This is the time of the year when I feel my 10 acres is 9 too many. While my friends are playing golf, boating around Folsom Lake or taking the family on a picnic, 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 they are 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?”
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. According to El Dorado County Tax Assessor Karl Weiland, of the 66,400 improved residential properties in El Dorado County only 7,500 are built on 5 or more acres.
The rural nature of El Dorado County may be attractive to relocating homebuyers but most don’t buy homes on acreage. Nearly half of our 436 home sales since April 1 were located in either El Dorado Hills or Cameron Park. Another 30 percent were within five miles of Highway 50. Only 14 percent of all county home sales were located on 5 or more acres.
Living on acreage has advantages. There is space for people, animals and stuff. The country lifestyle may seem envious to those living on a corner lot in a high traffic neighborhood 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, having closed escrow on a bank foreclosure down our one-lane country road. 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 of watching 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 at 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 stage, 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. Old Ford farm tractors are not unusual but more often neighbors have John Deeres, Kubotas and riding mowers each with their own attachments and implements. 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. The ability to recognize poison oak is important, as is the ability to quickly identify the difference between a Pacific Gopher Snake and a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. 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 locals.
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 in El Dorado County. He can be reached through his Website: kencalhoon.com.