By Lee Carl Finley
For many, moving to the country is the fulfillment of a life’s dream. Having worked for 30, 35 or 40 years in a factory or a corporate office, many see moving to the country as their reward for all their hard work.
Others may see moving to the country as a means of getting back in touch with the memories of childhood, growing up on the farm. Still others may see moving to the country as a way to get back to basics, a way of leaving the rat race and rush hour traffic.
The country means many things for many people, but unfortunately, without proper planning, both before and during the construction process, this dream can become a nightmare very quickly.
Some years ago, staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service in New Philadelphia, Ohio, met with the county Extension agent and a retired NRCS soil scientist and developed a small pamphlet for those that may be moving to the country, entitled, Home Site Selection.
This pamphlet provides a concise yet thorough checklist for those planning to move to the country or any rural/suburban setting. What follows is an abbreviated discussion of information gleaned from that document.
Of key importance in selecting a home site is an actual visit to the site. This first factor is one that would seem, to many readers, self evident.
But buying property in a rural setting is a lot like buying a used car or a pre-existing home. Unless one is mechanically inclined, or one is experienced in home repair, a potential rural property buyer can often stare a problem in the face without even realizing it.
A buyer should consider the following the following: Are there any obvious site hazards visible when you walk the property? Is the lot steep? Is there any potential hazard for landslide/soil slippage? Are there any areas of ponded water on the property? Does it appear that there may be any areas of flood risk or any areas that may be prone to flooding?
What will my driveway look like? Will I be able to get out in the winter? Will fire/emergency vehicles be able to access my drive in inclement weather? How far is the nearest fire/emergency station? How far is the nearest fire hydrant? What is the overall neighborhood like?
Are there any active mines/gas wells nearby? Are there any other “noxious” facilities in the area (for example, landfill, rendering plant, junk yard, etc.)? Was the area ever mined in the past? Countless individuals have built on previously-stripped ground, only to experience landslides/hillside slippage/differential settling/cracked foundations/ground water issues/water well quality issues — all related, in some measure, to strip mine soils.
The second factor that a rural purchaser of property should consider is the water supply. Before coming to work with the Tuscarawas SWCD, I worked for the Tuscarawas County Health Department. I saw all too often individuals that had moved to the country and built very nice homes only to find that, after drilling a well, that they realistically did not have enough water for their needs.
Please note: when you hire a well driller to drill you a well, you are paying for a developed hole in the ground — nothing more. No one can guarantee you that you will have water or how much water you will have.
An experienced well driller in the area may have a very good idea of how much and how deep the water may be. But until that hole is drilled, no one knows what is under your feet.
If it is known that there is not much water in the area, a driller can plan for and drill accordingly. Also if a spring is to be used, please be aware that presently under Ohio state law, all springs are required to have proper disinfection.
The third factor that a property buyer should consider is the sewage disposal system. Even though a real estate agent or a seller may say that a lot has septic approval/health department approval, you should ask what that means.
Consider the following questions: Does the lot have septic approval? Does the seller actually have signed paperwork from the approving agency stating what needs to be installed? What type of soils are on the property?
Is there adequate soil for on-site treatment (leaching) of the sewage effluent. Or will I need some sort of treatment device (such as an aeration treatment system)? How much is the proposed system to install? What is the expected life of the system?
If one is buying an existing house, when was the system last serviced/tank pumped? Was the system installed legally? Was the system inspected by a third party to verify that it is still working properly?
The fourth factor that may need to be considered concerns the legal aspects of the property itself: Are the property corners well marked? Are there any areas where it looks as if you could have property line/fence line issues with your neighbors?
Does the property have a clean title? Are there any easements that come with this property? (Note: some title companies only research the title for the past 50 years. In many rural areas, property could have a coal or gas lease that is 70 or more years old and may not show up if a thorough search is not conducted.)
Is there any zoning in the area where this property is? Does the property have legal access to a public street/right-of-way? If there is a private drive, is there any type of maintenance agreement? Do I need to contribute to the support of this lane?
Lack of information in any of these areas could spell years of legal troubles and headaches for the buyer. I have only touched very briefly upon some of the more important issues related to purchasing property in a rural setting. If more information is needed, contact your local SWCD office, your local extension office, your local NRCS representative, or your local health department.
The OSU Extension pamphlet should be available from your local extension office. If you are unable to locate this pamphlet, you can contact the Tuscarawas SWCD at 330-339-7976 and a copy can be mailed out to you.
(Lee Carl Finley is a district technician with the Tuscarawas Soil and Water Conservation District, and provides technical support for the Carroll SWCD. Prior to working with the SWCD, Finley was a health inspector with the Tuscarawas County Health Department, and is a registered sanitarian with the State of Ohio and the National Environmental Health Association.)