If you’ve had it with city living and have started daydreaming about selling and moving to a rural paradise, you need to understand that there are significant differences between urban and rural properties. Both types of properties have their positives and negatives and understanding the differences is very important if you’re considering a move to the country.
We’ve written up a list of some of these rural differences to serve as a good starting point on your journey to country living!
It’s a Lot.
While urban properties obviously have a plot of land that the home sits upon, it is often not as much of a focus as the building (and finishes within) that is located on the lot. In most cities, lot sizes and features are relatively standard in a given area or neighbourhood. While there may be minor differences in lot width or depth, geographic features are less prevalent in the city in general. The land has been tamed, worked over and standardized in many ways.
With rural properties, the first fundamental difference is that you’re rarely going to encounter properties that are identical or even broadly similar to neighbouring properties. Whether it is bodies of water present on the land or adjoining it, tree coverage, lot grading, drainage or dozens of other aspects, no rural property is the same.
Such differences make valuing rural properties considerably more challenging than most urban properties and it also increases the likelihood of you having to accept trade-offs in the condition of the land when you buy. In many cases, rural properties can require significant work to fit the desired use, look and feel that the new purchaser wants.
It’s not the wild west. Well, not totally.
It is not uncommon for urbanites to find a rural property appealing due to a perceived ability to do what they want on their land. In cities with high population densities, the proximity of neighbours necessitates many restrictions on the type of activities, building and changes that can be made to the property and the buildings on it.
Despite the space that may exist between you and your neighbours, rural properties are not your own kingdom where no rules apply. Municipalities in rural areas still have zoning regulations, by-laws determining what is allowable and require permits for work, just like in the city.
That being said, it is true that homeowners can be a little loose and wild in the country and tend to just do things on their property – not always getting permits and doing it with the approval of the municipality. As a buyer of rural property, you’ll need to consider things such as whether neighbouring fences and out-buildings are encroaching on the property you’re considering, or whether the sellers have built additions or out-buildings without permits. It always wise to check for encroachments and other potential challenges.
The primary way to address this is getting a survey for the property. Not every property has a survey, but it is always worth asking. If there is no survey available, you can have clauses in the offer that has the Seller representing and warranting that there are no encroachments/ additions/new buildings that were built without permits and all permits are closed. It can be worth a visit to the city/town hall to go to the building department and get information about the property to check all this out and verify the information that we have been given. There may be a cost for that, but it depends on the area.
Rural means less people…which often means less in the way of services.
The high population density in cities (and the corresponding high volume of property tax and land transfer revenue) means that the municipality can provide services to residents and that businesses spring up to offer other services at a cost.
With rural properties, be aware that some services you take for granted in the city may not be available at all, or that they come with an additional cost. Here are a few worth noting:
- Private Roads – Some rural properties are located on private roads that are not maintained by the municipality. There may be maintenance costs shared by property owners off the private road or it may be up to you entirely to maintain the grading, paving, snow clearing and so forth.
- Waste Removal – If you’re used to seeing garbage trucks trundling by to pick up your waste and recycling each week, you may be surprised to learn that that garbage bag you put at the end of your driveway isn’t going anywhere on its own. Some rural properties require you to dispose of your garbage and recycling at a local dump or recycling centre, sometimes with a cost per use fee.
- Phone and Internet – Cellphone service and high-speed internet is ubiquitous in most urban areas but if you’re living in more rural settings, expect to encounter more issues with receiving and making calls as well as reliable high speed internet. While the various levels of government are making investments in rural internet access, you will likely still be paying a considerable premium for a lower level of service or bandwidth than you’re used to in the city.
- Public Services – The location of schools, daycares, hospitals, libraries and other common public buildings may be significantly further than in the city, and at a smaller scale. It is important to make sure that the public services you rely upon are available and to your standard in the rural area you’re considering buying.
- Private Services – The high population density in cities makes a number of private services both affordable as well as available. Whether it is lawn moving, babysitters, tutors or any number of private services, remember that it may be harder and more expensive to find a local option in the country.
Utilities can look a lot different for rural properties.
In cities, it is incredibly rare to encounter properties that are not on the municipal power grid, that are not tied into the sewer system, that don’t access water provided through the municipal water treatment plant. In the country, many properties have individual rather than communal solutions to these requirements. Let’s go through some of the basics.
Septic Tanks and Septic Beds
First off, they are different. One (a septic tank) is a holding tank that gets pumped out regularly and holds everything. The other (a septic bed) has a system that holds only the solids in the tank and the liquids eventually peter out into the ground (bed) in a certain way. A tank needs to be emptied regularly depending on how big it is and how many people are living there. It can be every few months to yearly or longer. A septic bed system, because the liquid waste is slowly filtered out, can be emptied more infrequently. Again, this is something that depends on the size of the system compared to the home.
Here are some questions that should be asked for any property you’re considering that is on septic:
- Is it a septic tank or a septic bed?
- How big is it? This is typically answered in the form of how many people it was set up for, and this is important because often in the country people will buy a two-bedroom property (and therefore a septic system set up for two to three people) and do an addition turning it into a four-to-five-bedroom home. If there are now six people living at a property designed for two to three, the septic system is no longer adequate, and the wear and tear (and possible lack of proper maintenance) may mean that the life expectancy of the system is greatly reduced.
- When was it last serviced and by whom? By requesting a copy of the last servicing, you will see if there were any remarks about its overall condition. You can also call the company that does the service and ask them if they can give you an idea of the life expectancy of the system and if they are aware of any issues.
- Is there an inspection of the septic system available? If not, you might consider getting an inspection done. They can be expensive (typically $500) but at the end of the day knowing if you will need to spend $35K in the near future is important. In the winter, you cannot get a full inspection done of a septic bed because the feeders run off into the ground and the ground is frozen, but you can still get a partial inspection of the tank. This may require the tank being emptied (with the cost negotiated between the buyer and seller) as if the tank is empty the inspector can go in with a light to look for cracks and other indications of poor condition.
- How much does it cost to pump the tank and get serviced?
- Are there any indicators of issues with the septic system apparent from inside the home? A simple test is to go around the home and flush all the toilets on all levels. If any of the toilets are slow it may indicate a problem with the septic system. It could be something else but often slow flushes can be attributed to a septic system that is not functioning efficiently.
Unlike in the city, many rural properties have their water provided by wells. There two main kinds – dug well and drilled wells. Almost all wells are drilled these days, but some older properties have old dug wells.
Here are some questions to have answered if you’re looking a property with a well:
- How deep is the well? The depth can affect both the quality as well as quantity of the water.
- How old is the well – when was it drilled? The older the well, the more likely it may require maintenance or servicing.
- Who drilled it? By knowing the company that drilled the well, you can contact them to get information that may otherwise be hard to come by.
- Is there a recent water test available? Having a water test done to make sure the well isn’t contaminated is very important both prior to purchase as well something that should be done regularly once you take possession. Local service providers can advise on how frequently this is recommended. It’s also worth noting that water filtration systems can also be installed within the home for a further level of certainty.
- Where is the well? It may not immediately be apparent, and it is important to know as older wells may not have been done to current code. For example, you may have a property with both a dug well and a septic bed, where they are located side by side. In such a circumstance, you could have a dug well (which are typically not very deep) that was contaminated by the old septic system because a tree had roots penetrate the tank and it was leeching into the soil next to the well. If the well and the septic tank are not correctly placed, you would necessarily need to move them, but you do need to understand how they work and how to maintain them for safety.
- Are there any issues apparent within the home? This can be done by checking the water pressure on all levels and it can be helpful to understand how much water the well is allowing. Some wells can dry up overtime or have less water on either a periodic or temporary basis, and then they may need to be redrilled.
In some cases, rural homes are not on the local energy grid, which means you need a way to power your house. Propane is versatile fuel that can be used to power and heat a range of appliances within a home, including water heaters, clothes dryers, stoves, gardening equipment, hot tubs and much more.
Here are some questions to have answered if the home has a propane tank:
- Is the tank itself rented or owned? Both models have their pros and cons but you need to understand if you’re agreeing to a monthly cost or taking on servicing and ownership.
- Who services it and how often? Regardless of the ownership status of the tank, they require servicing and you need to know how that is being done and when.
- What contracts exist for service and/or any rental agreement? Again, if you’re agreeing to take on a contract for the propane tank, understanding the cost and obligations is important.
- When was it last serviced, how much does it cost to fill the tank and, how often does it get filled? By knowing this information, you have a good sense of the upcoming and reoccurring costs for the tank.
- How long should the tank last? This often requires calling the company who installed it or the service person to find out the life expectancy of the unit, remaining life, cost to replace and who is responsible to pay for the replacement.
You may have more space, but you still have neighbours.
A final consideration with rural properties is that while you may have a lot more land than in the city, you still have neighbours, and you should understand what uses are currently in place for them, and what may be possible in the future.
Rural properties often have zoning that allow for a number of lower-density uses. Here’s some examples of what may be allowed on your neighbours’ property.
- Accessory buildings and structures
- Agricultural crops or activities
- Hatching, raising and fattening of chickens, rabbits or cattle for domestic use only, including the possible killing or dressing of any such animals or poultry on the premises for commercial purposes
- Orchards and nurseries
- Single-family homes and mobile homes
- Residential care homes serving up to six clients, includes foster family homes and small family homes for nonmedical assisted group care
- Churches, temples or other places used exclusively for religious worship
- Communications equipment buildings
- Country clubs
- Electric distribution substations, including microwave facilities
- Fire stations
- Golf courses
- Resource extraction
- Timber harvesting
- Resource conservation
- Public or private recreation, including outdoor activities and hunting
- Open space
While some of the above sound quite pleasant to have as neighbours, others are far less appealing. If you’ve never lived beside an operational farm, you may be unpleasantly surprised by some of the noise and smells that come your way on occasion. Add in the far greater likelihood of wild animals in rural areas and it is fair to say that country living means you’re closer to nature in both good and bad ways!
Just like urban dwellers never know for sure if a nearby site will become a condo tower, rural property owners need to understand what is permitted and to not assume that the current situation is necessarily going to remain the same over time.
There are significant differences between rural properties and urban properties and if you’re considering a move to the country, make sure you work with agents who have a good handle on these differences. Within the Refined team we have considerable experience helping clients make the transition and we also regularly partner with local agents to ensure our clients get the local expertise needed. If you like the idea of your agents in the city working to make sure your purchase in the country goes smoothly, don’t hesitate to get in touch.