The MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors' provide a guideline to buying a home in a rural area.
If you've decided that you want to plant your roots in a rural area, you'll need to consider these additional issues.
Water. How is the property supplied with water? If there's a well, make your offer contingent on inspections to confirm the well is in good condition. You may want to specify that the well provide a certain number of gallons per minute. Have the water tested for nitrates, bacteria and any other possible contaminants that may endanger your health. (Ask the health department what problems may be present in the local water supply.)
If there is not a water source on the property, be sure to take that into account when you decide how much you're willing to offer. If you plan to drill a well, realize there is always a chance the driller will not be able to locate water on the property. You may be able to get some idea in advance of the odds you'll find good water by checking with hydrologists at the agency that regulates water use in your state.
Sewage. Most country properties use a septic system to process graywater and sewage from sinks, showers and toilets. The homeowner's disclosure may indicate the septic system has worked well in the past, but you should still request an inspection as part of the purchase offer agreement. If you're buying land, the seller should have conducted a preliminary "perc" test to determine if the soil and site are suitable for a conventional septic system. Check local rules; be sure you know what will be required before you make a purchase offer.
Electricity. Today, the utility grid supplies most rural homes with power. If there's currently no electric service to the property and you want to tap into grid power, you'll need the electric company to give you a bid on bringing in lines. If a pole is already on the property, only a line has to be dropped to the buildings and a meter installed, a relatively inexpensive procedure. If there's no pole adjacent to the property, the cost easily may run into thousands of dollars, depending on how far the line must be run from the nearest pole. Investigate installing underground lines, which may be more attractive and dependable — and sometimes not much more costly.
Producing your own energy using solar or wind generation may be your best bet, but be sure to research any zoning regulations that might limit their use. (Putting in a photovoltaic system usually is not limited by zoning rules, but putting up a 100-foot wind tower may be.)
Water and mineral rights. It's not uncommon for a property to have mineral or water rights attached to the deed. The title should list these rights, and you should have the title company or your attorney explain the ramifications and limitations these rights can impose on the property — before you make an offer.
Zoning. Zoning ordinances and building permits vary from state to state, county to county and even between municipalities. If you have a certain project in mind for your property, check with the local building inspector to see if it can be permitted. Zoning ordinances designate land for certain functions, such as farming, industry or housing, and can limit how your land can be used. Local building codes govern how you can build. Some locales may permit unique projects under an "experimental" clause, but this can be costly, especially if an engineer is required to review your plans. If you intend to use green building techniques or want to have a Dr. Doolittle farm with lots of animals, investigate potential zoning or building permit limitations.
Rights-of-way. Roads, power lines and gas lines frequently cross parcels of land and may interfere with your plans for the property. If a neighboring property has no road frontage, it may have a permanent, deeded easement through the property you are considering. Or if you have to drive on a private road to reach the property you are considering, make sure that you retain this permanent easement on the title. If there is a road on the property that you can't account for and no mention of an easement on the deed or title, ask the current owner if an easement agreement exists with any neighbors.
Survey. In most cases you should know the exact boundaries of the lot or acreage you are considering. If survey markers are not in place, request a survey be done.
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