Country living: A first-timer’s guide to buying on the backroads
So, you're buying in the country for the first time: congratulations! Moving out of the city can be one of the most rewarding decisions you'll ever make – especially now that many of us can work from home.
But rural and waterfront properties come with unique challenges, and without the right help you could end up with a lemon.
Here are our top five tips to consider before you sign on the dotted line.
1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: Map your property at www.rvca.ca or request a formal property inquiry. If you only do one thing before you buy, this is it! This can tell you if your dream home is located in the floodplain or a municipal drinking water vulnerable area, near a regulated stream or wetland, or has unstable slopes.
Under laws like the Conservation Authorities Act, the Planning Act, the Clean Water Act and the Ontario Building Code, any of those designations could determine how, where or even if you can renovate, rebuild or add to the property.
Without this heads-up, your country castle dreams could be dashed - or at least diminished.
2. ENLIST THE LOCALS: Team up with a rural real estate agent who knows the area. Using your bestie's agent from downtown Ottawa may not get you very far when you're buying property in Rideau Lakes, Perth or Frontenac. If you can, spend time talking to the locals: they'll give you the low-down on how things work in the community – and tip you off about any ongoing issues.
3. THE SCOOP ON POOP: Before you buy, research how septic systems work and your maintenance responsibilities under the Ontario Building Code. Most rural properties have private septic systems or tertiary treatment units. Depending on your set-up, you may face strict maintenance requirements. You may also find yourself limited when building a deck or pool, as there are setback requirements you'll have to follow.
Ask for detailed maintenance records from the seller or ask your conservation authority or health unit when the system was last replaced, inspected and maintained. Keep in mind, if you plan on rebuilding or renovating, your septic must be assessed to see if it's big enough for the new space. Depending on what you're planning, a septic replacement could cost up to $40,000.
4. WELL, WELL, WELL: Most rural properties have private wells on site instead of municipal water. Wells come with their own maintenance and testing needs, and sometimes they must be re-drilled or decommissioned if they have persistent water quality issues. Ask lots of questions about water quality issues in the area, whether the property is part of a Source Water Protection zone and if the property's private well has had any problems. Ask for detailed maintenance and testing records from the seller and consider getting the water tested before you buy.
5. HOME IMPROVEMENTS: Keep in mind that grants, subsidies and other financial incentives are often available to help you enhance your new property. RVCA's tree planting and shoreline naturalization projects can add shade or reduce runoff, while our Rural Clean Water Grants can help you deal with drainage issues, well and septic upgrades, and more.