Homesteading In Maryland
Updated: Dec 29, 2019
The dream of keeping chickens and goats and growing your own food is appealing to many. As people search for ways to make their lives more environmentally friendly, homesteading seems to be more and more popular. I specialize in residential and equestrian properties and, as such, I know that many equestrians end up with non-equines on their property. Homesteading can be fun and rewarding, but finding the right property is not so simple as closing your eyes and pointing at a map. This is what you need to consider when searching for a homestead in Maryland.
Have A Plan. It is important to know what you plan to do with the property ahead of time. Zoning restrictions are an obvious reason, but HOA’s can also be a limiting factor. HOA’s can place restrictions on the land. Commercial activities and certain types of livestock may not be allowed. So if you are looking for a farmette for you and your horses and you have a sneaking suspicion that you might want to raise chickens in the future, be sure to keep this in mind as you search for a property.
When purchasing a homestead, it is often best to find a turnkey farmette suited to your needs, but you will also have the options of buying vacant land or a home with acreage to build on. Decide which option is the best for you and don’t abandon that plan once you start looking. As is often the case with buying a property, you may not find a property that perfectly fits what you envisioned at the start and that is ok! Think about what concessions you may be willing to make ahead of time so you don’t feel discouraged when you find the almost perfect property.
Think About Your Finances. In Maryland, there is a homestead tax credit and a number of agricultural tax exemptions. Depending on what you plan to grow or raise on your property, you may find you qualify for a number of tax benefits that will help make your dream of homesteading in Maryland a reality.
Be realistic with your budget. Maybe you have just enough in your savings account to put 20% down, but it may make more sense to pay the PMI (private mortgage insurance) for a while and hold onto your rainy day fund. Homesteads and farms come with a lot of start up costs and if the home and the barns are older, you will need to be prepared to make some repairs. It is also important to pay attention to the utilities. Many of the older farmhouses are not particularly energy efficient.
Don’t Forget About The House. When buying a turnkey property, many buyers are likely to glance at the house before checking out the barns and pastures, but be careful not to overlook the house. The house may suit your needs for bedrooms and bathrooms, but you need to think about layout. Where is it in relation to the barn? You will want the barn close, but perhaps not too close to the house.
Unfortunately, you will find that many older farmhouses are in disrepair, so there are a number of red flags you need to be on the lookout for. I have written in the past about keeping an eye out for Band-Aids in a house. Has it been repaired or has it been covered up? It is also wise to think about function. Does the house have a garage or a mudroom? Will you need to budget to replace a house full of white carpet with hardwood? Homesteading is a lot of work and the house needs to be comfortable and convenient.
Location Is Everything. There are a number of things you need to think about when it comes to location. How close to town is the property? Where is the closest grocery store? Feed store? Gas station? It is unlikely that you will want to be too far off the beaten path. You need to think about how long it will take to get gas if the tractor runs out, how long it will take to pick up feed and medications for the animals, how long it will take a vet or farrier to arrive in an emergency, and how long it will take you to get to work if you commute every day.
Many people love having well water, but access to city water has some advantages. You will not be responsible for maintenance and upkeep and your water is unlikely to shut off during a power outage. Think about the climate in the area. If there is a lot of snow, how will you feel about caring for your animals in the cold? Even if you don’t mind the winter weather, you will probably want to be in an area where the roads are plowed regularly. Owners of rural properties will find that amenities and services are often much less accessible.
Choose Your Team. If you plan to work with a Realtor, choose carefully. Agricultural properties are a different ballgame and you will want to work with someone who understands your needs. A Realtor who has knowledge of agricultural properties will be more efficient in finding the right property for you and better able to guide you through the buying process. Contracts are dozens of pages long and there are additional disclosures for agricultural properties that a Realtor who only works with residential properties might not be aware of. It is also worth speaking to a lender who works with farm buyers. There may be other options available to you through the USDA that might be more appropriate. Not every lender has experience with farm loans and regardless of what type of property you intend to buy, it is always worth shopping around.
Contemplate The Overall Condition. We’ve established that the condition of the house is crucial, but what about the land and the outbuildings? If you are raising grazing animals and the pastures are completely worn down, keep in mind it can take years to reestablish grass. A property on a floodplain will also be a major headache. Keep an eye out for signs of flooding around the property. If you are buying vacant land, you will want to take a soil sample. Certain types of soil will complicate any construction you plan to do and will limit what you can grow or raise on the property.
Traditionally, outbuildings are not included in home inspections. If they are in obvious need of repair, see what you can work out with the sellers. You may be able to negotiate additional inspections or additional time to get estimates on the work that needs to be done. It is common for buyers to become fatigued in their search and change their expectations from turnkey to fixer upper. Hopefully, your Realtor will be honest with you if your initial expectations are not realistic and your home search may not go as planned, but remember what you set out to find and try your best to stick to it.