Monday, October 15, 2007

The Search for Land

As you might guess we’ve been pretty actively engaged in searching for suitable land and a home. Our business plan calls for purchasing a small place outright, so our “unfair advantage” (in the parlance of Joel Salatin) will be that we don’t have to pay a mortgage. That will take a good deal of the pressure off, particularly the first year of operations. But at the same time we’d like a place that is immediately livable, even if it eventually requires some measure of work.

We’ve looked at about a dozen properties here in Vermont. And while we’ve found places that would work, they often include too much upfront work -- either the house needs extensive reconstruction or the land needs to be cleared, or the soil maps report the place is mostly rock and we’d be looking at raised beds (and much $$). We’re casting a fairly wide net: we’ve been looking here around Middlebury, “across the mountain” (as they say around here when they mean the Montpelier area) as well as the Finger Lakes region of NY.

So how did the Finger Lakes get in that list? Our friends Robert and Elaine similarly emigrated from DC now live in the country outside of Kingston, NY. They encouraged us to consider upstate New York in our quest. A little googling and I found some very interesting prospects around Ithaca. So we took a trip out that way back in September. We looked at three properties on that trip, and one small farm in Berkshire, NY had about 80% of what we were looking for and was very affordable. We also took some time out to sample some local wines and chanced upon the Thirsty Owl Winery . We met the owner at the wine tasting and he was very excited about our mission. “Oh, you need to be here “ were his exact words, and he was able to tell us about the large number of Amish farmers who are relocating to Seneca county. Hmm, we thought. Amish folks make great neighbors and we stand learn plenty from them. We also visited the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca to get a sense of that community. And we checked out the very excellent Ithaca farmers market. All the way around things looked pretty good.

Two weeks ago we mounted a second expedition out that way and in a whirlwind we looked at 12 properties in 2 days. It was tough keeping things straight in hour heads, but we took lots of notes. In the end we were most impressed with the first place we looked at, naturally. We plan a third trip in early November.

One thing I didn’t appreciate until we actually started walking around properties was the real difference in land prices between Vermont and New York. I knew Vermont was home to many vacation properties and expected that to translate to higher land/housing costs. But the equally exotic Finger Lakes region (with better wine) -- are cheaper by a factor of 3 or 4. Yikes!

So I’m not saying it’s New York for us just yet. But it’s beginning to look that way.

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