Although I can call myself owner, I cannot call myself owner. I only enjoyed brief visits to homes belonging to my father or late mother, living thousands of miles apart in my native Canada, or to generous friends. I wanted so much to be able to welcome them back, to have nice towels and to have a real guest room.
I lived for decades in the same one-bedroom co-op apartment in the New York suburbs, a post-war red brick apartment building with sweeping views of the Hudson River in a pretty town, but resentfully subjected to its limited space and its endless rules. âNo bird feeders! No owls! No Christmas lights after the holidays!
Then an exceptional inheritance from my mother finally gave us the means to consider a single family home more seriously, albeit on a tight budget. As someone who formally studied interior design and wrote about it, I wasn’t afraid of a renovator, within limits.
I had been browsing real estate listings for the past several years in my (now completely overpriced) native Ontario and less expensive, more rural Nova Scotia, where, even about a year before the pandemic, $ 100,000, (Canadian, US $ 80,000), I could easily have bought a beautiful home built before 1920 or before, my favorite aesthetic.
When I recently spotted a charming house, dating from around 1906, a sunny two bedroom with original pine floors on a small lot in a small fishing village (300 inhabitants) – at $ 99,000 – I jumped up. This meant taking a car ferry for a five minute trip to reach an island, which has a working lighthouse and easy whale watching access. Even though it is only used as a summer residence (no heating), it sounded perfect.
We had an accepted offer of $ 76,000 in a matter of weeks, and initially no other buyer was competing with us, which is rare these days. I made our offer conditional on five things: an official home inspection, a well inspection, a septic inspection, getting a mortgage, and my own personal inspection. I knew the chances of getting a mortgage, as a Canadian, but a non-resident, were almost impossible; even then, canadian banks are demanding a 35% cut.
I was very lucky – my best friend from high school, who designed and built her two rural homes and now lives off-grid on a lake in Nova Scotia, had made the seven hour round trip with her husband , a carpenter, to see if the village and the house were even worth that I spent $ 2,000 on plane tickets and car rentals to get from New York. They were.
So my hopes were high when I arrived with a tape measure, notebook, and plenty of ideas, and then returned with a general contractor – an elusive career in an era of scorching real estate sales – to create a highlights list.
After meeting experts in wells, septic systems and more; and speaking to locals about the ease of living in the area, we sadly gave up at the last minute.
Some of the painful lessons learned:
If you are buying in a remote or rural area, you are at the mercy of a small pool of manpower and expertise. It can be difficult to find a licensed plumber, electrician or general contractor for the necessary renovations. Our friends in Nova Scotia had to wait a full year, before Covid-19, to get their general contractor and a local real estate agent said this was the new normal.
What is the experience of the real estate agent that represents your interests? While ours was pleasant and helpful, she had barely 18 months of experience – and at times it hurt us – as she rushed over to help us locate the many artisans we needed from her. expert advice. If no one else is bidding, why?
Ask, and keep asking, what village, city, county, state / provincial and federal regulations might affect your property and what changes you can legally make to the land and each structure. How long will it take to get the necessary permissions and will the seller give them to you? Sellers (and their real estate agent) may not know – or may be withholding vital information from you that could, as it did for us, make your âdream homeâ uninhabitable, illegal and unsaleable. The engineer we hired (for an extra last minute $ 1,000) said we probably need three weeks to apply for and potentially get the necessary government approval. to install a brand new septic system (another $ 12,000).
What is the quality of the local wi-fi? A new service offered by Elon Musk, Starlink, has given us the hope of fast and reliable service, even in a remote location.
Panic buying during the pandemic has massively inflated prices and created a binge eating for realtors and sellers that makes every buyer – especially a first-time buyer – more vulnerable. Once competing buyers show up, the pressure to go fast only accelerates and can leave you with tremendous buyer remorse.
Never stop asking questions! Don’t be intimidated in the least if you don’t understand the lingo or unfamiliar jargon. Be prepared to waste thousands of dollars for clear, highly detailed inspections. Take lots of detailed notes; a paper trail by email is also useful for reference. Also, take lots of photos and videos.
If something is wrong, it is!
My obsession with the house’s intact period charm and my eagerness to update its interiors blinded me to local conditions which would also have made life there miserable and expensive, like missing the ferry every hour which means wasting precious work time. I was warned that no one would even deliver a sofa this far due to wasted waiting time, and other essential regular services like pumping out the septic tank would cost more due to commute time.
How far is the home from the nearest hospital and trauma center? Is there a local EMT or volunteer ambulance corps? Medical evacuation? While remote and rural places can offer silence and natural beauty, accidents and emergencies do happen.
Set as many conditions in the offer as you deem necessary, each of which may offer you a safeguard clause if you discover serious, costly and / or intractable issues with a property, which we have done. Then you can run away, legally.