Asking a few simple questions before buying your dream rural block can help you make the right choice and save you a lot of money and heartache.
Is a small property for you?
Running a small property can be very rewarding but you need to be realistic. Many of the tasks that must be done on a large farm must also be carried out on a small property.
All these tasks will take time and money and cannot be ignored. For example, weeds and pasture must be managed to reduce fire risk and control the spread of weeds.
Depending on what activities you decide to carry out on the property, there will also be seasonal tasks that need to be done. For instance, if you plan to develop an orchard, diseases will need to be identified and controlled quickly before they potentially ruin not only your crop, but those of neighbouring properties.
It is important to be fully aware of your responsibilities and commitments as a small landholder and the ramifications if these are not met.
The state government has laws governing native vegetation, water, livestock identification and movement, health, animal welfare and planning; while local government is responsible for buildings, animal health and welfare, planning in their localities, control of pests, weeds, protection of water resources and land degradation.
It is a good idea to know what these regulations entail and how they can affect the management of your property.
It is also wise to carry out a thorough title check before buying a property.
Is there an easement agreement, giving someone the right to use the property for a specific purpose? Are all services (power, water, access, etc.) in place? Are there any heritage, carbon or conservation caveats or covenants on the property?
Knowing this information before buying a property is vital so that you are aware of what restrictions are on the property or how much work and money is required to prepare the property for business and/or lifestyle.
There are many activities that can be undertaken on a small property but before deciding on what you will do, you should consider some key questions to make sure that the property you choose will suit the needs of all involved.
What do you want from the property?
When buying a small property consider what you will be doing in 5-10 years' time.
What do you want your property to look like? Do you want a retreat, weekender, working or hobby farm, retirement destination, conservation block or self-sufficient block? What type of environment do you want — bush, pasture or crops?
If you plan to set up a vineyard or run stock, don’t buy a bush block as it may not be able to be cleared.
Do you want to get involved in some form of commercial production? If the answer is yes, then the level and type of production will depend on soil type, water and climate and how you manage each of these resources.
It is best to decide what you would like to be involved in and then search for a block that fits the requirements of the enterprise chosen.
It is also helpful to contact associations involved in your industry of choice to determine what it can cost to set up and manage such an enterprise and if there are established or potential markets for your proposed product.
Unless it is very good quality bush, doing nothing with the property is not an option. At the very least, weeds and pastures will need to be managed to prevent fire.
Do you have enough time and capital to spend on your property?
You will need to spend time carrying out essential maintenance and any tasks associated with your chosen activity. For example, if you run stock you will be responsible for their health and welfare and compliance with the legal requirements of stock identification and movement.
All of these tasks will require money to buy or hire equipment, contractors, veterinarians, etc. Some will be able to be budgeted and saved for; others will be essential and immediate.
What knowledge and skills do you have to run the property?
To run your property you will need general skills, such as fixing a fence and specific skills, such as managing animals or spraying weeds.
If you plan to pay contractors to do certain tasks, you will still need a working knowledge of these tasks so that you can give the contractor a clear picture of what needs to be done and know whether it has been done correctly.
If you do not already have the necessary skills, do you have the time and means to learn new skills through a TAFE course, field walk or research?
Finding a block
Before purchasing a property, take the time to become familiar with the area. Visit the area over the course of a year to get to know:
- the variation in climate and weather conditions (temperature, prevailing winds, etc.)
- any flooded land
- what the area looks like throughout the year
- what activities (for example farming, intensive animal industries, sewerage treatment facilities, processing plants) are carried out in the area and what impact they may have on your property (noise, odour, dust and smoke).
Be aware that there is no guarantee that the existing rural scenes surrounding your potential block will remain in the future.
Neighbours can change the activities on their property and there may be development plans on neighbouring lots, however the impact of some neighbouring activities can be lessened by planting windbreaks and vegetative buffers.
While considering what activity you may undertake, have a look around the area and ask some of the local landholders what is being done.
This will give you an idea of whether your planned enterprise will be successful and what conflicting land uses may be located in the area.
Suitability of the property for your intended activities
When deciding on the property you would like to purchase it is best to have your intended activity in mind. Simply buying a block and then deciding what to grow is unlikely to succeed.
For instance, if you plan to set up a vineyard you will need to consider:
- whether you want to grow wine grapes, table grapes or grapes for dried fruit production
- what varieties are in demand
- what quantities are viable
- current and future markets
- distance to processing facilities or markets
- what size vineyard you can manage
- what size vineyard buyers will purchase your product from
- initial and ongoing costs
- on-site factors such as flooding, salinity, chemical residues, weeds and pests
- the soil characteristics and water availability.
In most cases it will be necessary to gain a good understanding of the soil characteristics and water availability.
The size of the property, in conjunction with the soil type and slope, will also determine whether you can carry out your planned activity.
Every block is different and it is important that you enquire about the property’s history so you are aware of what you are purchasing.
Living on the property
As well as considering what the property has to offer in terms of a successful business, it is also vital to consider the social adjustments that need to be made by all persons that plan to live on the property.
Moving to a new place can often be very stressful, add the fact that the rural environment can sometimes be quite isolating and you could find that moving to a small property can take some time to adjust to.
The distance from shops, schools, health services, work, friends and recreational facilities will be important, as will any additional travelling time and costs as these can add to feelings of stress and isolation.
If you do not plan to live on the property you need to consider whether commuting regularly is feasible due to travelling costs and other commitments.
If the house or infrastructure (for example sheds) on the property are old and run down or the property is newly subdivided, then you will need to consider the costs for renovating or building.
Try not to replace too much infrastructure without doing a property plan, as you may find there is a better area to build on or a better configuration for your property.
As the services in many rural areas are limited, check what utility services are available to the block.
Is the block serviced by power, telephone, mobile phone, rubbish removal and water? If not, accessing these services may be very costly and in some cases, not possible. Find out what the alternatives are.
A reliable and adequate supply of water is essential.
Find out what size rainwater tank you will need, along with how much roof area is needed to fill it.
If there are dams on the block, are they of sufficient size for your house and any proposed enterprise? Find out if they fill easily and actually hold water.
Is there potential for a bore or is the groundwater in the region saline or fully allocated? If you are unsure about any matters concerning water on your potential property, seek advice.
Another important issue to look at is fire risk. Make sure the area around your house is clear and that firebreaks are maintained.
Each local shire has specific firebreak regulations stipulating the width and placement of firebreaks, check their guidelines for your responsibilities.
As in urban areas, some activities will need to be approved by the appropriate authority.
Before you purchase a property, check with the local shire and relevant government agencies to ensure your proposed plans meet their requirements. Some activities that need approval include:
- clearing land
- controlling declared plants or animals
- running and moving stock
- establishing horticultural enterprises
- building or altering a house or shed
- starting a business
- building a dam
- licensing a bore or drawing water from a stream
- any activity that may cause on or offsite pollution
- whether your proposed activity is compatible with the zoning of land.
It is your responsibility to find out what approvals are required. If these approvals are not gained before you commence an activity, penalties may apply.
Drawing up a property plan
Once you have purchased a property, developing a property plan that details the property's characteristics and your intentions will be invaluable.
Start with a laminated, A3 size aerial photo of your property and monitor and record its strengths and weaknesses over the year.
This will help you to see what types of pastures and weeds are on the property, which areas dry out first, which areas get too wet and where the water flows.
With the use of some clear plastic overlay sheets, start to plan what improvements you want to make to the property.
On one sheet draw in the different soil types and on another, mark in where the best sites for improvements and planned activities are, considering soils, water, aspect and so on.
Try to fence areas of similar land capability together as this will make management easier.
It is much better to plan these improvements on a sheet of plastic and rub them out if you change your mind, than put them on the ground and later have to physically remove them.
Every improvement should be planned and carefully considered and where necessary, advice should be sought before actually putting it in place.
This can save time and money and you’ll get it right the first time. If you intend to develop a semi-commercial enterprise, a property plan will be invaluable in drawing up a business plan.
Help is out there
If you find that while searching for your little patch of rural paradise you require more information visit our Useful contacts for small landholders page or see our list of factsheets for more specific information.
Our seasonal activity list will also help guide you onupcoming tasks for each season.
Information can also be gathered from the local community, landcare groups, industry and grower associations, consultants and local and state government agencies.
Owning your own piece of the picturesque rural landscape can be very rewarding, but you need to be aware of your legal obligations and responsibilities and manage your property in a way that protects the environment, takes care of the health and welfare of your animals and lets you live your dream!