Buying Land

Stormy Weather Brings Buyers and Sellers Together

As I write this column, it’s a sleety, slushy, miserable wintry day on my Virginia farm. It’s bone-chilly and depressing.

The Inuits, I’ve read, have several dozen words to describe different types of Artic snows. Their word for this type translates as, “Really yucky.”

Our two Yellow Labs are asleep on their mats in the living room next to the woodstove. Lucy is chasing the same shifty rabbit that always torments her dreams. Sophie pursues average intelligence, which has eluded her since birth.

It’s warm in my office. I’m dry.

Every normal person I know—admittedly a small group—would say: “This is the perfect day to stay inside.”

I say: “This is the day to look at country real estate.”

Here’s why.

Weather applies stress. The more extreme the weather, the more is revealed about the ability of land and buildings to cope with cold, heat, wind and water.

On a very cold day, a buyer can see whether the heating system is adequate and keeps pipes from freezing. On a very hot day, check a house’s natural ventilation, window workability and mechanical cooling systems.

Sustained, heavy rains may show up as water in a basement, roof leaks or flooding. Snow and ice may make an entrance road unusable or prohibit access to half a mountainside.

Good weather reinforces whatever “staging” a seller has done to spruce up his property. Clean windows sparkle in sunlight; new paint shines.

Drought will test water resources, which will weaken or even disappear.

If you’ve never heard a howling winter wind, you probably ought to before buying that 360-degree view on a 3,000-foot-high bald knob.

The only way to know how property handles environmental stress is to be there in the thick of it.

Bad-weather buyers are not fair-weather friends. Buyers demonstrate their seriousness and reliability when they visit in dreadful conditions. It shows a seller that you are not a tire-kicker.

Motivation. A buyer indicates that he’s motivated to work with a seller when he appears on a bad day. Sellers are looking for that signal.

Bonding. Nothing builds a congenial, problem-solving relationship between buyer and seller more than slopping around a farm in a downpour. A muddy seller will inevitably become invested with a muddy buyer.

Sharing misery, getting a vehicle unstuck—those are foundation stones on which a purchase is built.

Tilt the playing field a little bit. All sellers, including me, want buyers to visit when our properties look their best. We hope for pleasant days.

In contrast, bad weather forces a property to display its virtues in hostile conditions. When weather forces a seller to explain, rationalize or apologize for what he’s selling, the buyer’s negotiating position improves.

“Really yucky” is an opportune time for a property buyer to begin negotiations.

Atypical conditions bring out atypical creatures. On a Tuesday in early September, Sophie started our two-dog bark-a-thon at about 4:30 a.m. But that morning I heard an urgency indicating something more was afoot than the familiar hall night light, which Sophie thinks is a burglar who will return to darkness if she barks at it.

I went out on the porch with a flashlight. Nothing stirred in the pond. But the big maple about 20 feet away didn’t look quite right. I ran the beam feet up the stem to the point where its four major limbs formed a cup.

A pair of eyes shone back at me. Well, I thought, they’re barking at Kitty again, which they do on principle. I looked harder. Two eyes became four, then six, then eight.

A momma bear and her three cubs had climbed a chain-link fence to get into a yard that offered no food and was rife with repugnant dog doings. Why?

Two months of drought and the absence of blackberries had forced her and the undernourished cubs down off the Devil’s Backbone to find water and nourishment. Drought also brought down deer and rattlesnakes.

Looking at real estate when things are messy is no fun. But buyers are likely to get better deals for their efforts.

And remember: If a property looks just okay in the middle of a mess, it’ll look great when the sun’s out and a rainbow glistens.

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About the author

Curtis Seltzer

Curtis Seltzer is a land consultant, columnist and author of How To Be a DIRT-SMART Buyer of Country Property and Land Matters: The “Country Real Estate” Columns, 2007-2009.

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