Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rethought

Regular readers of this blog and certainly people who know me well have been aware of my plans to ultimately get out of the city and into a more rural environment. Over the past several years I have been positioning myself financially to start to act on those plans, with the goal of being there by retirement. Sounds like a good plan, right?

Like most ideas, this is one where you need to read the "fine print." The cliched mantra of, "Be careful what you wish for - you may just get it," is a thought that is now going through my mind.

In my search for property and in talking to others I have started to discover some disturbing issues:
  1. Even though real estate prices have allegedly dropped in this depressed economy, it seems that the price for unimproved property here in Texas is still between $5,000 to $10,000 an acre. That means for 30 acres it is typical to see prices of $150,000 to $200,000 and up (quickly approaching what I paid for an entire house with land).
  2. There are too many variables to account for when looking at property. Water? Utilities? Access? These are a few of the many questions that need answers before purchasing.
  3. When I think I have an idea for a location that may be good (usually by driving around), I later discover several "deal breaking" issues that suddenly become obvious after a few minutes with the aerial photographs on Google Maps, or the price is way out of my league.
  4. Even if I find that perfect parcel of land, I now need to find someone who is willing to build on it.
My eyes were further opened when I read a piece about buying rural property (see http://www.govbiz.com/buyingtips.htm). This piece of literature is a wealth of excellent information about what to expect when moving to the country (ignore the spelling and grammatical errors). When I finished reading, I started re-thinking whether I would ever be able to enjoy the benefits I hoped to gain. So I'm now starting to work my way back to "square one."

Getting back to basics means examining what my goals are:
  1. Quiet - I need a quiet place to relax. I hear things that most people apparently don't hear, such as barking dogs, bass from people's stereo systems, leaf blowers, loud motorcycle or car engines, etc. In general, I want enough space between me and my neighbors so we're not likely to bug each other.
  2. Less crowded - I like to be near people, but not as many as I there are where I am living now. I don't like the fact that getting in and out of my neighborhood at certain times of the day is challenging. Getting around Austin has become more and more of a burden every year as the population has increased. I don't like the smells, noise, and stress resulting from the population density where I am now.
  3. Less crime - Maybe it is because I have been the victim of a home burglary twice since I moved to Texas, but it seems like the chance of being burglarized again is much higher here than it should be.
  4. Nice view - I'd like to wake up in the morning, look out the window, and see something peaceful. I look out the windows in the morning now and see a bunch of suburban tract homes.
  5. Low-maintenance, energy-efficient home - As I am less able to perform the kind of physical work I did when I was younger, I would like a home that requires little exterior maintenance and is not as likely to sustain damage during severe weather events. Energy efficiency will allow me to ride through increases in the cost of energy when I retire and am on a fixed income.
  6. Lower taxes - I think this one is obvious... Again, on a fixed income, it is very difficult to deal with surprise tax increases that accompany an area that suddenly becomes popular.
While it is true that country living does provide an avenue toward achieving these goals, it also presents a bunch of new challenges that (in many ways) offset the benefits.

I am now considering whether I need to be looking more at something in-between rural and suburban, with a substantial piece of property and a custom-built home that addresses many of the concerns I have. For example, there is a subdivision not terribly far from Austin that is separated into 5 acre tracts. It has many city services, such as a water and sewer system (eliminating the need for a well and septic system). While this may not be a perfect fit, and will even perhaps be a bit on the expensive side, there may be a way to make it a workable solution. The expense part, in particular, may well be equal once all the expenses are considered. An example of a good compromise on the home: While I would like an earth-bermed home to address energy efficiency issues, noise, upkeep, and weather-related disasters, I could retrofit a regular wood-frame home with better windows (to keep the noise down and improve energy efficiency), add more insulation, and add a metal roof (for hail protection). Depending on the location, I may still be able to get an earth-bermed home built on a home-site that doesn't yet have a house built on it (provided deed restrictions allow it).

The good news is that nothing needs to be done right away. This is the time to examine possibilities. Making a bad mistake with hundreds of thousands of dollars involved is one from which recovering may not be possible. A little due diligence now will go a long way toward being content later...

1 comment:

Speck said...

Good post! Always a good idea to look into your options before you get set on something.