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.

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