Thursday, June 3, 2010

Land for Sale

This weekend, for the first time, we went with a realtor to look at a piece of property. We've dabbled online lots, comparing prices and seeing what was out there. In general, our search has been for just land, no house but this property came up in our search and it included a house and a ton of acreage.

A short bio from the relator's website "Price Reduced! The last of the old home places! 188.66 acre farm with early 20th century 5 bdrm, 2 bath, 3111 sq. ft. home; 110 acres is cropland, the balance of the acreage is treed with a small creek running thru the property. Two old barns, small pecan orchard, excellent soils, seclusion. Home has new metal roof but does need some work and updating. 100% mineral rights. Sellers will consider any reasonable offer."

It hits all of the high notes of what we wanted, land, water, barns, trees, good soil, seclusion.

There was a ton of things that we loved about this place...

Talk about curb appeal! The house was set back about 100 yards from a very small all weather gravel road (nearest pavement was less than 0.5 mile away). There were giant old trees shading the home and lovely lush lawn surrounding it.

The house screamed old farm house charm. It has a green metal roof, white wood siding, deep porches on the south and west sides with very neat detailing throughout. The porch curves in a semicircle around the front of the house and the roof line matches. The dormers in the second story had curved wood edges. The house was started in 1911 and finished in 1914. The land has been in one family since 1860 and only came on the market when the owners passed away and none of the 4 heirs were interested in living in it.

We stepped inside the house and found that it was about 10 degrees cooler than the 90 degree heat outside, but no AC... the power had been shut off for years. It was simply the design of the house that allowed it to maintain a lower temperature. The home had very high ceilings (allowing hot air to rise) and every room had multiple doors to allow air to circulate. The second story was much warmer, but still not as hot as outside. Above the second story was an attic that reached between 8-10 feet high at the peaks, again allowing the hot air to rise away from the living areas.

The design of the deep porch was also perfect to battle Texas heat. The porch was about 12 feet deep on the south and west sides of the home, shading the house from the worst of the hot Texas sun. To the north a thick tree row would act as a wind break from the north winds in winter. These are all logical details that are simply not considered in today's home design and placement.

Just behind the house are two very old barns. So old that they are probably not totally functional or safe, but did not seem as ready to fall down as most 100 year old things.

Here is item #1 that scared us... a gas pump in the back yard, about 20 yards from the back door. Below the gas pump is a buried gas tank. Since this is a working farm, and located probably 10+ miles from the nearest gas station, this makes sense that they'd have access to their own fuel. 50 years later, it is still 10 miles from the nearest gas station, but it really worries me what condition the buried tank is in and what the old fuel in it may have done to the soil and groundwater.

More love for this place. The home was surrounded by huge old trees: pecan, bois'd arc, oaks. Beautiful high shade and picturesque.

Secret little outbuildings, half hidden in the woods. To me, this is a plus (not so much on yet another gas tank...). I love the idea that a family has lived on this land for 100+ years. I get all excited just imagining what sorts of old treasures we might find inside these buildings.

This is a shot of the hay loft of one of the barns.

We found this tally on the wall... perhaps they stored 365 hay bales in the barn, or perhaps they were counting days of a year, I won't list here what hubby joked they were counting... (really, is that ALL you think about?)

Outside the circle of perfectly mowed St. Augustine lawn area, the home was surrounded by thick woods and lots of poison ivy. The view from almost every window was trees. Ahhh, lovely.

Then, on the other side of the tree row, to the west... fields


and more fields.

The land itself is bisected by a creek and bits of farm land were carved into every flat portion of the property possible--a total of about 100 acres of farmland. To the west were about 10 acres of soybeans and far back to the north and west of the property (past the creek) were about 70 acres of corn.

The realtor explained to us that neighboring farmers had been farming the land on a contract with the heirs. The heirs put up 1/3 of the cost of planting, and then receive 1/3 of the profit. Pretty neat deal, and exciting that even while vacant, the land is generating income.

This leads me to our deal breaker on the property... walking through, something just seemed wrong... I've gardened my whole life and weeds are a constant battle, but look at this

perfect, not a weed, not a blade of grass out of place

Just baby soybeans popping up in tidy rows. How? Why does my garden not look like this? Easy... RoundUP and other herbicides are used to clear the land of everything prior to planting so as not to foul up the combine harvesters with weeds. My research after the fact was terrifying to me: for every $100 dollars spent on planting a crop $50-70 of it is spent on chemicals (herbicides or fertilizers). Soybeans are bred with RoundUP resistant genetics so that they can be sprayed directly with roundup and not be affected. YIKES, yikes yikes. And no thank you. 100 acres of chemicals surrounded by thousands upon thousands of acres of the very same thing. Where do all those chemicals go?

Yep, right into the watersheds and the three creeks that crossed the property. This was our deal breaker, a single item to take down the whole place. We spend so much time and effort on our tiny home gardens to keep them organic, hubby hunts and slaughters our own meat to keep it as clean as possible, we've even moved away from many of the commerical products due to questionable chemical content, yet we fell in love with a property that had gallons of chemicals sprayed on it each year so it was able to produce. I don't mean this as an attack on industrial farming (or perhaps I do!), I understand that herbicides and fertilizers are necessary to provide the quantity and price of food that our country demands... but I don't' want to live in the middle of it and I definitely don't want to raise my kids there.

I am really torn, because I loved this place so much. Nearly every detail was almost spot on for what we want in a property (assuming a creek could be dammed up to make a pond). But the chemicals are not worth negotiating over, even if we stopped farming the immediate land, the surrounding farms would still be farmed in the same manner.

The staying power of this homestead is proven, people have lived here successfully for over 100 years. The land, water and soil is clearly able to provide what is needed in this remote location. too bad it is all potentially steeped in decades worth of farming chemicals.

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