I'm reminded of Oliver Wendell Douglas (played by Eddie Albert), the erstwhile New York lawyer who moved his citified wife Lisa (Eva Gabor) to Hooterville (which I always suspected was in Illinois, by the way) in the popular CBS sitcom from the 1960s, "Green Acres." (Buy Green Acres from Amazon by clicking on the image link to the right.)
The Douglases faced untold problems with their move from the city to the country. They climbed a telephone pole to make a phone call, dealt with a bumbling ag extension agent and were visited by a "talking" pink piglet (Arnold) who appeared to be smarter than the other residents of their rural Brigadoon.
Okay, "Green Acres" was an exaggeration to be sure, but there really are some items to consider during your purchase of a country property that don't apply to city life. While this blog post won't cover everything you might encounter during your search for a farm, farmette, horse property or home with small acreage, I hope it will give you a jump start on your thought process. If you're buying or selling in Illinois and have questions not covered in this material, just contact me.
WATER: Is your target property on city water or does it have a well? A well inspection is recommended to see if the water is potable or if treatments need to be made. Madison County, Illinois residents can get free well water testing from the Madison County Environmental Laboratory.
SEPTIC: Does the home have city sewers or is it on a private septic system? I always recommend that buyers seriously consider a septic inspection for their rural properties. If you're planning to build in a rural area, a soil test would help you determine if the land you're purchasing is suitable for a septic system or if drains need to be installed to take care of high water table issues prior to construction.
SURVEY: It's usually a good investment to get a survey on larger pieces of land. This is generally an out of pocket expense for buyers, but your agent may be able to negotiate a seller-paid contribution in the contract.
EASEMENTS: How easy is access to the property you're considering and is that access a recorded easement? Is the easement public or private? If access to the home is via a private road, make sure there is an agreement among the parties that use the road as to who pays for maintenance.
PROPANE: Many homes outside of towns are fueled by propane. Ask whether the home seller owns the propane tank or is renting it. Are they on a "continous fill" contract to ensure the tank never goes empty or do they do big fill-ups once or twice a year. Ask to see a recent bill. And, negotiate in the contract who pays for the propane remaining in the tank at closing.
LAW ENFORCEMENT AND FIRE PROTECTION: A rural property buyer needs to be comfortable with the fact that there is likely to be no law enforcement officer nearby in case of an emergency. In some places it's likely that only one sheriff's deputy would be on duty at any one time to cover the entire county. If you need help for a fire, the responders will likely charge you for a call.
ZONING: In Madison County, Illinois, you can built a new home in an area zoned as agriculture but there is a minimum lot size of two acres. Other rules also apply related to your minimum public road frontage, minimum width of the property, the addition of ponds and fences and a variety of other items.
ANIMALS: Just because a home and its surrounding acreage are located in a rural area doesn't mean you can have as many animals as you like, Noah! As a buyer you must be sure you've asked all the appropriate questions to find out if horses, alpacas, llamas, emus, bison or your favorite animal are allowed and, if so, how many. (This is usually figured per acre.) In Madison County, Illinois you may have one livestock animal per acre and no more than 10 fowl per acre. Grazing areas here must be fenced.
SCHOOLS: Have your agent check your target property's school district if this issue is important to you. (And if it isn't important to you, please consider the resale of your home in the future. It will probably be important to the next buyer.) District boundaries are drawn in odd ways and don't always make geographic sense. You don't want to be surprised when you take the kids to register for class.