(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
The Septic Tank
The age and condition of the septic system is important to know. The older the septic the stronger the chance of having trouble; which is something you don’t ever want to experience. The size of the septic depends on how many bathrooms, the number of people living in the home and how new the kitchen is; meaning is there a dishwasher, garbage disposal, automatic ice makers, etc. If you don’t know when the septic was last serviced, go by these fabled words: when in doubt, pump it out! It is better if you can negotiate this action as a part of the selling contract, just like you would a termite inspection.
If the septic system is really old, then it is possible the tank may be compromised. Tree roots can easily damage a tank and over run the drain field. Look for any inspection records of the septic installation; if there are none, you may have a hillbilly barrel tank, which may not be functioning. An instant $15,000-to-$20,000 bill, which homeowners insurance may not pay unless you have a rider.
Inspect the HVAC System
If the residence has an HVAC system, have it checked out by a reputable person/firm. Just because you can feel hot or cold air coming out the registers doesn’t mean the system works properly. Getting it repaired vs buying a new system can be negotiated with the seller.
Depending on where you live and who your insurer is you may have to have a special rider to your policy if you have a wood stove. Call and find out before you buy. Depending on the age of the wood stove it may or may not have a blower system. It may or may not have fire bricks. If it has tempered glass on the door, have it checked as it varies by age, brand and if it meets current code. If the stove is free-standing, the stove pipe to the outside needs to be checked for cracks or holes so you don’t die in your sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning. If the pipes are rusted they should be replaced. The insides should also be cleaned to avoid a stove fire which could burn your house down.
Barns and Out-Buildings
Does the property have an existing barn? Does it have existing out-buildings? What condition are they in? If you are planning to farm or ranch you will need these structures for feed sheds, weather protection for animals: chickens, goats, pigs, cattle, horses, and wood storage, etc. Currently, a small metal barn can start at $25,000 and go upwards. With the current shortage of roofing sheet steel, pole barns and metal sheds have doubled, even tripled, in price. Building an 8’x10’ wood out-building used to cost around $500 for materials if you build it; but now with lumber prices increasing over 400 %, you may find buying a pre-built metal shed more economical. In my location a metal 10’x16’ shed used to run between $2,000 to $5,000, depending on quality; but with the shortages, they have more than doubled in price. Even CONEX containers have increased in price from around $1,800 to $4,500 for a 10’x20′ shipping container.
High on your list of priorities should be a storm shelter or safe room. Once you have been through a severe storm that rips your house apart while you cower in the bathtub with a mattress over your head, you won’t live anywhere without one. Your location will determine whether it is a deep basement, a mid-house safe room or an outside storm shelter. You need this for the safety of your family.
You should ask the seller or the realtor how far away is the nearest fire station and does it have a water truck. There are very few fire hydrants out in the country so the fire department needs to bring the water. Remember that most country fire stations are staffed by volunteers, so once you call, it takes time for the volunteers to get to the station and truck(s), plus the time it takes to get to your property.
Other items that are critical for country living are fire extinguishers and lots of them. The further away from a town you are, the more fire extinguishers you should have. It is better to get the rechargeable ones; they cost a little more but they can be recharged at the fire station.
If you are buying in dry, wildfire country, you should identify methods of protecting your property. If you are out west, you may not be in a fire-protection-area, meaning you are on your own. I know people who lost a home and then rebuilt using concrete block and slate roof along with a state-of-the-art indoor/out door sprinkler water system, which ran on a generator and used a deep pond as water source. Remember, California utilities are turning off the power when folks most need it. I have also read about folks who use sprinkler systems in the woods around their houses (running hoses to a lake or river and powered by gas pump).
If your chosen homestead is w-a-ay out, then think about having your own fire fighting items. For example: An old pump truck, fire hoses, and strategically placed water barrels. That old phase better-safe-than-sorry applies when you live in the country because your house could burn to the ground before the rescue/fire department/sheriff gets to you.
Backup Power Systems
Many country homes get their power from an electric cooperative via above-ground wires, aka utility poles, which are prone to failure during any type of a storm. One or two days without power isn’t bad, unless you have medical issues, which require electricity.
Having a backup power system keeps everyone calm and systems working. Again, it depends on your location on what you get. Do you have enough sun for solar, wind for turbines or do you need to use a generator?
Another farm priority is fencing. Living out in the country there are loose critters; e.g., dogs, cats, goats, pigs, raccoons, armadillos, foxes, opossums, coyotes, deer, and the occasional lost cow. Those who choose to be in or near the mountains will have more dangerous critters such as wolves, big cats, bears, elk, moose, etc.
There are no leash laws in the country and some folks let their animals free range and they may not be vaccinated, plus wild animals carry a host of diseases. A welded wire agra fence will keep your family and animals safely inside your compound and most of the stray animals away from your house.
If you have deer in your area you will need an 8’ fence around the garden; a plastic deer fence will do. Some people use a hot wire which will keep the deer out, but not the smaller critters. A garden is a free meal for all animals, large and small, so be prepared.
Our chickens free range within a fenced acre because we have predators which love chickens. I use a 4’ agra fence plus hot wire at 2 levels. The top-level hot wire discourages the owls, hawks, and falcons from waiting for a chicken dinner, while the lower hot wire fends off the raccoons, skunks, and opossums. The first year we were here we lost about 5 hens; after that we put the hot wires up and immediately fried two owls and a hawk. I hate dispatching such beautiful birds, but we have to protect our animals first.
For pigs and goats we use 4’ agra fencing with hot wire. If you put the hot wires up when the animals are small, they won’t mess with it thereafter. For goats you need strong fencing and multiple ways of locking the mischievous buggers in. A stray goat can destroy any garden in one day! If they get your neighbor’s garden, you will be out some money to pay for it. If you run cattle or keep horses you will need 4- or 5-strand barbed wire or hot fencing to contain them. All this fencing costs money which adds up so if the property has existing fencing that is a plus.
Depending on the population of the area, the communication systems will vary. If you are phone, television, and Internet-dependent you need to ask where the closest cell phone tower is and if there is cable laid nearby. You may have to get satellite TV/internet service and maybe a landline phone. Satellite Internet out in the country is priced by data amounts so if you have game addicts in your house you need to figure out an alternative to online gaming. If you are an Amazon Prime person their streaming service is useless via satellite, unless you’re a millionaire. If you go over your allotted data amount it slows to dial up speed or you can buy more data at sky high prices. The longer you are out in the country, the more ways you discover to work around these little annoyances, like downloading at 3 or 4 am during bonus hours.
Everyone needs a few neighbors, whether they are across the road or 10 miles down the road. I strongly urge you to make the drive and stop by. Ask about the property, the well, the water quality, etc. Most are very happy to talk to you. However, if s/he seems contentious or yells for you to get off the property, seriously consider if you want that person as a neighbor. Having a bad neighbor is worse than having a bad boss.
Just remember, know what you are getting into before you buy! You might be purchasing a money pit you won’t be able to get rid of until you fix all the problems. Once you find a problem, it must be disclosed on the contract.
Buying the rural property and setting up a homestead is tough; there’s so much to do and most of us do it all on a budget. The first year would be another full article by itself, but I advise those new to rural living and start-up homesteaders to again prioritize! You cannot do it all in one or two years, so make your plan and then go to work! It is do-able, it is fun, it is challenging and most of all, it becomes a rewarding life-style.