A House in the Country – Part 2

In the previous installment of ‘A House in the Country’, I discussed finding the right site for a home, and the ins and outs of getting utilities to the property.  In the second part, I’ll take a look at some other considerations you should know about before you choose a home in the country.

DSCN0641Over a decade ago, my husband and I left a large southwestern city and moved to rural Iowa. We had no real idea what we were getting into. We aren’t farmers — in fact, I have a knack for killing off the vegetable patch I plant each spring. We just like having some elbow room and being able to reconnect a bit with nature after a long and stressful week at work.  We love it here, although some of the challenges of rural life have taken some getting used to.

The Distance
One of the most significant factors for many families living in the country is the commute to work and school.  Ours is about 20 miles in 20 minutes, and it’s not a bad drive — beautiful country highways where the only traffic jam is caused by a slow moving piece of farm equipment — but that makes 40 miles a day, minimum, and the gas bill adds up.  When you are considering purchasing a rural property, take the distance, time, and dollars into consideration, almost as if it were part of the house payment.  With that said, I know lots of people who have 30-minute city commutes in heavy traffic, and I’ll take my country miles any day!

Another thing about rural life is the convenience factor. It’s a lot harder to run to the store for a missing ingredient, and going back into town for an event in the evening takes serious consideration.  Play time with neighbor kids only really happens if you are willing to import the friends. We tend to stay home once we get home, we cook much more often than we eat out (this helps balance out that gasoline bill), and getting together with friends takes a bit more effort.

The flip side is that there are no Homeowner Associations to tell you when and how to mow your lawn or what color Christmas lights you are allowed to put up, and you don’t have to deal much with neighbors — unless you want to .  Of course, the inverse of this country liberty is that if your neighbors leave old junk outside, decide to target shoot at 7am on Sunday morning, or if their dogs bark incessantly, you’re just going to have to live with it because there aren’t many ordinances bossing country folks around.

Critters of Various Types
It is good to remember that when you live in a rural area, you are residing in the middle of a wildlife habitat. This means that you get to watch a great selection of birds, that the deer and rabbits will browse in your garden, raccoons will play on your roof, and creatures like mice and spiders will recognize your home as a warm place to spend the winter. Seasonal cycles will bring insects like box elder beetles and flying ant colonies into close personal contact with your space; and other people’s livestock and pets occasionally stop in for a visit. If mice rustling in your kitchen at night, and the subsequent snap of the mouse trap freak you out, be forewarned.

Another aspect of this communing with nature thing is hunting season.  Be prepared to either allow hunters to roam your property or to spend a fair amount of energy explaining to folks who have ‘always hunted here’ why you won’t allow them to do so any longer.  A general ethic in the country is that while you may own a parcel of land, access to walkers and hunters is generally given.  If you don’t want to grant that access, that’s fine, but you will need to make it clear, all around the perimeter of your land. Oh, and don’t spend lots of time outside during shotgun season, and keep your dogs close.

Dust and Mud and Snow
Many rural roads are unpaved. This means that traffic is a bit slower, but it also means dust. Lots and lots of dust.  Gravel roads during a dry spell can coat your home – not to mention your car, inside and out, with a fine gray powder; and in a wetter season, ankle deep mud can make roads treacherous and messy.  In spring, the need for a mud room takes on a whole new dimension, as every walkway and field becomes a quagmire.  But then, again, you probably don’t have white carpet in that country house, at least not if you have kids.

DSCN4346aSpeaking of roads, you should also know that the gravel roads tend to be a lower snow-plough priority than paved ones. This means that sometimes the school bus can’t get through, and that you may not be able to get out, even with 4-wheel drive.  On those days, just get in touch with your Zen self and settle in to telecommute or resign yourself to making snowmen and drinking hot cocoa. It’s a tough life.

What about the Iowa Fence Law?
There are some interesting laws in Iowa governing fences, their maintenance, and liability for livestock that may get through the fence.  If you live in a rural area, you will probably need to deal with the fences between your property and your neighbors, and you should be aware that you are responsible for helping to maintain these fences, whether or not you either erected or have use for them.  Further, even if you don’t have livestock, if your neighbor’s livestock gets loose through fences that were your responsibility, you could be held liable for any damages that they cause (like being hit by a car). Yes, you read that right. So, educate yourself on the Iowa Fence law, which is laid out quite nicely by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association here, and communicate with your neighbors so that everyone knows what parts of any fences they are responsible for!

Agriculture & Livestock
Iowa, as you’ve no doubt noticed, is an agricultural center. When you live in the country, you’ll be up close and personal with the various faces of ag in Iowa, some of which are picturesque and idyllic, others – not so much.  I mentioned farm equipment earlier, and the growing season, farmers are working hard, travelling from one field to the next on tractors, planters, sprayers, combines, and lots of huge green monsters that I have no name for.  When they plant or harvest, expect lots of extra dust. Don’t plant your own garden or trees too close to a corn/soybean field, because they’ll get sprayed with herbicide. Don’t get too attached to someone else’s grove of trees or prairie patch, because chances are it will be ploughed over before too long. But if you can live with these drawbacks, watching the annual process of planting and harvesting will help tie you to the seasons in a new way, and you’ll find new wonders in the hidden contours of the land revealed in a freshly harvested field.

Of course, not all the farmers are growing corn and beans. Some are raising livestock such as cattle or pigs. If your neighbor decides to build a hog confinement near your home, there is nothing you can do about that, except maybe to move; after all, your bacon has to come from somewhere. Cattle operations are quite a bit less, um, odiferous than hog lots, and honestly, cows can be really fun to watch. I know what you’re thinking, ‘this girl needs to get to town more often!’ But really, cows have their own society, they’ll talk back to you if you moo at them (little kids find this hilarious), and they only get out of their fences occasionally.

Maybe you’re interested in having a horse or a few chickens yourself. You can do that in the country! You’ll need at least an acre, preferably 3, for a horse or a cow, and chickens need a bit of room too.  Some folks have moveable chicken coops that they rotate around their property. Chickens and ducks are also great bug control for your garden, and do a bit of fertilizing as they move through. Keep in mind that livestock needs care, which means work and feed and shelter and vet bills too. It’s not all fresh eggs and pony rides.

I don’t mean to scare you, just prepare you for a few of the differences you are likely to encounter as you begin your adventure in the country.  I love it out here, the peace helps me cope with a hectic life, and being close to nature helps me remember why I am here in this world to begin with.  I wish you the same contentment, whether you choose the country life or prefer the hustle and bustle of the city.