5 Questions to Ask When Buying an Old Farmhouse

Rural living—especially in a century farmhouse—has its fair share of challenges. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before making the purchase.

by Samantha Johnson

5 Questions to Ask When Buying an Old Farmhouse - Photo by Mindy Georges/Flickr (HobbyFarms.com) #farm #farmhouse 

You’ll have a million and one questions when buying a house, but an old farmhouse presents its own set of potential challenges. With long-time farm use, farmhouses have seen their fair share of wear-and-tear, and if this is your first time in a rural location, you’ll be faced with concerns you never had to think about in the city or suburbs. Make sure the house and land you purchase is what you dreamed of by asking your Realtor these questions before you make the purchase.

1. How is the property zoned?

This is an important question whenever you’re buying a home, but it can be of particular importance when buying a farmhouse. The specifics of zoning can limit or prohibit the activities you wish to pursue on your property, including livestock keeping and agritourism endeavors. If you’re buying property intending to keep a couple of horses, you don’t want to discover that your property isn’t zoned for livestock after the fact.

2. How old is the septic system?

You might be accustomed to being connected to city sewer lines, but most old farmhouses have out-of-date septic systems. Find out what kind of system is in place, when it was installed, whether it’s up to current code and whether it will need to be replaced. A new septic system is a significant expense, and if it’s required, could be a negotiation point with the seller. (I speak from experience on the expense. Yikes!)

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3. Is cell service/high-speed Internet available?

Welcome to the land of rural living, where cell phone service is spotty and “high-speed” Internet is slow. Depending on the location of the farmhouse and its proximity to cell towers and Internet lines, you may have difficulty getting reliable service. If these services are important to you—and for most Americans, they are—ask your Realtor about local availability and alternative services.

4. Does the house have any problems with its [fill in the blank]?

Old houses are filled with charm, character and a sense of history, but they can also have structural issues, outdated plumbing and electricity, and other problems that might not be visible at first glance. Ask your Realtor for as much information as he or she can provide. When was the roof replaced? Is the foundation solid? When were the electrical systems updated? How old is the furnace? Is there any lead paint or asbestos in the home? Has the well been tested recently? Does the house have any seasonal flooding issues? While you’ll have the home inspected prior to purchase, it’s good to discover any potential red flags sooner rather than later. Cover all your bases to make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting into. It’s easy to become enchanted with the idea of purchasing an old farmhouse—it’s a farmhouse, after all!—but you don’t want to overlook potentially hazardous or costly problems.

5. Where are the property lines?

The land you’re looking at might sound so delightfully spacious, but has the property been surveyed recently? Do you know exactly where those property lines fall? Is your neighbor’s fence actually on your side of the property line? These issues are important to address prior to purchase so you can eliminate issues down the road. You’ll also want to ask your Realtor if the property has any easements or encumbrances.

Get more tips for managing your property on HobbyFarms.com:

  • Eminent Domain and Your Farm Property
  • Cut Your Property Taxes
  • Top 3 Things to Look For When Buying a Farm
  • How to Site Your First Barn
  • Flip the Switch on Electricity Consumption 

About the Author: Samantha Johnson is the author of several books, including How to Build Chicken Coops (Voyageur Press, 2015). She raises Welsh Mountain Ponies in northern Wisconsin and enjoys gardening, especially heirloom vegetables. Visit her online portfolio.


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