Frequently Asked Questions:


Frequently Asked Questions by Category 


WATER


How many gallons/minute flow in a well is considered good?

The gold standard for a well is a flow of 5 gallons/minute all year round. this means even in the driest month of the year there is at least a 5 gallon/minute flow. By the way, the term gold standard refers to the fact that nearly all banks and mortgage companies want to see at a 5 gallon/minute flow in wells to finance the property. If you plan on having a garden, orchard, berry patch, and livestock 5 gallons/minute will limit the size of the garden, orchard, berry patch and the amount of livestock you can care for.

What is the average cost for drilling a well?

The costs for drilling a well depends on several factors such as 1) the depth it takes to get water, 2) how difficult it is to get the drilling rig to the site, 3) The reputation of the well driller-some are known to have better success than others so they can charge more for their services, 4) The part of the country you are in-California is more expensive than Montana as an example, and other factors. The average depth of wells all across the U.S. is a little over 50 feet, that said, there are also some states that define a well as being more than 50 feet deep and anything 50 feet or less as surface water. If there is no known and proven source of water on the property why would you risk offering on it and taking the chance of not hitting water when a well is drilled? Land without a proven source of water is worth ZERO Dollars as a homestead!

Is riverfront property in a flood plain?

That depends on the lay of the land. Talk to a County Extension Agent ( County Agricultural or Farm Agent) or see if that property is in a 100 year flood plain map.

We need to drill a well. How much water, gallons per minute, and how far down should we drill?

If you are going to build on the land and you need to finance the building project, you will need 5 gallons/minute flow as a minimum requirement for most third party lenders. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to the second part of your question. The water table is at different depths under different pieces of property. If you are east of the Mississippi River, you stand a good chance of hitting water (but no guarantees of how many gallons/minute flow you will get) at a shallower level than the average west of the Mississippi River. That said, there are wells in the west that are shallower than many in the east. In other words, there is no real way to predict how far down you will have to go to hit water. That is why I can not recommend anyone buy property without their being a proven source of adequate water-minimum of 5 gallons/minute, (remember, land without a proven and adequate source of water on it prior to closing is worth $ZERO as a homestead), which may not be adequate for a large homestead with stock, garden, orchard, berry patch, and a large family-already developed on the land before purchasing it.

Can you legally bridge the creek bordering the property?

If the creek is entirely within the boundaries of your property, the answer is probably yes. Unless there is some type of zoning ordinance or other regulation affecting your ability to build the bridge. Check with the County Zoning Office or Commission and also ask them if there is any other place you would need to check with. If the creek merely borders your property, you would need the permission (in writing) from any adjoining landowner to bridge the creek if there is no ordinance or regulation preventing the building of a bridge. You should never take a Real Estate person’s word for whether or not you can build a bridge or where the property boundaries are. The only safe way to know where the boundaries are is a recent survey with the corners and boundary lines flagged.

What is Static Water Level?

This is a term that refers to how far down in a well it is before there is water in the well casing or in the drilled portion of the well. The closer this level is to the top of the well, the shallower the static level is, the better.

How do you verify the true availability of water on the property?

Great Question! One way is, if there is a well on the property, make a contingency of the sale Closing being the Seller producing a Well Log or a certified statement from a well driller that he has verified the well has an output of however many gallons/minute. If there is currently no well, spring, or other source of water on the property than can be tested and verified, make Closing contingent on the Seller developing a good source of water of at least 5 gallons/minute or the contract is cancelled and you get your money back. You can say that if a good source of water is developed and proven prior to closing, you will share in the costs of developing it at closing. (Such as paying 50% of the cost of developing the source if it meets your needs.) It can not be overemphasized that land without a proven and adequate source of water before Closing is worth ZERO DOLLARS as a homestead or a place to live in the country. The only way to offer on land without a adequate and proven source of water is to make the owner developing an adequate and proven source of water as a contingency for the sale to Close.

Is a shallower well better (faster gallon per minute flow) than a deeper well?

The gallons/minute flow of a well depends on the size and depth of the underground aquifer the well is drilled into much more than on the depth of the well. A shallower well costs less to drill than a deeper well with one exception; many well drillers have a minimum charge for drilling a well, even if the depth is shallow. This they do to cover the costs of moving their equipment to the drilling site and setting it up. So if the minimum cost of drilling a well includes a well of up to 100 feet deep and a good source of water is found at 50 feet, you still pay the minimum charge even though the well is not 100 feet deep.

If there is a well on the property, whose responsibility is it to pay to have the water level checked and have the water tested to see if it is good?

Another great question! short answer is this; If the Seller is having his land advertised as having a good well, the Seller should be the one to prove it is a good well. Now for the reality: Very few Real Estate Agents or Brokers (or Realtors for that matter) ever tell a Seller to have proof of the water being of sufficient quantity and of good quality. So it is up to the Buyer to get that information. One way of doing so is to put the monkey back on the Seller’s back and not accept responsibility for the monkey being on your back. Any offer on and with a well should be contingent on the Seller providing a Well Log which states the gallons/minute flow of the well and providing a report from the local sanitation department, water control board, or laboratory that has tested the water and found it suitable (technical term is potable) for human consumption. If these are not provided prior to Closing and the results approved by the Buyer, the contact is cancelled and the Buyer gets all his money back and Seller keeps the land.

What do you think about buying land with a shared source of water?

In some ways, trying to answer this question is sort of like playing Russian Roulette with a  revolver and only one bullet in the cylinder. When will the gun fire and who gets hit? If the shared source of water is from a well maintained by a Private Water Corporation where everyone pays for the water they use, (everyone is on a water meter), that is OK. However, that is usually not the case. The usual case is where there are two or more tracts of land that share a common well or other water source located on just one of the tracts of land. The only way I'd be even half-way comfortable in this situation is if I had the tract of land with the water source. One of the most litigated situations in rural Real Estate involves water rights disputes. I am not willing to trust someone else who controls a well that shares water with me when there is a drought or other situation. Guess who will keep the water for themselves (the one who has the source on their land) and guess who will have to haul water in and sue to try and get their share of the water from the well? (The landowner who does not have the well on his  land.) Even if there is a written agreement to share the water, you will have to sue to enforce the agreement and that takes time and money. Once you sue, you have made an enemy for life and I'd rather not live next door to my enemy for life!

QUESTIONS ABOUT SOIL
 

How to determine if the soil is suitable for a septic system?

What is called a percolation test (or perc test) will need to be done. Inmost areas this is done under the supervision of the County Sanitation Department or the County Health Department. (In my county it is done under an area Health District that covers more than one county.) Enquire at the local courthouse or office where a building permit is obtained. This test involves a permit and costs for the permit, and the permit cost may not include the cost of the test itself. (Equipment to dig the hole or holes for the perc test, etc.). A clause in the Purchase Contract can protect the Buyer if a perc test fails. This should be done before Closing of the Sale and approved by the Buyer. They should be done by the Seller, however it is negotiable.

If a stream on the property floods, how much effect will the flooding would have on the property?

The short answer is it depends on where the stream crosses the property, how much rainfall or snow pack that melts in spring affects the stream and if any ice dams form in early spring as the temperature rises above freezing and then drops back below freezing. It also depends on the lay of the land around the stream; does the stream cut into the land and have banks normally well above the water level or does the stream routinely over flow its banks. Also, where would the house, outbuildings, garden, orchard, places for animals be in relation to the stream? Up hill or down hill and where is the septic system and water source is located in regard to the stream. All these factors need to be taken in to account.

What are some of the factors in the stability of hillsides or exposed elevations?

A Great question! Unfortunately it is not a question that can be answered completely without a soil expert such as a County Extension Agent or a Civil engineer examining the particular piece of land in question. Some general things to look for include: evidence of land slides in the past, lots of exposed soil with large cracks in it if the soil is parched and dry, and absence of vegetation on an exposed hillside with no visible boulders, (vegetation to some extent stabilizes the hillside). If a parcel of land is being considered that has an exposed hillside that has signs of a land slide or instability you have 2 choices; get the soil evaluated and place a contingency in the Sales Contract that the seller obtain the evaluation and pay for it and you must approve of it prior to Closing or the Contract is cancelled and you get back your money or make a much reduced offer on the land, (well below the asking price), and justify it by the potentially unstable soil on the exposed hillside. Unless there were other very good reasons for considering the land such as excellent proven water, plenty of space for house, out buildings, garden orchard, stock, etc well away from the problem hillside, why would you even consider offering on that land?


QUESTIONS ABOUT OWNER FINANCING


What should one look out for in Owner Financing a property?

This question is probably tied with “What do you think about buying land with a shared source of water?” for being the most asked question I get. Owner financing may be the only method of financing some country and homestead property. For example, if there is not an adequate source of water on the property, or if there is no foundation under the house, or-even in some parts of the country-if there are more than 1 or 2 outbuildings the lenders in the area may not even consider financing that property. Owner Financing also probably ties with being the most dangerous area of buying country property that lies in wait for the unsuspecting buyer. To safely do the most common form of Owner Financing, a Land Sale Contract, you need to know the contingencies that should be included to protect the buyer and to assure that the Seller preforms his part of the deal. Owner Financing by a Land Sale Contract is fraught with many pitfalls.

What are the pro’s and con’s of owner financing?

This is a great question and one that can not be answered completely in this manner. Owner financing has many variables and in some cases it is the only way a property can be financed. It is also the most dangerous way to finance property unless you know how to avoid a myriad of pitfalls that can cause you years of grief, a lot of lost money, and heartache. If you don't know what to watch out for, you will need to hire your own Country Attorney to keep you out of trouble when owner financing with a Land Sale Contract.


QUESTIONS ON LOCATION FOR HOMESTEADING


Where are the best 3 states for Homesteading?

I recently received an e-mail from someone else who is in the business of advising people on country locations. Three of his 5 Best Locations included States that have laws limiting or prohibiting the collection of rain water, requiring all residents to be connected to a public utility grid, (many homesteaders want to be off-grid electrically), or States with regulations limiting the drilling of wells on even privately owned property and one of his recommendation misrepresented over half of the climate of a particular State. I was very disappointed in his recommendations.  It was clear to me that he had not done his research before recommending locations..
The location for a country home or country homestead should be made with personal needs and desires taken into consideration. So I do not recommend my favorite States to everyone.
For example; if you or someone in your family is intolerant of heat, Southern California and much of Arizona and Nevada would not be a good location for them, If someone is intolerant of heat plus high humidity, they would be miserable in Florida and much of the south during a large portion of the year. Likewise, if someone was intolerant of very cold winters, it would not be beneficial to move to a northern climate or at an elevation where there was the chance of snow for 4 or 5 months of the year. (By the way, I’ve lived in the high desert of California and in the south as well as in northern climates where there is snow 5 months of the year and I prefer the northern climate. I do better in cold than in heat.)
There are several factors to consider; including climate, growing season, desert or grassland or forest, the ability to home school children, (not all States are home school friendly), rainfall, proximity to needed or desired facilities such as church or medical care and other considerations that need to be looked at to come up with the most ideal places for you and your family.

Does the property have year around legal access or is it only accessible when the snow melts?

Legal access is a term that means you have the legal right to access your property. Such as a recorded easement across any other privately held land you have to cross to get to your property. Only accessible when the snow melts refers to the ease of getting to your land during certain parts of the year and in certain weather conditions. I know several families who can only drive part way to their property during winter and have to park their 4WD vehicle and snow mobile the rest of the way home. Talking to those who live next to property you are considering purchasing is one great way to learn what the road conditions are all year round, whether the County plows the road and how often is plowed, or whether the road is privately maintained and what the arrangements are for maintenance and plowing. This also gives you a feel for the area and whether you would feel comfortable living with these people as your neighbors.

What is the main thing to focus on when purchasing property?

I wish purchasing property was easy enough to only focus on one thing-it is not. By only focusing on one thing you are setting yourself up for either heartache or failure in an attempt to purchase a property that you would be happy living on. As an example; in the part of the country I live in if you make the entire focus water, you can end up with soil that only grows rocks. If you make the entire focus a great view, you can end up with a property that has only one species of tree left growing on it. Where i live having just one species of tree may not be the right species to heat with in winter or supplement you heat with. Point is this, you need a complete and well rounded approach to searching for and purchasing country our homestead property. Without this type of approach, the chances of your being satisfied with the property you end up with are very slim. Making the largest purchase of your life requires more than just a "main thing" type approach.

Is 5 acres of undeveloped land, in the Idaho mountains, valued for $10,000 overpriced? (This was an actual question I was asked).

The simple answer is if the land is in the watershed of an old silver mine in the Silver Valley in the north Idaho mountains, it would be overpriced at any value since the mining of silver used a lot of very toxic chemicals that are still being washed out of the ground when it rains and when the snow melts and there is runoff each spring. In this particular case, land in the Silver Valley can be lacking in one of the basic requirements for a homestead-good soil-because soil tainted with toxic chemicals is not good. In the Idaho mountains you need 1) proven source of adequate water prior to Closing, good soil, a mixture of trees, adequate year round access, (know who snow plows the road in and what your share of the costs are if a private road), etc. In north Idaho, 5 acres of land usually lists for around $30-35,000.00 when not on a paved road, The selling price can be a fair amount less depending upon your negotiation skills, how far away from a town the land is, and whether it is on a County maintained road or on a private road.

QUESTIONS ON SURVEYS AND EASEMENTS

 

How Important is a Survey?

In many parts of the country, amenities such as fences, creeks or springs, meadows or wood lots advertised as being on the land, and even buildings are found to be all or partially off the land when a survey is done. When a Seller and Real Estate Professional advertises land as having certain amenities and containing a certain number of acres, the only way to know for sure is by a current land survey. If the Seller is claiming his land includes certain amenities, he should have the burden of proving those amenities are in fact on his land. The only way this can be legally proven is by a survey. If the Seller is making the claim, it should be his burden to prove the claim by a survey prior to Closing.

I inherited land from my uncle when he died. He had a verbal agreement with an adjoining landowner for access to his land, but that owner is now dead and the land I inherited is landlocked (we have no way of getting to it-no permission from the new adjoining land owner to cross his

land.) What do you suggest?

This is not the first time I’ve been asked this question. The problem was, there was no “legal” access to the land that is now landlocked. Legal Access means there is a recorded easement in the same county office where deeds are recorded and this easement grants passage over someone else land to access property. Without a recorded easement, many instances turn out like this one. That is why the caution in the class to beware of a “prescriptive easement” or an easement by usage for a period of time stated in that State’s law. Sometimes a prescriptive easement works out OK, other times, like this time, it does not work out. The only solution is to 1) offer to purchase a strip of land across a neighbor’s land to get access and you are at the mercy of what ever price the neighbor places on that strip of land. If that fails the only other option is to hire an attorney and sue for access to the landlocked parcel. With a good attorney, you can win that suit, however, you will probably make an enemy for life out of the neighbor you sued. Not an ideal situation to live under. As an alternative, you might offer the land for sale to an adjoining landowner and take whatever funds you get off the sale and look for  land elsewhere. Even if you don't get what you'd consider "fair market value" you are not stuck with land you can't get too and it was not land you bought. So if you can sell it you are much further ahead and can look for something somewhere else that is not "land locked."

Why are Easements to access your land Important?

Easements, sometimes also referred to as right of ways, come in more than one type. Real Estate professionals seem to like to tell potential Buyers that they have a Prescriptive Easement which means it exists merely by the fact it has been done for a period of time recognized by that State’s law. What you want is not a prescriptive easement you want a Deeded Easement which is an easement recorded in the same County Office that Deeds are recorded in. This is notice to the world that you have the right-of-way across the land that is encumbered by the easement?

Why are Easements on your property important?

You do not want to discover, after buying property, that someone has the right to use your property even after you have purchased it. This is an area of easements and adverse possession that is not usually an issue in city and suburban property but can be a real source of concern in country property. To avoid this potential problem you need to do a thorough walk over inspection of your property before Closing of the sale to uncover any potential prescriptive easements and have a thorough search of the Public Records done to see if there are any recorded (legal) easements across the property you want to purchase.


MINERAL RIGHTS QUESTIONS


What About a Reservation of Mineral Rights?

In some parts of the Country mineral rights are reserved on country property quite often. This is particularly true if the property was once Federal Government Property. When possible the sale of land should be contingent on the removal of a reservation of mineral rights by the Seller prior to Closing.


QUESTIONS ABOUT REAL ESTATE PROFESSIONALS


What is the difference between a Realtor and a Real Estate Broker or Agent?

A Realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors. A Realtor can either a Real Estate Broker or an Agent (although Agents who are members of the National Association of Realtors may be called Realtor Associates). For ease of writing (typing) I use the term Realtor to apply to any real estate professional,whether a member of the National Association of Realtors or not. Much the same as the term Lawyer or Attorney may be applied to anyone who has graduated from Law School whether they hold a License or Bar Appointment to practice Law or not. I realize some Real Estate professionals do not want to be associated with the National Association of Realtors and to those, I am not implying any disrespect.

Buyer’s Brokers or Buyer’s Agent:

This is a Real Estate professional who does not list homes and land for sale and have a full color brochure listing their for sale properties. In all 50 States a Realtor who lists property for sale, even if the property they are showing a Buyer is listed by a different Realtor, is legally the employee of the Seller of that property. These Realtors are not Buyer’s Brokers or Buyer’s Agents. They may hold themselves out as “working with both Buyers and Sellers” but that does not make them Buyer’s Broker’s or Buyer’s Agents!
Typically, a Buyer’s Broker or Agent will have the Buyer sign a contract that states the Buyers Broker or Agent will look for land for the Buyer, negotiate a sales price, and assist the Buyer through out the process for a specified fee set out in the contract.
Not every area of the Country has Buyer’s Brokers or Agents. If you employ a Buyer’s Broker or Agent, be certain that the contract spells out when and how they get paid and when and how you can be released of their services without having to pay them. Be ware of “exclusive” contracts with a Buyer’s Broker or Agent if you plan on seeing property shown by a regular Real Estate Professional-who is not a Buyer’s Broker or Agent.

How do you find a Buyer’s Agent? It sounds like the majority of them are for the Sellers.

One of the sad facts about looking for property, even city property, is that there are not Buyer’s Agents in all area of the country. When they are present, they are not anywhere near as common as Seller’s Agents. (Remember, that any Real Estate Salesperson who takes listings from Sellers is an employee of the Seller and it is that Agents job to get the highest price possible for the Seller.) Caution: there are Real Estate Sales People who advertise as “working with buyers and sellers.” This agent is not a Buyer’s Agent! I am looking at an ad by another Real Estate Agent, right now, who says; “There are 760 Residential Listings available and only 110 have pending offers. buying or selling, let me represent you with your next transaction.” This agent is not a Buyer’s Agent.” By his own admission he represents Sellers and because he represents Sellers he is always the employee of the seller in any transaction! Did you notice the other piece of important information from his ad? If there are 760 Residential Listings and only 110 pending offered on 760 listings. He just told you that his area of the country is experiencing a Buyer’s Market where there are many more listings than there are Buyers!

Will Real Estate Agents take advantage of you if you ask questions?

The answer depends on many factors such as the basic honesty of the particular agent, how badly he or she needs to make a sale (they don’t eat if they don’t make a sale), and how they rate you in intelligence about the looking and buying process. Like any profession, there are good agents, bad agents, and in-between agents. I could spend hours telling you of tales agents told buyers and the buyers bought the tales and suffered financially and emotionally because they bought the answers given to them.

What to do when the Realtor asks “what do you think?”

Say something like “There are things about this property like and there are things I don’t care for” and keep onlooking or ask what other properties the Realtor has to show you. Always keep a cool and calm reserve when looking at property.

Should I work with more than 1 Realtor at a time?

I prefer to work with 2 or 3 Realtors at the same time for the following reasons: 1) you see a bigger variety of properties, 2) If one Realtor is not to your liking you can avoid working with that Realtor and still have Realtors to work with, and 3) If you have some free time and one Realtor is not available when you are, chances are one of the other Realtors will be.
A caution when working with more than 1 Realtor; If you are about to be shown a property you have looked at with another Realtor, tell the Realtor who is getting ready to show you that property that you have already seen it and ask to be shown the other properties lined up for you to see. Once I had a Realtor get upset with me for using another Realtor and not him exclusively. That was his loss, I never used him again and cautioned others to avoid using him as well. There is no law or regulation that requires you to only use a particular Realtor or change Realtors if you so desire.

Aren’t most representative agreements exclusive and How do I get multiple Buyer’s Agents?

First of all, not all areas of the country have Buyer’s Agents. In most areas where they are located, there is just a small number of them-sometimes only one or two. So it may not be possible to get “multiple Buyer’s Agents.” Whether or not the contract with a Buyer’s Agent is “exclusive” will depend upon the language in the contract. If there is only one Buyer’s Agent in an area, it doesn’t matter if it is exclusive. However, I’d personally be sure that an “exclusive Buyer’s Agent Contract” did not prohibit me from using a regular Realtor if I so choose to do so.

Can I fire my Buyer’s Agent if they end up not working for me?

The conditions of being released from a contract with a Buyer’s Agent are usually in the contract. The contract is usually for a specified period of time and if nothing is found within that period of time you are released from the contract. A caution; if you buy a property the Buyer’s agent showed you, even after the time period is over, you will owe the Buyer’s Agent his fee. The Courts look upon this as an attempt to cheat an agent out of a commission and will award the Agent the fee, damages, and usually his court costs and attorney fees as well.


SHOULD I RENT BEFORE BUYING?


Is it a good idea to rent before buying property in an area of the country you are not familiar with?

Not only is it a good idea, the most savvy purchasers of country property rent for at least a year before purchasing in an area of the country they have never lived in before. There are many reasons for this and I’ll only name three: 1) They get to learn what the area is like without having the chance of not liking the area and then having to try and sell to move away, 2) They get to learn about the growing season and what crops grow well and what crops don’t grow so well in that area, and 3) They become “locals” and have a much better chance of learning about properties for sale that may not be listed with a Realtor and they are considered “locals” by Realtors in the area and are treated differently than outsiders. I have not known anyone who rented first, that was ever upset that they did not buy first. I know several who wished they had rented before buying!

What about renting a Country Homestead?

That is possible, you just have to look for that type of rental. It would give you a taste of homesteading without the large investment in case you were to decide it wasn’t for you.

How does renting or leasing compare to buying?

A great question! It can be very important to rent for a year in an area before buying if that is an area of the country you have not lived in before. There are several reasons for this; including getting used to the areas and learning if you really like the area. When you rent you are now a “local” and it is easier to find property not listed with a Realtor and many times the best properties in an area are not listed for sale with a Realtor.


MISCELLANEOUS QUESTIONS AND TOPICS


How far should utilities be from the property?

If you want public utilities on the property and they are not to the property line, you will have to pay to have them brought to the property line if they are even available in that area of the County. Usually the only available public utility is electrical power. City water and city sewer are not available when you get a certain distance away from a city or the suburbs. There is usually a charge to bring electricity to your property and that charge varies depending on the State, the distance the electricity has to come from and whether it is overhead or underground. I have a friend who is building on country acreage and he is bringing the electrical a mere 150 feet onto his property and it has to come in underground. The charge from the electrical company for running the power lines 150 feet-my friend is digging the trench, not the power company-and sitting a meter base is well over $2,000! Underground electrical cables used by an electrical company are copper cables with a special insulation that is rated for underground burial and the cable is not cheap!

What is the difference between country and homestead property?

Great Question! Country property can be just a small piece of land, even less than an acre, with a cabin or cottage on it up to a gentleman’s ranch with a farm house, barn, shop and pasture for horses or cattle or both. A homestead is a place in the country where the owners live as independently as is possible. A homestead can include a garden, orchard, berry patch, chicken pen and house, pasture for horses and cattle, fields for growing hay or wheat, a pond stocked with fish, a barn, shop, and other out buildings, a root cellar, and even an off grid electrical system. The difference is really one of degrees. A homestead is more like a self-sufficient or self-sustaining place to live.

What about HUD opportunities for purchasing a country homestead?

There is a HUD Foreclosure website, HUD.com, but to find out anything on that website you have to give a credit card number and pay a monthly fee to access it after about a 7 day trial or cancel to keep from getting a reoccurring credit card charge. If you find anything you are interested in you must submit a bid through a Realtor. If there was any property suitable for a country homestead it would probably be able to be financed with a HUD guarantee.

How far away from the power lines should a house sit?

If there is electrical company power to the house, the the house will be right next to a power line. If the question was meant to be “How far away from high tension power lines should the house sit, meaning those power lines attached to the big metal monsters who almost look like they are marching across the land," the answer is as far away as possible-at least 1/4 mile in a straight line, the farther the better.