This week were going to close out the series on finding our new home in the country.
For the past few weeks, we’ve done all of our new home research without leaving our current location. Using our hierarchy of needs, we determined the region where our property search should begin. For the purposes of this exercise, I chose the inland northwest; specifically the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Because of space constraints, I decided to demonstrate the process in the state of Montana, and after reviewing a number of factors, I chose to concentrate my new home search in the southwest corner of Montana, specifically the counties of Beaverhead and Madison.
Last week, I recommended you spend a great deal of time Googling those two counties. Knowledge of the terrain and regional points-of-interest will make your search for specific properties far easier. I also suggested even before you make the trip to look at properties, you should be clubbed-up with a national fraternal organization with local offices. In the case of both Beaverhead and Madison Counties, that organization appears to be the Elks, since both county seats have an Elks lodge.
In small-town America, fraternal organizations are often a center of community life. The membership of a local lodge in the country will often be made up of the business leaders, landowners, political types and employers. Additionally, because so many fraternal organizations are built around the concept of community service, through your active involvement they can be the quickest way to be included in the community.
But there are other organizations that can also assist you in your goals of both finding that perfect country home and becoming part of the community. Even before you start taking a look at properties in the region you’ve chosen, you should be on the phone with a local church. A quick call of introduction and your stated intentions with a local pastor or priest can often get you a wealth of information about the area you’re interested in.
So far you’ve scoured the area by computer, you’ve memorized the locations of all the major roads, you know the locations and sizes of the communities, and you’ve communicated with community leaders, both spiritual and communal. What’s next?
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Now it’s time to get a real estate agent. Perhaps the secretary of the Elks Lodge or the pastor of the church has recommended a local agent. If so, contact that agent and make sure to let them know where their recommendation came from. Communicate your plans, including your time table; and be extremely specific about the type of property you are looking for. There have been times in the past when I’ve dealt with a realtor who simply could not understand that 20 acres did not mean 200 acres … or two acres.
Also, be honest with your agent about your economic conditions. Don’t be too disheartened about pricing and financing. Sure, one of those properties you’re interested in requires 20 percent down. But that’s not necessarily written in stone. If that property has been sitting on the market for some time, you’d be surprised how flexible a motivated seller can be.
This is also the time when you should contact any private sellers who were mentioned to you by the Lodge secretary or even the pastor. You might eventually want to have an agent involved if you’re going to make an offer on one of those properties, but at this time you’re more interested in simply establishing a relationship with the property owner. In my experience, a private seller is much more flexible with regards to payment options.
At this point you’ve received a number of listings that meet your hierarchy of needs from your agent, you’ve contacted a couple of private sellers, and you have a pretty good idea of the lay of the land. You’re just about ready to put some rubber to the road. But there are a couple other things that you might do before you take the trip to visit your new prospective community.
One is to contact the sheriff’s office and request a copy of all of the 911 logs for the previous year. This information is public domain. It may cost you a small amount in copying fees, but it can pay benefits in determining areas within these otherwise low-crime communities that seem to experience the most trouble.
Another thing to do, specifically for those properties you’re interested in that are not on community water systems or an existing well, is to contact a local well driller (also recommended to you by the community members you’ve spoken to) and ask their opinion about the likelihood of well water for those properties. You can also contact the county offices and arrange to get copies of the well logs for local or adjacent parcels. Don’t stint on this or convince yourself that you can fix a no-water problem at a later point. Land without water is unlivable.
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So now it’s time to actually physically check out the lay of the land. You found three or four likely prospects in each of the counties. You’ve contacted the private sellers and real estate agents in both counties telling them when you intend to be in the area, and have asked for appointments for property viewings. You’ve arranged for a rental car if necessary, and a place to stay. What’s next?
Be prepared to hit the ground running. Whether you’re in the area for just a few days or even a week, you’re going to be on the go. And you’re going to be carrying with you premade printed sheets that have a list of your hierarchy of needs, each score-able from 1 to 5. Does each property have: a good water source, good southern exposure, a pre-existing home in good condition, a good spot for building a home if one is not already there, good road access, power, and any other items that are important to you?
Bring a digital camera and take extensive photos of each property you view, both of the home and the land. It’s amazing how many details get erased from your memory once you get home. The photos will document what you actually saw, not what you think you remember perhaps possibly seeing.
If possible, schedule your trip so you can attend one of those fraternal organization’s meetings, and try to make a church service. Begin the process now to meet the members of the communities you’re considering become a part of.
Don’t make any decisions on purchasing a property until you get back home. The worst cases of buyer’s remorse are almost always related to impulse shopping. Give yourself some time to think, and to mentally and physically compare the hierarchy of needs scores you gave each property. Do not allow yourself to be rushed into a purchase because you think (or because a real estate agent told you) there are buyers for that property waiting in the wings. There will be other properties that come along if the one you’re interested in is bought out from under you. But being pushed into a purchase that you know isn’t optimal is a very good way to spend a great deal of your future in regret.
Always remember, making a move is a consequential moment in life, and the reasons for making this move are far more important than simply relocating for a new job or to attend school. If you’ve made the decision to leave your failing state for the safety and security of yourself or your family, you’ll of necessity be leaving a lot of things behind.
But it’s far better to do this in your own time than to have it forced upon you by circumstance.