Today is marks eight years since farm became ours. This year, our farm-iversary obviously feels different because Matt is not here in person. It’s really because of him that we are here in this place that means so much to us both.
Finding our perfect farm took a lot of work, persistence, patience and guts–most of which I credit to Matt.
I know a lot of people share our dream of country living, so today I thought I’d share my advice for how to find your dream country property. Fittingly, there are eight.
1. Make this a shared dream
Fortunately, Matt and I were on the same page right from the start about moving to the country. We perhaps had different reasons for wanting a farm, but we were working towards the same goal. This teamwork is very important. The search for your dream country property and then the actual living there are both hard. Fun and wonderful, but hard. If you’re a couple or a family, this decision needs to be made jointly.
I am more aware than ever that not everyone is a couple. You may be single and want the country lifestyle–and you absolutely can achieve it. Find a friend, family member (children count), someone who can encourage you and believes in your dream.
Even though Matt and I don’t get to do this together anymore, I’m so happy that I get to do it with Ellie. She loves the animals, the barns, the tractor, the outdoors, and her joy makes me happy.
2. Know what you’re looking for
It’s great to talk about moving to the country, but to actually make it happen and find the perfect property, you need to know what matters most to you. Farms come in all different shapes and sizes.
Think carefully about what you want and be as specific as possible.
Things like property size, style of house and any features on the property like woods or water all influence how you live on a farm. If you’re planning to work the land or raise animals, those are also important factors to consider.
For us, I was happy with anything over 10 acres. Matt wanted at least 50. I wanted water, and initially thought either a creek or pond would work. As our search progressed, I realized the pond was really important to me, so our criteria became more specific.
We wanted a fixer-upper house, and we certainly go that. While major renovations are not everyone’s choice, I will say that you can change a lot about a house, but the property is harder to change.
As you develop your wish list, balance being narrow and broad. You want to be specific about what you want, but open-minded enough that you can actually find a farm that works for you. For both our house and property, we had 17 items on our wish list. Here are our lists for the property and the house.
3. Pick your area
Search area is part of knowing what you want. This will determine the type of land you buy–whether it’s rolling hills, flat fields, woods, marshy. It will also determine the price you pay. Prices vary greatly depending on where you look. If you’re willing to move, you might find a more affordable property.
For us, we wanted to stay close to our families, so we decided that our search area would be within 45 minutes of our hometowns.
4. Get pre-approved for your mortgage
While moving to the country and buying a farm usually begin as emotional decisions, there are a lot of practical considerations, like your finances. You likely will need a mortgage to buy a farm (and if you don’t, good for you). Visit a few banks or credit unions or other lenders before you begin your search to get pre-approved for a mortgage.
This process will help to guide your search as it may set the budget for you. As well, it can make things easier and quicker once you find your dream farm to have financing already set up… though be prepared that financing a farm will still be more complicated than a regular house. Here are my tips for financing a farm.
5. Run your numbers
While the bank is a good start, it shouldn’t be the only step in your financial planning process. Try to project your monthly expenses on a farm. Consider mortgage payments, utilities (which may be higher in the country), property taxes (which may be lower because you pay a rural rate) and other costs of living. Also consider vehicle costs, as you will likely be driving more once you move to the country.
Figuring out how much you are comfortable spending will help to determine the budget for your dream country property. It might also help you to avoid sticker shock once you get your first country electricity bill.
6. Be prepared to stretch your budget
I completely agree with the strategy of buying less house than you can afford in most circumstances. But for the farm of your dreams, I’ve learned that it can work out if you stretch your budget.
I’m not saying spend beyond your means. All of the work you went through in #4 and #5 still apply. But you may end up going to the max of what you can afford.
For Matt and me, once we saw this farm, our budget jumped by nearly $100,000. That’s a huge leap (even though we were still within what we could afford), and one that caused me a sleepless night before we put in our offer.
If you’ve run your numbers, understand your finances, know what you can comfortably spend and have your mortgage approval, there isn’t a huge risk to upping your budget. It may make you uncomfortable, but you can do it.
7. DIY property search
We worked with a realtor throughout our search for the perfect farm. I think realtors are a helpful resource for finding, evaluating and buying properties. However, we–mainly Matt–also looked. All. The. Time.
We developed a technique of find a property on MLS (or one our realtor sent to us), look it up on Google Earth and Google Street View, look up the municipal or tax record to see the actual property boundaries. Then, if it was still ticking our boxes, we would do a drive-by. Only then would we book a viewing with our realtor.
This is obviously a lot of work, but it saved us from seeing farms that didn’t meet our criteria.
For this farm, Matt found it online on Jan. 1. It had just been listed and we were able to jump on it quickly because we were looking when a lot of other people–including our realtor–weren’t.
Our search for the perfect farm took a year and a half. Over that time, we saw a lot of farms. We even put in a few offers, which were outbid. We got frustrated. We argued. We debated settling for something less than what we wanted. We despaired that we would never find the right farm.
If you know what you want, don’t settle (too much). Keep searching. Keep working. Keep thinking and talking about your dream to encourage yourself to keep going. Eventually, you will find what works for you and hopefully it will be everything you dream and more.
Country living is not for everyone. But when it’s a dream you’ve held for a long time, as with Matt and me, it can be the absolute perfect fit for you.
When Matt and I moved to the farm, I immediately saw a huge change in him. He seemed more relaxed and comfortable. He loved it here. I am so, so glad that we made this move and that he got the time here that he did.
Matt is still a huge presence at the farm, and I feel him here every day.
I am grateful for all of the work that he did to get us here and set us up so well, and that Ellie and I get to continue to live this dream.