Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What to look for when buying a Lifestyle Block

Five or 6 years ago my husband and I decided it was time to pursue our dream of moving to a rural area and buy some land.  In New Zealand small farms are commonly referred to as Lifestyle Blocks, LSBs, or farmlets, or in some cases hobby farms. 

Goats were on my list of must have livestock. 
We had both wanted to get out of the town we were living in and have more space to raise a family and had been working towards when we bought our second home.  After 5 years there we put it on the market and starting looking at what we could afford. 

It wasn't a quick process with our house taking 18 months to sell.  However, along the way we learned a lot about buying LSBs, and our needs started to win out over our wants. While for many it is about having more space, others will strive to live a more self sufficient life, hence the name Lifestyle Block.  Living on and running a small farm isn't as easy as it may appear on television, but there are a few things to look for when buying property that can make your decision easier.

The step from a small town section to acres of rural solitude is a big one, and not only in the financial sense.  Before making any decisions, it is important to answer a few key questions to help you in you search.
  • What are you looking for?  
Do you want to have more space for yourself and your family, or do you want to live self sufficiently off your property with your own animals and crops? The answer to this will determine the amount of land you require. To be fully self sufficient in a relatively dry part of the country you are probably going to require 5-6 hectares or more.  We have just under 3 hectares and have 3 steers, 3 goats, 13 sheep, 9 hens and an orchard with 17 fruit and nut trees, and various currants and berries.  There is also a large flower garden so plenty of space for the kids. 
We had to remove some trees to make space for hubby's workshop.  He is an engineer and home mechanic to his Land Rovers so it was important to have a decent work space for him.  They are hard to find so we have built two workshops
now at our last two properties.

  • Will you still be working full time, or part time?  
This affects the amount of time you have available for the more labour intensive activities on your block such as drenching, worming, fencing, tree planting, yard and shed building.  If you are not going to have much time consider a smaller block with some garden and some chooks so you have some time free at the weekends. This may also determine the property you buy as some will need some work done to bring them up to scratch again. (See How much are your prepared to spend?)  While there are people you can hire to do jobs around your place these all cost money.  Also do you have someone you can call on to help you out or look after the place if you go away for a weekend etc.
  • Are you ready to live in the middle of nowhere?
While the thought of being away from the hustle and bustle can be appealing, be realistic too.  If you have school aged children there is going to a lot of running to and fro to school, sports, and other pursuits.  Also consider if the roads are prone to flooding or snow you could be cut of for a few days.
  • How much are you prepared to spend?  
Do you want to buy an existing farmlet, build up an existing house with land, or build a new house on bare land?  Check out local real estate agents and relevant websites for current market trends. This may help you to work out if you are ready to do serious house hunting, or if you need to save a bit more.
If you have little or no farming experience, consider renting a property so you can 'try before you buy'. Also get books from the library and do more research on property types.
Once you decide you want to buy it is time to start looking.  It is really important to look at lots of different properties to get a feel for what you are going to be able to afford.  If you are looking at building, talk to local builders about the cost of building, including resource consents, and supplying services to the section.  Note that not all sections come with water and sewer connected so this will add to the expense.
If you are wanting to purchase an existing property there are two distinct small farm types on the market; the farmlet that has sheds, and has been used as a small farm, and the block that has a house, maybe a garage, and some paddock space.  The latter will require more cost as you add infrastructure to it.
There are several things you need to check when you are interested in a property before making an offer.
  • How much water is the property allocated on a daily basis? 
If the property is connected to a council water scheme you will be allocated a set daily amount of water.  Usually this is measured in points, or units. 1 point is equivalent to 400 gallons. Is there storage available via a large tank, or rainwater tanks?  Some properties only have bore, or rainwater so adequate storage will be needed.
  • Does the property get sun? 
The paddocks will require reasonable sun to help with grass growth.  Having north facing paddocks (in the southern hemisphere) means the ground will be warmer longer.
  • What are the fences and gates like? 
Will they hold stock or are they going to need rewiring, or an electric wire added?  Unless they are brand new you can expect to do some fencing in the near future.
  • What are the paddocks like? 
Is it going to need to be re-sowed or is there life left in it?  A soil sample test is a good way to see whether the soil is deficient.  Could you make hay from the paddocks or are they too small?  If you can't make your own supplementary feed then you will need to buy it in.  Are the paddocks flat or hilly, covered in scrub or lush grass?

  • How far are you from neighbours? 
When we were looking at places I was quite keen to be more hermit than social butterfly.  Neighbours are still important for advice, help and especially in an emergency if you are a distance from emergency services, so being reasonably close has it's advantages?

  • What do you get for your money? 
Does it have a chook house, milking bay/shed, shelter sheds, haybarn, calf shed etc?  Is there farm equipment to be sold with it?  We bought the chooks, tractor, ride on mower and shearing equipment with our place, but there may be electric fence equipment, and other implements available too. 

  • Is there shelter around the property? 
A good shelter belt of trees is a godsend on a hot sunny day, a gale force southerly, or when it is raining. Flaxes and Toi Tois make good shelter for goats and sheep when they have young.  Also if you have trees you also have access to firewood if you have a log burner.  We have cut down over 12 trees in the couple of years we have been here so we have plenty of firewood now.  We have also planted trees so we never run short of firewood.
  • What is the house like? Could you see yourselves living there? 
There is no point buying a property if the house is going to drive you mad. If you want a house with a good sized kitchen or lounge, then wait until you find the right place. 
  • Is there a likelihood of flooding?
I grew up on a farm that used to get affected by flooding so it is something I was careful to take into consideration.  We were fortunate when we were looking at properties there was a flood.  It enabled us to check out the aftermath at a property we were interested in.  It was completely cut off and two thirds of the paddocks under water.  Needless to say we did not buy that property.  Our current place does get a bit of surface water in the paddocks, but there is plenty of higher ground for stock, and the house and sheds stay dry.

Flooding in our first year on the block.  Fortunately we have another 5 acres that were not under water!
We did get caught out buying our place.  The rainwater tank on the back of the hayshed was not specifically mentioned on the Sale and Purchase agreement and was taken by the vendors.  I have also heard of people buying a block only to find that the troughs in the paddocks had been removed!
    While this is not a complete list it is a good place to start.  If you have checked off all of these things you are well on your way to understanding what is involved in having a lifestyle block. With a bit of research and working out what you are prepared to compromise on and things that you won't buying your new property can be a great experience.

    We always wanted a verandah for sitting on and sipping a cold beer after a hard days work.


    1. I live "out in the country", too, and it's sort of a lifestyle block, too, except - I don't own the place, I'm just renting. It's in the middle of nowhere, and water is fully on rainwater, and there isn't even a landline. If it snows, there's no way to get down to public road and we'd simply need to wait for it to melt away.

      And in a year and a half of living here I have come to understand that I am not a farmer, and probably not even a "lifestyler". I hate how car-dependent everything is! (I was banned from driving for a few months this year, due to health issues, and it made me essentially home arrested.) And there's other things, too, but what made me want to write in the first place is that: our immediate neighbors (we only have two houses up on this hill, and then there's no-one for several kilometres) have goats, and just seeing and experiencing how much trouble these animals get into - I AM NEVER GETTING A GOAT! =D

      Effin' hell, these buggers don't even eat grass, for Pete's sake! They climb things I wouldn't have expected an animal this size can climb, and as a result they get into EVERYTHING. How many times have they damaged both our neighbors' gardens, and our's, too? How many times have the neighbors said that that's it, if the goats do it one more time, the goats will go?

      And yet they keep them. Again, and again, and again. Is there some sort of a special bond some people develop with goats? Is there a type of "goat people"?

      I am so not getting goats. EVER! =D

      1. Yes there are definately goat people! Last year we had some fun with the girls jumping into the neighbours and at 8 months pregnant I was seriously close to getting rid of them. With some excellent advice from a friend, and an investment in new electric fence wire the girls have not strayed since.
        Once I am milking them again in spring and experimenting with cheese all the blood, sweat and tears I shed last year will be forgotten. They can definitely steal your heart.