4. Finding Farmland

What you’ll learn

  • Farm ownership basics
  • Pros, cons, and implications of farmland ownership
  • Alternatives to ownership
  • Home ownership basics and its relationship to farm ownership
  • The farm purchase process

Farm ownership basics

Purchasing a farm or farmland is a big step. For many farm seekers, farm ownership is their ultimate dream. It is a goal that can be achieved by various strategies, and often requires patience and perseverance. By evaluating the farm ownership options – and your readiness for owning a farm – you will be better prepared to meet with real estate agents, landowners and lenders.

Being informed about ownership models, the sales process and terms will help you assess your options, avoid common pitfalls, and make the best decision for this important long-term investment. The road to farmland ownership can be an emotional and financial roller coaster. Considerations of location, price, value, debt, availability, and appropriateness all come into play.

The decision to buy land is a deeply personal one, reflecting your and your family’s values about property, ownership, assets, investment and the use of capital. With farm ownership as a goal, it may be that you start renting and move into ownership down the road. It may be that you buy some of your land—say, your primary farmstead—and lease additional land. The formula and timing for owning land is unique to each farmer’s circumstance. There is no one best way.

Land ownership has been a way of building equity (meaning the value of an ownership interest in property) in the United States since colonial times when written descriptions of land became the norm, thus making it possible to buy and sell real estate. The most common form of land tenure in our culture and in many others, is ownership. Private land ownership inherently gives the owner a bundle of rights, such as tilling the soil, harvesting trees, hunting and fishing. The limitations of ownership are defined by regulations (zoning) and eminent domain.

The U.S.’s Jeffersonian ideal of ownership argued that land ownership and the economic security it provided offered owners the freedom to speak their minds―the key to a strong democracy. Many people consider ownership the most “secure” form of farmland tenure since they believe that the farmer will not be “kicked off” the land, and that the terms of land use will not be altered. However, even with ownership, the core principles of land tenure, like security, equity and legacy, may be altered subject to changes in zoning, regulations and other factors in the community that affect property value. For example, in the latter category, a new park or a parking lot may increase or decrease the value of all three aspects.

Farm ownership can take different forms and evolve over time. You might purchase a farm with home, barn, land and all the fittings suitable for immediate and future needs. Or, you might purchase (or lease) a base of operations—home, barn, some land—and look toward leasing additional land as needed. Another option might be to buy a home near a farm that one could lease to build a business, and then sell the house in the future having built equity and a down payment to purchase another farm property. There are many possibilities and pathways to owning farmland.

There are many possibilities and pathways to owning farmland. Whichever pathway you plan out or ultimately take, understanding the issues below will enable you to do all you can to pursue some form of farm ownership.

Pros and cons of farm ownership

As with leasing, there are pros and cons to farm ownership.

The advantages of ownership include:

  • Security: no risk of insecurity associated with limited-term rental of land and land owner’s changing plans; your plans not subject to landlord
  • Equity: the value of an ownership interest in property
  • Collateral: security pledged for the payment of a loan
  • Ownership of improvements: you own what you build or improve on your property
  • Legacy: the legal and personal aspects of passing your farm property on to others, typically as a bequest
  • Emotional connection: the value and feelings associated with owning and caring for your own land

The disadvantages of ownership include:

  • Ties up capital: cash, assets, net worth
  • “Too permanent:” less flexibility to divest of the property
  • Responsibility
  • Debt

Next section –  B. STRATEGIES

Know what you’re looking for

As a farm seeker, you will have opportunities to consider and reconsider whether any given prospective farm property or another is suitable for you. This can be both frustrating and rewarding! Your farm may be the place for your home as well as for your business. Prioritizing the elements you need can help you define what exactly is suitable for you and your operation. All farms and farmers are unique. Distinguishing between what is necessary, desirable and optional is a useful way for you to sort out your priorities.

To do this, ask yourself and your advisors “For my farm, what characteristics are…

Necessary? Usually these necessities are major items such as farm size, soils, location, price, availability, and the like. Is this farm characteristic required, that is, essential in order to achieve a specific result? For example, a vegetable operation must have good, tillable soil, and a livestock operation needs pasture. Water is necessary for both, but an existing well might not be required. If your spouse must commute to a job, then a certain geographic radius from a given location may be necessary.

Desirable? You might want to farm on a quiet country road. You might appreciate the advantages of a two-bathroom home. Are these necessary? If not required, you might categorize them as desirable. A property with an existing produce wash station might be desirable, but you could build one yourself. Proximity to processing facilities may be desirable, but what is your preferred distance limit? A more dramatic example is whether an existing farm with housing and infrastructure is a necessity or just desirable. Would you consider starting out on raw land?

Optional? This category describes the features and characteristics that are, in fact, optional. Depending on your priorities and values, a farmhouse or barn with green energy features might be necessary, desirable or optional. A nice view is probably optional. Optional features of properties might tilt your decision toward one property over another.

Sorting out what’s necessary, desirable and optional for you and your family at the beginning of your search will save you time and effort.  Farm seekers often report surprise at how their criteria and priorities shift during the search process, so be flexible.

Here are several categories of farm characteristics to consider as you consider what’s necessary, desirable and optional.

  • Tenure: Are you looking to buy or rent a farm or farmland? Do you want a lease situation that might lead to a purchase? How long a lease is necessary (or desirable)? What can you afford now and over time?
  • Location is one of the most important variables to consider. Distance to markets and support services such as supply, equipment and repair shops is essential. One farmer told of hauling a tractor engine six hours after a nearby repair shop closed. Will a particular location put you in competition with other CSA farms or will locating near other CSA offer an opportunity to organize into multi-grower enterprises? Intangibles such as privacy and the aesthetics of the area count, too. Non-farm considerations like proximity to family, school or church are important for many farm seekers.
  • Natural features such as adequate acreage, appropriate soils, water, and climate are the essential components of your farm operation. Where are the frost pockets? Wetlands, waterways and riparian areas? What do the soils maps say, and can you get more detail by doing your own digging around? How is the drainage? Are there invasive species? Protected habitats? Useable woodlands? Neighboring farms that apply pesticides? What is the history of uses on the property?
  • Built features such as barns, sheds, roads, and fencing may be among the critical considerations in your search. Don’t forget stone walls, wells, underground and aboveground storage tanks, manure storage facilities, compost pads, etc. Are there features in the barn that you would have to remove or update? Does the farm property layout work for you, such as the location of facilities, circulation patterns, and points of access?
  • Housing for the farmer, family and farm labor is one of the most important considerations for most farm seekers. Affordability and location of housing will play a big part in your family living budget. Do you need to live on the farm? What features of a house or apartment are important to you and your family? If you have or anticipate hiring farm labor and/or apprentices, will you provide housing for them? What are the options and limitations?
  • Community – and aspect of location – can be as important as the property features for many farm seekers. Is the town “farm friendly”? Are there other farms in the area? Is there an agriculture commission or grange? An existing farmers market? Are bylaws supportive of agriculture? For one farm seeker, spending time at three local farmers markets builds community. For another, a 4- H club in town is a positive attribute.

Seek advice. Do your research. See the Worksheets section for several useful checklists. Keep notes.

You can revisit and revise your criteria along the way. You likely will find that your ideas and preferences also will evolve. Keep the dialogue with your family open and honest. Be flexible.

Next section –  C. SEARCHING FOR FARMS

Searching for farms

Your farm or farmland isn’t likely to magically appear. You will need to search. That search, hard work and all, will yield results. Each “not quite perfect fit” and “almost got it” paves your way. Read one farm couple’s story of several years and many farms visited in Our Farm Search: A Lot of Hard Work … and a Little Serendipity.

There is no one formula or recipe for the search process. But you will be more effective if you plan out a strategy and organize your search. You can plan based on your style and preferred method. Your friend will have her search story and you will have yours. How you proceed depends on your personal style, the appropriate outlets available to you, and timing.

How does your style impact your search? Reflect on approaches that you have used successfully in your life to explore options and make decisions. If you are a person who researches, ponders and then acts, proceed in that way. If you tend to make decisions spontaneously, you might push yourself toward more caution, or at least accept the consequences of the decisions you make in enthusiastic haste! Are you indecisive when it comes to a BIG decision? What helps you get over that hurdle? Do you work better alone or with a friend or advisor? Make a plan with action steps that suit your style and build on your strengths.

You can organize your search process following these general steps:

  1. Clarify what you are looking for. Although your vision is likely to evolve over the course of your search, starting with relatively clear idea of what you are looking for always helps.
  2. Identify your networks. Reflect on who you know that might help you with any part of the process. Ask if, when and how they can help.
  3. Identify and pursue outlets. As you look to the suggestions below, consider first which outlets you are already tied into; next, those in which you are interested, for example Farm Bureau or food coops; next those which you or your advisors think are important, even though they may not be easiest for you, for example town officials or lenders. (See below.)
  4. Promote yourself. Create a short “flyer” describing your farm vision, operation, desired geographic area and both personal and farming backgrounds. Include pictures and numbers to fill out the story. Stay tuned for a sample.
  5. Organize your search. Keep files and notes. Use them to compare and remain objective. Be aware of any deadlines. Most people learn things during the process that result in a better outcome, one that is well worth the extra time and effort required to do so.
  6. Budget your time. Set aside the time you need. A search worth doing is worth doing well and, for most of us, it does take a lot of time. Find out when those with whom you wish to meet are available and plan around them.
  7. Visit farms and talk to people. Identify and reachout to a wide range of people that might be able to help; realtors, landowners, neighbors, local officials, agricultural service providers, and farm leaders. Some people pay close attention to what’s going on around farms and land. Seek them out as they can be excellent sources of information at no cost to you other than your time.
  8. Evaluate, compare, decide. You may wind up with several farm prospects. Using your own methods and the tools in this section, evaluate the pros and cons of each prospective property. Some of us make lists, some talk with friends, while othes set criteria and score features, or paint pictures. Completing a thorough evaluation in your own way and running it by your advisors is what matters most.

Where to look? This is one of the most-often asked questions by farm seekers. There is no “one stop shop” for farm properties. Service providers in New England and in many other parts of the country are working to make it easier to list and find available farms and farmland. See New England Farmland Finder and farm link programs below and the Resource section.

Specific places to search include the following:

  • New England Farm Finder: a regional farm property clearinghouse managed by The New England Farmlink Collaborative, a partnership of organizations and programs that provide farm link services
  • Farm link programs: Programs such as Connecticut Farm Link, Maine Farm Link, New England Land Link, NY Farm Link offer websites for owners to list available farm properties. They also may provide related technical and educational assistance. Read more in our FAQ about farm link programs.
  • Land trusts: You can look into local, state, and regional land trusts. Some own farms or hold easements on agricultural properties. The attention paid to farmland varies quite a bit among land trust organizations and even staff members. Look for the people and organizations that show evidence of involvement in agricultural land and issues. Some land trusts work with conservation buyers—individuals, philanthropies or investment funds targeted to protecting farmland and making it available to farmers.
  • Conservation buyers: These individuals are largely motivated by land protection and stewardship. They might partner with land trusts to offer secure leases or ownership options.
  • Real estate agents: “Agents for the seller” work for the seller and will be glad to help you explore the possibility of buying a property they have listed. It is not required, but is helpful to know your price range and time frame before contacting a real estate agent. Real estate “agents for the buyer” work for the buyer. You can seek out a buyer broker who will look for properties that suit the needs and budget you give them. Commissions are paid at the closing on the property and are calculated as a percentage of the final sale price. Some real estate agents are more interested in farms than others. The right agent can be a real asset.
  • Agricultural incubators: These are organizations that provide land and training in productions and other skills. They also may offer services such as shared equipment. The Intervale Center in Vermont and the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project in Massachusetts are two examples. Some offer rental land and may assist with finding land or maintain a listing service for available farms. Some incubator programs are set up to “graduate” the farmers onto other land, while others are designed for the farmers to stay on the land.
  • Agricultural and conservation commissions: Many towns have agriculture commissions, conservation commissions or both. The individuals comprising these commissions are volunteers, many of whom are interested in and knowledgeable about farm situations in their towns or wider communities. These local resource people often know about available agricultural parcels. They may also manage farmable open space that is or could be leased for farming.
  • Farm service providers: Throughout New England, farm service providers assist farmers and farmland owners and a variety of ways. They know a great deal about what is going on in their areas—who may be selling or leasing land; who is cutting back or retiring; what land a town might be seeking a use for. County Conservation Districts, Extension educators, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency personnel, state departments of agricultural have programs related to land acquisition (e.g., loans, easement programs, technical assistance),
  • Social and farming networks: Stories from those who have found farms to lease or purchase reveal that their more immediate personal networks account for half of the farms they find. You may want to start your search by getting word out about what you are looking for to your personal, social and farming networks―family, friends, CSA members, fellow farmers.
  • Newsletters and list serves: Many agriculture-related organizations publish newsletters and maintain list serves that include farmers, landowners and community-minded individuals who know what is happening with farmland in their areas. Examples include the NH Market Bulletin, NOFA newsletters and the Greenhorns list serve.
  • Conferences and meetings: Numerous events take place throughout New England on a regular basis. These are great networking opportunities for farm seekers, farmers and other landowners. Farm Bureau, the NOFAs, MOFGA, and Harvest New England are examples. Also, check community event listings for the area where you are seeking land.
  • Agricultural trade organizations: Membership lists and outreach channels of groups such as the New England Vegetable and Berry Growers Association, Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association, Vermont Pasture Network can work well for networking, events and getting your name out.
  • Agriculture support organizations: Local groups can help your farm search. Examples include Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), Glynwood Center, Farm Bureau, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, the Grange, Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP), Vital Communities, Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) chapters in your state, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), and New England Small Farm Institute.
  • Map research: Using GIS and other online resources, you can identify open land, and note current uses, evaluate soils, topography, water etc. Based on this mapping exercise, you might prioritize certain areas and parcels and then contact the landowner.
  • “Windshield” Survey: Drive, bike or walk around promising areas seeking parcels that might work for your operation. Follow up with research, ask questions, make contacts and see what unfolds
  • Collaboration: Work with community organizations and\or other farm seekers, particularly if a large property is under consideration. It might make sense to have more than one tenant on a property. It might be an option to join forces with other farmers in a joint farm enterprise.

Next section –  D. EVALUATING FARMS

Evaluating farms and farmland

Many stories tell of farmers who wished they had gotten their choice of a farm property right the first time. As much work as you may now have ahead of you, remember that this is your chance to get it right the first time. With effort, boldness tempered with caution, perseverance, and help from knowledgeable advisors you can do just that.

Your farm will be your production base, place of business and perhaps your home. You will need a thorough evaluation of prospects to address all that. The following section lists and explains much of what you will need to take into account when evaluating a farm prospect for your operation. Most all of the following considerations apply to both leasing and purchase opportunities While this list is clear and comprehensive, remember that other considerations may apply to a particular situation. For example, certain considerations that apply to ownership are addressed in the Ownership section of this course. Note also that terminology for some items varies from state to state. This list is adapted with permission from the University of Vermont’s Lease Evaluation Checklist.

Access. How will you access the property? Check to see that roads leading to the property are traversable or adequately maintained, plowed, etc. for when you will need to make regular visits or transport goods to market. Does the site have adequate entry and exit for all equipment in every season and time of day during which you will be farming? See that the site has adequate access and turnaround space for large trucks delivering bulk supplies (or that a suitable alternate spot exists nearby). Each field or area on the property should have adequate entry and exit ways for regular equipment traffic. If individual fields, paddocks or areas have not previously seen the regular entry or exit of heavy equipment, farm vehicles, livestock or customers, consider the impact of such traffic on access ways and discuss with the landlord potential improvements to stabilize access ways, such as laying gravel.

Local agricultural infrastructure and support. Take note of how far hardware stores, feed suppliers, mechanics, custom hire equipment operators, or other support businesses or services are from the proposed site. Consider how much time you will spend traveling back and forth from each of these, or what other travel/shipping costs might be incurred.

Cell phone reception. Check to see that your phone service carrier provides cell phone reception at the site (or in a nearby location) for making and receiving calls.

Current tenant relations. If this is a leasing situation, inform yourself about any current or previous tenants. Ask the landlord if the current tenant is aware that the landlord is looking for a new tenant and see if it is possible to speak to the tenant. Conversations with previous tenants can be invaluable, as they can reveal strengths, challenges or special features about a property that might otherwise be unknown, even to the landowner! Current or previous tenants might also share records that can be valuable sources of information (see “records,” below) or be willing to work alongside you in the fall or spring to help you get to know the new parcel. Note any particular expectations and/or desires the landlord currently has with regard to the property (in terms of aesthetics, farming approaches, etc.). Be sensitive that current or previous tenants are not required to meet with you and might be going out of their way to provide you information.

Easements. Become aware of restrictions placed on the property, including conservation easements, rights of way, and to what extent these restrictions could impact farm operations or limit expansion. For example, find out the width of a right of-way zone that the power company owns for power, also what rights these entities have for access, management, etc. (i.e. spraying herbicides under power lines…) or the distance from the state highway into the property that the state owns.

Equipment storage. Identify and inspect locations for storing your equipment. Ask questions. Discuss terms. Can a structure be improved or built new?

Equipment usage. Some landowners may be willing to include some equipment in the lease for your use. If so, identify and inspect the equipment, discuss terms, including fees, maintenance schedules, time restrictions and the rights of any other users. Alternatively, landowners may be interested in being hired by you to perform custom work with their equipment (i.e. plowing, hay harvest, etc.) Consider all options.

Housing. Identify all buildings that could be used as residences, or consider all areas that could be used for building sites or for siting mobile housing. If an existing residence is to be included in the lease or a separate residential lease is to be crafted, both parties should be aware of the basic rights and responsibilities afforded to landlords and residential tenants by State and Federal laws.

Infrastructure use, maintenance, and improvements. Identify and inspect any infrastructure on site that could be available to the farm operation, from barns to irrigation lines to coolers. You and the landowner should determine which improvements will be necessary in order for the farm operation to thrive and which improvements you will have the right to make. If you will be investing in improvements, a discussion as to if or how you will be compensated should be initiated. Routine maintenance schedules for all infrastructure to be included in the lease should be discussed. Any anticipated major overhauls or repairs should be identified and distinguished from routine maintenance. Typically you are responsible for all routine maintenance that prevents abnormal deterioration, while the landowner is responsible for all major overhauls, replacements or repairs to structures or other infrastructure. Be sure to consult with builders, irrigation specialists and other experts to get appraisals, quotes and advice on any infrastructure improvements you anticipate needing.

Land orientation and aspect. Consider the direction and quantity of sun available in all areas of the land that will be used. Orientation with regard to wind direction or the existence of windbreaks is also important when considering which crops or livestock will thrive in a given location. If you have concerns, visit the site during different times of day to more carefully evaluate sun and wind exposure. If you have adequate time, a visit during snow cover, following a rain, etc. is desirable.

Livestock. Any livestock that the landowner owns that is to be housed on site or managed by you should be inspected and the terms of livestock care discussed. If you have questions about animal health, contact a livestock veterinarian or specialist. Consider biosecurity and isolation requirements, as well as the potential for herd or flock contamination. Inspect fencing, and discuss the installation and maintenance of animal fencing and water systems.

Microclimates. Identify any frost pockets without air drainage, wet areas, high spots exposed to excessive winds, erosion, dry areas, etc. This information can be used in conjunction with macroclimate data or “hardiness zone maps” (see “Resources,” page 4) to assess varieties of crops that could be grown in various locations.

Neighbor relations. Understand the usage, ownership and perimeters of bordering properties. Ask the landlord if it is possible to have a conversation with bordering landowners or tenants and if they are aware of your intentions to farm. Consider engaging them as you develop your plan, as they may have significant concerns about noise, pollution or aesthetics that may be more easily addressed up front. You do not need the landlord’s approval to talk to neighbors.

Power supply. Identify electric service, if needed. Contact the local power company to establish price rates for power or to investigate the feasibility of bringing power to other areas of the site where needed. If it is determined that you will use a generator, identify and discuss proper storage facilities for the generator and its fuel source.

Property borders. Identify all borders to confirm size of workable lands. Walk borders to determine where sensitive areas exist. For example, agricultural activity would be restricted in proximity to a stream or wetland that acts as a border or intersects a border. If the landowner is not familiar with exact border locations, you can access tax maps that delineate parcels at the local town office.

Records. You should examine any records related to past land use. These include: soil test results, pesticide application records, well or other irrigation water quality testing results, organic certification records, building blueprints, wastewater system design plans and permits, Current Use Program forest and field management plans and any other record that might reveal information pertinent to managing the land for agricultural use. If the landlord has a current tenant, ask to speak to him or her in order to obtain appropriate records. Be sensitive that current or previous tenants are not required to divulge these records and might be going out of their way to provide you information.

Restrictions/restricted areas. Identify any areas of the property where you will not be permitted to operate. Determine any sensitive areas that require special attention or will be restricted to certain farming practices and discuss those specific restricted practices. Discuss any farming practices or infrastructure modifications that you suspect might raise concern, such as constructing a tool shed or immovable chicken coop or establishing a composting or odor-prone livestock operation in proximity to residences, and propose sites for their implementation. Ask the landlord about hunting grounds, postings and ATV trails that exist and are used on the property.

Soils. A top priority for tenants should be having good soils. Oftentimes, if soils are degraded, even if it is a beautiful spot otherwise, it’s not worth the business expense to sink a lot of money into soil improvement. This is particularly true for a short-term lease situation. Identify soil types and confirm them with site evaluation in each distinct area of the property. Identify problem soils, such as excessively wet or sloped areas. Have the soil fertility evaluated. Discuss cover cropping, soil testing and soil amending responsibilities and schedules with the landlord. If considering farming organically, contact appropriate certifying body for information.

Topography. The land should be flat enough to be tilled or for equipment to be safely operated. This is not so important if grazing livestock. Identify strategies for productively managing non-tillable and excessively sloped areas and discuss whose responsibility it will be to manage those areas.

Vegetation. Identify strategies for overcoming limitations related to existing tree cover, brush, grasses or weeds, including any existing invasive or vigorous weeds. Identify and point out to the landowner areas where tree removal is necessary. Discuss with the landlord how this work will get done.

Water resources. All potential sources of water for farm operations should be identified, including those currently used or those that could be developed (for example, a hillside seep that could be developed into a spring, a river or stream, a well or a hookup to a public utility). Information should be obtained about seasonal fluctuations in water availability and shared or alternative uses of existing or potential water resources. Consult with an irrigation specialist to get a quote on installation is a new water system will need to be purchased.

Other considerations. There are many other considerations not included in this field checklist that need to be made before entering into a lease agreement, such as your landlord’s expectations about insurance, access, lease term, long term ownership and land stewardship.

Getting help

Get help with the items that are new to you and consider this an important opportunity to learn. Get help with the items with which you are more expert, because your subjectivity may blind you to something important. (“What a great barn!! But fixing this house will drain our bank account. I love this place!” “Sure it’s rocky, but there’s more acreage, so we’d have more land to work with.”) Test your arguments with objective critical feedback.

You may want to include a farm planner for an objective professional evaluation of the suitability of the property for your intended operation. A farm planner listens to your objectives, tests them a bit, develops options for meeting them, reworks and revises the details of your plan with you before you lease or purchase your farm. The purpose of planning is to meet your objectives as efficiently and effectively as possible. The minimum value in farm planning is to save you time and money.

You can get farm planning assistance from sources such as Extension educators, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel, nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Ask around. As with hiring any advisor, find out areas of expertise, cost, and availability. For most private parties you can ask for references. NRCS does not charge for its services. Make a few calls and hear what experiences others in your situation have had and what advice they might offer you.

Planners and inspectors can enhance your own knowledge and inspection of the soils and other conditions. Inspectors may be friends and family members or professionals. While both offer valuable assistance, remember that a professional inspector specializes in looking at everything in their professional purview. He has experience with his checklists and legal responsibilities and will tell you what you don’t want to hear without shielding you from the realities. At the same time, a cousin who is a masonry contractor, barn restorer or town planner may well know more about the particulars of those areas than will a professional inspector.

A general inspector can’t detect every problem, though. That is why it helps to know how to select an inspector, and when to call in a specialist. A home inspector provides an independent review of a residential property, uninfluenced by the other professions in the transaction. The inspector doesn’t have a stake in the outcome of the inspection. Inspectors get paid whether or not the sale goes through. In contrast, lenders and real estate agents get paid when the sale closes.

More than three-quarters of home buyers hire inspectors. Most of those buyers have a clause in the purchase contract that makes the sale contingent on acceptable results of an inspection. The buyer can void the purchase or renegotiate the offer if serious problems are found. The cost of a home inspection varies by inspector, region, and size of house. A common price range is $250- $400. A typical home inspection includes an assessment of exterior features, interior items, heating and cooling systems, the attic and crawl space and whether they have adequate insulation and ventilation.

Usually inspectors are not equipped to do specialized work. You usually have to hire specialists to assess the conditions of septic systems, underground storage tanks for heating oil, ants or termites etc. and the health of trees. Inspectors who are members of trade associations are typically forbidden to have a professional interest in the sale, repair or maintenance of a property they inspect. They’re not supposed to use their inspection business as a way to find customers for a handyman service that they happen to own.

The best strategy to find an inspector is through a real estate agent’s referral. If you would rather find the inspector yourself, you can ask friends and relatives who they have hired, look in the Yellow Pages under “Building inspectors” or “Home inspectors,” or visit web sites which will usually have a search page that allows you to type in your ZIP code and get a list of certified inspectors in your area. Always ask for references. Contact them and ask about the experience they had with the inspector. If there were difficulties, were they handled well? In the end, were the quality of work, timeliness and cost satisfactory?

Inspectors usually recommend that the buyer accompany them as they look at the house. They can explain the severity of any problems they find, give maintenance tips and answer questions. Even though you will receive a detailed report, the inspection visit is a very good use of your time.

You can do legal legwork such as speaking with assessors, town officials or committee members. Go to the town hall and review the history of the property. Town employees often have valuable information about the history or special conditions at the property. Neighbors are good sources as well.

Get organized

Here are some hints on how to organize and compare data on properties:

  • Set up files (paper and electronic) for each property you are going to invest time in. Keep your materials organized so you can compare properties later, as in “Which was the farm that had the fields that could be expanded?” By the time you’ve visited a number of properties, some details might become hard to recall.
  • Start with the checklist in the Tools section and refer back to it with corrections and comments as you go along.
  • Capture images. An electronic collection of images of all you saw at each farm will prove extremely valuable when you are reflecting and discussing your options. Get a friend to help, if this is not something you like to do.
  • Update your lists of what is necessary, desirable and optional. This step will at least help answer the question “How do I know which property is best before I farm there?” At most, it may make the difference between getting it right the first time or not.

Next section –  E. RESOURCES


Back to: Acquiring Your Farm

PO Box 625
Keene, New Hampshire 03431
Phone: 603-357-1600