Waking up every morning to see my horses grazing in a grassy field, raising chickens to get the freshest eggs imaginable and playing with baby goats in my own backyard had been a dream of mine since I was a child.
And almost seven years ago, my husband and I made the leap from suburban community living to the green pastures of Western Loudoun County, Virginia.
We were determined to pursue our dream of living on our own small family farm.
Over the past decade, there has been quite a surge in people, like us, who are moving to less populated areas and actively pursuing their rural-living dreams.
According to the USDA, over 91 percent of farms in the U.S. are now small or family run farms that make $250,000 or less a year.
As a real estate agent, you may ask, what does this mean for me?
Buying and selling small family farms is vastly different from the typical residential real estate transaction. Every transaction is different, as is what you need to know to best serve your clients.
It is impossible to write everything you need to know about country real estate transactions in one article. Below are the five critical areas of knowledge every agent must have before representing clients on the purchase of a rural property.
1. Well systems and water safety
Moving to rural areas usually means you will be getting your water from a well located somewhere on your property. Having your well inspected at purchase is every bit as important as the actual home inspection, and it’s required by most lenders.
Checking the potability of the water by having a bacteria analysis completed by a certified laboratory is usually another requirement. Depending on the area and age of the home, you may also want to recommend checking for nitrates, lead and other contaminants.
It is also important to know the well depth and water yield. If you plan to raise two acres of pick-your-own blueberries, you need to know if your well will be able to handle the mid-summer irrigation needs of these perpetually thirsty plants.
2. Septic components and maintenance
If you are dealing with a well for water, the property will most likely have a septic system for waste. Once again, a thorough inspection of the system is a necessity, and it should include pumping the tank, excavation and inspection of the distribution box, and sometimes even running a small camera down the lines to check for obstruction or damage.
Also, you should know where to find records to make sure the system is able to handle the number of household occupants.
Advising clients on system maintenance requirements and potential repair costs is very important. If something goes wrong on a public system, it usually doesn’t fall on the property owners to pay for the repairs. With well and septic systems, it does.
3. Covenants and restrictions
Farm properties are more than just homes with big yards, large pets and non-chlorinated water that comes out of a hole in the ground. If your client wants to raise chickens, is that allowed? What about goats or pigs?
No one expects us to know everything off of the top of our heads, but we need to know where to get the answers when these questions arise.
Knowing where to find covenants and restrictions, zoning laws and where to look to see if there are easements on a property are just a few.
4. Land use, conservation and tax benefits
Depending on your area, you may have programs available to your buyers that can be a great help to decreasing the amount of their property tax.
In our area, we have land use programs that can discount taxes for income-producing properties. Raising dairy goats, growing crops and cutting hay are just a few income-producing options that can qualify.
When representing a buyer on a property already in land use, make certain that any roll back taxes are up to date.
Also, be sure to get your clients whatever documentation they will need if they plan to continue in the land use system.
Be very clear on all of this information, as any mistakes can cost your clients thousands of dollars in back taxes on a property they didn’t even own at the time.
Land conservation programs exist that put properties in conservation easements and prevent the current and future owners from selling the land for development. There is a large tax benefit to this, but it does diminish the value of the land for future resale.
5. Specific use needs
If you have a client looking for a property for a specific purpose, like breeding horses or growing hops, you also need to know the specifics of what makes a property suitable (or not) for these endeavors.
Steep slopes may be good for growing grapes, but not good for grazing cattle.
Equestrian properties also have their own language and specific areas of concern for their owners. If there is access to trails, or “ride out,” would they be allowed by zoning to add an arena, and is the horse fencing safe, in good repair and able to keep a 1,600-pound horse from busting right through?
If helping buyers scope out their dream country property is a transaction that you would only deal with occasionally, then maybe learning all of this isn’t the best use of your time.
In these cases, it’s best to refer these clients to someone who regularly deals with rural properties.
You need to remember that for most clients looking to make the change from city slicker to country folk, this is a dream coming true, and you are their licensed fairy godmother.
Helping your clients find their perfect property where they will rejoice over the birth of a healthy calf or find unexpected beauty in the visits from a 10-point buck is a great deal more work, but it is also so incredibly rewarding.
Taking the time to learn everything you need to know to properly represent your buyers will help ensure them many happy years of memory making and dream fulfillment.
After all, the best agents strive to help make their clients’ dreams come true.