All about farm property taxes

The first installment for our 2013 property taxes are due this week. I realize this topic will not apply to some readers, but I decided to write this post anyways, as our experience may be helpful to some of you.

Property taxes on a rural property can be a bit complicated. However, it’s worth it to seek out rebate programs, as the savings can be significant.

For us, the farm is divided into three parcels: residential, agricultural and conservation.

Large hayfields

The residential section is exactly the same as most people’s property taxes. It includes the house and one acre of land immediately around it. These are taxed at the regular residential rate.

The agricultural section of the property is the fields. These are classified under the farm property class and are taxed at 25% of the residential rate.

The conservation section of the property is the woods and marshland. For us, this adds up to 42 acres that is classified as “provincially significant wetland.” Under the Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program, these acres are tax exempt as incentive to maintain them as natural areas.

None of these tax rebate programs are automatic, as we discovered last year. Previous owners had let the rebates lapse, and between 2010 and 2011, the property taxes nearly doubled. The whole 129 acres was being taxed at the residential rate–ouch.

The residential classification was still in place when we took possession of the farm last March. We went to work right away to apply for the rebates that were available to us. What we learned is there is no single point of contact for farm property taxes.

Farm property tax paperwork

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) handles applications for the Farm Property Class Tax Rate. Operations such as tree farms, animal farms, greenhouse operations or crop farms like ours count under this class of property. The farm must simply generate at least $7,000 of income a year. The most important part of the application is the Farm Business Registration Number. Since we do not farm the property ourselves, the farmer who rents our fields has to complete this portion of our application and supply his registration number.

The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) manages the Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program. Most of our property is restricted under the local conservation authority. However, this does not automatically qualify us for the CLTIP. The Ministry has to deem a property—or a section of it—as provincially significant. Fortunately, our property was already in the MNR’s system, so we just had to apply for the rebate.

Marsh in the winter

We also went through our local municipality for a few other adjustments specific to the house itself: their records showed a mobile home on the property and a working indoor pool, both of which did not exist and which impacted the value of our house. After the “demolition” of the mobile home and the pool, our taxes decreased by a whopping $257.56–hey, I’ll take whatever I can get.

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) is the overarching organization in Ontario that manages everyone’s property taxes. Approvals from the city, OMAFRA and MNR flowed through to MPAC, which pulled all of the information together, determined our tax rate and notified the city of what we should be billed.

The flow of applications, approvals and adjustments is very, very slow. Our applications went to the various organizations last spring. I followed up monthly by phone to make sure all of our applications were wending their way through the system and no information was missing.

Some of the approvals came through in the summer. However, none of the adjustments were applied at the city level until the fall. We paid three installments at the full residential rate—ouch again. However, by the end of the year when the reclassifications finally came through, we had a huge surplus on our account—so much so that we didn’t have to pay our last installment and the city still sent us a cheque at the end of the year.

Now heading into the 2013 tax year, all of the rebates are in place, and the quarterly tax bills are very manageable. In fact, the amount of property tax that we’re going to pay this year is equivalent to what we paid when we were living in our little house in the city.

The farm we almost bought 2

A few weeks after losing our first farm to a bidding war, another farm came on the market. It was just around the corner from the property that we had lost.

One hundred acres of forest, creeks, corn fields, one large barn and another medium, and an old farmhouse with numerous additions. A few features made it particularly notable. First was the pond. Or should I say lake.

Large pond

I still think about this pond. It is massive and made me realize a pond was pretty much a must-have feature for me. In addition, several wide and deep creeks wind their way through the property, flowing to a large river.

Unfortunately, this was not the only water on the farm, which brings us to the second notable feature.

When touring historic farm houses, we were often advised to wear our shoes when we went down to the basements. We’d seen rubble foundations and dirt floors, but we’d never seen what we found in the basement of this house: approximately eight inches of water and a rubber dingy fully inflated and floating around in the cellar. Never mind shoes, we needed high rubber boots!

Aside from the water, the basement was in great shape for an old farmhouse: fairly generous ceiling height and a concrete floor–albeit under water.

Upstairs, the house had original door knobs and light fixtures in a few spots, although for the most part it was characterized by dated 70s finishes and bad additions.

Poorly renovated farm house

Most of the original character had been lost, but the graffiti sprayed on the painted brick did add a certain… something.

Painted over graffiti on brick

It certainly had potential.

We made our offer that day. Believe it or not, we went in at full asking price, and we were the third offer.

We were only competing with two other bidders, which was one less than the last farm. But it was two too many. The farm ended up selling for $82,000 over asking.

We were nearly a year into our search, we’d seen only two farms that we wanted to buy and we’d lost both in bidding wars.

We were a little bit heartbroken–I still think about that pond. We were very frustrated. And we were starting to wonder if we were ever going to find the farm of our dreams.

The farm we almost bought 1

The thing you should probably know about our farm search was that when we started looking, I wasn’t ready. My plan was to wait until we had paid off the mortgage on our starter house. But about five months before that, Matt started spending time on MLS and soon enough he was making appointments with real estate agents.

About a month into our premature farm search, Matt and I drove out to see a property. We were about 20 minutes early for the appointment, and as we circled the rural country roads peering out the car window at the farm I said to Matt, “How did you do it? How did you find the perfect place?”

A long gravel driveway bordered on one side by tall pines and on the other by a manicured meadow led to a small house perched on the top of a rise. Undersized dormers poked out of the roof and the weathered wood of a big barn towered over the ridge line.

Farm house with undersized dormers

The original farm house had been added to over the years becoming a hodge podge of traditional tiny rooms connected to larger open spaces including a big eat-in kitchen and a generous family room with windows on three sides. Bathrooms were classic 1980s: a vintage six-piece complete with pink jacuzzi tub and matching bidet and an avocado three-piece.

In terms of potential, it ticked the box. My vision for the reno included digging out the basement, building a full second story–complete with properly proportioned dormers, reconfiguring the main floor and adding on a garage.

Outside, acres and acres of manicured grass beckoned family barbecues. Rolling hills hearkened of winter sledding parties. A small creek winding around the house and barn, 10 acres of forest and more than 50 acres of corn fields (of the property’s total 94 acres) were exactly the atmosphere we were looking for. And of course, the big barn with its own fabulous dormer drew us in.

Wood barn with dormer

But they only drew us so far. Though the price tag on this first farm was less than what we would ultimately end up paying, it was so early in our search that it still seemed very expensive. My sticker shock combined with my renovation ambitions–plus some electrical issues, no proper well (cistern only) and baseboard heat instead of a furnace–made us hesitate to put in an offer.

We visited the farm a few times. Talked about it a lot. Thought about it almost constantly. And then we watched the listing expire at the end of the fall.

That whole winter, every night as I walked home from work, I thought about the farm. We decided that if the listing came back up in the spring, we would put in an offer.

We watched MLS, and sure enough a few months later the farm came back on the market. We went and saw it again. The issues were the same, but so was the appeal. We put in an offer.

When our agent called me to say that there were three other offers and we were all being sent back, I was completely stunned. How could this farm that no one wanted to buy four months ago now be selling in competition?

We upped our offer.

And that night as I climbed into bed I felt like we were making a mistake. After about six months of dreaming about this property, it didn’t feel right.

The next day, we found out we’d been outbid. The amount the farm sold for surprised me and was more than we’d have paid. Between the price tag and my misgivings, the loss didn’t hurt too much. Apparently, I still wasn’t ready.

Financing the farm

It’s been a year since we bought the farm, and this month I’m revisiting some of our experiences from the purchase.

When we last left our heroes, they were standing in the snow next to a sold sign smiling giddily because they had just bought a farm.

In reality, they had a conditional sales agreement on a farm. In order to actually close the deal, they had to pay for the farm, which meant a mortgage.

Consumer mortgage application

Finding a lender for the farm was a bit like finding the perfect property–frustrating, trying, drawn out, complicated… although [spoiler alert] ultimately successful.

Matt and I had gone to our bank and been pre-approved before we ever started looking at farms. However, now that we had found our farm, we had to convert our pre-approval into an actual approval. And according to our conditional offer, we had eight days to firm up financing.

What we discovered was that in the case of a rural property a pre-approval is mostly hypothetical. Turning it into reality is another matter entirely.

Banks, and really most lenders, like cookie cutter. They have forms and check boxes and mathematical formulas. A 129-acre farm with a modest house, a massive barn, a semi-rickety driveshed, a bunch of hay fields and a few acres of forest doesn’t fit their molds.

Posted interest rates don’t apply. Nor do minimum down payments. Hoops and hurdles are placed in your path. Acrobatics–and lots and lots of paperwork–are required.

Signed offer in hand, we headed to our bank. To cover all of our bases, we also visited a credit union where Matt’s Dad is a member and connected with a mortgage broker recommended by our real estate agent.

Here’s what our options were:

  • The bank: Throughout our dealings with our bank, we felt like they were trying to make things as difficult as possible so that Matt and I would just go away. Even though we weren’t planning on working the farm, they wouldn’t give us a residential mortgage. Everything had to go through their small business line of products. And the interest rate was a full percent higher than what other residential customers were getting.
  • The credit union: Service was great, and we really felt like our staff person was working with us to make the mortgage happen. They would do a residential mortgage, but the interest rate wasn’t any better than at the bank.
  • The mortgage broker: For the most part the broker struck out. Even though Matt and I were a good credit risk and the farm had no big issues, lenders didn’t want to step outside of their little boxes. He did manage to find one major bank willing to give us a residential mortgage. The snag was that the bank saw the “needs TLC” description in the real estate listing and wanted to hold back a portion of our loan conditional on us installing a new heating system and new roof within 120 days of taking possession.

So there was no clear front runner among our three options.

The biggest hurdle in securing financing was that every single lender wanted an appraisal. A real live person had to visit the farm, walk around and say how much it was worth. Except he’d only look at the house plus 5 acres. Maybe 10 if we were lucky.

A big part of the appraisal was looking online for comparable properties, which meant that since the appraiser was only evaluating 5-10 acres, he was looking for anything in the 1 and 15 acre range. Now maybe I place more value on land than other people do, but somehow in my mind 5 acres doesn’t compare to 129 acres.

It was important to us that the whole property be valued properly. All of the lenders would only give us a mortgage for up to 80% of the appraised amount, so if the appraisal came back too low, we could be in the situation where we might not be able to afford the farm.

Aside: The 80% loan speaks to my earlier comment about minimum down payments not applying to farm purchases. While in Canada people are able to purchase houses with as little as 5% down, if you buy a farm, your lender is going to want 20% minimum.

Anyways, the other huge frustration with the whole appraisal process is that the lender ordered it, required us to do it, kept the report and wouldn’t show us a copy, but required us to pay for it. I managed to speak with the appraiser our bank wanted to send out to the property and when I asked him how much the appraisal was going to cost he refused to tell me!

The appraisal ended up being the tipping point for us.

I managed to get the credit union to agree to appraise the full 129 acres–at a cost to us of $762.75. Given the urgent deadline of firming up our financing within a week, we gave their appraiser the green light to head out to the property.

The day our conditions expired, the appraiser’s report showed up at the credit union. Even though we hadn’t signed the final paperwork, we went ahead and waived the conditions on our offer. And by the way, the appraisal came out more than $60,000 higher than we had paid for the farm. Phew!

The day after we waived the conditions, a bank contacted by our mortgage broker came forward with a firm commitment for a residential mortgage at a half percent less than the credit union was offering.
Mortgage Loan Offer paperwork

Though he had no obligation to do so, our broker gave us the paperwork from the bank, so that we were able to take it to the credit union and use it to negotiate a better interest rate. The great service from our broker and our mortgage specialist at the credit union made what was an extremely frustrating process slightly less painful.

Some lessons learned for securing a mortgage for a rural property:

  1. Give yourself as much time as you can to finalize your financing. We had had lots of conversations with the bank throughout our property search, well before we ever placed our offer on the farm. We had some idea of what would be required to secure the mortgage. However, the financing was much more complicated than we could have ever dreamed. We squeaked in just under the deadline to waive our conditions.
  2. Have all of your financial information documented in detail and carry it with you at all times–extra hard copies as well as electronic files you can email. All of the lenders required three years of tax statements for both of us. In addition, we each supplied pay stubs and personal statements detailing our assets and income. Having all of our numbers on hand ensured we didn’t add any extra delays to the process.
  3. Consider working with a mortgage broker. Our broker’s contacts and experience were invaluable. He was a fabulous advocate for us and it was very helpful to have someone who was willing to explain the intricacies of mortgage conditions and vet any documents we received.
  4. Shop around. Don’t settle for the first offer you receive and consider alternatives to traditional banks. Even when you receive an offer, go back to the lender and ask for exactly what you want. You might not get everything, but you may be able to do a little better. Ask lots of questions and make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting.
  5. Be prepared for some extra expenses just because you want a rural property: you’ll likely face a bigger down payment, higher interest rate and appraisal fees.

For Matt and me, the extra expenses were worth it because we got the farm of our dreams. I can’t say the frustration was necessary, but we made it through.

One year ago

A year ago today we saw the farm for the first time.

We’d been searching for our dream rural property for nearly a year and a half. After a very frustrating fall with nothing new coming on market, it had been more than a month since we’d actually visited a property.

Then on Jan. 2 sitting in the living room in our little house in the city, Matt hopped on MLS.

A new farm had been listed.

It was in our preferred area. It wasn’t the type of house we usually looked at, but it had a barn and was a good acreage. It was also over our price range. Matt called our agent, and he made an appointment for us to see it the next day.

Our viewing at the farm was different than the viewings when we first started. The rose coloured glasses had come off.

Which was unfortunate, because we really could have used them the first time we stepped into the house.

Clutter in a messy basement

The good news is the garbage bags turned out to not actually be full of garbage. The bad news was that we ended up buying everything you see when we bought the farm.

No one had lived in the house for a few months, but it was far from empty. Previous owners had left stuff and lots of it. Beyond all of the detritus it was obvious that the house met one of my major criteria. It had potential. Buckets of it.

We toured the barn and fell in love with the historic post and beam construction. We peaked into the driveshed. And that was about all we saw of the 129 acres… because I was so freezing cold.

It was an absolutely frigid day, and standing outside chatting with our agent all I wanted to do was get in the car and turn on the heat. Our agent’s final words as we turned on the ignition were, “I think you could get it for about $100,000 less [than they’re asking].”

And that became the topic of the afternoon. A hundred thousand less than list put it into our price range, but still at the top.

During our frustrating fall we’d had conversations about how we were likely going to have to compromise on something: location, property (meaning acreage, outbuildings, ponds and forests) or price. If we chose to buy this property–which had everything we wanted and was close to where we grew up and where our families still lived–it was clear that our compromise point was going to be the budget.

Matt was ready to go for it. The farm ticked all our boxes… except for price. That night was a sleepless one for me.

The morning of Jan. 4, we called our agent and to his surprise told him to put together an offer. At his office later that day we found out that the buyers had already received other offers. Bad news, we were about to enter our third bidding war. Good news, the buyers were waiting for our offer.

We signed the offer and crossed our fingers. Our agent said he expected we’d hear something back that evening. That night we sat up until midnight, but the phone was silent.

When we finally headed to bed, I slept with no trouble. We’d made our decision and it felt right. We’d done all we could, and it was up to other people now.

First thing the next morning, the phone finally rang. It was our agent. Our offer had been accepted.

Sold real estate sign

Finally farm owners.

As I hung up the phone and told Matt the good news, I burst into tears–happy tears. After a year and a half of searching, we had found our perfect place and it felt exactly right.

Now a year later having owned the farm for ten months, it feels even more right.

Climbing the property ladder

Everybody knows about the property ladder. Scrape your pennies together to buy a house and get on the bottom rung of the ladder. Eventually use the equity from your first house to move up the ladder until you’re able to (hopefully) afford to buy the house of your dreams.

The other week, I had the opportunity to talk to the Toronto Star about Matt’s and my experience with the mortgage on our first house. As I was preparing for the interview, it occurred to me that the lessons we learned might be interesting to some of you too.

Our first house got us onto the property ladder. It set us up to buy the farm and begin building our forever house. However, in order to go from our starter house to the farm, we had to skip a few rungs along the climb.

We were able to move up the property ladder quickly because when Matt and I sold our first house, we owned it free and clear. We had no mortgage.

For two 30-year-olds to pay off their first house in four and a half years is a bit unusual.

We didn’t win the lottery, no relative left us a big inheritance, we work regular jobs and earn average salaries, and our parents didn’t give us money to purchase either our first house or the farm.

So how did we pay off our mortgage early?

First, we bought a house we could afford. When we went to the bank to be pre-approved for our mortgage, we were astounded by how much we qualified to borrow. It was close to twice the amount we were expecting to spend. It’s easy to be sucked into spending more than you planned, especially if the bank says that you can. Be disciplined and stick to your budget.

The other thing that we did at the very start was to put down the biggest down payment we could. For Matt and me that was 25%. The hardest part of buying a house for many young first time buyers is building up their savings to make the down payment.

Fortunately, Matt and I were able to live with our parents and pay little or no rent. We saved and economized, and when we were ready to buy the house, we had enough (in my case just enough) to put 25% down. Making the largest down payment you can at the beginning puts you much further ahead in paying off your mortgage over the long term.

The biggest thing that helped us to pay off our mortgage in four and a half years was taking advantage of the accelerated payment plans our bank allowed. To start, we chose a “weekly rapid” plan where we made a payment every single Friday for a total of 52 payments a year. The amount of the payment was determined by taking what we would have paid monthly, dividing it by four and then paying that amount each week. This works out to basically making 13 months of payments rather than 12.

I remember sitting in the bank going over the payment options with the mortgage advisor and her showing us that by making just one extra month of payments a year, we would pay off our 25 year mortgage in 21 years. That was an easy choice for us.

However, 21 years wasn’t fast enough.

The other option we took advantage of was to make lump sum payments directly against the principal of our mortgage. For our bank, the maximum they allowed was 15% per year. Every single year, Matt and I took full advantage of this, and every single year we knocked roughly another 5 years off our mortgage.

I’m not saying it was easy to see that much money going out of my bank account each year, but getting a printout showing our mortgage would be done in 15, 8, and then 3 years did soften the sting.

Mortgage statement

The Amortization Period line at the bottom is the one to keep your eye on.

Most banks will also allow you to increase the the amount of your weekly (or biweekly or monthly) payments. We did eventually bump up our weekly installments, but for the most part we focused on saving for the annual lump sum payments.

With any financial situation, I think it’s really important to watch your numbers and understand exactly where your money is going. We requested extra statements from the bank that showed the breakdown of exactly how much of our weekly payments went towards principal and how much was interest. When the ratio finally crossed 50-50 with even just a few more dollars going towards principal than interest, that was cause for celebration. We also kept an eye on the amortization period that changed every time we made a lump sum payment and carefully read our annual statements.

Interest and principal mortgage payments

It will likely take a few years, but eventually you will pay more principal than interest.

Because we know our numbers, we know that we paid just over $20,000 in interest on our mortgage. This is versus nearly $200,000 in interest we would have paid if we stuck with the bank’s schedule and taken the full 25 years to pay off our mortgage.

Despite Matt’s and my focus on our mortgage, we did try to keep a balance in our life. Prioritizing our mortgage was important to us, but having a life was too. In the time that we owned our first house, we got married (and paid for our wedding), traveled, furnished our house and renovated. If we had put all of our money towards only our mortgage, I don’t think we would have enjoyed our house in the same way we were able to.

So here are my five tips for how we paid off our mortgage in less than five years:

  1. Buy the house you can afford.
  2. Put as much down as you can.
  3. Take advantage of accelerated and lump sum payment plans.
  4. Watch your numbers.
  5. Prioritize what’s important to you.

Now at the farm, we have a mortgage again, and it’s much bigger than it was on our first house. However, it’s still affordable for us. We’ve again chosen an accelerated payment plan of 13 months of payments per year. And we’re already planning on making a lump sum payment before the end of the year. (Note, lump sum payments are usually calendar year, not mortgage year, so even though we’ve only owned the farm for 8 months, we can still make a payment against the principal).

Our first house put us on the property ladder, and the strong financial foundation we built by paying off our mortgage early allowed us to quickly move up the ladder.

We won’t pay the farm off in five years like we did at our first house, but we’re not satisfied to wait the full term of our mortgage either.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a mortgage? What’s your approach to payments? Any tips to share?

Farewell first house

Our first homeThe sale on our first house officially closes today.

We listed the house for sale right after our offer was accepted on the farm, and it sold within three weeks. But due to a long closing date, we’ve technically owned two houses for the past two months.

This house was a great starter home for us. It was the perfect size for two people, and we had plenty of opportunities to practice renovating and fixing up a home.

On my last visit to the house, Matt’s tulips were just beginning to bloom in the front garden that we put in together.

Tulips

The trees were starting to come into leaf.

Maple tree

When we first saw the house, we were attracted by the mature trees in the backyard and were so excited by the fact that we owned them. Now we own hundreds of trees, and we value them just as much.

We knew all along that this house was just the start for us. Our time there made it possible for us to be at the farm now. It was a wonderful five and a half years.

Putting down roots

We inherited many, many things from previous owners when we took possession of the farm (I haven’t shown you pictures of our personal Hoarders episode yet, but I may some day).

A number of those things were plants. Sometime last year, the people we bought the farm from went out and got many, many plants, but they never planted them! Bushes, flowers, trees, shrubs, all of them were still in their plastic pots sitting on the ground in and around the areas where the front flower gardens would be if they weren’t completely overgrown with weeds.

The stockpile included 5 trees.

Our inherited trees

Our inherited trees

I have no idea how long they’d been there, but when we saw the property for the first time at the beginning of January, they were all laying on their sides, frozen into a kiddie pool (I guess an attempt to keep them alive?), and they were still there, just like that, when we took possession in March.

When the ice in the pool melted enough, Matt and I stood them upright, but they were so curvy and bent from laying down that they easily tipped over again. We propped them up with concrete blocks and checked them frequently searching for any signs of life.

A few weeks ago, we noticed buds. Finally on Sunday (fittingly, Earth Day), we made some time to plant them.

I love a tree-lined driveway, and we’re already in pretty good shape, but there are a few blank spots, so that’s where we focused our plantings.

One of our new trees

One of our new trees. He's a little spindly right now, but the inspiration of what he can become is right behind him.

According to the tags that were tied to the trees, we have an Autumn Radiance Maple, two Unique Littleleaf Lindens, and an Autumn Blaze Maple. The fifth tree wasn’t labelled, but it looks like some kind of maple.

Close up of buds on our new maple tree

It's alive!

The trees make a nice addition to the farm, and planting was a very nice way to acknowledge Earth Day.

What about you? Did you do anything for Earth Day?

Buying a farm – House wish list

You already know what we were looking for when it came to the property. Now for the house.

Growing up in a custom built home and with a Dad that worked construction (and working construction so much myself), I always planned to build my own house. So initially, our search was just for the property. I wanted vacant land, a blank slate, something that I could make completely my own.

Unfortunately, on the type of property we were looking for, a blank slate meant we’d have a lot of extra costs: septic, well, hydro, driveway. Never mind the plans, permits and actual construction costs.

So, the criteria evolved. We decided we wanted a house with “potential.” I won’t go as far as saying we wanted a fixer-upper, because for me “fixer-upper” means major problems. I wanted something that I could put work into and make it into the dream house I’d always envisaged. Matt was just hoping we ended up with something we could actually live in, because there were a few along the way that were a little iffy.

So here’s the house wish list:

  1. Potential
  2. Traditional farmhouse look
  3. Useable basement (Matt’s biggest priority)
  4. Wood burning fireplace or the potential to have one
  5. At least 2,000 square feet
  6. Generous-sized rooms
  7. 3 bedrooms
  8. 2 bathrooms
  9. No pool

And here’s what we ended up choosing:

The house

Our new farmhouse.

It soon became clear that a few of our criteria were at odds. Old farmhouses for the most part don’t come with useable basements or generous-sized rooms. I eventually realized I wanted the old fashioned farmhouse exterior with a new, built for the way people live today interior.

So when we found a 30-40 year old bungalow with many of the elements we were looking for on the perfect property, we decided it was the one.

The house is just a smidge under 2,000 square feet. It has three bedrooms and two full baths, lots of closets and a huge useable basement.

On the potential front, this might be a bit more of a fixer-upper than we hoped for (to-do list includes new heating/cooling system, new roof, adding insulation, upgrades to the well and water system and dealing with some weird electrical before we get to the “fun” stuff), but we still think we made a good choice.

Living room

A great, large, bright living room open to the kitchen with a vaulted ceiling and plenty of room for lots of comfy furniture.

Living room fireplace

A stone-faced wood burning fireplace.

Cold cellar

A cold cellar (not a necessity, but I grew up with one of these, and they're kind of hard to add-on once a house is finished. I'm glad I have one of my own now). And yes, Matt shops with the apocalypse in mind.

Main bathroom

A huge main bathroom with double sinks, a huge vanity and tons of storage. (The cracked sink, 1970s tile, painted paneling on the walls and Care-Bear-colour-palette on the counter top are examples of potential.)

On the compromise side of things, there were two major things I compromised on. Here’s the first:

Yes, this is our lovely indoor pool (and Matt on home inspection day demonstrating how to hold your breath in imaginary water).

So I didn’t want a pool in the first place, and now I have one in the house! As far as we’ve been able to determine, the pool has not been used (or filled) in at least 2 years. There are some issues with the equipment, and there may be some issues with the pool itself. We’re not sure exactly what we’re going to end up doing with this space, but suffice it to say that you probably shouldn’t plan on bringing your bathing suit when you come to visit.

The biggest compromise is on the traditional farmhouse look. But I think there’s a solution for that one too. Don’t you think this…

Our house

… could become something like this?

Someday farmhouse

Original image available here (I made a few edits)

Can you see it?

Obviously, this is a very long term renovation plan we’re working with. Good thing this is our forever house. We’re going to need to be here for awhile!

Buying a farm – Property wish list

For all of the time that we’ve been together (this is our 15th year for those that are counting), Matt and I both knew that we eventually wanted to live on a farm. However, for most of that time “farm” was just an abstract concept in our minds.

When we started actually looking for a farm that we wanted to buy, we had to give some actual thought to what it was we truly wanted. I thought it might be helpful to lay out our wish list and see how we measured up.

I’m going to start with the property, and next I’ll do the house.

Throughout our search, we (Matt will tell you it was mainly me) were very, very picky. We knew this was going to be our forever house, so we didn’t want to compromise on anything. This is the main reason that the search took a year and a half.

Advice to people looking for the perfect country property? Be patient. It will come and everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.

In the end, here’s the criteria we used when evaluating potential properties:

Property wish list:

  1. A large property, ideally 50 acres+
  2. Not more than an hour (ideally 45 minutes) from work and family
  3. Not too many out-buildings, but definitely a large old wood frame barn
  4. Water of some kind, a pond ideally, but a creek would work
  5. A long tree-lined driveway
  6. Forest or bush that’s not too far from the house
  7. Fields that we can rent out to a tenant farmer
  8. A quiet country road, maybe even a gravel road

So let’s see how we did:

Pond

Pond, check.

Barn and silo

Old wood frame barn, check.

View up the driveway

Long driveway, check.

Fields and forest

Forest, check. (Yes, all of those trees in the distance are actually ours)

One leg of the creek

Creek, check.

Paddocks and fields

Fields, check. (And paddocks complete with run-in shelters).

Here’s the summary of what we ended up with:

  1. A very large property at 129 acres
  2. 20 minutes from Matt’s parents, 30 from mine, 35 from my work, 45 from his
  3. One large wood frame barn (estimated at ~100 years old) that’s in great shape and a large wood frame drive shed
  4. A good-size pond near the house (I love to look out the kitchen window and see the water glisten in the sunlight) fed by a small stream that then flows into a huge marsh area
  5. 150 metre driveway
  6. Approximately 50 acres of forest, marsh and wild land on the back half of the property, plus a good grove of trees and a stand of huge pine right by the house
  7. Approximately 60 acres of cleared fields
  8. Our road is a little bit busy by country standards–the only miss

There were numerous times throughout our search where we were asking ourselves if we should re-evaluate our criteria or compromise on a particular element. In the end, I don’t feel that we did, and I am absolutely certain that we ended up with the right property for us.