Dream of building your house from the ground up? Unlike areas where buyers have their pick of floor plans from developers, people in rural communities have fewer options, says Susan Chaney, lead agent at Keller Williams Realty in Boone, NC. “With way fewer builders in the high country, that can mean delays of up to two years before you can build,” she explains. And, if you decide not to build, don’t expect to find too many (or any) turnkey homes; housing stock in rural areas can often be decades old. “It’s smarter from a price-per-square-foot perspective to buy a pre-existing home and then renovate,” Chaney says. “And it’s better to find a house that’s well-insulated with a recent septic tank install or update to the HVAC system than buying one just because it’s pretty.”
3. Neighborhood info may be sparse
For urban or suburban buyers, it’s easy to troll online for information about neighborhoods and properties. However, going rural means the internet might not be much help, Starks says. Rely on your agent to give you the skinny on everything—or hook you up with someone who can help. “Very often I get asked about the electric and the water,” he says. “Fortunately, I know the two local guys that handle that in my little county, so I have most of the answers. “Buyers should be asking their Realtor® about the average price per acre and the type of septic system required, for instance, because finding everything out on your own is difficult,” he adds.
4. You’ll need power (and backup power)
Speaking of utilities, power tops the list of things to learn about if you’re moving to the country. If you’re buying raw land that doesn’t have an existing house on it, you need to make sure electricity is even available, Starks says. And don’t forget about backup power, he adds. If power lines fail during a storm, rural customers may be among the last to have electrical power restored. You should have a propane generator and enough firewood to last you for several weeks, if necessary.
5. You’ll need to dig into the water system
Many rural properties rely on wells, Starks says, but don’t assume there’s a water source. “In our county, we’ve got four aquifers, so you can punch a hole almost anywhere and get water,” Starks explains. “However, there are lots of places across the country where you might buy a piece of land without any water under it.” If there’s already a house with a well and septic system on the property, don’t skimp on inspections, Chaney warns. You’ll want to test your water for bacteria, sediment, nitrates, or chemicals, and ensure the septic system gets a clean bill of health, too. “I cannot stress [this] enough: Do every inspection you can possibly do,” she says.
6. You could be responsible for road maintenance
Most city dwellers don’t think twice about snow removal, pothole repairs, and street cleaning. But you’ll want to check who’s responsible for the road leading to your potential new home. Surprise! It just might be you, especially if you don’t have neighbors to help offset the cost. When clients insist they don’t want to live in a neighborhood, Chaney points out the trade-offs. “Access is a big deal because here unless you own your own backhoe and tractor, you’re not going to be able to clean off your road like they will if you live in a community,” she says. “Unless you’re living in a town, be prepared to take your own trash away and do your own recycling,” she adds. “And often you’ll need a P.O. box, and you may not be able to get deliveries from UPS or FedEx if you’re too far out.”
7. You might qualify for a tax break
Depending on where you want to move or how you plan to use your land, programs may be in place to offset your property taxes, Starks says. For example, buyers looking for a large plot of land in Texas should seek properties with existing agricultural exemptions. “If you buy a $100,000 piece of property with an agricultural exemption and no house on it, the taxes will probably be about $2 a year. If you don’t have the agricultural exemption, it would be about $1,800 a year,” he explains. Want to live on that land? Starks suggests designating a home site of about a half-acre and fencing that off. That piece of property will then be taxed at the regular tax rate.