with having a farm, but we have ample money.

What do we need to know about a property like this, i.e. a farm with a pond and stables? I had the idea that perhaps we could rent out the stables to people with horses until such time at which we might be able to start our own little farm and want to use the barn. Can that be done, assuming we want to have near zero involvement other than placing Craigslist ads for stable rentals and admiring horses prancing in the distance? Can a horse barn be easily used for other animals? What does one do with over 6 garage spaces? Is there anything else I should be thinking about with the pond, other than potential for mosquitoes/child drowning?

Bonus question: am I a fool to consider buying a 1970s era home that needs major renovation on the inside? We need to inhabit this in about 8 months time and we work a lot currently so we don't have tons of time to devote to overseeing contractors etc. But there are no other similar properties on the market, nor are there likely to be, especially not within our price range, which is why I have become so attached to this little farm. I like the idea of what our life could be, living in a place like this. My husband thinks I'm being unrealistic. Have you ever bought a property like this and had it turn out to be just as wonderful as you dreamed it could be?
posted by treehorn+bunny to Home & Garden (50 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd call up the oil company and find out how many gallons it typically takes to fill the tank every year and then add 20% on top of that. We bought our tiny house and were shocked at how much it cost to fill our tank every year. So factor in around $10k or more to switch to a gas furnace. Plan on decommissioning the oil tank as well.

Large properties take upkeep. Meadows must be cut to keep from becoming a jungle. Barns must be tended to to keep them in good shape. Hard to say how much of this you have in you. If you have enough money you can hire someone to tend the landscaping and cut the meadow. Otherwise, you need to invest in some kind of riding mower and the upkeep of that.

Interior cosmetic renovations are not too onerous. Major remodels can be annoying depending on what rooms you take out and how picky you are.

I think if you're not handy or outdoorsy the whole thing could get pretty ramshackle and ugly in quick time. If you want a hands-on lifestyle, it can work but best if you're both on board.

My mother lives alone now on 40 acres and the upkeep of the land is more than you'd think. She has to cut out dead trees otherwise they become a fire hazard. Haul and chop the wood. Trim the meadow to keep down noxious weeds and vermin. She gets lots of snow so there's a snowplow she hires every year. And her house is beautiful so every little change seems to cost a lot.

I don't think that the house sounds like a very bad idea, you'll have neighbors and you could rent out the barn for some income. But with a property like that, you really do have the task of overseeing a much larger area. What you love there now has been tended.
posted by amanda at 8:18 PM on November 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

I do not own a farm. However I do own a horse (for my daughter) so I have spent a lot of times at farms. Owning a farm is a lifestyle choice. Even if you don't own horses all that land is going to require upkeep. The barn will need to be painted, fences will need to be maintained, the pond drain will clog, etc.

If you want to deal with all that go for it.
posted by COD at 8:19 PM on November 16, 2013

Going straight to your bonus question: It sounds lovely and romantic and wonderful. But it also sounds impractical for your current life. It needs major renovation, and you are not handy, nor do you have the spare time to learn to be handy. Would you buy this house if it wasn't on the beautiful land?

If one of you were not working, and home most of the time, I would jump in and give it all a chance, but it sounds idealistic to me.

The stables and farm-land sound like something you want your life to be. Is there a possibility of staying home and managing everything that goes with that?
posted by hydra77 at 8:21 PM on November 16, 2013

Best answer: Bonus question: am I a fool to consider buying a 1970s era home that needs major renovation on the inside? We need to inhabit this in about 8 months time and we work a lot currently so we don't have tons of time to devote to overseeing contractors etc.

Look, a flag of red color! For comparative purposes, I considered purchasing a very similar home in 2010 [amazing storage space and rooms with "potential," but the darned thing hadn't been renovated in decades], and elected to pass. AFAIK, the folks who bought it spent at least a year on it, and still appear to be doing more work. If you can't stare at the contractors, and really only have five months to get the renovations done (assuming a normal escrow period of three months), then this is probably not a great plan.

Oil heat? Holy heating bills, Batman. In my neck of the woods, oil heat is at least double the price of gas.

It sounds like you can expect people to be using your yard as a shortcut.

Pond: how does the pond affect the surrounding ground space? Does the soil liquefy during wet seasons?

The obvious issue with renting out the stable, especially if you provide no services, is that you're going to have people roaming your property in the wee hours of the morning. You'll need additional insurance. When was the barn last used? (Depending on construction, those structures can fall apart remarkably fast.)

Who is going to maintain the acreage? Even the wooded areas will need care.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:22 PM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Other people have covered the renovation much better than I could have. Except I'll add that there is nothing exciting about renovating a home to you. The words you use to describe it are only about inconvenience, inexperience, and time constraints (which would likely lead to overpaying). Lots of people consider living in a property for at least a few months, longer is better, to be ideal when making major renovations. You need to fundamentally understand why the flow of the home doesn't work before you seek to improve it. If you have that kind of time to live with the house and make careful notes during the process, then a cosmetic/convenience remodel can be great.

perhaps we could rent out the stables to people with horses

No. Unless you are willing and able to spend significant amounts of time feeding, watering, moving, and otherwise attending to horses. People who rent stable space might be able to get out to see their horses every single day. But eventually, one will have a puking kid, and another will have to take a trip out of town for a long weekend. Horse shit requires lots of shoveling. At least once a day for stalls, many horse owners prefer twice.

The only way that could work is if your au pair was willing and qualified and compensated and insured to the hilt (getting kicked by a horse can be expensive) to manage horses in addition to children.

Things that are not used seem to fall apart faster.

Does the property come with something enormous for mowing? Do you have the time and energy to mow all that land? If not, price out mowing services in the area.

Consider the danger of the pond. Specifically the potential drowning children, not just for the grief, but also the financial liability of the death of someone else's child. Look into the cost of insurance policy for the property. A sizable chunk of land has many risks. Kids climb your tree and the limb drops? That's on you. Adult tries to climb your electrified fence? That sucks. The uninsured guy you hired to mow misjudges the grade and turns his mower over?
posted by bilabial at 8:30 PM on November 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

I grew up on a farm. It takes work, either yours or the paid help's. I gave up the farm some years after my parents died because I couldn't afford to keep it up and didn't have time to do it myself.

One thing you didn't mention is how much you can afford. I'd go back to farm living in a shot if it could work financially for me. If you can afford the upkeep of your small estate, go for it. If not, temper your enthusiasm and live somewhere less fun.
posted by anadem at 8:33 PM on November 16, 2013

Best answer: I partially grew up on a property so similar to this that, had you not mentioned ice skating, I would think it was the same place. I lived there in my late teens.

Things that were awesome about it:

- It was an aesthetically interesting place to live. Lots of quirks in the house itself, a creaky old stable/barn, some other outbuildings to explore, etc. The land was beautiful and always full of surprises. Usually the good kind, or at least the kind that make funny stories.

- The extra space and outbuildings meant we could take on projects and have experiences that most other families could not (without the burden of growing up on a working farm). My brothers did 4H projects with livestock and won blue ribbons at the state fair, to give the first example that comes to mind.

Things that were less awesome about it:

- The house was quirky in some ways, but annoying in others. Because it was a custom build, it was full of things a professional architect probably wouldn't have done, for good reason. Also, despite having ample square footage, the space wasn't designed efficiently and it always seemed crowded despite being actually quite large.

- While usually the property was full of interesting surprises, it was also full of dangerous surprises. For instance the time we put the dog in the tack room overnight only to discover that the previous owners had laid a bunch of rat poison in there. It's not nearly as easy to clean out spaces like a barn or a pond when you move in the way that you might clean out interior spaces.

- The house got infested with mice every winter like clockwork because it was the only nearby source of warmth and food.

- Living a long way out of town is really inconvenient. My commute to school was half an hour each way (despite going to the nearest and most centrally located school). The nearest supermarket was 20 minutes each way. We were separated from town by a working drawbridge (something else that makes a cool story), which exacerbated the sense of isolation. But be very aware of the conveniences you'll sacrifice by moving out to the country.

- Similarly to the above, living in such an isolated area meant there were not kids nearby to play with, and visiting friends just to hang out was pretty much out of the question. You will be your kids' sole source of entertainment, socialization, and transport for the next 15+ years.

- The woods definitely require upkeep, which is something most people don't realize. You will have to clear brush and maintain trails, deal with dead/fallen trees, etc. The meadow will need frequent mowing unless you want snakes to pose a danger to your kids. If you live in a place with ice skating, think very seriously about the impact snow will have. Do city plows come out to your cul de sac?

- Speaking of snakes, what about other wildlife? Will you feel comfortable with your kids playing outside unsupervised with the possibility of coyotes, bears, or whatever the local dangerous nuisance wildlife is? We had a complex network of rules about where we could play based on the likelihood of snakes and alligators.

Things that weren't a factor for our house, but which have become a factor for my grandparents who live in a similar situation:

- Upkeep of outbuildings and other structures on the property. My great-grandmother lived in a little house on my grandparents' property. After she died, her house sat vacant for years until it basically went derelict and is now collapsing in on itself (kudzu and rotting in the damp, not sure what the issues are where you are). If you decide not to use the stable for livestock, what steps will you take to keep it in good repair? Keep in mind that dangerous wildlife can take up residence in derelict structures, and that you'll have small children wandering the property. It's not all bunnies and deer out in the country.

- When I was a kid, my parents were in their 20's, and my grandparents were just thinking about retirement, their rural neck of the woods was mostly farmland and similar rural residential housing stock. Over the past 25 years, a local shipyard has started to buy up a lot of the land near my grandparents' property. At this point, it's basically them, one or two other isolated rural properties with elderly residents, and a huge industrial facility. This has altered my grandparents' quality of life pretty dramatically and in ways that are mostly outside their control. Land values are down dramatically -- not a problem for them, because they inherited the land and own the house outright, but anyone who bought around there 10-20 years ago would probably be upside down on their mortgage with no hope of a solution.

What will happen in 20 or 30 years when your outbuildings are rotting and there's a CAFO next door? Will you have a plan?
posted by Sara C. at 9:01 PM on November 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I grew up on a poorly tended farm. It was awesome. We had a tractor and could disc the fields periodically, and a neighbor would bushhog the one pasture occasionally. As a teenager, I mowed most of the grass near the houses. That's all we did for upkeep that I can recall. The barn fell into disrepair but lasted as long as we lived there.

The worst things about it from a homeowner's perspective were probably badly glued PVC pipes and tons of rust in the pipes from the well. The comments about wildlife make me recall that I once got stung by like a dozen wasps when I turned over a wheelbarrow, and there were black widows all over the place and, one time, a teeny-tiny baby coral snake. That's about it. As a kid, I loved it.

You say a contractor has evaluated the house, but is he actually a home inspector looking at the pipes, foundation, roof, and so on? That seems key. Your renovation ideas seem ambitious, but you might just get used to some of the rustic charm after being there a while.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:10 PM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This line sticks out for me:

We are not handy.

If you are not handy then you will either learn via trial and error, or become frustrated by, the following:

1) The PVC pipe that drains the pond is going to get blocked when it is sleeting. You will have to un-block it.
2) If your land is level you are going to have to maintain parts of the wood and wetlands to avoid being chased out of your house by flooding.
3) 1.5 ac of grassy meadow is a fair amount to keep mown. Depending on how wet it gets you might be lucky and have grazing animals or you may be unlucky and find it's a mire seven months of the year.

The house, though lacking in modern cues, might well be liveable so forget about fixing it up for a while, get used to living in the country. Tacky wallpaper is an inconvenience, not that important. If the house is over-built and strong that is what you want.

I live on 50 ac of redwood forest at the end of a private road. The services available are electricity and propane delivered by truck; that's it. Water comes from a well. 8 ac are orchard / garden and the rest is very heavily wooded and steep. I love this place. No other lights, no traffic and it's rugged enough that we have had just three trespassers in twelve years. The 8 ac are mowed with a tractor and brush-hog. 4 ac are enclosed by fence and that's the garden and useful orchard. The other 42 ac are mostly left to themselves though there is a lot of brush to be cut every few years and plenty of firewood is easily had by nothing more than normal wind-throw of trees.

I grew up with three horses who had 2 ac of grassy meadow to crop and run and interact in. Horses are a lot of work and you'll have considerable traffic if the (good) owners do the right thing and give their horses at least an hour of attention each, every day. People will be riding if they're good and the horses will be bored and possibly destructive if their owners aren't good. (Think about chasing down horses that jumped a fence after a tree fell on it, when it's sleeting and you've just un-blocked the pond drain.) The owners will probably want you to take care of the horses to some extent. They are wonderful animals but as James Herriot says "'osses can't take much". You will - whether or not you like it - get to know a vet and a farrier and a feed and seed store, and you'll wind up currying and attending to them. Be prepared to charge well for that service; do not take it on for free. If this doesn't appeal, don't let people stable their animals at your place.

All that barn and stable space will hold your cars, your tractor, your pick-em-up truck and your project car. That's all good.

On balance (and being handy) I would snap that up.
posted by jet_silver at 9:10 PM on November 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You could rent out the stables, etc. as a self-care only thing (owner of horse totally responsible for everything, puking kid/broken car or not - they would be responsible for a backup person, not you) but do yourself a favor and read this first. At the very least, skip down to the part that says INSURANCE.

posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:11 PM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Living on property takes a lot of work. Like more than you think. It isn't even like taking a big yard and scaling it up. You have to manage that much property. How much do you know about soil conservation? How much to do you know about crop rotation? It isn't like having a big garden-10 acres is a farm. Even 1 acre in truck (the farmers word for garden plants growing on a large scale) is a LOT of work. Planting, weeding, harvesting and than processing the harvest before it goes bad...it all takes an unbelievable amount of work and time and expertise. So you say 8 of the acres is in woodlot, which is nice in that you don't have to plow and mow it but you do have to manage it or it turns into a jungle and probably fills up with all kinds of things you don't want. So have you ever felled a tree? do you know how to run a chainsaw? If the house has functional fireplaces you can really cut down the heating bill with wood heat but then you either have to split it with a maul or run a splitter (trust me, you want to run a splitter), stack and dry (this is called ricking) and this list goes on.

Every building on the farm will require maintenance. Barns don't have plumbing but they do have roofs that leak and doors that fall off hinges (really common). Then you have fencing. Have you ever stretched a fence? Even a simple barbed wire fence takes some maintenance.

Than handling livestock is...challenging. And forget ever taking a vacation if you have any. That cow/goat/whatever has to milked every day or at least fed. The eggs have to be picked up every day and how to you handle a broody hen? and when the hens stop laying do you have any idea how to humanely kill, pluck and dress the chicken? or any of the other livestock that get sick/injured or you just get too many? Not every one is willing to do what has to be done and vets are expensive and rare that handle livestock and they tend to specialize in large farms where killing is just a fact of life.

And how about firearms? you don't HAVE to have one to run a farm but it sure helps. You don't need an AR15 or anything, a .22 will do just fine for dealing with wild animals and dispatching livestock when necessary...

And pretty much everything Sara C just said.

Me and Mrs Long talk about it all the time. But then we like our downtime also. And we already own a large house built in 1897 that requires a fair amount of upkeep. But we both are hesitant to move and take on property...and we are very handy and grew up with parents that taught us tons of DIY skills.

Not saying you shouldn't do it. But be honest about what you want and what you are willing to work for to get it. The bucolic lifestyle has a strong calling and is full of romance...and the sweat of your brow.
posted by bartonlong at 9:12 PM on November 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Would you buy this house if it wasn't on the beautiful land? No, definitely not.

Is there a possibility of staying home and managing everything that goes with that? No - but there is a possibility of me working more part time hours. Full time in my job is 3 eight hour shifts per week (sometimes they are overnights, etc), so part time would be fairly cushy.

When was the barn last used? Within the past few years, I believe. It seems to be in good repair.

There is a slight slope down to the pond area such that flooding/soggy land doesn't seem like it would be a terrible issue.

Why do the woods need upkeep? If a tree falls in the woods…. why do I care? (serious question)

One of the reasons this property is so unusual is that it is not in the country, nor remote at all. It is 5 mins from the interstate and 5 minutes from super Stop & Shop. It is at the end of a culdesac in an otherwise unremarkable suburban home development - it is the farm that used to own all the land those houses are now built on.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:15 PM on November 16, 2013

If a tree falls in the woods…. why do I care? (serious question)

Because it blocked a rivulet that fed the pond, and the water backed up into the basement. Drainage on such a property - especially if it is nearly flat - is all up to you and you have to engage with it or have damp feet and National Geographics in boxes that got damp and moldy.
posted by jet_silver at 9:20 PM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I grew up on a property like this. A couple acres of yard, older home, pond, shed, and what we'll call a horse friendly outbuilding. My dad let the neighbours use the horse building and the back property for free, just so someone was keeping an eye on it. It was a great place to grow up as kids, without a doubt. But looking back, even through my skewed view as a kid & teenager, there was a ton of work that needed to be done to maintain it. More work than I'd sure as heck be willing to take on now as an adult, for example. My dad was handy, but the house always needed something -- roof patched, gutters fixed, cracks in the paved driveway fixed, plus one plumbing crisis or another. There were pest control issues - ants, termites, moles. Also, the lawn cutting just never seemed to end, ever! Seriously... it never ended. Weeds and other long-grass types grew around the pond, and every year my dad would try and tidy them up somehow, eventually resorting to setting them on fire. We had ducks and geese decide to live on the pond, which as a kid was amazing, but man those ducks leave a lot of poop around. Who knew? And once a beaver felled a tree across the pond... that was almost as much fun as the one time the pond did flood the basement of the house. Never say never when it comes to flooding -- there was no way it should've happened, but it did.

Like I said, growing up it was amazing, and I'm very grateful to have grown up where I did. But a lot has changed in 30 years, and today there's no way I'd be willing or able to keep up a place like that the way my parents did. Who, but the way, sold it a couple years after we kids had moved out -- it was just too big and too much work for my aging parents to keep up on their own.
posted by cgg at 9:20 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

40 acres in a suburban development? I assume that most of this is protected wetland? Otherwise you might be sitting on a gold mine.
posted by moammargaret at 9:21 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: One thing you didn't mention is how much you can afford. We can afford to buy this property at our current income level, and our incomes are likely to increase. We're not fabulously wealthy but we both have jobs that pay quite well.

Oh, and the property is not flat. It is slightly hilly. The house is uphill from the pond, and then there is a small ridge past the pond.

Thank you for all the useful answers thus far. Much food for thought.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:22 PM on November 16, 2013

It is 5 mins from the interstate and 5 minutes from super Stop & Shop. It is at the end of a culdesac in an otherwise unremarkable suburban home development - it is the farm that used to own all the land those houses are now built on.

How will that translate with kids factored in?

When you're 30, driving five minutes on the freeway to the supermarket is no big deal.

When you're 7, you'd mostly just like a friend in walking distance.

If the "farm" is within a suburban development such that small children can safely walk to other houses in the development, great! Snap it up! If your kids are going to be the only kids on the street and everything is a drive away, think twice about it.
posted by Sara C. at 9:25 PM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can see the red flags yourself. Mostly what I see is that the property might not even be that suitable for the vague idealized future hobby farm. What are the land use restrictions for the woods/wetlands? etc etc etc. Which way are taxes going in your area? Would you be able to subdivide the lot if you wanted to sell? In my county there are development restrictions in place to prevent people from subdividing certain kinds of acreage. Which is sort of nice to preserve open space, but if it turns out that you don't want to keep the property, it may be difficult to find a buyer in the future.

Have you ever even kept chickens? Farm animals are a lot of daily work. So it may be that a hobby farm is in your future, but a very small-scale one in a more appropriate area.
posted by stowaway at 9:27 PM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Are any of the garage spaces big? My parents and other people like them who have recreational vehicles, small boats, etc, need places to store those things in the off-season. My parents paid a fair bit of money to just store their camper in someone's garage for the winter when they weren't using it, and it was surrounded by boats and other summer recreational stuff that needs storing for the winter but which many city dwellers don't have space for. The guy who stored it for them had a property that sounds a lot like yours and one of his outbuildings was a large garage with high ceilings, so the van would fit in there.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:31 PM on November 16, 2013

More questions to consider: how well would this property meet your present needs and for the next 5 years or so? What are you giving up for the future dream house? Is it worth it to you?
posted by stowaway at 9:32 PM on November 16, 2013

I have a number of friends living in places like what you're describing. They work because 1/2 of the couple is not employed outside the home, and really thrills to rural chores. The other 1/2 is certainly not getting lazy weekends; there is always something to be done. On an acreage, a storm is not just a storm; it is a promise that your weekend will be spent dealing with your tractor and chainsaw and ladder and so on.

This has 'maintenance nightmare' written all over it. Paying people to do things for you is a job in itself, too. And you don't even like the house!

Big properties mean big work and I don't see how it would go well with both adults working long hours away from home. I fear that your idea of life in that sort of space wouldn't match the reality.

The oil heating issue alone would send me along to the next listing. Even with a lot of wood stoves in the mix -- especially with? That's another big chore.
posted by kmennie at 9:52 PM on November 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

I own some forest acreage. Regarding your question about tending the woods. .. I am constantly looking at my trees to evaluate their health, there are some diseases or infestations (or sometimes trees simply die) that require trees to be removed -- doubly, triply true if the trees are in striking distance of the house or outbuildings. There are also invasive plants that can harm the forest and need to be eradicated (shaking fist at yellow archangel).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:50 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

How much do you know about soil conservation? How much to do you know about crop rotation? It isn't like having a big garden-10 acres is a farm.

This. I know someone who bought a dilapidated farm just under a year ago, and since then has spent at least four full days each week working on it, which means tractors and dump trucks and welding and dealing with soil erosion and mitigation and digging up old rusty barbed wire and tool rental and learning how to hitch X onto Y and getting to grips with local fauna. And meth heads. That's with farmhands and leasing some of the acreage (and without kids to look after). The farmhouse itself may be habitable in another year of near full-time work.

What we're talking about here is a set of skills that is currently alien to you, and a workload that starts out big, tends to get bigger and finally settles into a kind of equilibrium of big once all the initial stuff is taken care of. But even that requires a steep learning curve to identify where the problems lie.

Putting in the hours means adjusting your work commitments, postponing any plans to expand your family, and learning to treat brush-clearing and shooting critters as entertainment. The alternative is spending a large chunk of your ample money on farmhands and developers, and perhaps trying to hire someone as a part-time land manager to tell the hands what to do, where you'll basically end up as lord and lady of the manor.
posted by holgate at 11:18 PM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

t+b: Your dream house sounds fairy tale wonderful. Such fun to have a pond to swim in summer and skate in winter. Unless you can afford to hire those elves away from the shoemaker, you will become a slave to that property. There goes the fairy tale. I think you have a new baby, and a demanding career. Do you really have time to manage an estate?
posted by Cranberry at 12:01 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

t+b: part 2. If you do buy the place, can we all come visit?
posted by Cranberry at 12:02 AM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

However, in the future we would like to cut back on our working hours and have a hobby farm where we might undertake things like keeping animals (not horses but maybe goats, sheep, pigs, chickens). Beehives. Alpacas. Cheesemaking. I have no idea. Whatever we decided would be fun and useful. Keep in mind neither of us have any experience with having a farm, but we have ample money.

Well, a farm will take care of your ample money problem pretty quick! Also, you are right that there are ways to make money from a hobby farm- rough board horses, sell firewood, sell hay, maybe hunting. But they require work and time like any business and for you a steep learning curve. Down the road, those bees and sheep would make for some of the most expensive honey and wool you've ever bought. If someone tried to sell them to you retail, you would laugh in their face before going home to your cookie-cutter McMansion and counting your money like Scrooge McDuck.

In your shoes, I would buy less house/property and consider the difference in mortgage and reno costs my "farm profit." Move-in ready house with regular-sized yard equals "I just made $75,000 and saved myself $200 a month on my house note!" Laugh and count more money.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:12 AM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

It is at the end of a culdesac in an otherwise unremarkable suburban home development

This certainly raises the question in my mind of whether your theoretical hobby farm would even be allowed under the zoning rules or laws of the development or the suburb. Especially the animals. You think the barn's been used in the past few years, but even if it has, it's always possible that it was "grandfathered" in or just ignored when it was in the hands of the previous owners, and the Powers That Be might take an entirely different view towards new people showing up and trying to start a new farm from scratch. I think this would be worth investigating before you get too excited about the possibilities.

I would also wonder hard about how said farm - especially animals - would go over with your neighbors, since you're not actually in farm country.

I've got friends who run a small farm in a small town about an hour outside the city, and taking care of the animals seems to be what takes up most of their time and energy.

So how would you (and your husband) feel about the property if it turned out that your hobby farm was a no-go? If it turns out that you're not allowed to do much more than have an extra-large garden and a couple of dogs? Or wind up not having the time/energy/inclination to do more than basic maintenance on the property? Would you still be in love with it?
posted by soundguy99 at 12:28 AM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Natural gas? or propane? Is it in a flood zone? Check the zoning, EPA regs on wetland. Check on tax issues - farms and/or woodlots may be taxed differently.

Cons: pond (or pool) is a drowning hazard. What will the insurance cost? Stables require upkeep. Meadow needs mowing. Wetlands=mosquitos. You'll have deer, raccoons, foxes, and other critters that are fun to watch, but cause damage, have ticks (and Lyme in the Northeast), and carry rabies. Neighborhood kids will play in the woods, also smoke, drink, camp, litter, etc. Wetlands may have restrictions on use. Be cautious about renting out horse stalls, so much could go wrong. Supervising renovations is a huge, time-intensive pain, even with a friend who's a contractor. Everything costs more and takes longer than expected. Buying a house to live in that you don't love could end up being really disappointing. town-owned open space Is it likely to be developed, or stay open? If the town turned it into a ballfield, or storage for sand, salt and equipment, or skateboard park, how would you feel?

Pros: Woods can be left wild; the acreage behind me(not mine) gets no attention from the owner, except that when I walk there, I pick up litter. You'll own land and have something lovely to look at. Existing garden beds are ready to garden in. You'll have space for chickens. If you can find someone to butcher them for you, the very best soup is made from mature chickens. Sounds like the house is big enough for your needs. Excess garage space can be rented, as mentioned. Adjacent to more open space. If there's a lot of mature trees, you might be able to sell them for firewood or lumber.

I'd love having more land and space for horses. Try to decide what the value of the view is, and base any offer on the excellent issues raised.
posted by theora55 at 12:52 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

My step-sisters mother bought a farm and moved to Vermont from NYC. You might find her book about it interesting; there are several books in this genre.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:35 AM on November 17, 2013

I've read the responses and I think people are mentally over-estimating what 10 acres actually looks like. That said, were it me, I'd pick up one more ER shift and use that cash to hire a proper property manager.

The property manager would schedule things like insect and rodent control services, lawn care (mowing), a gardener/service for the landscaping, a twice a year visit from an arborist and the hiring maintenance folks to handle the odd loose gutter or rotting door frame.

I think you should give up the idea of renting out the barn. There is just so much work and liability in barn rentals that unless you were already keeping animals there it's just not worth it. However, the idea of renting out the garage space is fantastic.

In terms of the house itself, do the dirty renos first. Wall paper and flooring won't coat your house in dust like taking down a wall will. Do the structural stuff prior to move in. I'd seriously look into converting your furnace to gas too.

I don't think any on your negatives are insurmountable. The ONLY thing that gives me pause is having young children and a pond in the front yard.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:58 AM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Bonus question: am I a fool to consider buying a 1970s era home that needs major renovation on the inside?

It really doesn't sound like it needs major renovation. It sounds like you need a structural engineer to tell you that you can knock out a wall or two to make some bigger rooms, and it sounds like you need wallpaper stripped and new rugs. To me, that's not major renovation. Major renovation is pulling out all the pipes and putting in new ones, or moving the stove into a space that used to be a food pantry with no electricity or oil, or adding an addition for a new bathroom and bedroom.

For the woods, you need to buy a chainsaw or find a neighbor with a chainsaw who might move a tree for you if it falls over a stream. We have streams and dense woods and this hasn't come up yet. We bought a chainsaw and watched a bunch of YouTube videos for our foray into that eventuality, but it hasn't come up yet--a tree falling over is something humans have dealt with for thousands of years and the modern answer to such things is basically 'You gotta call a guy to come deal with that'.

I'm totally biased (I had an Ask about a lightly similar situation last year - we're a three person family with a four bathroom house) but jeez, the house sounds awesome and like a magical place to grow up. Your kids can come visit with their families someday if you leave a couple of small bedrooms as separates instead of combining them into one. You can get work done at home. Having extra room is nice. Having some land to trounce around in is nice. Ponds are beautiful. You could have ducks!

One thing that helps our house be slightly less ridiculous is that the social areas are tightly connected -- it's not an open floor plan, but I'm sitting in the living room where the fireplace is, and I can talk to my husband in the kitchen, or my kid watching TV in the TV room. I can make eye contact -- so we're in three separate rooms, but it doesn't feel so separate.

When we were considering buying our house, some people were like, 'well, you're emotional. Don't buy a house based on emotion. This is limerance' and I thought and still think, screw that. Everything doesn't need to be based on a cold, grown up analysis of the facts. I think it's okay that I love my house. Sometimes we sit here in the morning and marvel at the light coming in the windows. There are lots of things wrong with it -- every one of those bathrooms has to be redone because they reek of 1987 builder's quality, and the kitchen cabinets are an abomination we've hidden with white paint and new hardware, but I have no regrets about owning this place. Every minute here is a pleasure.

I'm alone probably in the 'listen to your heart' contingent but 'listen to your heart'. If you really have misgivings and there's a little part of you that feels like maybe you don't want to do it, don't do it, but if you want that sucker, I'm telling you: buy it. It's a lifestyle decision.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:57 AM on November 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

You have MeFi mail.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:03 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband and I have, and currently are, living in similar properties. Although not with quite as sweet a set-up (barn! pond! fencing!). Here are some of my thoughts/experiences:

Forested land: about 1/2 of our current 5 acres is wooded. It's mainly in a gully that is bordered by a small stream. There are a lot of huge (2-3' diameter) trees that came down in a hurricane before we moved here, so the whole area is virtually unpassable swamp land. But it is great wildlife habitat. We have absolutely no maintenance on this area and I don't foresee any in the future. However, if we lived where wildfires are an issue, that might be different.

Wildlife in general: Just live and let live has worked out fine for us.

Livestock: We have chickens, and recently acquired a miniature donkey. They take no more care time-wise than a dog or cat. They just need the outdoor accommodations, which are expensive to build but if they already exist on your property, you're way ahead in the game. However, once you start acquiring animals, it can put quite a damper on travel/vacations because you have to find someone you trust to take care of them while you're gone.

Gardening: My husband and I both work full-time like you and I would rather spend my time tending flowers (and critters) than doing all the weeding, harvesting and preserving vegetables require when it doesn't make much sense for us money-wise. If this sounds like you, maybe you could find some nice city folks who would be glad to use the space in exchange for giving you a cut of the crop?

Yard: If the 1.5 acres is to be maintained as lawn, it will probably take about 2-3 hours to mow on a weekly basis during the growing season. It would be wise to invest in a larger tractor (our John Deere cost around $14,000). Or hire out the maintenance. If it's maintained as a pasture/meadow, it will still need occasional mowing/seeding.

Renovations: A 1970s time capsule sounds like a dream to me, but if you are dead set on renovating, I second the recommendation above that you live in the house awhile before making any decisions, especially on structural stuff. You might find your money better spent (or spent for you) on less glamorous stuff like swapping your oil furnace for gas, or upgrading windows to more energy-efficient ones. Getting a thorough house inspection is a must.

Utilities: City water and sewer are great. You won't have to worry about losing power like you would with a well.

Here are the things that would be important to me to check into:

Liability: check with your insurance the impact of having that pond on your property.

Trespassing: is this property the short cut for the neighborhood to get to the community open space?

Neighbors: Our previous property was the original house from a farm, of which most had been sold off for housing development. I won't say we were shunned by our neighbors, but there was definite classism between the owners of the spanking new houses and us as owners of the vintage home. The funny thing is, when one of the adjacent owners put up a for sale sign, we had a ton of people drive in hoping it was OUR property for sale! We also never had trick-or-treaters because of being the creepy dark house far from the road. Which I missed.

Land use restrictions: Part of our current place falls within a critical area for wetlands, which means if we want to make any major changes, we have to jump through a lot of extra hoops up to and including a public hearing on our proposed action. Also covenants: our previous place had to comply with the covenants of the development, even though we weren't part of it. We didn't have to pay their fees, but you should check into that as well.

General thoughts: The older I get, the more things seem to boil down to matters of either time or money. At our previous place, my husband and I both worked full-time, but didn't make a lot of money. It made sense to try more DIY stuff and save for things we knew were beyond our capabilities, skill and time-wise. That phase of our life had its benefits in giving us confidence and satisfaction that we could tackle a lot of jobs, and also a lot of great stories to look back on (load-bearing spackle anyone?). In our current situation, we still work full-time but our income is such that we can afford to hire out more services. We still have the satisfaction of well-thought-out improvements, and I also look at it like we're supporting local businesses.

I would snap up this place in a heartbeat.

One more caveat: You do know at some point your daughter WILL want a pony, right?
posted by auntie maim at 6:59 AM on November 17, 2013

Re the possibility of a hobby farm, with livestock, beehives, cheesemaking etc:
*Who is going to take care of all these animals, if you and your spouse are working? And yeah, livestock requires daily care, there's no skipping a day or two because you're sick or too busy or on vacation or just don't feel like it. Daily care: feeding, cleaning up after, medical.... You can go away for a day now if you put out food and water for your cats, but that won't work for a farm.
*How is it zoned? There's a big difference between keeping a couple horses for your family to ride around your property, and keeping farm animals like goats, sheep and pigs, and the cheesemaking especially sounds like a business. Is it zoned residential, commercial, farm, or some combination? If it's considered inside a town's limits, there's probably further restrictions on the types of livestock allowed.
*Different animals require different amounts/kinds of habitats: do you know what a sheep likes, compared to a pig? How about those goats? Is this enough land for a herd of social animals?
*What about fencing --- is there currently fencing, is it the right kind of fencing, what does fencing repair and maintenance include, and can you do it?
posted by easily confused at 7:09 AM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Two questions:

- how long do you foresee living in this house? If you're likely to move (for professional or other reasons) in a few years, you will not get much enjoyment out of this purchase.

- You say you are not handy, but would you like to become more handy in the future? Does the idea of spending a day off with a sickle bar mower or chopping wood or whatever appeal to you at all? If it doesn't, then you do not want this property.

One comment about the more practical issues: it is true that oil is much more expensive to heat with than gas. But it sounds like you have natural gas in the house (the stove is not running on propane, is it?). Converting from oil to gas is not hard, nor is it, in the scheme of things, that expensive. If you are staying for a while (see above) it is probably worth considering.

Also, it is almost certain that much of your land is legal wetlands, otherwise it would have been developed. Be sure you understand the implications of that - you probably can't put any improvements, including drainage and/or roads and paths, in a designated wetland. Some of your current improvements may even be non-compliant.
posted by mr vino at 7:41 AM on November 17, 2013

I would mostly be concerned about being the only farm in a predominantly residential neighborhood. All of your neighbors will be extremely invested in your upkeep and maintenance. They have probably come to expect a certain level of access and/or enjoyment (maybe only visually) to this property and you will be expected to maintain whatever that is. None of them will have the same level of upkeep or have any understanding of what you have to do just to keep things maintained on a minimal basis but will definitely have thoughts about what you do. I think that might be a pretty significant burden.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:05 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it really boils down to how you and your partner like to spend your time. Lots of people own and work land. I grew up on 7 country acres and loved it. It worked because my dad loved being outside messing around. His idea of a relaxing Satuday was mowing the yard and fixing things.
This would not work in my current life as my partner while awsome at the radom project really does not enjoy hours outside working the land like I do. I have farm fantisies too, but when it came down to it I want to travel in the summers.
posted by Playswithdirt at 8:16 AM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I want to echo that a 1977 house sounds new-ish rather than old-ish. Lead paint was banned for housing in 1978 in the US and by 1977 little was in use. Big plus!

A minor issue that has been brought up is that the hobby farming that you might be looking at in the future may be expensive. At least for beekeeping that is not necessarily the case. My parents kept about 4-5 hives of bees when I was a child. They kept good records and it was a money-making business for them. They worked the hives on weekends, along with a bunch of other hobbies. I'd feel less comfortable about say, pigs.
posted by SandiBeech at 8:17 AM on November 17, 2013

I grew up on the former farm house of what became a development although the original owners had kept much less acreage. It was really nice having our own little patch of woods to explore in the middle of suburbia, and our friends liked it too. It was basically all the advantages of living in the 'burbs with a touch of rural freedom.

The woods will require some maintenance in order to take out diseased or dangerously damaged trees, clear out growth that could attract vermin, etc. The outbuildings will also require regular maintenance and mowing a 1.5 acre lawn is no joke in the summer (says my brother, whose job it was). Can you ask the current owners what they do? If they have any equipment (small tractor, etc) they might be interested in rolling them into the price of the house.

Hobby farming does require a daily commitment as well. My stepmother owns miniature donkeys that she boards at a nearby farm (in much the same way you are thinking of with horses). She is over there every day for at least an hour and often longer, since she's training them. And although she is fully responsible for their feed, upkeep, etc, I know the family that owns the barn is in very regular communication with her and would be the first on the scene if there was an emergency with one of the donkeys. Finally, even if you have an explicit arrangement where all you are providing is space, if you got a shitty owner who didn't take care of his/her animals properly, what would you do?

I think the house doesn't sound bad at all--but I agree with living with it for a while before doing cosmetic improvements.

Basically, I think this sounds like a dream property for two people with no kids or who are semi-retired. You of course are busy professionals with a very young child, so you have a lot of other demands in your time and energy. On the other hand, it does sound like a unique property. I think if you go for it, your husband really needs to be on board but otherwise it's doable with a combination of enthusiasm and paid help.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:24 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it were me in your shoes, I'd take it in a heartbeart. The only real flag about the house is the oil furnace, and it sounds as though you have the finances to change that out ASAP. Since the house is solid, everything else you mentioned doesn't require immediate major renovation, but redecorating. (Of course, if you feel like you *must* start knocking walls out and such to move in, your mileage may vary.)

You'd want a smaller, solidly fenced area for toddler/early preschool aged kids that opens right from a door you'd regularly use, and isn't located so that vehicles need to go in and out of it, or that it's set up whatsoever to encourage you to leave a gate open frequently. That's the safe area for the young ones, but definitely, you'd want to explore WITH them outside that, so you can reinforce a few things: 1) they don't go outside their space without [whatever adults], 2) the areas that are absolutely off limits (in the pond) etc. And they'd eventually have more freedom.

As for the "mow the meadow" line of thought... whether that is appropriate or necessary, and how often if so, is totally going to depend on both the general area and the particular property. Where I live, it could range from "mow often" for something that's basically a just-tall-grass grazing field if it keeps growing all summer, "mow once" if it's the same thing, grows tall in the spring, and dries out in the summer - so it needs removed as a fire hazzard, to "leave it alone, mowing will screw up the variety and strengths of the plants already there".

Tree removal, same thing. Chances are, little or nothing will actually *need* done on a regular basis, but if it's just ten acres, it'd be a good idea to walk it in the spring and as soon as possible after storms that were likely to take some trees/branches down. Especially if kids have run of most of the property. Many, probably most, people in our area don't even do that.

That's something to do with all that garage space; store tools. A small chain saw could be operated by either of you, and they're not hard to use, nor terribly expensive, and good to have on hand.

As for the barn: Renting horse space is probably not the way you want to go. (Hassle, and you'd be way out of your knowledge zone if you're not already horse people.)

Just because it was designed/used for horses doesn't mean it *has* to be used for horses. Other livestock, even rabbits... or maybe not even animals. I know one family who turned a barn into a (very cool) hangout for the teens, but that was a pretty solid barn, so it was comfortable in the winter. I think they'd used it as a play-building when the kids were younger... nice flat flooring for tricycles and skates, etc. That's another option for an extra garage, too. Indoor playground.

Mmm, yeah. I'm gonna stop, cuz I'm no help at talking you out of it. Partially because I know tons of people who live on similar properties, and do everything from tons of upkeep (the micromanaging, must-be-perfect sort) to absolutely none (the broke or doesn't care sort) and all stages in-between. So it's the norm to me, rather than the oddity. (Of course, I'm in the PNW, which may change all sorts of things - I have this sneaking suspicion that typical east coast expectations totally different.)

To make a thoughtful decision, you'd need to determine what your - and your husband's - expectations are for work, home appearance and utility, upkeep time, what's important to you, what kind of family life and upbringing you want your kids to have, etc., and then decide whether or not you're willing or able to 1) do it yourself, 2) hire someone to do it for you, or 3) some combination of the two. That's pretty personal, and we can't decide it for you.---
posted by stormyteal at 11:35 AM on November 17, 2013

Are you the kind of people who, in your free time, like to be doing tasks? Get up early, get moving on a project?

Do you feel comfortable with machinery (riding mower) and hiring people (vetting them, negotiating rates, supervising/evaluating their work, etc)?

If neither of you has taken care of property/land before, it's possible you're in the same situation I was in a few years ago. We got a house with a modest yard and garden. I was amazed at how much work the yard/garden is, and how little I wanted to spend my free time taking on that extra work. When house-hunting, I had entertained fantasies (fed by reading blogs) of getting into the fixing-up stuff, or the gardening stuff, etc -- but as it turns out, it is not my cup of tea at all and turns out to be a chore rather than a joy. A friend of mine described a similar thing - "I really want to live in a place where these things are being done and enjoyed by someone, where someone is living a wholesome rustic lifestyle with canning and laundry on the line, and so on. But I don't want to do those things myself - I want someone else, like my partner, to want to do those things." It's a beautiful thought about how nice a life some family could make on that farm, but (speaking from experience!) try to think realistically about whether you yourself want to be the one to make that life.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:09 PM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yard: If the 1.5 acres is to be maintained as lawn, it will probably take about 2-3 hours to mow on a weekly basis during the growing season. It would be wise to invest in a larger tractor (our John Deere cost around $14,000).

Just for the record, this is about the size of our mow-able area and Mr. Llama breezes through it in about 45 minutes on our $1500 John Deere riding mower, and there are actually hills on the yard part of our yard. I've watched him do it, he sort of goes into a trance. Granted, he goes kind of fast - even I can tell - but still, I think worst case scenario, it's an hour.

We also do nothing - zero - in the wooded area surrounding our house. If a tree falls, it falls. We do have paths on the property and if something were to compromise those, we'd remove it ourselves, pay someone to remove it, or route the path around it. Probably the last. We let nature be nature, especially outside the perimeter of the the landscaped yard. Trees that rot and fall do provide for homes for critters, that's true, but we're totally into being surrounded by critters. Your critter tolerance may vary, but if you live in that sort of environment it's probably best to be okay with deer eating your hostas, that sort of thing.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:22 PM on November 17, 2013

If a tree falls in the woods…. why do I care? (serious question)

Sometimes a tree falls partway over and gets caught on other trees. It might fall the rest of the way when your child and others are climbing on and under it. Squish.

Check the zoning, environmental, licencing, state, and local laws that might apply to your pond, stables, horse boarding business, future animals, etc. You might want to look at the federal tax laws that would apply for hobby farms, non-hobby farms, and horses as well. Expect doing your taxes to be more complex, require you to keep more records, and take more of your own time as well as the time of any tax preparer you use.
posted by yohko at 2:02 PM on November 17, 2013

Best answer: Interesting responses. I grew up in the country in houses/yards/paddocks much larger than this, and I'm genuinely surprised at all the maintenance stuff (note: I grew up in subtropical Australia; I think we got a frost maybe ten times in my entire childhood. Snow is unheard of).

It depends I think if you and your husband like "projects". This can include fixing up stuff yourself, or overseeing contractors fixing stuff up. My parents, my father in particular, and all of us kids are quite project-minded, so these kind of things were generally viewed as fun and satisfying activities, rather than soul-killing drudgery.

We never maintained the land around our very large garden at all. Didn't even slash it, except to clear a path to the spring so we could fill the tank when it ran out of water. Trees fell over, it didn't really matter (like you our house was on a hillside, higher than all other water). The other thing is that you can manage the land, to give you what you want by planting the right trees and shrubs, directing water flows etc. Smart land management can have a very dramatic reduction on maintenance.

Likewise, we always kept livestock (predominantly cattle), and seriously, they aren't much work! You have to spray them for ticks periodically, and that's about it, really. Don't get a bull. The advantage of livestock is they keep the grass down, and in turn stop the scrub from encroaching on paddock areas. Without something keeping the grass down, the scrub/bush will start eating up your meadows/paddocks very quickly, and it can become a real nuisance, as the vanguard are generally the most tenacious locally available noxious weeds (e.g blackberries), and getting rid of them is much more challenging than merely keeping them at bay.

You will want a ride-on mower, as opposed to a push one, trust me on this.

I wouldn't be too concerned if you're not handy now; you haven't really had the opportunity or need to be handy. If you take satisfaction from doing 'jobs' I think you will be fine. And the glorious thing about learning new skills when you own a home is that a) you generally have all the time in the world, and b) if you screw it up too badly, you can always pay someone to do a proper job and it won't cost that much more so all you've lost is time.

The house sounds fine - cosmetic updates like bathrooms painting etc are relatively affordable (we just did a lot on a house of similar vintage we purchased last year).

I dunno, maybe I'm bias. But I had the most magical childhood; I wouldn't trade it for the world; and I deeply regret that my kids won't have it. The freedom to go wandering - the only injunction was "Take the dog" into the bush by myself gave me a sense of independence, pragmatism, and a connection to the natural environment that has stayed with me my whole life. I gained an understanding of seasonal patterns, basic horticulture and animal husbandry, swimming, simple first aid, and more from a very young age, I learnt not to be afraid of new things, and was confident and capable by myself. There was nothing better than disappearing into the paddocks and coming across some old bones; a bubbling spring, some wild passionfruit; an ancient strangler fig with a hollow interior sheltering slumbering owls. It felt like my own treasure island.

Good luck, whatever your decision.
posted by smoke at 3:40 PM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Can you get the operating costs from the previous owner? If it were me I'd love this if I could have some one run it for me and the $$$ didn't stress me out. Also, we just had a 1k oil tank filled and he bill was quite unpleasant.

This property sounds great, but do your homework, I'm sure there are a lot of other amazing options. Make sure you see some more of them to make an informed decision.
posted by cestmoi15 at 5:39 PM on November 17, 2013

I think it really boils down to how you and your partner like to spend your time.

Yep, it really boils down to one key thing: do you want the property and will just deal with the responsibility, or do you want the responsibility that comes with the property? The people I know who bought their farm last year wanted to work the land, and owning the property is the means to that end.
posted by holgate at 7:12 PM on November 17, 2013

It sounds like an awesome house for the right people, but you don't sound like the right people. You'd need to have more experience living the way you're living in the future fantasy to make a realistic estimation of how it would be for you. It sounds like you were taken by surprise to see yourselves in this house; don't buy based on that infatuation with a vision of yourselves. That's not who you are right now, and there's a lot of ground to cover between being what you are right now and being the kinds of people that could take this place in stride and do everything with it you've talked about, while raising 3 kids and working 2 jobs, being a landlord/beekeeper/stableowner/forester/gardener/etc.

I know people who do live that way but they didn't jump into it. They researched it, planned it, and took reasonable steps to get that life.
posted by Miko at 9:03 PM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

I live with my grandparents on 9 acres, hilly, woods on a good portion of it, one horse. Slightly more rural than this, but not much.

Agree with many of the above that you would probably not like living there. Some more things to consider:

Have someone specifically check over the wiring and plumbing in the house. The type of people who own a farm do tend to be handy, which can lead to all kinds of fun DIY repairs/innovations in this area. Example: My wall outlet in an upstairs bedroom is on the same electrical circuit as the dishwasher down stairs in the kitchen. I have to unplug my small heater if anyone needs clean dishes, otherwise the circuit breaker trips. Not only is this annoying, it could add a huge amount of work/cost to your remodeling plans.

Also check things like insulation and windows. One of the reason houses were built with closed up floor plans is because in the winter you close off most of the rooms and only heat one or two in order to save money. Modern houses don't do this so much because they don't hemorrhage heat in quite the same way.

What is the electrical and plumbing situation in the barn? (Consider that outdoor pipes will freeze and burst unless treated specially.)

Where do the utility lines pass across the property? Are there any trees in those areas? (You will learn to pay attention to those trees, so that you can remove any ailing ones when the weather is nice, before nature does it for you when the weather is nasty.)

Ditto: Which trees are tall enough to hit the house (even a little bit)? Ditto: Barn, other out buildings, fencing. Ditto: Falling in such a way that they block the driveway. Ditto: Falling across your property line.

(We don't actually do much maintenance on our wooded section, which is established deciduous trees on a somewhat rocky hill, so it isn't really inclined to turn into jungle, but the trees around the house and barn more than make up for it in terms of work.)

I have way too much to say about the idea of boarding horses, but it basically boils down to: Don't.
posted by anaelith at 8:01 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just to add to all of the wonderful responses so far...

Make SURE to check into the zoning of your property, and any neighborhood covenants that may prevent you from enjoying the hobby farm activities you're thinking about. Call the county zoning board, if you have one. Pull up a GIS map, if you have access. My husband and I are relocating back to the country after a decade+ of urban life, and we've had to turn down several properties that were perfect in every way, except that they didn't allow agricultural activities. One property was even in a kind of rural HOA where no one could put up outbuildings or even keep chickens, despite having 20+ acres. Crazy.

Don't assume that because there is a barn on the property, you can use it for anything other than Christmas lights. Even if it has been used for livestock in the past, that usage may have been grandfathered in. The seller may not be honest with you about potential issues if you ask, so always do your own research.

I would also be concerned about any wetland restrictions that may apply to the back portion of your potential property. The EPA is currently considering expanding the navigable waterways/clean water/wetlands rules and if put into practice, they will affect much more private land than current law. You might find yourself severely restricted from an ag perspective, having to mitigate runoff from livestock, etc., even if you just have a pet pig.

It's not terribly romantic to think about these things, but you probably don't want to be stuck with a 10 acre albatross...
posted by muirne81 at 9:49 AM on December 6, 2013

Response by poster: Update: Thanks to all who commented (even those who tried to discourage me...) - I definitely plan to use this advice in evaluating properties, but unfortunately, not this specific property, which was snatched up by some lucky buyer.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:50 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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