Friday, November 30, 2007

Bailed on Cortland

Last week we submitted and offer on a small farm in Cortland, NY. The place was both robust and a compromise of sorts. At 45 acres it had more land than we needed to start, but plenty of room to grow. It had a new 30' x 50' pole barn (with power), and an old dairy barn that was structurally solid, but also full of trash. The house was very well maintained, until you looked at at the basement; the back foundation wall was doing a slow motion tumble-in and most floors slanted significantly.

In short we knew there were issues to the place, but it was very affordable; a reasonable compromise, it seemed, and a good place to start, even if we didn't opt to stay there forever. We made an offer at full asking price but with a contingency to split the expense of repairing the foundation (as assessed by an outside professional) up to a reasonable cap amount. The owners balked, and countered with a substantially lower cap on the shared repairs. They also ran out and (virtually overnight) got a very narrowly focused estimate on the foundation repairs. By narrowly focused I mean that the estimate only covered the back corner, which was the worst place in the foundation wall, but far from the only point of concern.

Somewhere in the negotiations, I asked about one of the circled disclosure statements which indicated others held rights (of some kind) to the property. I figured this refered to the guy who was haying the two pastures, but thought we should know for certain. Good question to ask. Turns out the local gas company holds a lease to the place, authorizing them to drill for methane whenever (and pretty much where ever) they wanted. Ooops. Also turns out the owners had not told their agent about this lease. Double oops. The techincal term for that is fraud.

So now we had visions of owning the place and having the gas company sinking a gas well in the middle of our two year old asparagus or rhubarb patch -- and driving over our raised beds to get there. OK, that's perhaps a bit over the top. But between the neglect of the foundation and the dairy barn, and not being entirely forthcoming in the legalities, we began to re-think the deal, and eventually opted to just bail out before it started costing us any money.

In the process we took stock and re-examined where we were. It looks like opportunities in the Finger Lakes are there for us if we want them. The area has land that is both good and (relatively) cheap. But we find our energies and passions are here at the feet of the spectacular Green Mountains. We're going to refocus our efforts and find a way to make this work here in Vermont. We don't know yet what the answer is: we may find it in the spring when new properties hit the market, or we may wind up doing an internship this spring-through-fall and then figuring it all out a bit later. But, as our friends Chris and Susan pointed out -- we haven't been looking very long, really. It just seems like it's been a long time since we're living in such tight quarters, and away from most of our worldly posessions. But we're also learning the Dharma of patience and, hopefully, we will gain a little wisdom along the way. That alone would make the journey entirely worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A White Thanksgiving

We hope your Thanksgiving was good. Ours was white! Well, ok, just barely, but it was still great fun!

The image on the right is of Frog Hollow arts center and studio where Yvonne has been really enjoying working with ceramics the past few months.

Below is a shot of the Middlebury green on Thanksgiving eve. The gazebo is often used for outdoor activities other times of the year. For the next few months I think it will be mostly serve a decorative purpose.

And speaking of Thanksgiving, we had a really great day! Dinah and Mitch, two of the original members of CVUUS, invited us to join them at their house, along with some of their friends from Burlington. We had a wonderful day of fabulous foods and better company. Middlebury has been so good to us!

Back to the snow. While the higher elevations around here got better than a foot of the white stuff, here in town the snow melted rather quickly. We've gotten some intermittent flurries since then. For the record though, Yvonne and I are taking no chances -- our tire chains arrived this Monday.

The Friday after Thanksgiving we went up to Burlington to meet up with our friend Kolya and his family, and some folks we know from Claggett Farm (in Maryland) who were up for Thanksgiving. Kolya, his wife Sandra, and daughter Maria used to be our cross town neighbors in Takoma Park. Kolya worked for several years at Claggett, which is where we met him. Now he has a small farm at The Intervale in Burlington, and a spacious house on the north side of town. We had a wonderful time re-connecting with Kolya, Sandra, Maria, Kenji, and Gail. The last time we saw Kolya we helped load his moving truck!

Here's a picture of Kolya, with a custom made broadfork, at his going away party at Claggett Farm. It was much warmer then!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Search for Land, Chapter II

We just got back from a five day trip to the Finger Lakes. We linked up with our very excellent and indefatigable real estate agent, Paul, and looked at 10 new properties and reexamined three from earlier trips.

A second look at the three leading properties proved very helpful. A 43 acre farm in Berkshire remains “our 80% solution”. The missing 20% is generally expressed in idiosyncrasies; the pasture is bisected by a deep stream bed that we would have to bridge, the barn needs a new roof and some rafter replacement, and the house’s first floor bathroom has a very large jet stream tub on the first floor, but there are no bedrooms on the first floor.

An 8 acre horse farm in Groton didn’t look as good the second time around, and that’s ok because it went under contract the day after our second viewing.

The third place we took another look at is near Cortland. We saw the place at open house on the last trip, and our impression then was that the house was well cared for, but the asking price was too high. It has since been aggressively re-priced. Our reexamination was very helpful. We never had any question on the land -- it’s 45 acres, half pasture and half arable, and all well drained. The living space in the house has been very well cared for. But the owners have done bupkis for the foundation, which is in very serious need of fundamental repairs. This explains why it’s being sold “as is”. Paul suggested that we might offer them full asking price but toss in a clause that would require the sellers to set aside $15K-$20K in escrow to repair the foundation. The place has an old 16 stall dairy barn and after a second look we concluded that it’s in much better condition than we remembered. A little work on the roof would give us a large, solid structure to work with.

One of the new places was of interest too. It’s either a 7 or 17 acre place in Lodi with very new outbuildings. At least two of the out buildings have both water and power. The knock on the place is that the house is a doublewide mobile home, though we thought much more of it than we would have imagined. It is in very good condition, with ceiling fans in most rooms, sky lights, and a wood stove. It’s also surrounded by Amish farms and is close to wineries; both big plusses.

After three days of running around looking at properties we repaired to Gentle Giants B&B for a weekend of R&R. We chilled out, toured some wineries, and generally let the dust settle some on our search to see where we were/are.

So here’s approximately where we are: we found some places in New York that would certainly allow us to start the market-garden vegetable operation we envision, with plenty of room to grow. The Finger Lakes are beautiful, exciting, and inviting. That said, we have really enjoyed Vermont, and would really like to find a place here, but it’s very difficult to argue with the economics. Vermont really suffers from the pressure its popularity as a vacation and seasonal home destination puts on the land prices. We’re also growing anxious to have all of our belongings in one place again, but we don’t want to make a rushed decision. We’re going to cogitate and meditate on it a bit more, view a handful other listings here in Vermont and then see what we've got.