Make an Offer on Farmland: Property Lines and Easements

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Bradley Rankin

The field on a property the author sought to purchase was very impressive to him (it had been planted in corn), and he thought it came with the deal. Due to a misunderstanding both for where the line was as well as acres advertised, only about two-thirds ended up in the sale after the first closing.
Photo by Bradley Rankin

Let’s say that you are at the point of preparing to walk on to what potentially could be your own farm someday soon. You have done a lot of prep work and are ready to get serious about buying forested land. A word to the wise: Before you head out, look up the words “forest succession” and review this weathered concept. It will help you assess your woodlands and understand the profound effects of any logging or previous ice storms. Diversity is what you are after if your interest is wildlife and vegetation — but you might as well know if there is any timber value as well.

Go With a Realtor or Not?

OK, let’s get on this farm you are interested in. Maybe you are by yourself, or maybe you are with a Realtor. Both have their advantages. But here is something to think about: A Realtor’s description and knowledge of the property is supplied by the seller. They are not “certifying” anything they claim about the property. It all comes from the seller, and it is not necessarily accurate (intentionally or not). The realtor has not surveyed the property. Obviously, this can be very important.

Confirm Property Lines

After you are on the property and have looked at the features that interest you, it seems logical to walk the property line and learn firsthand the property boundaries. Well, it might not be that easy or even possible. Our farm had been extensively logged two years before purchase, and the land had also experienced a devastating ice storm. Most all of the forest was (and is) early in succession with vast amounts of open canopy, undergrowth, deer tracks, and ticks. In July, it was impossible to confirm the boundaries.

Our seller did take me on a tour on a six-wheeler of the farm. He hadn’t been in the woodlands for a number of years. We got down in the holler, so to speak, by the creek bed and got lost. I literally videoed the second half of the trip just so they would know what happened to us if we didn’t find our way back to the top! But we did make it, with not all markers found (it would have been impossible with all of the undergrowth) — and I must add that this resulted in a significant misunderstanding about the extent of our property.

But eventually, you are going to be looking at some paperwork in preparation for making an offer. Now, you are getting down to the nitty gritty. If you hit a snag, it will most likely be here and it is here you must separate yourself from the excitement and start looking at it as objectively as possible.

Among other factors, you must find out if there are any easements on the property. Another is property access, which must be provided. With respect to both, I would like to share with you our experience as an example.

The easement mentioned below. The 13-foot easement is from the little wooden markers in the extreme right and the white marker on the right of the driveway. The driveway is on the added portion of the land.
Photo by Bradley Rankin

Easement and Property Access

As you might have guessed, our farm has an easement, meaning that someone or some entity has some rights of access to the seller’s property (or vice versa) that does not dissolve at closing. We were advised by the seller that our access to the farm from the highway was a 12-foot-wide “easement” that eventually led to a cornfield.

Accordingly, we included in our offer that we had to have adequate access through this easement, about 50 feet by our research. But we did not specify the 50 feet; we just stipulated adequate access. The elderly seller had told us that the church owned that strip of land and that he was the one with the easement.

We later learned from the surveyor that it was the other way around — the seller owned it and the church had the easement to operate their mowers. This was very important, because whomever owns the land can grant or not grant any future easements. However, this meant we had legally no access to the property at the time the seller accepted our offer. The church had to continue to have access to those 12 feet.

So, the seller gave me a deal: If we paid for the survey — which, by contract was his responsibility — he would add a 38-foot section of his land to our side, thus giving us the 50 feet we needed (well, 38 feet). We made the deal and that deal cost me over $4,500. However, there was an advantage to this: The surveyor worked for me and he provided me with very good information about the farm.

The takeaway: We made an offer that was accepted and signed for on a farm with no legal access. I should have known such a factor before signing such an agreement.

More Considerations Before Making an Offer on Farm Land

  1. Know your seller if possible and who has influence with them, such as family members, including adult children.
  2. Ask about mineral rights (this will most likely be very expensive).
  3. Make sure you know what stays with the property and what does not.
  4. Consider any outbuildings or structures — do you want them? Do you know the cost of any repair? Have you considered the cost of removing them?
  5. Have you met any neighbors? Have you asked them if this land has been for sale in the past?
  6. Do you have access to water or will it require digging a well?
  7. How about electricity?
  8. Purchase title insurance.

Time to Make an Offer

Ask if there have been any other offers that were turned down and if so, when and for how much. They might tell you (the seller’s realtor told me, and it was very helpful).

I would not offer the asking price, even if it is what you think it is worth — and even if you just shave off $500. This has to do with their impression of you more than the money. You don’t want to make them feel like they priced it too low. On the other side of the coin, don’t make an insulting offer either.

And while I am probably the world’s worst on this, try to be patient during the negotiating phase. You might earn $2,000 in five minutes’ worth of sweating it out. If you have gone this far, they want to sell it. In some respects, the more time they have invested in it, the higher your chances are of success.

Now that your seller has accepted your offer, you have closed on your farm, and you have patiently waited for and received your survey; what then? This will be the topic for the next installment. Keep reading for a story of gaining access and looking for ways to stay on the farm for extended periods of time.

Bradley Rankin farms several of the 48 acres at Bobcat Ridge Habitat Farm in rural Kentucky, where he and his wife also manage a woodlot to attract wildlife. When he is not tending woodlands and pasture, Bradley enjoys raised-bed gardening, rock collecting, tree identification, and astronomy. Read all of his GRIT posts here.

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