Written by Treat Hull, Broker For more information, visit www.treathull.ca.
PART 3 OF AN 8 PART SERIES ON THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE BUYING OR RENTING IN PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY
If you live in a big city and you’re considering a new life here in The County, there are some things you need to know about rural real estate which you won’t encounter in an urban area.
In this article I want to draw on my experience as a real estate broker as well as that of two other local realtors and a member the County’s Community Development team to address the frequently asked questions we run into, as well as some questions which deserve to be asked more frequently.
1. How good is the well?
If you buy a property in a built-up area in The County, then you’ll be on municipal water, which works the same as municipal water anywhere. However, if you choose a rural property, you’ll get your water from a well like most people in The County.
Because of the rock formation in The County, there are some areas where the amount of well water can be limited, so it’s important to ask how much water the well produces.
2. Does the well ever run dry?
As real estate broker Lynn Stein points out, during the hot, dry summer months, some wells can run dry.
“However, if a property you really like has a well which has a low flow of water and could run dry in the summer, you should not rule it out automatically” according to Lynn. “Running dry may sound pretty extreme but there are ways local residents deal with it. Often folks will have a ‘trickle system’ installed from the well. It feeds a constant trickle of well water to a holding tank (aka “cistern”) or your well, so you have a reserve. You can also get a delivery of town water which is cheaper than if you paid a normal town water bill!”
3. Is it OK to drink the water?
I get a lot of questions about whether well water is safe to drink. Every house on a well should have a filtration and UV sterilization system. These systems ensure that in the unlikely event that there’s bacterial contamination in the well, it doesn’t reach your drinking water. Sterilization may sound complicated, but in reality, these are simple, reliable systems which you can buy at any local hardware store. In addition, the local health authority provides free tests for drinking water quality, so if you’re concerned, you may want to include a test in your offer.
4. How is the septic system?
The water that comes out of your well has to go somewhere when you’re done with it. Picton and Wellington have municipal sewers, but if you buy anywhere else in the County, you’ll be on a septic system.
“Septic systems are a mystery to most city people” according real estate broker Gail Forcht. “If they’re treated properly, they can last for years and years. On the other hand, flushing chemicals down the toilet or parking on top of the septic bed can cause major problems.”
When you’re making an offer on a property with a septic system, there are different ways to make sure that it’s in good repair. This will be something else to discuss with your real estate representative.
The County’s online GIS tool allows you to check potential properties for the type of zoning. Environmental Protected (EP) can be on the same property as rural zoning. In many cases, it’s at the back of the property near wetlands.
5. Are there any EP zones on the property?
Many parts of the County are environmentally sensitive, especially areas where there is water (lakes, creeks, wetlands) or an escarpment (steep drop-offs). Such areas are classified as Environmentally Protected or EP for short. No building can take place within 15 meters (50 feet) of an EP zone, so it pays to check at an early stage whether any parts of property are environmentally protected, and if so, where.
Lynn Stein finds that in her real estate practice “Environmentally Protected zones are something that people from the city don’t understand. You can see a pretty piece of land near a river, and then find that you can’t build anywhere near where you want to, I’ve seen vacant properties where EP zones meant the only place you could build is up near the road.”
Having an EP zone on a property is not necessarily a bad thing. Many people like to have an area where the environment is protected and wildlife can thrive, just not where they want to build their dream house.
6. Was there flooding this year?
This is something you’ll want to know if you’re looking at a waterfront property that’s close to lake level. Flooding wasn’t much of a concern in the past, but with extremely high lake water levels lately, some low-lying buildings have had a problem with flooding.
This year Lake Ontario was at it highest level in 100 years, so this year’s high water mark offers a good indication of where you can safely build. If in doubt, Quite Conservation will come to the property and stake out the 100-year flood line.
Note that just like EP zones, no development can take place within 15 meters (50 feet) of the 100-year flood line. In addition to the potential risk of flooding for homes within the 100-year flood line, there may also be a problem getting insurance in the future.
7. Are there any livestock barns nearby?
Let’s face it – livestock smell, and some smell more than others.
When residences and livestock barns are located too close to one another, conflicts can arise over odour. To minimize these conflicts, the County has adopted what are called Minimum Distance Separation or MDS rules which set the minimum allowable distance between existing livestock barns and new homes (or between existing homes and new livestock barns).
If you are buying land to build a new house, make sure that there are no nearby livestock barns which would prevent you from building where you want to. Similarly, if you are looking for a property where you want to build a livestock barn (horses, goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas, etc.), make sure there are no nearby homes which would prohibit you from building a barn.
The detailed MDS calculations are complicated and should be done by the County’s Planning Department.
Bell is rolling out new wireless to home high speed internet throughout The County in 2019/2020. Check for availability here.
8. How’s the internet?
In big cities high speed internet is pretty well everywhere, but that’s not necessarily the case in rural parts of the County. Built-up areas in the County like Picton and Wellington are served by high speed fibre optic and cable, but in rural areas it can be a different story.
High speed internet is available from providers like Xplornet and Kingston Online Services (KOS) which use radio signals from towers in different parts of the County to deliver high-speed into homes.. Another option may be to get a data plan from one of the major telecom companies like Bell, TELUS or Rogers.
From personal experience I can tell you that wireless internet signals can be strong in one place and weak a little further down the road. Don’t rely on sweeping statements like “internet is good in this part of the County”. At minimum, check with the neighbors to see who they’re using and how happy they are.
9. Do the farmers use chemicals?
Most large-scale farmers I know do use chemicals, while some smaller farmers don’t. You can be pretty sure that where you see commodity crops like corn (easy to recognize) and soy (not so easy to recognize), there are chemicals of some sort in use. When in doubt, ask the farmer (or have your real estate representative ask the farmer for you.) While the use of chemicals is a contentious issue, local farmers take pride in caring for their land and adhere to nutrient management best practices.
10. What can we do with all that farmland?
In many cases, people are buying large farm properties for the lifestyle, but have no plans to use the barn or cultivate the fields. “When people ask me what to do with the land” says Gail Forcht,”I tell them that owning land is like having a child: if they’re not looked after, they go wild. It’s better all round if you can arrange to have it cultivated, but you won’t get rich doing it. Most people hope to pay part of their taxes or maybe get their driveway plowed.”
Trevor Crowe, part of the municipality’s Community Development team, grew up farming in The County and reports that “It’s always a good idea to find out if a local farmer was already renting the farmland prior to purchase, so they have right of first refusal to farm the land instead of other farmers. This has always been common courtesy in local farming circles. Regarding lease agreements, farmers typically lease farmland on a seasonal basis. Depending on the quality of the soil, land rent can be negotiated anywhere from $30-$80 an acre per year. For the last few hundred years, this has been done on a handshake, however it is increasingly common to have some form of signed Land Rent Agreement.”
Treat Hull is Broker of Record and owner of Treat Hull & Associates Ltd., a Prince Edward County real estate brokerage which takes no listings and represents only buyers. For more information, visit www.treathull.ca.