(This installment concludes the article.)
We do have towns here in Vermont that lack any zoning. While some might consider this good, it can get ugly when people turn their properties into junkyards or want to start noxious commercial operations in a residential area. I’d like some protection from that sort of thing, while not living in a place that controls every aspect of your life.
I want to avoid large commercial dairy operations and their associated spreading of liquid manure. The odors, traffic, dust and noise can be unbearable and has really caused a diminished quality of life for areas impacted by this; here dairy farms are sacred so good luck getting anyone in authority to help with this. The same goes for large pig farms etc. There’s a pig farm here that has a constant problem with escaped pigs which cause immense damage to the neighbor’s gardens and land. In some states this would also be an issue for large poultry operations which can be pretty nasty.
A piece of land that has significant open sunny area for gardening plus some woods would be ideal. Unless I’d get a large enough piece of land I don’t anticipate being able to cut enough wood on my own land to provide for entire winters of wood stove use(although that would be ideal), but at least some would be helpful.
The house itself should not be too big but not too small, ideally between 800-to-1,200 square feet. I’d like at least an extra bedroom for my son to use when he wants to or for friends to stay over. In tough times the extra bedroom or two would likely be occupied full-time by my son and others. A basement, if dry, would be useful for storage of root crops, etc. A wood stove in good condition is a plus. A porch would be ideal as I like porches for sitting on and relaxing or socializing plus they are a fine place to spend time outside yet out of direct sun in hot weather. Cooking on a propane camp stove is also doable on a porch even in the rain while safely venting the gases to the outside.
A garage would be super, both to store a car, especially in winter, and also for storage of garden tools, wheelbarrows, etc. Outbuildings, in good shape,would also be a plus. A small barn or shed would mean one less building I had to construct. My son is a beginning blacksmith so a place he can set up a workshop/forge would definitely be ideal as well.
I’d like to have a private water supply and septic system; no town water or sewer. A gravity feed spring like I had on my farm would be optimal but also not too likely. If it’s a drilled well then I’d like a place with a nearby river/stream/pond that I can access for water should the power be out for an extended period. The well (or spring) should supply adequate amounts of good potable water. I’m trying to avoid septic systems that are mound systems which the state unfortunately has been favoring in recent years. Most of these require pumping of the effluent which won’t work during power outages.
I’d prefer a metal roof in good condition as they last a long time and are ideal for providing an emergency water supply if you install gutters that have downspouts going to rain barrels or a cistern.
A pantry or room that can be used for a pantry/food storage would be nice although I can always build this if the house lacks one.
I’m pretty much agnostic about the power supply. I lived with an off-grid system for a long time so I’m well versed in their care and operation, pros and cons. If the grid went down for an extended period it would be handy to have. Given enough money I could also install a small system to use in an emergency. Lacking an off-grid system, in an extended power outage I’d want to be able to at least have a way to cook, heat the house in winter, and obtain water.
A property not located in a flood zone is a must. We are mostly spared tornadoes, hurricanes, large earthquakes, wildfires etc here but floods have become a major concern. Even some properties not located in a flood zone have flooded so I’d want to carefully eyeball any potential home and assess how likely I think flooding would be a concern. This is difficult however as sometimes culverts get clogged or are undersized and this has taken out roads or even huge pieces of land in a severe storm. We’ve had places flood that have been around for hundreds of years and have never had a problem, until recently.
Given the more frequent and severe downpours we have been experiencing lately, I’d also try to avoid steep hills that may likely see the road washed out in a severe rainstorm as well as steep driveways that also stand an excellent chance of being damaged by heavy rain. Climate change predictions all point to this problem worsening so if possible I’d rather avoid buying a home where I’m more likely to experience the road or driveway washing out. In ordinary times one can always call someone to fix the driveway and the town will fix the road but in a crisis situation this may not be possible and one would have to contend with a washed out impassable road or driveway. There are roads here even now that washed out months ago and are still closed due to the significant amount of damage.
A place with a cell signal is also a plus for current times. It would be nice to have decent high speed internet service but that’s pretty spotty here in rural Vermont. Some locales have good DSL so that may be the best I can hope for. Again, this is pretty much only a concern during “normal” times but as I’m trying to find a property that will both work for me now and at least meet some of my important needs if TSHTF, this is a consideration.
I’m also looking for a place that’s either already well insulated or will allow me to do that or get it done by a contractor. I’m trying to avoid homes that have old vermiculite insulation as due to much of that containing asbestos, contractors have real issues here working on those homes. Log homes may look quaint but they can be a nightmare to maintain plus are difficult to weatherize for this climate so I’m avoiding them. I also don’t want a mobile(manufactured) home as they aren’t easy to heat, lose their value rapidly, and to me, are aesthetically displeasing. That said, they work for some people in terms of providing cheap housing. Given that I’m trying to find a place to live in whether or not things ever get seriously bad, I’d just as soon as find a home that I like and that will be more likely to appreciate in value and be easier to maintain in good condition and heat in the winter.
So that’s the basics of what I’m seeking in a property. I know full well that I’m unlikely to find one I can afford that has it all. That said, there are items on my “wish list” that I’ll be willing to compromise on and others that are “must-haves”. Some are just more important to me than others. Some are really unchangeable such as location in a particular town, road, solar aspect, flood zone and topography. Add to that the acreage and access to a nearby stream or river.
I’m more open to compromising on the style of house be it ranch, cape, farmhouse, date of construction and that sort of thing. I want a house I can move into upon acquisition so it needs to be “livable”. It can be “dated” and require lots of paint, flooring, et cetera as those are all things I can do over time, while living there. I’m trying hard to keep my strong desire for a place to call my own again in check so that I realistically assess the properties I see and don’t just grab one out of desperation.
I’ve been looking at properties for the past few months and have made offers on three of them. There’s sadly a real lack of good properties in my price range. There is a lot of junk on the market as it’s a seller’s market here and sellers are putting stuff up for sale they have been unable to sell for years. The market is so hot here that buyers are agreeing to forgo inspections in order to nab the house; lost out on one house to a deal like that.
I’ve seen properties that are “camps” (vacation homes) with the water supply from the pond and a septic system that is only permitted for seasonal use. One nice house with a contaminated water supply (even with a drilled deep well). One that really had no land area to garden despite being on two acres as most of it was wooded terrain maybe only accessible to a mountain goat. Another had the interstate in it’s “backyard”. One was surrounded on all sides by crumbling houses with yards full of junk and the residents out drinking on their front steps. Some needed so much work that the cost for necessary repairs was prohibitive and the owners were evidently in la-la land as to the true value of their home.
This hasn’t been a lot of fun for me. I truly don’t like shopping for most anything other than at a garden center or at a Farmers’ Market! Dealing with realtors, many of whom just want to make a quick sale, feels akin to buying a used car. I’ve worked hard to distance myself from bullying realtors or those who truly don’t understand what I’m looking for. Buying a home is a big deal. It is, for many of us, the most significant purchase we will ever make and where we will have the bulk of our assets. For those of us who look upon a home as not just a residence but also a place to provide for our family’s security in tough times, finding one that meets our needs is critical.