5 Things Real Estate Agents Always Say About Farmhouses

published May 11, 2022
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If you’ve found yourself in the depths of #cottagecore on Instagram, you’ve probably wandered over to its close cousin, the farmhouse. These simple, two-story homes, with their charming gables, welcoming front porches, cozy chimneys, and clapboard siding are a quintessential slice of Americana. You can picture it now…tending to the vegetable garden, hanging sheets on the clothesline, and meeting neighbors on the front porch to gossip over a cold glass of iced tea.

It’s that idyllic vision (along with a few hit home renovation shows) that have driven up interest in once-forgotten farmhouses in recent years. But they’re not always easy to come by. As the suburbs continue to sprawl, they often eat up land around original farmhouses. And those that are preserved aren’t often kept in pristine condition.

“A true unspoiled farmhouse on acreage is a rare commodity nowadays, but if you’re lucky enough to find one, buckle up for a labor of love!” says Hudson Valley-based Sarah Elliott of Halter Associates Realty. “Wide plank floors, rocking chair front porch, rolling land and a big red barn. Sounds like a dream, right?”

It could be a dream — if you go in with the right expectations and patience for a project. Here are five things real estate agents always say about farmhouses. Keep them in mind before you adjust your next Zillow search.

Your Farmhouse May Have Come From a Kit

While a farmhouse seems like a unique, magical novelty to city dwellers, many of the early 20th century farmhouses were actually a dime a dozen. “A significant number of farmhouses in the southeast U.S. came from the Sears catalog,” says Barry Richards of Tennessee-based EXIT Realty Garden Gate Team. “From 1908 to 1940, the Sears Roebuck catalog offered home kits, delivering all materials needed to build a home via railcar. Sears estimates 70,000 of these homes were sold in North America.” 

Adjust Expectations for Rural Living

Rural farmhouse living sounds romantic, but Elliott emphasizes that buyers should understand exactly what that means and how it will impact their lifestyle both for the better — and the different. “‘Quick trips to the store’ do not necessarily exist and cell service and internet may be spotty, if at all,” says Elliott when describing a true rural setting. Errands could require setting aside an entire day and meal planning is no longer a buzzword, but a way of life.

Credit: haveseen/Shutterstock.com

F is for Farmhouse… and Functionality

“Many older farmhouses were built to the minimum requirements of the owner,” explains Richards. When you think of old homes, you think of grand, historic estates but, the reality is, farmhouses were built for practicality. Richards notes that it’s not unusual to find farmhouses with irregular-sized windows and doors, few or no closets, and ceilings lower than 8 feet. These were energy and cost-efficient decisions, not stylistic. That means your Instagram-worthy dream home might require a few upgrades. 

Plus, with farmhouses that were passed down from generation to generation, families may have made gradual updates rather than undergoing a to-the-studs renovation. Richards says, “A home with a modern kitchen may have a chimney, a remnant of a time when the stove was a wood-burning model. Indoor plumbing and electricity may have been late additions, and cellars often have old coal-burning furnaces cast aside.”

Plumbing, Electrical, Well, and Septic May Need Updates

This is standard old-house fare, but here’s what that translates to: don’t skip the inspection. Arm yourself with all possible information on when the home was updated (if it was updated!) so you know what needs to be addressed immediately. A common issue in older farmhouses is knob and tube electrical wiring, which often needs to be replaced due to safety hazards.

Don’t Skimp on the Survey

When you have an apartment, the property lines are clear. The front door is the front door. The walls are the walls. But when you have a farmhouse and possible acreage, things get a little muddier. “Make sure you have a recent survey, or get a new one. Although it may look like your property meets the horizon, it is important to know where the borders actually are,” recommends Elliott. And, beware, multiple surveys could turn up different results.

While you’re at it, check out the floodplain lines and zoning laws. Elliott explains, “Many farms sprouted in and around flood plains, which makes for incredibly fertile soil for farming.” However, while a flood may be great for crops, it’s not great for your insurance or the consequent damage if a flood does happen. 

And zoning comes into play if your farmhouse fantasy involves raising farm animals. Make sure your goats and pigs are legitimate in the eyes of the county before you begin sowing your vision of a peaceful, tranquil life on the farm.