Start the Search for Your Perfect Farm with Aerial Maps and the Right Questions

The first time you head out to look at a potential farm to buy it is very exciting. By about the fifth time, though, it begins to feel a little like work. That’s because that is exactly what it takes to be successful. This process takes time — yet you always need to be ready to make your move.  Before we get into specifics, here are a couple of things to think about.

Farm Resale Value and Proximity to Others

Buying land is an investment. You may think you will never sell it, but you never know. Always look at resale value. That power line may not bother you, but research it and you will find that, right or wrong, it may bother some.

Seclusion and quietness are both enticing — until you have a fire, someone breaks in, or you have an injury. Then neighbors and accessibility suddenly become very desirable. Think about your age, overall health, how many gravel roads you want to traverse in all kinds of weather, and whether you really want to be that secluded. We have neighbors, and I am glad to have them.

Step One: Ask Questions (Including of Yourself)

To begin, consider the number of acres you want — minimum and maximum — the driving time from your home, and what you must have and what you must avoid. Then prioritize everything else in between.

You also must know your target counties or regions, depending on how your state is structured. Certain counties will have certain reputations. This county rarely has land for sale because it is by the lake, this county’s farmers always buy up the tillable land, this county’s land is always bought up by deer outfits, this county’s land is less expensive because it always floods, and so forth. You will learn these things. We ended up with two or three target counties — which for us was a fine number.

From here, Step One is to talk with your extended family, friends, and contacts, people with experience you trust. Share the information above with them. Ask them to talk with those they trust and so forth. You can also find leads in local papers and magazines in stores and so forth, but always keep your ears and eyes open.

Step Two: Start the Search

Enter each of your target counties and “farms/land for sale” in your search engine and find three or four sites that sellers use to advertise their farms. You can search anywhere, anytime on your smartphone. It is addicting, and I still peruse these sites from time to time. What I learned is this:

  1. The most frustrating aspect of it is that their status is not always updated. The status is marked active, sold, contract pending and so forth. Time and time again, I would contact the agent about an active property only to learn that it had previously sold. This was quite frustrating. Expecting it helps.
  2. Be aware that pictures can be deceiving and outdated. Also, beware of those with few pictures.
  3. Negatives about the property are not going to be highlighted. They are always there, though, so make it a habit to look for them at each stage of the process.
  4. Look at the number of days the property has been on the market. If it has been on the market significantly longer than others, chances are there is a problem with it. Either that or the seller has it over-priced hoping someone outside the market will come along. Either way they may not be in a hurry — all land sells, however, when the price is right!
  5. Be aware of any descriptions that look like they are trying to oversell the property, again looking at others in comparison.
  6. You might find yourself talking with a seller’s agent at this point. If this land is not available, they might ask you what type of farm is of interest to you. You can consider giving them your name and number. It just would depend on your level of trust and how many people you want contacting you.

A Note on Land Auctions

We went to one land auction early in our search. It was exciting for a bit, but the prices quickly got out of control. Once they get through the original tracts these days, they then get bids on combinations and it goes on forever. If you have a lot of knowledge about the land, about the market, and you have experience with auctions, you might be successful. After purchase, the process is much faster than other options with less red tape.

Photo by Bradley Rankin

Step Three: Use Aerial Maps

After you start getting some leads about what is available, you might want to head out for one or two.  You will learn quite a bit.  But here is another idea that will save you time and money: Use aerial maps on the internet.

If I had known this from the start, it would have really saved me time. All you need to do is search an address. This is excellent for crossing one off the list quickly without leaving your home. The first time I tried this, I noticed structures on an adjacent piece of property that turned out to be a substation for the county transportation department. What I was looking at were trucks and huge storage sheds for salt and rocks.

It is also important again to look at the date that the images were recorded. This can be a factor in both directions — that is the desirable can be gone or something undesirable may have been removed or cleaned up.

So now you know the purpose of the land that you seek, you have plenty of leads, have talked to quite a few people, have looked at aerial maps of the properties looking closely at surrounding good and bad things nearby, and you know more what is available and what you are looking for in a farm. Next month, we will “go on the property together”, and I will tell you about our experience.

While you will never find perfection, when you first set foot on the right farm you will know it. I have no other way of putting it — it was a magical moment. I had that feeling twice, yet we have only purchased one farm. Reason prevailed the first time, and I am glad it did. I am not saying our farm is perfect, but it is beyond perfect for us, and I will stand by it thick or thin. See you next month from the trails of Bobcat Ridge.

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. 

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  • Published on May 26, 2021
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