If you have ever dreamed of moving to your own little Countryside paradise, here are a few things to consider when planning your escape to a life filled with peace and perhaps even a little wildlife in your back 40.
Lifestyle and Land Use
More than anything, this is likely going to be dictated by price. Once you know your budget, you can start to search different areas that interest you. There is quite a range here to consider, from just a tiny country lot to perhaps a larger property that might have some income-producing business attached to it. You could be looking at a livestock operation, a horse boarding facility, or perhaps a cash crop farm. Maybe it’s an apple orchard, an organic vegetable farm, or it could be a piece of land to do nothing with except wander around in your sweat pants and rubber boots – there are so many exciting options to consider when you live in the country.
Do keep in mind to double-check with the region or municipality to make sure you are allowed to do what you had in mind. For instance, there may be certain minimum land size restrictions if you consider keeping some livestock. Also, is there any right of way held by gas or hydro companies? You may also have to check with the Conservation Authority or the Ministry of Natural Resources to find out if there are any ownership rights or restrictions.
Distance to Town … Distance to Everything
Making a 10-minute+ drive back to town because you forgot to buy milk is something to consider. The simple conveniences of living in the suburbs or the city may not be as accessible in rural areas. You may want to look into the accessibility of the school bus route, distance to the hospital, or even the gas station before settling on a property.
Accessibility of The Roads
While we’re on the topic of driving, you’ll want to know if the roads are accessible all year round. They may not be plowed in the winter by the municipality (although in the city, we’ve been told by some they’re lucky if their side roads are plowed once a year). Sometimes private companies are contracted out in the country to plow these roads for you, with the neighbours who live on the same route often sharing this cost. Sometimes the road can remain unplowed for days depending on the snowfall, and getting down your street could be a real challenge. If you can’t get down your road, the school bus can’t either, which means kids may have more snow days in the year; I am sure they won’t mind this, but it is something you will have to plan for.
Staff, Equipment, and More
Depending on the size of your property and what you plan to do with it, think about whether you will run the show on your own or will you be hiring on staff? If you are still planning to work at your job full time, this could mean extra work before you leave for the day and extra work waiting for you when you get home. No one receives supper until their chores are done! Maybe you could rent the unused land to a tenant farmer?
For those winter months, you may need a snow blower if you’re on an oversized lot with a relatively normal-sized driveway, but if your driveway is two hundred feet long or more, having a tractor with a plow might be an essential piece of equipment to purchase. For the spring, summer and fall months, you may need a riding lawnmower or possibly a tractor with a bush hog. Hiring someone to plow your drive or mow your lawn is also an option, but it might not be pushed or mowed as quickly as you like. It will be working on some days, and the reality of living it might not be as romantic as once thought. All of this said, most people considering this lifestyle are not going to mind the extra work and are likely to find it gratifying and worth it.
Living in the country will require a little getting used to when it comes to the systems of the property.
Septic Sewer – If you have ever been to a cottage or a country property and have seen a sign in the bathroom saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down”, here is why! You will no longer be connected to the city sewer system in the country. Instead, you will have what is called a septic sewer system. There are quite a few different types of septic sewer systems. Still, the most common in Ontario is a septic holding tank for solids and sludge combined with some absorption system such as a leaching bed, where the liquids are filtered through and then absorbed back into the ground. The solids and sludge in the tank will require an outside service company to visit the property from time to time to suck out all the contents with a giant vacuum on the back of a big truck. There will be a cost for this service, so it is something to budget for. As the property owner, the condition of this system will be your responsibility, so being careful with what you flush or dump down the drain will be something you will want to educate yourself on.
Water system – Two types of water systems are commonly found in Ontario for rural properties not connected to the city water line. First, depending on where the property is located, you will likely have a well water system if adequate and safe groundwater is below your property. This is great because you will not have to pay for water! When doing your due diligence on a property with a well, you need to have a sample of the water taken and tested at the municipality to ensure it is safe for drinking and is not contaminated. Maintenance of the pump and filtering system will also be required.
The other common type will be a cistern or tank system if there is insufficient groundwater. This means you will have to purchase your water. If you have ever seen the trucks with tanks on the back that say something like “Ed’s Water Haulage,” “Ed” is trucking water to someone who has a cistern that needs filling.
Heat Fuel System – There are various fuel types found in country properties, from old electric systems to propane or oil systems where a fuel provider will visit the property to fill up your tank, just like how you fuel your car. If you are not too far out of town, you may even be lucky enough to be connected to a natural gas line. But, of course, it all depends on where the nearest gas line is located. Some older properties may even rely on wood stoves and fireplaces for a portion of the heating.
If you are planning to build a home or make significant improvements to the house, there are several options to explore for lessening your reliance on heat fuel. For example, you could explore geothermal heating or even a passive solar design of the house if you are building from the ground up.
Electricity – This system is pretty straightforward. Unless you are building a house that you must fly in a bush plane to get to, you will most likely be connected to the electrical grid. One potential opportunity would be to supplement your electricity by creating your own! This will be site and location-dependent. But if your plot is correct, you may want to explore solar and wind as possible systems to create some of your own power. If your property and systems are large enough, you might even be able to obtain a contract with the Ontario government to sell electricity back to the grid. This would require an accurate cost-to-benefit analysis, as large-scale systems are expensive, and you must pay for the system yourself. Speaking to an expert will clarify whether this is a viable option worth entertaining.
A small but noteworthy subject to understand with rural properties is property improvements. This is important if you plan to sell the property down the road. Depending on the size and function of the property, you are improving things like outbuildings, if any, e.g. barns, sheds, etc.; or land improvements such as habitat restoration (like ponds, reforestation etc.), generally will not impact the value of the property that much. However, smaller properties still see the most significant impact on value when the house itself is improved. Now, if you buy 50 acres with an old house on it, and then you build a significant amount of infrastructure for the operation of a larger-scale business, such as an equestrian facility or a dairy cattle facility, that would be a different story as you have built something of value that can generate an income.
If you are planning to use your property to generate some income, there are some severe tax advantages that you will want to understand. Speak to an accountant versed in farming taxation to understand the parameters and how to structure your business thoroughly. Suppose you weren’t planning on generating any income with your rural property. In that case, you should take the time to educate yourself on what advantages might be available to you if you did start some venture on your property. Beyond income taxes, there may also be property tax discounts as well. Under the Assessment Act regulation that came into effect in January 1998, eligible farmlands in Ontario can be classed in the Farm Property Class and taxed at 25% of the municipal residential rate. Checking with the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) for specifics on a subject property is crucial to your due diligence when shopping for a rural property.