In case you missed last week’s announcement… Mr. Frugalwoods and I bought our homestead in the woods! In light of this revelation, I’ll devote a spate of upcoming posts to discussing every angle of our rapidly approaching homestead journey. Today’s edition of “all things homestead” analyzes the reasons why we chose the property we did. Future installments will address the financials and sundry other topics.
Although we felt an immediate emotional connection when we first laid eyes on what would become our homestead, Mr. FW and I knew we needed to back those mushy feelings up with cold, hard data. And so, we commenced our research. In addition to the house and the land, we have a vested interest in the surrounding community. Thus, our prior-to-purchase vetting process was relatively extensive and included such factors as the local school district, nearby community organizations, and even the grocery store.
While this might seem like an inordinately large number of details to consider, we intend to live on our homestead for years–if not decades–to come. This duration in itself is a novel proposition for us, as we both moved around quite a bit as kids and haven’t stayed in the same city–let alone the same house–for more than four years since before we started college (14 years ago!).
Hence, the idea of living in one location for the long haul prompted us to make certain we loved it. Our research truly began four years ago when the first kernel of our eventual homestead destiny materialized and we began viewing and researching properties. These years of casual perusal gave us the framework to evaluate our homestead with at least somewhat trained eyes. And of course, we realize we can’t research every last detail, so there’s certainly a leap of faith involved. But, I’ve discovered that most worthwhile things in life involve some amount of risk.
And so, without further ago, here’s the full rundown on exactly why we selected our homestead.
The Frugalwoods Homestead Vetting Process
We knew we wanted a fairly substantial amount of acreage and set our minimum at 20. The fact that this property has 66 acres was beyond our wildest dreams and expectations of what we’d be able to afford. The vast majority of our land is forested, which was our desire, and the forest is in great health containing a diverse mix of hardwoods (think maple trees) and softwoods (think pine trees).
Our land is also slightly sloping, which means we have splendid views from the highest points. Additionally, our front acreage is cleared pasture, which is a nice boon since it’s difficult and expensive to clear forest. We’re not sure what we’ll do with that pasture land, but we’ll work to keep it cleared in the event that we decide to graze animals or build on it.
Folks familiar with land in the Northeast will be interested to know that all but 12 of our acres are in Current Use (the sections not in Current Use include 2 acres around our homesite and our front 10 acres with the aforementioned pasture). Current Use is essentially a tax break offered by the state on contiguous parcels of land greater than 25 acres–land in Current Use is taxed based upon its agriculture or forest usage, not on its market value. The advantage of not having all of our land is Current Use is that we can build upon the non-Current Use land if we so desire at some point in the future.
At 2,300 square feet with 4 bedrooms and 2.5 baths, it’s larger and newer than we anticipated in our price range. Built in 1991 with custom wood trim finishes from a previous owner who is a fine woodworker by trade, the house is in excellent condition and only needs a few minimal cosmetic changes (new interior paint is high on my list), which we can do ourselves in the coming years.
At some point, we’d like to upgrade the kitchen and bathrooms, but those are things we can tackle on our own somewhere down the line. Over the course of our search, we saw plenty of homes in need of extensive repairs and renovations, so we feel extraordinarily lucky that this place requires very little in the way of upgrades. The home has ample windows on all sides and provides wonderful views of the land, which will be perfect for keeping an eye on Babywoods while she and Frugal Hound romp around the yard.
Additionally, the house is well insulated and has a standing seam metal roof. Less ideal is the complicated roofline and the skylights–we fear these could invite leaks, but so far so good…
The Yard and Gardens
Something I fantasized having, which this parcel delivers, is an open yard enabling clear views from the house of the surrounding woods. This house is sited atop a slight hill, allowing us to look down upon the 2 acre yard, which is filled with berry bushes, mature apple trees, plum trees, and huge garden beds (which I look forward to
failing at growing vegetables in).
We’re thrilled to have mature apple trees and spent time pruning them a few weeks ago–hopefully they’ll bear fruit this fall! The trees were loaded with apples when we viewed the property in October, but last year was a bumper apple crop year, so we’ll see what this fall brings.
The previous owners planted quite an array of perennials–including flowers and asparagus! The hitch is that we don’t know where anything actually is, so this year will be a time of discovery and garden map making. Mr. FW and I are novice gardeners (is there something even less qualified than novice? If so, that’s us); thus, our primary goal this first year is to map out where all the existing plants are, clear away weeds, and create a strategy for planting next year. I’ll also keep close track of our last and first frost dates to inform our planting schedule for the future.
A water feature was a lark in our property criteria and we hoped we might net a little stream or brook.
We certainly hadn’t banked on a whole pond! This pond is gorgeously scenic and not too deep, which should make for idyllic summer splashing. It also freezes in the winter for skating!
As a Mommywoods, I’m pleased that the pond is a third of a mile from the house as this will make it easy to control Babywoods’ access to it. One property we looked at had a pond right outside the front door, which made me a tad nervous for our future toddler.
The Barn and Shop
It was on our dream list to locate a parcel with at least one outbuilding and this place delivers in a big way. There’s an 1,800 square foot barn and wood shop complete with water and electricity.
Mr. FW is already salivating over the welding and woodworking he’ll be doing. Every weekend we’re there, he finds a reason to go tinker in the shop. I’ve never seen him happier, which makes me immensely happy.
The barn also has a lean-to covered garage built onto the side, which provides the perfect spot to park our tractor (!!!!)–more on that soon–as well as store gardening tools.
Plus, I’m scheming on how to shoehorn a yoga studio into the barn’s upstairs loft…
The Septic System
We had the septic inspected and it passed with flying colors (or rather, with no flying and no colors at all, which is what you want in a septic system).
It helps that the previous two owners of the property were families of just two people–septic systems wear out more quickly the more people are, uh, using the facilities shall we say. For more on the thrilling–and endlessly appealing–topic of septic systems, check out Mr. FW’s Frugal Homestead Series Part 6: The Other End Of The Water Equation.
Our home inspector ran the taps in the house for over an hour and never exhausted the well, which is a good sign of its virility. As a contingency of purchase, we also had the well tested for organic and inorganic compounds (nothing of concern was found). Curious to know more about wells and how to assess them? Mr. FW has the article for you: Frugal Homestead Series Part 5: Well, Well, Well.
A major consideration with rural properties is accessibility. And we feel like we hit the jackpot: we’re literally on a state highway. Quite a few of the places we looked at were off of winding dirt roads (which could be a challenge in snowy or muddy weather, which pretty much describes most of the year in Vermont). Being on a state highway means that our access will always be plowed and well maintained. Plus, we can’t hear any noise from the road at the house as it’s 1) a quarter mile from the highway to the house, and 2) there’s just not that much traffic.
The Adjacent Land
Although we own a whopping 66 acres (I still can’t get used to that idea!!!), our neighbors are very important to us. It would not be cool to live next to a gravel quarry. Fortunately, that’s not the case and our neighbors seem quite lovely indeed.
The School District
Since we come with a Babywoods in tow, we wanted to ensure that the local school system is in good shape. I’m very pleased with the district we’re in as it’s consolidated (meaning several small towns joined together into one district), which makes for larger schools and greater resources.
Babywoods’ elementary school is an almost brand-new building that’s a mere 10 minute drive from our home. Additionally, Vermont provides free preschool to all children starting at age three and this elementary school has a preschool, so she’ll be well acclimated to the school environment from a young age (sidenote: how awesome is Vermont!!!). I like that she’ll be knit into the school community before she even starts kindergarten.
All of the parents we’ve met thus far are pleased with the school system and have only good things to say, which comes as a great relief to us. Although we could explore homeschooling or private education, Mr. FW and I are devotees of public schools for myriad reasons, including the fact that we both attended public institutions from kindergarten through college.
One of our motivators in moving to a small town is the ability to deeply engage in local civic life and culture. We were delighted to find a vibrant community organization (a 5 minute drive from our house) that hosts weekly story hours for kids, monthly town dinners, talent shows, pizza nights, weekly book/cooking/craft groups, various potlucks, a snowshoe-a-thon (you better believe Mr. FW and I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on “How To Snowshoe for
Morons Beginners”), and sundry other delightful events.
There’s also a nearby farmer’s markets, baby-and-me groups, and other community ventures that we look forward to becoming involved with. What’s heartening to us is that, in the few short months we’ve been spending weekends in Vermont, we’ve already met and connected with more neighbors than we know in Cambridge. The warmth and friendliness of everyone we’ve met in Vermont has blown us away. I think we’ve happened upon a very special place in the world.
To whit, we participated in aforementioned town snowshoe-a-thon and were happily inundated with friendly folks wanting to meet us. I’ve never felt so encompassed by a true sense of community and camaraderie.
Something I don’t talk about very often on Frugalwoods is our faith, but it’s significant to us that we have a church home and we’ve found that in Vermont. We already feel connected and plugged into the church family and look forward to becoming more so once we’re moved up. In fact, we’ve decided to have Babywoods baptized at our Vermont church.
The Big City
While we wanted rural, we didn’t want remote. In addition to being a 2.5 hour drive (sometimes 3 with Frugal Hound and Babywoods… ) from our Cambridge home, our homestead is just 35 minutes from Hanover–where Dartmouth College, a large medical center, endless arts and culture, and every other service imaginable is located.
Before purchasing this property, we scoped out Hanover and our nearest grocery store (we actually walked through and ‘faux shopped’ by price checking the stuff we normally buy). It’s our hope to eventually procure the bulk of our foodstuffs hyper-locally through growing it ourselves and buying it from our neighbors and the farmer’s market, but it’s good to have a grocery store back-up (you know, for my occasional candy corn obsession fix… ).
I’ve saved a rather essential factor for last. Believe it or not, good internet access is not a sure thing in rural Vermont. And this is honestly what sealed the deal for us, because… wait for it… this place has fiber-optic internet. Oh yes, we have better internet here in the woods than we do in Cambridge.
Since we are heavily reliant upon the internet for our livelihood, our passions (hello Frugalwoods!), and life in general (Mr. FW definitely used the internet to learn how to light our catalytic woodstove the first time), this was a crucial element in our decision-making. There’s nothing quite like being able to write while sitting in the woods. For me, that’s essentially the epitome of a dream.
The Cons Of Our Property
Since no place is perfect (although this one is darn close, you guys), here are the drawbacks:
To be honest, the driveway gave us major pause. While it’s awesome that the house is a quarter mile from the highway for noise buffering, it also means that we are now the proud owners of a hilly, gravel-topped, quarter mile long driveway, which we are solely responsible for maintaining.
We decided that the many, many pros outweighed this con, but it’s a rather long (and steep) con. In light of this con, we are now the proud owners of a Kubota L4400 tractor, which we purchased from the previous owners and with which Mr. FW will plow and maintain the driveway.
As you can imagine, he was super disappointed that we had to buy a tractor… hah! Quite the opposite, my friends. It’s also yet another example of the awesomeness of frugality. The ability to pay cash for an unexpected purchase (while buying a house) is a great illustration of how frugality makes our lives easier.
Or rather, the lack thereof. For mysterious reasons known only to the family who built this house, there’s no dishwasher. An odd omission in a 25-year-old home with a large kitchen. But, it’s not an insurmountable obstacle. Needless to say, we’ll be installing a dishwasher in short order.
And in fact, as so often happens with home renovation projects, one thing may lead to another and we may need to entirely reconfigure the kitchen since there’s no good spot for a dishwasher in the current configuration. But that’s another project for another time.
P.S. anyone wondering about my ardent love for dishwashers can check out this post.
No Nearby Neighbors
This is one of those things that I categorize as a simultaneous pro and con. On one hand, we eliminated a number of properties from consideration because we could see a neighbor’s house, but on the other hand, it would be nice to have a neighbor we could walk over and borrow a cup of sugar from (something we actually do with our dearest and closest Cambridge neighbor). Although there are plenty of neighbors within a few miles of us, they’re just not right next door.
This’ll be an adjustment from our dense urban environs (where our nearest neighbor is literally inches away), but it’s a change we’ve chosen to make. A meaningful driver of our desire to live in the woods is having the space and freedom to do what we wish with our land, so it’s certainly a trade-off we anticipated.
A discovery that comes as great relief to me is the fact that we’ve met several other families with babies who live within a 10 minute drive. And they’re so incredibly friendly that they’ve already had me and Babywoods over for a play date! Hence, I think once we get over the initial adjustment period, we’ll do just fine.
Most Imperative of All: In Our Price Range
We feel tremendously fortunate to have landed upon what is truly the homestead of our dreams. One key factor of this place that I haven’t mentioned yet is that it was well within our price range. And that’s paramount. We saw plenty of amazing properties online that were simply too expensive, and so, we never viewed them in person. Staying within one’s budget–even for something as mammoth as a home–is a central component to frugality and to one’s lifelong financial health.
Saddling ourselves with a house we could ill afford might’ve signaled a death knell for our early retirement plans. By instead taking the road of waiting until the right property at the right price came along, we were able to comfortably buy it without compromising our other financial goals. I’ll address the financial nuances in an upcoming homestead mania post, but I wanted to close on this note since it’s so tempting to stretch the boundaries of one’s price range when house hunting (trust me, I know the feeling). But even dreams have a budget.
How did you vet your current home? Have you found the place of your dreams or are you still looking?
Update: check out the next installment in this story: The Finances Of Our City Rental and Country Homestead.