Tuesday, June 29, 2010

finding your rural property: part 1

I just finished another twenty feet of fencing, maybe more. I realized a few weeks ago that I would never have the hunk of cash needed to fence in three acres anytime soon. But I did have some spare t-posts and left over Red Brand field fence in a few rolls. Instead of looking at all that land in trepidation—I started pounding posts and running fence just twenty feet at a time. Slowly I've run enough to almost quadruple the sheep's current pen. Day by day, Cold Antler is becoming a sheep farm.

I want to start a series of essays here on buying land or finding your own farm. I want people who are in the same position I was in a few months ago—to see how easy it is. I had bad credit. I had no savings. I had nothing but a paycheck and a decent rental history and yet I bought this farm in April. It took a little homework, savings, frugal months and luck: but I got it. And now with a recession still in recovery, a weak housing market, and land prices lower than they have been in a long time....it can't hurt to look.

And that's really how it starts. Get on realtor.com or drive around looking for sale signs where you want to live. Knock on doors, call neighbors, ask questions. If you see something that would be perfect for you (even if you can't afford it now) ask to be shown the house. Just getting your foot in the door and shaking people's hands sets off a firestorm of events in the process. Walking around property and having realtors know you're looking keeps them looking for you. Soon you'll be getting emails and advice about other properties.

When you start looking—actually knocking on walls and asking about well water—find a mortgage broker that is savvy about alternative loans and rural programs. If it wasn't for my broker Jim's knowledge of the USDA's Rural Development loan program - I would have never bought a home. The USDA program let me walk onto my own farm with no money down. That left me with closing costs, inspectors, and moving costs to cover. Since the sellers really wanted out, they agreed to a deal called a seller's concession. That means they agree to put a few thousand dollars (in my case, six) towards my closing on the house. It still cost a chunk of money to get in the door, but compared to what it could have cost conventionally, it was nothing.

I am in my own farm house right now because I asked how I could get here. Sure, I was somewhat forced into asking those questions when the cabin deal fell apart—but I'm glad it did. The Jackson farm (which I am just starting to call Cold Antler) is starting to feel more like a home than a new house. Fences are rising, slowly the inside is getting unpacked and decorated...It'll take time.

But today: look. Even if you don't plan on moving for three years, look. Start clicking around online and see what homes cost in your area, and then what they cost a county over. This farm would be double just over the state line in Vermont, and not even qualify for the USDA program. So don't be scared to crane your neck a little. Your perfect place doesn't have to be a pipe dream. It just may be in Delaware instead of Maryland.

But the point is I had no idea I could get here. I had no idea about those programs or tricks. I think I was too intimidated to even ask. I thought needed 20k in the bank and a second income to share the payments, but because I just started looking I was able to start actualizing the possibility. It's the first step: look. The second step is ask. And the third step I'll write about next time: save.

21 Comments:

Blogger doglady said...

Now when I visit Dad in NY, I'll know when I've found you. This will be give me something to do as I drive Dad around the countryside.
Perhaps you should consider another book about realizing your dream of owning a farm. The USDA assistance is a very well kept secret.
Following your journey for the last 6 months or so has been fun.

June 29, 2010 at 6:40 AM  
Blogger Toni aka irishlas said...

It's great of you to share this information and try and help others realize it may not just be a dream.

June 29, 2010 at 6:48 AM  
Blogger seagoddess said...

Thanks for wanting to share this information - my bad credit keeps me from believing I can do anything. A felon can get a Harvard degree; a person with bad credit is treated worse than a felon. I'm so happy you were able to realize your dream!

June 29, 2010 at 6:54 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

segoddess, in Novemeber my credit was 520. I was able to get it to 640 in a few months. (paying off cards).

June 29, 2010 at 7:02 AM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

I think this is true about so many things. We think we can't raise chickens/turkeys/rabbits but what we really haven't done was arm ourselves with knowledge.
Looking around and seeing what is available also applies to jobs, scholarships, heck, even men. You just have to have enough courage to lift your head and look.

June 29, 2010 at 7:04 AM  
Blogger Affi'enia said...

Oh to be in a country where even the possibility of assistance like the USDA exists! Land with buildings on it is prohibitively expensive here and trying to get permission to build on agricultural land is nearly impossible.

However I look forward to the rest of your series on this subject. I'm sure there is much to be learned even for over the pond :o)

June 29, 2010 at 8:42 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Thanks for doing this series, Jenna! We have been regularly visiting Realtor.com for the last several months...can't wait to read the next post on saving! This is something we need to work on more...

June 29, 2010 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger E said...

As long as someone is willing to do the spectacular turn around that you did... Not everyone is willing or able to restructure their life like you did. Bad credit, no savings is not a great risk profile. One income is also riskier than two.
In some cases this could become a case of "easy come, easy go".

I admire your ability to do this and I hope all goes well with the farm.

June 29, 2010 at 10:43 AM  
Blogger melldot said...

Can I ask did you go through a particular mortgage company or a private broker? And if it was a company would you mind sharing the name? I went to my bank in April and have a good credit score but was told since I am single with only one income it was too risky. When I inquired into USDA loans the loan officer said ' the federal gov has no money so a USDA mortgage is out of the question.' I'm starting to think he might not have wanted to bother. Thanks for the wonderful inspiration.

June 29, 2010 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I went through a private broker who was underwritten by Chase Bank. If you get that kind of response, find another bank. All the banks told me to go to hell too, but when i dealt with a realtor/broker - it was so easy, no problem at all.

This is exactly what I used
http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/HAD-Guaranteed_Housing_Loans.html

June 29, 2010 at 11:09 AM  
Blogger Matt_Middleton said...

Great advice - thanks! I don't know if Canada has an equivalent program, but I'd never thought to ask.

June 29, 2010 at 12:38 PM  
Blogger Stargazer 2 said...

JENNA,
Terrific idea about doing an
informative series on "How to" locate your rural property!!! I'm
positive this will be tons of help
to many small wanna be "Farmers"!!!
Don't forget to do a part on the scams in regards to locating
your rural property!!!
"THANKS", & I will continue to
faithfully read CAF peppered with
drama as you do this sereies!!!
CHEERS with a health drink!!!
Ronnie

June 29, 2010 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger kelly said...

I was unable to get a USDA loan because of this:
This is the Official Statement released by USDA SFH Loan Guarantee Division on March 10th, 2010:

Notice of Funding

This message is to notify you that program funding for the Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program will likely be exhausted by the end of April, 2010.

Once funding is exhausted, the Agency will not issue Conditional Commitments “subject to receipt of appropriated funds.” This is because it is not certain when additional funding will be available.

Limited funding may become available for disaster areas declared in 2008, or in disaster areas declared for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Limited funding may also become available as prior Agency commitments are de-obligated, however, such funding will be very limited.

June 29, 2010 at 6:51 PM  
OpenID urbanadaptation said...

I saw the same notice as Kelly and was a bit disheartened by it (although, to be fair, I don't live in the US right now, so it might not have been an issue anyway).

In any case, I appreciate the advice to start looking now. I've been keeping my eye open around here - on websites, realtor offices, and out for drives - and it's good to know what the options are, even if I won't be making use of them just yet.

June 29, 2010 at 9:17 PM  
Blogger Getting out... said...

I too was told that the money had run out by a USDA agent but that I should try anyway for the possibility of future funding. Also, another great land search site is www.landsofamerica.com or what is actually easier is www.landsof(state you are interested in).com
I am so glad you are talking about this topic. We all need help and motivation to make it happen.

June 29, 2010 at 9:45 PM  
OpenID ditchthegrid.org said...

Thanks for starting this series. I have a healthy fear of debt, but I'm still hemming and hawing about buying a house of my own some time in the near future. This is a great resource. Thanks!

June 30, 2010 at 12:10 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

Melldot and anyone else interested should know that in any situation, if one person tells you no, ALWAYS look somewhere else. That one person could be having a crappy day and not feel like being helpful, but may not really represent what that company does. So you feel like you lose, because one person said no.

What you should remember is it's YOUR business to take somewhere else, so it's THEIR day to lose. People who keep looking always have options. It goes for any kind of deal- not just real estate. Keep asking. Ask around. Don't take no for an answer.

June 30, 2010 at 1:22 AM  
Blogger My Edible Yard said...

Really great post, Jenna. We are lucky enough to have the land to go to - 176 acres in Tennessee. What we don't have is the money to build the house yet. We want to be zero energy or as close thereof as we can get. And we're paying a mortgage here in south Florida. Unfortunately, with the housing market so bad down here, there's no way we could sell this house and even break even, which we have to do. But we'll get there. We just keep plugging away at the bills we do have so that when we are finally ready to make the move we'll be debt-free.

We are trying to think out of the box with regard to building a house. The thought crossed our mind that we could have the trees on the property thinned professionally and perhaps sell the lumber for at least part of the building costs.

June 30, 2010 at 10:56 AM  
OpenID ruralaspirations said...

We just bought our dream farm after 2 years of planning and saving. The whole process is documented on my blog (we're in Canada and don't have those loans, but then we also don't have your housing crisis).

Jenna, don't let anybody tell you that having only one income puts you "at risk". NOBODY should buy into a place that they can only afford with TWO incomes. One day you might have children and believe me, as much as you swear up, down, and sideways that you'll want to keep working...life has a way of changing your mind. I'm one of those and if I had a nickel for every mum who swore the same and then sobbed that they HAD to go back to work and leave their baby b/c they couldn't afford the mortgage otherwise...well, I'd be rich. OR what if something happens to your partner. NO, you are totally doing the right thing and I am proud to "know" you.

You are a great inspiration!

June 30, 2010 at 8:31 PM  
Blogger Haitian-American Family of Three said...

I found your blog by searching for usda loans-we both closed with a week of each other! I have been telling all my friends to start looking and apply for this awesome program. I did not think we would be able to buy for a long time but with zero down, no closing costs and only 500- earnest money we're not in our country house with a huge garden. I think its a really good time to buy and more people should be told about the usda program because its AWESOME.

July 1, 2010 at 10:11 PM  
Blogger kelly said...

USDA has money again!!!

September 17, 2010 at 10:01 PM  

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