The One

If you haven’t been following since the beginning, or maybe you have been, but you’ve lost count of all “the ones,” you may not have realized  but this one isn’t the first one we thought was “the one.” My dad was really starting to enjoy it I think. In the loving and supportive way only your dad can, he’d say things like, “oh THIS is ‘the one,’ eh?” You know, like you used to say to your friend from college that brought a new girl home every couple of weeks or so, all in love and everything, saying he was “going to marry this one,” until, you know, they got to know each other. It was kinda like that.

But really. How could I help it? I’ve been writing things like, “Future home of Owl Moon Farm?” for…oh…2 years? We really thought we found “the one” in February of this year. So sure was I that I told EVERYONE about it, before we even made an offer. We’re talking months of build-up before even getting the process started. Our initial offer was not accepted, and neither was our 2nd or our 3rd. In fact, we negotiated for MONTHS before finally deciding to walk away. {Honestly, though, the sellers were kinda insane, and the real estate agent involved (bless his heart) only made matters worse.} It was a nasty breakup. There were tears.

Then there were other ones. Pictures shared on Facebook, addresses typed into Google Maps to see how far we’d all be driving for Christmas…

Maybe we were dating? Maybe we were test driving? You can’t just take home the first one you try on, right??? So ya, no shame here. I’d rather have a few close ones on the way to “the one” – it makes the celebration at the finish line that much sweeter.

The biggest cliché you’ve ever heard (if you’ve ever been farm-hunting) is “The right one will come along.” (Sound familiar?) Anyway, it’s totally true. I mean it. Totally. True. Patience and trust and determination. Every wrong one is one less wrong one you have to see before finding the right one. I would go home after a weekend of looking, without finding, with the saddest, most pathetic, dejected feeling of failure you can imagine. I would sometimes even consider (only for a second or two) giving up on the whole dream. It was that bad. But then, thankfully, I’d snap out of it. I’d remember that I was just going through the motions, seeing everything that might be the one, on my way to finding “the one.” And I did. And in one month I’ll be signing off from my farm. My home. THE ONE I’ve been waiting for.

So, you think you want to buy a farm?

If you thought the farm search itself was the hardest part, well…I’m sorry to say you’re wrong, dead wrong. With the inspection behind us, our only remaining concern is the loan. And I gotta tell ya, finding a loan for a farm is next to impossible – unless you have oodles and oodles of cash lying around, that is.

Even with the proceeds of a fairly lucrative real estate flip here in the historic Philly-bedroom-community of Doylestown, PA, we didn’t have enough cash for the 20% down required from most lenders for ANY property over TEN acres. Ten acres? Yep, if it’s more than 10 acres, it’s a “rural property” and extremely difficult to finance. As far as we can tell, the good ‘ole 80-10-10 that your parents probably got on your childhood home simply doesn’t exist anymore.

If it’s just land, that’ll be 35% DOWN (as in CASH, and don’t forget the 12-15% in closing costs on top of that).

Oh, it has a house? Well, then the house must be at least 51% of the total value of the property. So, for example, if you’re looking at 100 acres listed for $700,000 (which by the way, is a helluva deal if it’s anywhere your potential customers live), the house has to appraise for at least $350,000. Say it’s a quaint little old farmhouse in need of some TLC but totally “livable” – sorry, folks. NO LOAN. What if it’s in really great shape but all your neighbors’ homes are WAY better or, worse, mobile homes? Sorry, NO LOAN. Everything’s kosher but the home’s water supply is from a spring instead of a well (as is quite common in RURAL America, you know, where the farms are)? NO LOAN.

Believe me when I tell you that we called EVERY SINGLE BANK in Central Virginia. Of course we started with the “big banks,” but since they sell everything to Wall Street they were probably saying things like, “well, bless their future-farmer hearts” to each other after hanging up with us. Thanks a lot Fannie and Freddie and your total mis-handling of real estate in America. Anyway, we tried regional banks – also too big. We called all the mom and pop banks we could find, and finally found one that would help us out. And before you say, “What about Farm Credit??? Isn’t that kinda their SCHTICK???” We called them too. 20% down. No exceptions. Our lender, CornerStone Bank, out of Lexington, agreed to do 10% down with a slightly higher mortgage rate than more “traditional” loans.

I’m telling you, folks, if I ever get into politics, it will be over this very specific issue. Lending and mortgage rates and BS WALL STREET requirements passed down from Fannie and Freddie because of their own bad behavior are making land ownership difficult to impossible. Productive farm land is being lost acre after acre to big-pocketed developers and “gentleman farmers” because it’s TOO HARD TO BUY unless your uncle’s last name starts with M and ends with ONEBYAGS. And THAT is a tragedy. It’s pathetic. And it gets me fired up.

Time for an update!?

When last we spoke, we were in the midst of making an offer on a smallish acreage in Charlottesville. There were a lot of great things about that place, and a lot of not-so-great things. Long story short, it was a foreclosure that has a….curious….history. There had been a fire in the basement, which was ruled an accident, but was rumored to have been set intentionally. We thought we could handle the repairs for under $20,000 but we had a home restoration specialist out for a walkthrough and when he estimated the cost of restoration in the $50-$100,000 range, we decided it wasn’t such a great deal after all and decided to walk away. Truth be told, I wasn’t “feeling it” at that place, so I wasn’t disappointed at all. More like relieved.

Timing is everything, folks, because that night I found a place on Zillow that had been listed earlier that same day, a place just 15 minutes from where I would be driving the very next day. A place with everything on our wish list and inside our price range. I emailed immediately and set up a visit for the following morning. I was in like before I got there, and I was in full on crush-mode within 5 minutes of being there. House, land, views, location, outbuildings…everything. I was ready to make an offer that afternoon, but I waited for Tripp to see it 2 days later, and we made an offer the following day. After a very brief negotiation our offer was accepted. We went back a forth for a week or two over some details of the contract, and then we all signed. And just like that, we were under contract.

We went out last week with the home inspector and everything is in great shape. The only “big” issue is the plumbing that was installed (according to code) in the 1980s has a very bad reputation, and must be replaced. It is habitable, safe and even insurable as is, but “it’s not a question of if the plumbing will fail, more like when.” So, a plumber was sent out to make an estimate, and we’re hoping to hear from him tomorrow. I joked with a friend that we’re just waiting to hear how many kidneys we’ll have to sell to pay for it, but really, we’ll figure out a way to make it work.

I can’t wait to share the very happy news of farm ownership with you very soon. But until then, here’s a little taste:

The one.

The one.

While acres and acres of farmable land lie fallow..

Many of you know we moved to Pennsylvania for Tripp’s job. We chose Bucks County because it is in the middle of the two offices at which he will be working over the course of the next few years. As anyone who as been here will tell you, Bucks County, PA is beautiful. Rolling hills, 150+ year old farmhouses on literally every road, and I don’t know how many miles of the Delaware river. However, due to its proximity to Philadelphia (45 mins) and New York City (less than 2 hours) it is expensive! We were lucky to find a home to rent because even just a few acres in the area will cost you over a million dollars. That’s right. Even though the place is plum covered up with historic and not-so-historic farms, estates, and homes on any number of acres, if you don’t want to live in a cookie-cutter subdivision, you’re gonna have to spend some serious dough. (Don’t misunderstand me, typical suburban homes are expensive too).

New Hope, PA
photo credit: tripadvisor.com

I say all this in an attempt to illustrate how completely and totally out of place I feel here (as a wanna-be farmer). I love the quaint villages sprinkled across the countryside, and the Pennsylvania Dutch barns are certainly lovely, but to see all this land just sitting here… “Lawns should be turned into food production places…all that land going to waste…around rural residential estates just to provide a place for people to drive lawn more tractors around.” (Joel Salatin, You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise) I was very used to seeing lawn maintenance trucks and “lawn mower men” in my old neighborhood in Athens, but I saw one today, on a quiet country road, miles and miles from town. Why did they move out the country if they’re not even going to mow their own lawn??! Then it dawned on me – Bucks County may be rural, but it is by no means country. I keep thinking I’m going to see chicken houses in every backyard, but I’ve only found a handful so far. The vast majority of folks in this area are not living here to live off the land; they’re living on the land.

One of the amazing things about the book I reviewed yesterday, The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love, was how Essex Farm got started. Mark and Kristin had a dream to create a full-diet CSA and for 9 months they searched for farmable land. A friend of a friend heard they were looking and offered them 500 acres in Essex, NY. The owner had been holding on to the land for years, hoping to use it recreationally, but his busy job as an attorney in NYC made it impossible for him to spend any time there. So, he called them up and said they could farm it, however they wanted to, for free. Yes, for free. A few years later they were able to purchase 80 acres and now reside there permanently. What a great deal, right? Joel Salatin mentions a similar scenario in his book as well; a former intern of his at Polyface did exactly the same thing. There are programs out there to link wanna-be farmers with landowners or farmers that want to retire but have no children or whose children do not want to become farmers. Check with your county extension agent, too, s/he is sure to have an idea of who is looking to sell/lease/lend their land.

While I am pretty sure Bucks County, PA is out of reach for my family’s long-term farm dreams, I am still hopeful that we will find what we’re looking for someday – we just have to know where to look, and let people know we’re looking!

The Hunt Continues

When I’m feeling like this dream is miles and miles away from reality, I give myself a little virtual pep-talk, with a few quick searches on my favorite land brokerage websites. At CentralVaLand.com I always find at least 5 properties that look great on paper. And tonight I found this one.

Don’t miss this farm property with an elevated setting and views of the mountains from this cattle farm. Much of the land is in pasture and there are numerous abandoned buildings including an old home, 3 bay run-in shed, outbuildings, trailer, gargage/shop, cottage, all sold “as is”. The pastures are fenced with some cross fencing. The land is very attractive and useable! Only about 10 minutes from Scottsville and 17 miles from Lovingston!

And at less than $500,000 it’s closer to what we might be able to afford than I thought we would be able to find. Most of the parcels I’ve been finding with 100 acres or more don’t have a live-able home, so my plan is to build a tiny log cabin for a few thousand dollars where we will live while we grow the business and slowly build the dream house. All we need is a new job for Tripp that will allow us to relocate…