Sunday, January 31, 2010

another possibility?

I have an appointment with a realtor at noon. I'm going to drive over to a 144-year-old farmhouse in Jackson, NY and look around. The house is in amazing shape and the current owners completely updated it. All the electric, floors, and windows have been redone. It has a new furnace, a new woodstove, new artisan well, and over 6 acres with an orchard, pond, and pasture. The septic is nine years old. It has the original dirt-basement root cellar. It comes with a small barn, out building, chicken coops and a water pump. Once it was a thriving sheep farm, and if I moved there, once again lambs would return to those fields, which is poetry. It's only half-an-hour away from here. It could be perfect.

However, even at the discounted price it's about forty thousand dollars out of my realistic price range. The bank may happily approve me for the house, but I may be living by the skin of my coffee-stained teeth. If the stars align and I can get some sort of deal and a bank actually gives me a mortgage - well, maybe I have a shot? But part of me worries the bigger house, longer commute, heavier mortgage and taxes, and larger grounds may be too much for a single girl... And part of me doesn't want to leave Vermont. I'm torn even at the possibility.

The plot thickens: I came home from my errands yesterday to a message from the cabin owners in Oregon. All it said was, "Thanks for the package, and I've made a decision." I'm on pins and needles over this. If the cabin could me mine, my heart would be lighter. The place feels right. It just needs some hard weekend and friends to help get it ready. I could have my gardens, bees, birds, and hooves back. I could rent the neighbor's barn and land. I could (and my heartbeat speeds up just at the thought) finally get my border collie puppy and get back into the sheepdog club. I could become a real resident of Sandgate. The taxes are a joke.

I could do all this and more in New York too, but as pristine as the place is (I drove up to it yesterday, and it is breathtaking) would it be too much? Would all that land, all that space force this barnheart-infected woman to fill it up with too much too fast? Would I be house poor and then stuck with a flock of sheep to winter over? Would I be living in my dream house and not even able to afford the garden seeds to compost? Would the forty minute drive from the office mean I could never go there on my lunch break? But dear lord....all that land. It's also closer to my hay dealer and there's a tractor shop down the road... The pro/con list is a dead heat. This farm I'm seeing today is a place I could grow into, make a living off of eventually. But unless some act of god or amazing grace blesses the probably won't happen.

Regardless, I have a date with destiny at high noon. I'll go there and either fall in unrequited house love or know it's not for me. On my side, I know the Jackson house has motivated sellers that want to move and soon. It may be perfect and I may be stubborn and scared. If I love this place, should I go for broke and just hope Nora Ephron calls me to make the Cold Antler Farm movie or Oprah suddenly gets into backyard chickens? Should I be simple and stick to that sweet little cabin with a hammer by the river?


Blogger Unknown said...

Jenna, I believe that the right place will reveal itself to you in due time, the one that just falls into place will be the one that is meant to be. I have no doubt that you will bloom where you are planted, wherever that may be. I too have had the problem of jumping into too much too fast with all of my critters and projects. I am really working on controlling that trait in myself by slowing down and focusing on making the most of the investment that I have. I ask myself the question every day what is the highest priority today, what can I do to move closer towards my goals.
I am really excited for you and cannot wait to see where this wonderful adventure takes you. I have no doubt that ten years from now I will be reading your blog and you will have realized so many of your dreams, the sheep, the border collie who is amazingly talented (I have a Border Collie by the way, a Blue), and maybe even have met the man who loves animals, nature and John Stewart lol! I havn't found that one yet but that's another topic. Breath, it's all going to be okay.

January 31, 2010 at 8:50 AM  
Blogger RayMan said...

I'd give you the same advice I have given both of my children over and over again.
Go for the house, the land, the out-buildings, the well and the location. Negotiate with the owners what you think to be a fair price. Try for a mortgage. If it's a "stretch" financially - think - it won't always be that way. Find more work, sell more fibre, sell more veggies, sell more manure, sell more honey, sell more paintings, sell more fiddle sessions - just find simple ways to get more money. Over time - it will work. Remenber this - life is what passes you by while you re busy making plans.
If you never reach for your dream, you won't ever get it.
When you get to be old, make sure there isn't anything left on your "bucket list".
Good luck with it all.

January 31, 2010 at 8:55 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Good luck to you dear Jenna! Your dreams will come true in due time. Don't rush it in a panic and settle for something that's not right for you. Your concerns about the NY home are valid and I agree. What good is the perfect farm if you can't afford the 'tenants' that make it a farm? (sheep, dogs, chickens etc.) You'll know it when you see it. Maybe the NY folks have left themselves a little 'wriggle' room. Or...maybe the cabin owners are willing to hold the mortgage for you and that way you'll be able to afford to winterize it...good luck! Tami

January 31, 2010 at 8:58 AM  
Blogger Mare said...

The right place will come to you, just like that. But it is exciting to look, isn't it? Please let us know how it goes for you....

January 31, 2010 at 9:11 AM  
Blogger Sarah Rachelle said...

Woo! This is exciting! But I heard some really good advice: land is just land. There will always be another piece of land, but you always have to live with your life and your worries which includes being in over your head with too big of a mortgage. You want to be HAPPY in your new place. I think if it works out, start out small with that little cabin and then grow into that bigger place. Sometimes when our end-goal dreams are dangled in front of our nose, it's hard to see the bigger picture.
Good luck!

January 31, 2010 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Sarah Rachelle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

January 31, 2010 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Karen L. said...

I would have to agree with a couple of "commentors" .... don't make yourself house poor. That's one of the things that has caused a lot of these recent foreclosures. People buy what they want, not what they can afford. It seems that you really like your current location and you know what they say are the three most important things in real estate: location, location, location. Would you be sad if you couldn't run home at lunch to check on an animal? But perhaps there would be neighbors at the NY place to help you out if there was a problem? So many things to consider. Wait, don't rush in. Think and then think some more. Talk to a friend ... talk to a couple of friends and bounce ideas off of them. Work it out in your head; work it out on paper. I am sure you are doing all of this but when excitement starts, sometimes we dive off the board before looking. Good luck. You will know it when it is right!!!! And don't forget to breath.

January 31, 2010 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger folk city said...

I like your Nora Ephron idea....Have you sent her your book?

January 31, 2010 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Patsy from Illinois said...

Jenna, Be careful and don't bite off more than you can chew. You will just be a mess of worries if you do. But if you decide on the farmhouse, perhaps you could get a roomate to take off some of the financial burden? And if the orchard is a good one, you could sell the fruit to help offset the finances too. Good organic fruit is sold at a premium around here.

The cabin sounds like the best to me but I am not you and have not seen it or know what is involved. I bet you are waiting on pins and needles to find out their decision.

Good luck and God bless.

January 31, 2010 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger DebH said...

Jenna, I have only just started reading your blog and while I don't know your entire picture well enough, I say go with the larger property too. This market has to turn around someday and it will be worth more eventually, plus you sound like the sort of person with determination and followthrough who would just make it Work!! A person just has to rationalize the realities and if you really look at all you have accomplished you will know you could do anything you set your mind too!! I look forward to seeing your decision and will be excited for either decision. You will do whats best for You! :)

January 31, 2010 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger Jill said...

Dear Jenna, I agree with Laura. If you look for the signposts the way will be revealed. I also believe that when you're on the right path the way is smoothed; not that it won't be hard, just not completely impossible.

Have you considered a boarder? Do you know someone, or a friend's friend who'd rather rent a room on a farm than in town somewhere? Another barnheart sufferer?
Good luck,
We're all thinking of you.

January 31, 2010 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger Mermaid said...

I know you'll find the right place for you. For what it is worth, I have an hour commute to my job. It really takes its toll and leaves little time for the pleasures at home. During certain times of the year, I leave the house in the dark and arrive home in the dark.

You can change a house and modify land, but you can never change a location. I've often fallen in love with a house and had blinders on. There will will always be another house.

January 31, 2010 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Unless the cabin owners are assholes, and it doesn't sound like they are, the message "Thanks for the package, and I've made a decision" sure sounds to me that it's a decision in your favor. If that's really the way it was worded, expect good news. If they were going to turn you down, it would be awfully graceless of them to thank you and be so curt.

I think you're wise to worry about biting off more than you can chew. I would put my vote on the "stay in Vermont with a manageable mortgage and a manageable chunk of land" side of things. But of course it's your call.

By the way, have you considered putting one of your finished watercolors on eBay to raise money? It's great to sell them on your blog once in a while, but a bidding war probably wouldn't hurt your take either. There are probably a number of readers here who would be interested. Just a thought.

January 31, 2010 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

Be careful, Jenna. This whole economic mess has a lot to do with people being in over their heads. Keep in mind too that interest rates are low right now and by the time you renew they'll probably be higher. Good luck. We're all pulling for you.

January 31, 2010 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger Tony Colella said...


Just be sure to look into the taxes in NY. I grew up oustide of Syracuse, NY but never owned property their myself. My parents did and often spoke of the high taxes. They voted separately for school taxes which increased their overall tax bill but also provided an outstanding education which they were willing to pay for.

I am not certain if this is a state wide approach or local/county but just something to be certain of when calculating total monthly payments.

I am also uncertain how your income taxes would change. I mention this only so that you look into it. I recall when I worked in Virginia that co-workers who lived in Maryland ran into this issue but I do not know the specifics. From what I recall they did not have certain taxes taken directly out of their paychecks (state taxes) so they had to estimate and set aside this cash to pay the taxes in their home state. Knowing what to save was they key as I recall. Again, this was over a decade ago that I overheard a couple talking of this.

Fear not about losing a property or choosing wrongly. This just somehow fall into place in most cases if the place is right. If not, then rest assured you avoided the wrong place. This does not mean you won't have to work to make the right one happen, no doubt you will as I have, but it will work.

Tony (used to live in) Asheville

January 31, 2010 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger Kathy P. said...

You have question after question after question on the place in NY - real misgivings as to whether it's too much. And then you state that the little cabin by the river would be perfect.

Your answer is right there because of the questions you're asking...listen to yourself, kiddo.

January 31, 2010 at 10:06 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

an option you should look into is something similar to a VHFA loan. If you haven't looked into this, it's a possibility. You can get qualified for a loan which will give you a better fixed rate (5% right now) and a lower downpayment. I'm not sure if you can get the loan for a property that's located in NY, but NY state may offer a similar program. Getting an interest rate of 5% vs. 5.7% can make a big difference and may put you inline for what your able to afford. My mom was a loan officer for years, so I'm pretty well learned in these types of things. Drop me an email if you want more info on this! The right place will come along! :)

January 31, 2010 at 10:09 AM  
Blogger Mary Lee said...

Jenna, I know the "Right" place will present itself and one of these two may be it. I just want to ask..Would the cabin work if you could not rent the barn and extra land? The current owner may be willing, but if ill health forces her to sell the farm, what would you do? I am currently house-poor and will agree that is worrisome, but there are ways to make extra income at that larger farm. Check out Juniper Moon Farm's blog. Susan has innovative ways of adding farm income, from hay sponcors to Shepherding Camp (6days/5 nights, private room for up to two people for $1300). You could do a weekend a month with music in the winter and outdoor related farm topics in warmer weather....just a thought. Best of Luck to you.

January 31, 2010 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Jenna be careful about going into to much debt. Most homesteaders like the life not only because of the local food but also because of the freedom it offers. Debt enslaves us to someone else and it would be tragic if you had to work "off farm" so much that you didn't have time to enjoy the homestead.

Proverbs 22:7 = "The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender."


January 31, 2010 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger Elise said...

I have to say I agree with Kathy P. You have your answer, even if the cabin might not be the easy way to start. But in the long run, if you choose the old farmhouse and you're stretching yourself thin to make your mortgage payments, trying to sell more and drive more and fit more into each day, will you have the time to enjoy your life there? Or will you be living with just the idea of your farm? If it's something you really LOVE, rather than making it fit, the NY farmhouse could be worth it. But if, as you say, the cabin is "perfect", you could always look into renting nearby land to expand, or maybe buying something down the road when you have a more comfortable financial situation. I know you're looking into future options, but keep in mind that it's easier to expand outwards creatively when you haven't committed all of every paycheck you'll receive for the next 30 years! I'm sure these are things you're already thinking, but I'll say them anyways in case the repetition helps you clear your mind...

(Also, as a single girl who bought too much house because it was a good deal, I urge you to think LONG and HARD about how much time and money you'll end up spending on a bigger house- cleaning, maintenance, general upkeep; even on a new house these things can take up most of your free time and a good chunk of change.)

January 31, 2010 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Affi'enia said...

Ooh I'm crossing everything for you. I think you've been left some sound advice by everyone here. You don't want to end up with a bigger place you can't manage. However you don't want to end on a place you will outgrow. I believe you mentioned renting the land next door. This could be growing room for you. I don't know what I would do in your situation but I agree with what RayMan said. You have to reach for your dream. If it doesn't work out you start again. Better than never starting at all!!

January 31, 2010 at 10:49 AM  
Blogger Debi said...

Good luck Jenna! I know the right home will reveal it's self to you.

I do caution to be realistic about the Jackson farm house. My best friend owns an 1850 farm house in upstate N.y. and even with burning wood to help, and keeping the thermostat rediculously low it costs her about $1000.oo a month just to heat...electric is a separate issue. She's a single mom of two and is making it work, but as you put it is "house poor"
I'm not trying to crush your dreams but sometimes starting smaller and adding on or working up is a better option...but only you can know for sure what's right for you.

Sending lots of good energy your way today!


January 31, 2010 at 11:11 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Good Luck! I hope it all works out for the best!

January 31, 2010 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger TnTConnect said...

Obviously, only you will know what is right for you. I will be eagerly waiting to see what the cabin owners decision is. Good Luck!

January 31, 2010 at 11:26 AM  
Blogger Lynnanne said...

Go for the small bite that you can easily chew… I agree with Richard P, and others with not getting in so far over your head you'll never see daylight. I mean, you DO want time to play that fiddle!! Also, you're seemingly the type who may one day look into alternative energy for your home… I can see it being easier (and even cozier) in a smaller setting. Good luckl!! (did you say the little cabin has a creek?)

January 31, 2010 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger hodge podge said...

hi jenna! exciting to think that as i write, you are on your way to see the NY farm... what i wanted to say is that, having just finished a year-long dream home/mini-farm search (also in upstate NY), it never hurts to look and see as many options as you can. even though it can be emotionally exhausting when you fall in love with a place that you can't have, exploring the possibilities can open up new ideas and options. even if it works out with the cabin, you'll feel better knowing what other choices were out there... good luck and i also agree that the right choice will make itself known! though it's not always so clear in the beginning ;n)

January 31, 2010 at 11:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Don't over-extend your yourself financially. If taxes or mortgage rates go up, a large repair is needed or if you can't make a payment for any other reason all could be lost.

People can and do lose their homes. And it's all the more tragic when their homes are farms (livelihoods and homes to animals).

I don't think you can take an orchard and sell organic apples from it unless it has been managed organically.

January 31, 2010 at 12:00 PM  
Blogger kandy Gray said...


i know that the time line is tight and you need to find a place NOW, but do me a favor and have your realtor show you 2 more houses before you make a decision. just 2 more houses. that way you know that you have more than just 2 houses to choose from.

good luck!

January 31, 2010 at 12:02 PM  
Blogger Rois said...

Don't get in over your head.Tightening your belt for a month or two or even a year is one thing but in the long run it gets harder and harder to do with no room for the oops things, like car repairs.
Hang on the right thing will happen just remember to speak up on your own behalf.

January 31, 2010 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Gretchen said...

I think you know already. I just got done reading the chapter about this in the book you recommended. Pick what you can manage.

January 31, 2010 at 12:39 PM  
Blogger Reason's Whore said...

Having seen neither, only heard descriptions, I'd go for the big one that needs no work and bid real LOW.

If it's 40K too much, then bid 40K or 30K less.

January 31, 2010 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger John Taylor said...


I have to agree with some of the others. You need to get a place that you can comfortably afford. Getting a mortgage that is to big will just put you in financial straits. Go with what you can afford and you will sleep much better at night.


January 31, 2010 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger Tom C said...

Jenna - experience has taught me that in purchasing real estate, or used cars, there is always a newer, shinier, cheaper, better value house/property/car located just around the next turn in the road. Don't rush into anything or settle for something that is most of what you want but not everything that you want. Keep looking and you will find the property you are looking for, probably at a cheaper price and in a more suitable location, in short order.

January 31, 2010 at 1:33 PM  
Blogger HotFlashHomestead said...

My advice is NOT to buy a place 40 grand over the top of your price range. Too many people did that in the last decade, were only one paycheck away from forclosure....and are now there.

Now if they'll come down 40 grand in their price, well that's a different story.

Keep looking, and either the little cabin or something else may present itself. You've still got three months between now and May.

January 31, 2010 at 1:33 PM  
Blogger Chicky said...

Take time to breathe, the right place will present itself to you before you know it! Speaking from personal experience with going in over my head when I bought my first house... Be cautious & careful. I didn't end up like many unfortunatepeople (foreclosure, bankruptcy,etc), but when I owned my home, I spent too much on my mortgage & didn't have enough left over for other bills, emergency fund, etc. Don't get into that type of situation - it's not fun. Each month, I was scrambling to make sure I had enough in the bank for the mortgage payment. As others have pointed out, you can change the house, but you can't change location. There will always be houses & land to buy. Of course you're in a bind right now, having to find a place before May, but even if these landowners are willing to negotiate price, going above & beyond your price range is a bad idea. There's a reason for a set budget, especially when purchasing a home. I'm not sure what programs are offered in VT, but the biggest issue for me wasn't the price I paid for the house (the mortgage payments were within my range), but the extras that added up & made my mortgage too big - insurance (both house & mortgage insurance),taxes, etc. And I was using a first-time home buyer program offered by the state of WY. I don't want to be a downer in this situation because the house in NY sounds ideal, but if it's out of your price range, it's out of your price range. Be careful when you look at it, it's easy to fall in love with a house. The right thing will work out for you! Hang in there!

January 31, 2010 at 1:53 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

I went, and it was great. But I didn't fall in love. It didn't feel like my home, but I went into it with this heart attached to Vermont. Being in NY felt like cheating on a loved one.

I need to think about it. a lot. and keep looking.

January 31, 2010 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Maggie in Tally said...

Glad you didn't fall in love--sounds like leaving Sandgate area might not be the right course of action. You have a support system there, and while I think you're the kinda person who could build another really easily wherever you went, this cabin sounds like a better idea---at least for the next 3-5 years, assuming it can be had.

January 31, 2010 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger j.c. said...

When will you find out what the owner of the cabin's decision is??? I'm on pins and needles along with you.

January 31, 2010 at 2:22 PM  
Blogger Rene said...

There are inherent risks in every choice. There are also usually more than one option for every choice. For example, if you got the New York house would there be room for a roommate? Maybe you can find another barn hearted soul willing to help out with the mortgage and the chores.

January 31, 2010 at 4:10 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think you should stay in Vermont, closer to where you are already established with willing friends and nieghbors. Get the word out everywhere you go that you are looking for a small acreage farm with a small liveable (mortgagable) house on it. You'd be surprised who knows someone who knows someone, etc. Have faith. What is supposed to happen, will. Also, I'm thinking you meant artesian well, as opposed to artisan well. It's a common mistake.

January 31, 2010 at 7:33 PM  
Blogger opendoor said...

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February 1, 2010 at 4:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So sorry about this giant disappointment, Jenna.

I agree with other posters though, while cute and quaint it didn't really suit your needs. You have enough work without trying to winterize a cabin. If there's not enough room for your critters you're back where you started.

Keep working towards your vision, you'll get there. Sometimes you have to dig down before you can build up, scary though it is.

February 1, 2010 at 12:19 PM  

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