Country Property Buyer’s Guide

NOTE: This page is not a substitute for thorough property inspections, nor does it cover all possible circumstances.

There are many issues to face when buying country property that are different from buying in the city. First and foremost are your source for water and type of sewer. You must also pay attention to the size of the lot, the lot lines, fire protection, access to the property, adjoining property uses and more. I will briefly cover these issues on this page. You should not buy any property unless you have a clear understanding of all of the above and are satisfied with the condition of these issues before buying.  I have a sampling of documents attached at the bottom of the page for you to download.

Water and Wells

Water and well situations vary considerably from area to area. In all cases you should be sure that there is an approved well on any property not serviced by a water utility. Wells should be tested for production (usually measured in gallons per minute) and potability (usually a test for coliform and e. coli bacteria). Other tests can be made for hardness or presence of hazards such as nitrates, lead, gas, etc. You can often find out if the property is in a water scarce area. Ask your realtor or the biggest well driller in the area if they know about wells in the area of your property and how well they produce or if there are known problems in your area. In addition, you should also check the well equipment such as the pump, pressure tanks, storage tanks and purifiers.

Septic Sewer Systems

There are many different kinds of septic disposal systems in use across the country. I can’t cover them in detail here. Consult with your realtor or local health department about minimum standards. Septic systems dispose of waste by having the waste move through your sewer pipes into a tank which allows the solid material to accumulate and passes the liquid into perforated pipes or leach lines which are buried under ground. The liquid percolates through the ground and mother nature purifies it. The main things to know are what type of system you have. Is it big enough for the size of the house? This is often measured by the number of bedrooms or people the house will hold. Does the soil percolate well (does water pass easily through it) ? Is there room to expand the system? How big is the septic tank which holds the solids and how often does it need to be pumped? Have it inspected by a licensed sanitarian or health department expert. Do not buy a property that cannot be shown to have a functioning system or the proven possibility of having one installed.  return to top

Property Line and Lot Size

The only way to be sure of your property boundary and size is to have a survey. Customs vary across the country as to whether a survey is routinely conducted or not. In areas where it is not common practice it is often a matter of cost. Surveys can be expensive. You must decide for yourself your own comfort level in not obtaining a survey. Fences are no guarantee as to where lines actually are. You cannot rely on verbal representations of sellers or agents as to lines. If there is any question as to whether structures or other improvements are on or near lines a survey would be very important. If there is any history of a dispute over lines or adjoining properties which have uses (timber cutting for example) that may impact your property a survey would be recommended. Talk to your realtor about what is common in your area.   return to top

Access and Easements

Easements are rights in a property belonging to other property owners, individual, corporations, utilities or government agencies You must thoroughly understand what easements, if any, exist over your property or which your property holds over other properties. This is usually revealed in a title search. Easements can be for access where the road to your property goes over one or more other properties or where another has access over your property. In these cases it is best if there is a written road maintenance agreement. Without one there can be dispute when it comes time to make repairs or improvements. Other easements can be for power lines, water lines, drainage, etc. Sometimes water rights are held in the form of easements. Easements may restrict what you can do with your own your property. They pass with each change in title when properties are sold. Be sure you get copies of all easements and understand completely where they are located and what they mean.   return to top

Other Issues

There are many other issues to consider. Here are a few: Find out who provides fire protection. What is required of you to protect your property? Water storage? Fire hose bibs? Are you in an area with known risk of fire? What is going on around your property? Does your neighbor spray their orchard with some offending pesticide? Will the goat farm next door mean flies in the summer? Does the winery down the road mean a lot of truck traffic? Has there been a history in the area of toxins in the soil? Are there any buried storage tanks on your property? Was your home built with or without permits? Is it up to code? As you can see there is a lot to consider. One of your best protections is to work with a Sonoma County real estate professional with the experience to guide you through the process.  return to top

Wine Country Real Estate