Sunday, February 28, 2010

How do you know it's the one?

It was a picture postcard scene. The freshly white snow, softly falling on the trees like white icing. The long winding driveway, leading up to the farm house nestled in the pines. The snow was artfully piling up on their branches, making them look like something out of a scene from Snow White.

We turned into the driveway, and the Ford F350 began to creep up the curving snow covered lane.

About one third of the way up, the back end began to slide, and with a soft whoomp, we ended up in the field. Not to worry! I thought, we have 4x4. But try as we might, she was stuck.

What a start to finding a farm today! We all laughed as we climbed down from the truck into the snow and began the trek up to the farm house. Since our agent is family, she joked that not every client got this kind of service.

As we tromped down the laneway, the house came into view. Smaller than we had envisioned from the MLS photos, but neat and clean with it's square lines and white siding. We made our way to the porch. Once inside, it had a cozy cottage like interior. Certainly not the grand Victorian we had dreamed of, but simple and clean. We could certainly work with it, despite the rose coloured carpet and the hospital green walls.

Bundling up against the elements once more, we set out to explore the outbuildings. They certainly more than met our needs. The scenery was breathtaking, and as we made our way back down the driveway toward the truck, we marvelled at the rolling hills and forests.

Now, the question at hand was how to unstuck the truck.

We had the foresight to borrow a shovel from the porch of the farmhouse, and my dear sweet fireman began to dig. And dig. And dig some more. But each time he dug a clearing, the truck would simply slide further into the ditch. The weight of the truck was too much for the incline of the hill combined with the snow.

I heard a slight puttering noise, and looked up to see the neighbour approaching on a small old tractor.

"What are you people doing? This is private property! Are you breaking in the place?" he yelled at us. He must have been about 90, and it was clear he was "watching the house". My dear sweet fireman explained that were looking at the house with our agent.

"Well what kind of idiot agent would drive down this driveway in the snow? What are you city folks?" He chided. Our "agent" smiled and said "I'm the agent". (Later she told me that she wanted to add, and no, we are from the suburbs,... that's worse!)

"You stupid fools," the old man ranted on, "only and idiot would take on this driveway. Do you have a rope even?"

He couldn't be serious. His wee tractor pulling out a Ford F350? But serious he was, and so we roped the two together. Without a word he tried to pull, popping a wheelie several times before he gave up. "Nope. You are on your own", he untied the rope and turned the tractor to leave without another word.

"See you in the spring!" we yelled after him.

So much for making an impression on our potential new neighbour.

We continued to dig, and eventually the truck laboured out of the snow, with a cheer we watched it crawl back along the driveway to the road.

As I climbed back into the truck, I looked at my dear sweet fireman and said "I think this one may be it!"

Friday, February 26, 2010

A wee little nook

Coming down with a bout of the flu this week allowed me the luxury of time. I was able to puruse MLS ads, and look at sites dedicated to private sales. It often feels a bit like a giant Easter egg hunt, opening each webpage and wondering if you have finally found the golden egg.

Earlier in the week I found 50 acres in an area known for it's rolling hills and panoramic views. A sliver of hope began to glimmer in my mind. The house looked...old, fragile, and hardly the country estate we had envisioned. However, we began to brainstorm, and envision it with a lovely fieldstone base, and a timberframe addition. Suddenly, this old cottage began to take on a new look.

We will take the time to go and see it in person tomorrow. I spent most of the week doing the background research. It came up clean in terms of survey and planning, and I was delighted to know that there are no quarries or unusual right of ways! The city tells me that there was a change of ownership from husband to wife two years ago, which leads me to believe that this may be an older woman selling a country property.

I like to think that she would enjoy the idea of us bringing new life into the place.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Back to the drawing board

I don't know what is worse. To find a farm finally, that you really love. Or to see that farm go to another buyer who can afford to outbid you.

The words "back to the drawing board" are becoming a regular part of my vocabulary. It is increasingly frustrating that the properties we like tend to go for slightly more than we can afford.

Do we adjust our expectations? Do we lower our wish list? Or do we keep waiting for the next farm to come along?

I revisited farms we have viewed online before, hoping to find an overlooked gem. Something that we missed somehow, something that had potential and was overlooked.

After 430 listings, there is still nothing.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Power of Sale

Well, in the last 48 hours we have had a crash course on Power of Sale properties.

The Bank has 3 options when an owner stops making mortgage payments.

1) attempt to obtain title of the property by accepting a Quit Claim Deed from the owner. (not common in Ontario)
2)initiate a foreclosure action through the courts in order to gain title back to the property.(Popular in the USA)
3) sell the property under Power of Sale. (Most common in Ontario because not only will the bank attempt to get all their money back through the sale but the bank also retains the right to sue the owner for payment of the outstanding debt. If the bank sells the house for MORE than is owed, the homeowner pockets the difference.)

What's important to note, is that the homeowner retains the rights of the property right up until the closure of the sale. And right up to the last minute they can bring their arrears up to date or get re-financing and therefore retain their home.

Also, the homeowner can refuse to vacate. Which means that you as the buyer will have to get a sheriff's warrant after the sale closes. Please note, they will not force the homeowners out in the winter months, so be forewarned you might not be able to move in right away!

So as a buyer, you don't really have typical buying rights. You are best to wait until the home is vacant, and then purchase a POA.

Of course, their is the karma aspect too. It somehow seems awful buying someones farm that they lost.

So we found a POA, and we REALLY like it. But the homeowners show no signs of leaving. So now what?

Friday, February 12, 2010

The great white porcelain loo

The Septic System.

Never did I imagine, in my wildest dreams that such a benign phrase could strike fear into my heart so easily. I have become an expert at septic systems. (If you are unaware of the joys of septic tanks, click here)

I have learnt about weeping tiles, holding tanks, and alternatives such as incinerating toilets and composting toilets. I have also learnt, with horror, the cost to replace a septic system.

It's very difficult when viewing a rural home to determine if the septic system is in need of replacement or not. Most home owners claim not to know the age of the septic system, and many feign ignorance when asked if they maintain it.

How am I to know if they flush things down the white porcelin bowl which should not be put into the septic system? Even something as small as a hairclip can wreck havoc.

So when we view a farm, we flush, and watch the swirling water leave the bowl, and we try to determine if things are copesetic.

These are the things that keep me up at night.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why he makes me smile

Last night, as we lay snuggled under our duvet trying to sleep, my dear sweet fireman was fumbling about in the dark.

I heard a click, and imagine my surprise as a small wee campfire appeared in the dark, complete with crackling wood and animation!

My dear sweet fireman whispered "imagine we are sitting outside at our farm, curled up together around the campfire." For a few moments, we sat watching the tiny iphone screen.

"Wow, it's getting hot!" he said with a smile, as he stretched his arm so that the small fire moved farther away. "OK, time to warm up again", and with a giggle his arm moved the tiny fire closer to us.

And so we lay, in the dark. Watching a wee tiny fire. Cozy. Together.

Early morning day dreaming...

We do some of our best "farm dreaming" in the early hours of the morning between 3 and 5AM. One of our overgrown puppies still can't quite make it through and entire night, and so right on schedule at 3AM he begins to whine.

Fortunately for me, my dear sweet fireman is accustomed to leaping out of bed and getting dressed in only a few seconds. So typically he is the one who takes our furry child downstairs and waits patiently while he sniffs around the snow covered trees in our small suburban yard.

I usually lie half awake in bed tucked under the duvet, waiting for his return and allowing my mind to wander. This week, I have been anticipating the farm property we will view on Saturday. It's a Power of Sale, which is good in some ways and bad in others. There may be some flexibility on price, however the downside is that we would have to go in with a firm offer.

As my dear sweet fireman crawls back into bed, I typically snuggle into his side, trying to warm up his cold feet. We whisper into the night our thoughts; how the barn would look with a new coat of paint; whether or not we could keep alpacas, or Highland cattle, or sheep; on whose job it will be to collect the honey from our bees.

He talks of foundation walls, and additions, framing and roof trusses. He whispers with enthusiasm about geothermal flooring and outdoor wood furnaces.

I smile in the dark, and know that if we continue to dream, it will eventually come.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Mysterious City Planner

As I have previously pointed out, the city planning office is a crucial step in the search for a rural property. It is through the planning office that you learn about pending quarries, rights of way on the land, and overall zoning.

Over the last two years, I have had the pleasure of meeting many city planners. Typically, they are tucked away in a basement or a back corner of the city hall building. Buried under mounds of maps.

Some welcome you with a smile, and are delighted that they have a visitor. When my enthusiasm for maps creeps out, they become inspired to dig up outdated maps or historical maps to share with me.

Some do not welcome the intrusion. I find in the larger city offices they see my smiling face as an unwelcome interruption to their planning activities. In those cases, I find that an evident respect and interest in what they do goes a long way in rolling out the welcome mat.

Today I had the pleasure of dealing with a city planning assistant, who clearly loves what she does and takes pride in her town. Her reply to my email was welcoming and informative. So different from some of the colder email replies I have received from larger city centres.

It is for that reason that we look forward to moving to a rural area. The warm smile that shows within the body of an email and the offer to lend a hand to a complete stranger.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Back to the drawing board

So we went for a second look, and made the decision to put in an offer. We believed that it was a very sound offer. 90% of asking price, and very few conditions.

The wait is the part that kills you. The minutes tick buy while you envision every kind of scenerio.

"Maybe they are considering it", "They are likely coming up with a counter offer"

Time moved on, minutes passed. Our midnight deadline was approaching. And then we got the call.

They wouldn't even sign it back, it was their asking price or nothing.

It wouldn't be so frustrating if their own agent agreed with them on price. However, even their agent agreed that they were overpriced. Which was why we felt our offer stood a chance.

I know that in another 60 days, when the property has been sitting on the market for 160 days, the homeowner will begin to wonder if turning down our offer was a good idea.

And we will still be here, however our offer may not be as good.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The second look

So much is riding on the second look.
The fact that the property is worth one still amazes me.

The homeowner is being difficult, and won't allow us back until Saturday. Three days away. How can they be so busy that showing the property they have for sale is such an inconvenience? Odd.

Still, the second look often reveals all of the issues you missed the first time. So back for a second look we go.

Until then, I will bake to keep my mind and hands busy.

Monday, February 1, 2010

If we dream it...

So we MAY have a potential farm.

Our challenge is that
a) it needs A LOT of work
b) the homeowners seem to feel that it is Shangri-La and have priced it as such
c) the homeowner is a stubborn old lady who will be difficult to move in price

However, we have decided that we are still a wee bit interested, despite the challenges. The farm consists of a beautiful old bank barn, that has become a bit rundown but can be restored. A workshop, a garage with a granny flat that was built in the 1940s and has never been updated, and a "house". I use the term house lightly, it really should have been torn down years ago. It would need to be taken right back to the foundation and rebuilt.

So much work. So much HARD work. And yet... we are still thinking about it. The land was so pretty, and the location is perfect.

Sometimes, when you arrive at a place, it gets under your skin and you can't stop thinking about it. This is one of those places for us. Therefore, we have decided to "sleep on it" for a few nights, and then decide whether or not to make an offer.

If we offer, the old woman will likely be very offended. We would be offering much less than her asking price. We would be offering her land value, plus the cost of the outbuildings. But miracles happen, and if we don't try, would we always wonder if it could have been ours?

If we dream it, and truly believe that it can take flight; if we wish it to be and believe with all of our might; miracles can happen!