Buying in the country: things to consider
Real Estate Roundup
Most of us, at one time or another in our lives, think about owning a home in the country. We like the idea of having space between us and the neighbors and enjoying the expansive view of our spectacular mountains. Bird songs, wildlife, star gazing, and gentle breezes are also to be relished. Not having to pay the monthly town or city water and sewer charges also appeal to some property owners.
We sometimes fail to realize the major differences in owning rural property compared to owning in-town property. Some of the differences can be:
• Living with a water well rather than on treated city water. This means maintaining the well pump and pressure tank, both of which can fail over time and need replacement. Water in Western Colorado has a tendency to be “hard water,” with many minerals, and the water may need treatment with a softener or other filtration device to provide water suitable for drinking, bathing and laundry. Additionally, the well may “sand in” and lose its ability to produce sufficient water. When this occurs, the well will need (at the minimum) re-drilling. Sometimes an entire new well needs to be drilled, which will involve new casings. It is not unusual to go a depth of 100 feet or more for sufficient water in our area of Colorado. The quoted cost of an average well these days is between $8,000 to $12,000. That doesn’t include the well pump, pressure tank or holding tank, nor the electric service to run the pump.
• In the country, waste water is managed by a septic system rather than a city sewer system. Septic systems entail a tank and leach field. Septic tanks hold the solid wastes and engineered leach fields dissipate the fluid wastes underground into an area that allows the fluids to leach through the sand and the grass. Septic tanks can require pumping of the solids, and leach fields can fail and need reconstruction. When the tank gets too full of solids, it can no longer function, and toilets cannot be flushed until the “honey truck” can get there to alleviate the problem. Pumping a 1,000 gallon septic tank can cost more than $500 for the service and proper discharge of the waste material.
• For fields and gardens, surface irrigation water is usually used in the country. This water is dependent on annual snowfall and gets to rural land by ditches, canals, laterals and piping. Sometimes the water is stored in reservoirs. All of these structures require maintenance, and ditch fees are charged to cover anticipated costs. Owners may also have to maintain and provide the power source for their own irrigation pump to bring the water from the main ditch to their property. A pump is needed if the water is not gravity fed to the beneficial property from the ditch. Additionally and frequently, a ditch may run across a rural property for which the property owner has no ditch right. They should be aware that the person owning the water right has the inherent easement to come onto the property and maintain the ditch, even though they do not own the property the ditch crosses.
• On many occasions, there are shared road agreements for access roads to each property to be maintained by the impacted owners when it is not a public, county-maintained road. This usually results in a mutually agreed upon annual dollar amount needed to maintain the road base and condition. Sometimes an independent party is hired to maintain the road.
• Noxious weeds are a problem for rural property owners in Western Colorado. Invasive species can overwhelm fields and need constant surveillance with manual or chemical removal. Some of the 17 local noxious weeds are toxic to farm animals.
• Historic fence-out rules apply for rural home owners. This means the rural property owner has to “fence out” the neighbor’s livestock. So, if your neighbor is moving sheep or cattle, your fence has to keep the livestock off your property.
• Feelings of freedom comes from living in the country; however, your pets cannot be allowed to run at large. If your dog is seen chasing wildlife or livestock, it can be shot and killed. Dogs will usually chase anything that runs, and can quickly become nuisances to your neighbors if not supervised when outdoors.
• Skunks, snakes, coyotes, mountain lions and bears all lived here long before settlers made this their home. Critters are part of living in Western Colorado, and, along with the smells and flies from corrals and feed lots, are part of living rurally. Rural property owners also may find themselves repairing or replanting where elk and deer herds have browsed.
• Mineral and oil and gas rights are frequently owned by someone other than the property owner. This is called a “split estate.” The mineral rights owner has the right to come onto the surface of the property and extract their minerals or oil and gas. Usually, a surface agreement with the property owner is entered into to allow the minerals to be developed.
• Wind, water and snow may make life exciting for rural property owners. If the property is located on a road far from the interstate, it may be inconvenient and time consuming to plow snow from your own lane. Mother Nature can bring drifted-in roads, washed-out gardens, filled-in ditches and blown-over trees. Lightning can strike trees and burn huge patches of tree cover before the rural fire protection companies can travel many miles to get to the site.
Living in the country can be wonderful, but also challenging. Knowing that it can be a lot more than you anticipate is a wise way to view “buying in the country.”
Danette Dickey and Mary Huffine are brokers at Real Estate Out West.
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