It’s been months in the making, but Ian and I finally found a new way to be different than most millennials and bought our first house.
Except it’s not just a house, it’s a real, honest to goodness, fulfills-every-childhood-dream-I’ve-ever-had farmhouse.
We own this barn now. Is this real life?!
As of last Wednesday, we are the proud owners of 33.5 acres in Allegan County, Michigan. Half of the land is wooded, a quarter is fenced pasture land, and the last quarter is open fields where corn and other crops were grown in decades past. The land was once a forty-acre parcel, but the northeastern corner was carved out for a small cemetery.
Traversing the wooded half of the lot are two small streams, and the property comes with a big red barn, four horse stalls, and a smattering of small outbuildings without an immediately apparent purpose. Goat barns? Future chicken coops? Everything seems possible at this stage.
Horses are neat, but in a year I envision this pasture with a few dairy goats or alpaca instead.
The view from one of the six (!!!) horse pastures.
Inside the main barn.
One of the two small streams on the property.
Centered near the road is the 1930s Victorian-style farmhouse, a home that won me over with its sturdy construction and ample natural light. Walking inside makes it clear that the house was likely self-built by the first owners, possibly with trees timbered right from the surrounding woodlot. Much of the internal structure is not ‘standardized’ in any way, meaning that modern essentials like bedroom closets and second bathrooms are currently nonexistent.
In other words, after living in the Knob house for a full two years, it feels familiar in all the right ways.
All those windows were a major selling factor for me and a big bonus at our price point.
Cute, functional dining room that could be enhanced with hardwood flooring someday.
The Process of Buying a Farm
Buying property like this is a BIG decision both financially and lifestyle-wise, and it’s not one that we’ve taken lightly. In fact, looking at rural listings has been a theme of Ian and my relationship since before we were engaged. My dad has always found looking at available land to be one of the better ways to spend a free weekend, and Ian and I joined him on several occasions while we were dating simply to see what was out there.
However, the farm conversations began to build in earnestness about a year ago. We absolutely love the lifestyle we have here in West Virginia, but living nine hours from family in both directions isn’t something we want to do long-term. Likewise, the pull to move back to the region where I grew up became stronger each season.
When I found that freelancing writing fulfilled me creatively and allowed me to make a (relatively) stable salary from any location with internet access, the idea of buying our own farm suddenly felt far more feasible. Moving to a new place without jobs is scary, but it’s only half as scary if one job is already secured.
See the red in the center of the picture? That’s our barn, IN A PICTURE TAKEN WHILE STILL ON OUR PROPERTY. It blows my mind.
And so, we started scouring listings to learn what we wanted in our future farmhouse. We first met with our real estate agent last Thanksgiving, and my dad and I have kept a near-constant stream of emails with listing specs traveling across the internet ever since. In those months of searching, we started to narrow down what we were looking for and got an understanding of what region of Michigan we could most see ourselves settling in.
But, in the interest of mixing things up, I also applied to a North Carolina farm contest and promptly got my money back when it was canceled last month. While my dream of decades of mortgage-free living was dashed forever, I think my mother cried tears of happiness, so it all worked out in the end.
Having a wood stove was on my wishlist, and this exterior burner perfectly fits the bill.
Buying property, especially rural property is never a quick process, but a general lack of selection does make it easier to finally commit. In a full year of looking at listings multiple times a day, I think there were possibly five properties within a 50-mile radius that we seriously considered making a move on.
Real estate in West Michigan is hot right now, so we knew our ideal property probably wouldn’t stay on the market long enough for us to visit it on one of our infrequent trips back home. For that reason, we gave my parents full proxy power to scope out listings and report back if anything was worth pursuing.
That decision was almost disastrous, as my parents had a bad impression of this farm the first time they saw it. Their excuse was that the weather was dreary, so they drove by it without a second thought. However, we checked it out together when I visited a few weeks later, and within minutes I knew that this was a place where I could settle down. We put an offer on the property a few days later, and after navigating the circuitous path that is modern home-buying, officially finalized the sale three days ago. So now I can finally say it. We own a farm!
Well, technically… my parents do. Self-employment is a scary thing for banks, so they require at least two years of taxable income before even considering you for a mortgage, no matter the size of your down payment. After taking stock of the ruthless West Michigan property market, my parents offered to give us the ultimate vote of confidence by securing this property until I hit my two-year freelance writing mark in May and can officially qualify for the mortgage to buy it from them.
We are forever indebted to their generosity, and we’re hoping to begin making it up to my dad by letting him store as many tractors on the property as he wants. I think this arrangement will work out well for all of us.
Your Questions: Answered
If you’ve made it this far, you are probably confused about the intent behind this change in location. These questions might clear things up.
When are We Leaving West Virginia?
Though this house is ours, we won’t be living in it for at least a year, maybe longer. Ian’s contract with Big Laurel extends through August 1, and I expect we’ll stay through the middle of the month. A big factor for buying this property now is that the timing lets us rent it out for a full year before we move in. Buying any later in the year would leave too little time for renting, and waiting to make a purchase until we officially moved back to the state might leave us with higher listing prices and no promising options to pursue.
Are We Going to be Real Farmers?
That’s definitely the dream. Working on organic farms were some of the most profound experiences I had in college, and I would love to emulate the lifestyle for the long-term. In an ideal world, I’d pay the bills with my writing while Ian ran a vegetable market garden and homeschooled our tanned and barefoot children in the open air. Realistically though, getting this property to pay for even a third of our living expenses would be thrilling.
Maintaining a family farm has long been my dream, but I’m under no illusion that it’s an easy or profitable life. For this reason, we won’t be putting all our eggs in one basket (farm metaphor- ha!) and will still keep full-time jobs, at least for the first few years.
Ideally, I want to intensively cultivate a small piece of the property, no more than 3-4 acres, for vegetable production. The rest of the land will likely be used for pasture space, hay production, and cover crops. In my experience, this allows the farm to stay manageable for a family while still being worth the effort from a profit standpoint.
Hiring interns or WWOOFers might also be an option someday and would be a good way for me to give back for all the farm experience I’ve received over the years. If we get to the point where I can spend most Saturdays in the summer at a farmer’s market, I’ll be a very happy person.
These farm books are so multifunctional. Not only are they aiding my education, but they also make for an inspiring laptop stand!
Why THIS Property?
In our opinion, there’s a lot to like about our new farm.
Great Location: We wanted to live as close to my parents as we could, and at just forty minutes away, this property is about the best we can do at our price point for the acreage. It’s also conveniently centered between several large cities in West Michigan that have potential for selling farm products, providing a full-time job for Ian, and even the allowing us to indulge in the occasional date night.
Multi-Purpose Land: Most of the properties we looked at with acreage weren’t set up for farming nearly as well as this one. Not only does it come with a sturdy barn, acres of fenced-in pasture space and a woodlot, it also has a big open field and plenty of fruit trees. Adding extra character, it’s on a paved (but unbusy) road, and the home itself is surrounded by mature trees.
A house we can make our own: For most of the listings we looked at, a great house was paired with terrible property and vice versa. In contrast, this home was willing to meet us in the middle. While it needs cosmetic updating, it’s functionally sound and move-in ready, meaning we can tackle the renovations because we want to, not because we have to.
Am I Going to Keep Blogging?
You better believe it.
I’ve spent the past 18 months creating compelling content for a variety of clients, and I can’t wait to take what I’ve learned and apply it to this blog. By the time we officially move in, I want to revamp this website to really dive into the hurdles we face in the process of becoming first-generation farmers. You should definitely stick around, at least for the animal sagas.
And, most importantly…
Does Our Farm Have a Name?
Not yet, and I’m open to suggestions! While I’m sure that this something we can’t really finalize until we’ve moved onto the property, I’m still enjoying thinking through many (mostly terrible) name ideas. That said, if you get struck with inspiration, please pass your idea along to help us out.
That ‘For Sale’ sign is GONE and I’m still giddy about it.