This is the time of the year when I feel my 10 acres is 9 too many. While my friends are playing golf, fishing or taking the family on a vacation, I’m up to my elbows clearing grass, weeds and brush. My sole recreational activity over the next few weeks will be weed-whacking. It’s a sport where the player swings, pushes or rides some type of mowing apparatus around their property until their exhausted. All my neighbors live on acreage and engage in this sport to some degree. This time of year, it’s the most frequent topic of conversation. “You weed-whacking today?” “How’s that new weed whacker?” “How much whacking did you get done today?”
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Homebuyers relocating to our region often perceive El Dorado County as a bucolic, rural county where farming and ranching are popular lifestyles. Although some will choose this lifestyle, most don’t. Of the 925 home sales since the first of the year, only 15 percent were on properties of 5 acres or more while two-thirds of all county home sales are on less than one acre. Homes on acreage typically sell for less. The median selling price for a home on 5-plus acres this year has been $369,000 while the median selling price for homes of similar size, on less than an acre, has been $382,000.
Living on acreage has advantages. There is plenty of space for people, animals and stuff. The county lifestyle my seem envious to those living on a corner, high-traffic lot but the care and management of rural properties requires a different set of homeowner skills and level of commitment not experienced by the suburban dweller.
Tom and Sally recently moved to our rural neighborhood from Sacramento. They moved here for all the right reasons. They wanted to live in a quiet, crime-free neighborhood. A place where windows were left open and doors unlocked, a neighborhood where everyone knows your name. They are good neighbors and I have had the opportunity to watch them go through the different stages of adapting to living in the rural foothills of El Dorado County.
After the moving van unloaded their furniture, they began experiencing the OMG phase. It is a combination of excitement, joy and wonder discovering how much land they own. Every tree and rock out-cropping is a fascinating discovery. Walking the property becomes a frequent satisfying experience. Identifying property and fence lines seems important. Every tree undergoes a critical assessment. Wildlife is revered. It is enchanting watching the skittish deer browse on tender shoots of grass or the bold grey fox snooping for stray seeds under the bird-feeder.
Following the OMG look at all the land we own, begins the inquisitive stage. The city slickers have lots of questions about their new environment and frequently stop by our place to ask important questions like “When will the grass stop growing?” “What’s a burn permit?” “What’s defensible space?” and “What tools do I need?”
Living on remote acreage requires an assortment of tools and equipment not usually found in a typical garage in El Dorado Hills. With mail, newspaper boxes and trash collection a mile or more away, ATVs are popular. Rural areas experience more frequent and longer power outages and a back-up generator is valuable. If the home has a wood burning fireplace or wood stove, a log splitter is another handy item. My old Ford 8N tractor and assortment of implements has been my reliable workhorse over the last 15 years, clearing brush, digging fence posts and hauling logs. Then there is the usual assortment of weed whackers, poll tree trimmers, chain saws and a large assortment of spare parts. A second mortgage may be necessary to acquire all the equipment needed in order to enjoy the rural lifestyle experience. Then a place to put everything comes next.
If the property already has a barn or out buildings, so much the better, if not, building a barn or another garage is another major undertaking requiring engineering design, building permits, fees and inspections. A less costly structure is the popular non-permitted shed often seen popping up after recently closed escrows.
Living in the woods or on acreage requires a few outdoor survival skills not normally developed in more densely populated areas of our county. Like the ability to recognize poison oak and quickly identify the difference between a Pacific Gopher Snake and a Northern Pacific Rattler. Mechanical aptitude is a valuable talent. Equipment service centers can be an all-day experience at best and a trip to the local hardware store can take hours getting there and back.
If gardening is important, rural settlers should be familiar with infantry defensive tactics to establish a defensive parameter protecting against an invasion of deer, raccoon and gophers. Eight-foot fencing, motion detectors, spotlights and water cannons are common defensive weapons required to protect tomatoes and zucchini from four-legged local creatures.
Horses are popular with rural property owners. However, like much of the charm of country living they are more pleasantly viewed behind another person’s fence.
Ken Calhoon is a real estate broker and can be reached at [email protected].