After scouring the internet for the perfect smallholding for 5 years we could probably write an entire blog dedicated to just this subject!!!
Yes, there truly is an art to househunting. And when it comes to smallholdings and farms there are even more criteria to take into account than with your regular house purchase. 🏠
We searched and searched for almost years looking at countless houses but we couldn’t seem to take the plunge on anything because our criteria was too unrealistic and was limiting us. We had visions of a listed cottage with a thatched roof and idyllic garden and acres and acres of lush green pasture. Trouble is so did most of our competitors, and they actually had the budget to match! 💰💰💰
So In this blog I will attempt to highlight the main lessons I learned along our journey, and at the end of the blog I’ll list the sites and links I used while searching for our dream smallholding…
Know your budget 💰
In the smallholding property market every property is unique and the options are so wide ranging and varied it can quickly become confusing. So before looking at anything online or in person, makes sure you know your budget. If you’re looking for a place needing renovation, bear in mind you will need to buy cash or secure a renovation loan (which is much more complex than securing a regular mortgage) Try not to search properties until you’ve decided what your budget is as it’s disheartening when you set your heart on something that can never be yours!!
Decide what you want (but be flexible) 😄
What sort of lifestyle are you looking for? Would you like to farm/grow or make something from the land? What sort of weather and soil type would you need to support what you want to do? Consider aspect ie : where the sun is in relation to the property & land. (You will not get great amount of sunlight if it’s blocked by trees or in the dip of a deep valley, as we learned the hard way!!) If it’s at the top of a mountain on the other hand, you will get lots of sun but you’ll probably also get alot of wind. But this can be handy if you plan to set up wind turbines for electricity. Whatever the aspect each has it’s drawbacks and bonuses…So it’s about what matters to you most. You must decide what criteria are a priority bearing in mind that certain things can be corrected or improved…(Wet land can be drained, a broken roof repaired, but a house built in the shadow of a mountain cannot be moved.)
What do you aim to do with the land?
If you’re planning on farming livestock like sheep, cows or pigs or keeping horses then ideally you need a large amount of fairly level, dry acreage as their feet are prone to infections when constantly stood on wet land and they will churn a wet paddock into a mud bath (trust me. i know). However if you only want to keep a few chickens, ducks and grow some fruits and vegetables for your own needs then you may be able to get away with as little as half an acre with a well planned garden. (research vertical growing) No matter what, I would highly recommend a polytunnel and/or greenhouse as it extends the growing season massively and on rainy days you can continue gardening under it’s protection. In fact there are countless handy uses for a polytunnel which I will be detailing in an upcoming blog called ‘POLY-tunnel vision’.
Is the land size and type suitable for your needs?
Its impossible to predict the future, and even if you have a good idea of what you’d like to do, after you move you may find your needs or wants change a little bit when confronted with the reality. So if you’re not sure yet what you plan to farm then try to go for as many acres of flat, well draining pasture as you can afford (this will give you options later, and any unwanted acres can always be sold or rented out) View and walk the land in spring when it’s at it’s wettest, that way you will have seen it at it’s worst. It might be a bit of a pain, but the extra time you take now will save you a whole lot of bother later…
Aim high but don’t limit yourself
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming BIG. In fact were great believers in the idea that you can have anything you dream of and the power of positive thought. But when abz & I were looking for our smallholding we compiled a list of criteria as long as our arm and the more we looked the fussier we both got. The trouble was, we only had a teeny weeny budget to work with. It was definitely a case of “champagne taste, lemonade budget.”
Yes, our budget was a measly £150K MAX. Which in this day and age won’t get you alot at all. But despite our tiny budget, our shopping list looked a little something like this :
200 year old detached stone built 3 bed thatched cottage oozing character with original features such as fireplaces & wood burners.
Absolutely no BUNGALOWS. – We were really against them, but we had no idea bungalows could have such character
Surrounded by it’s own land in a private secluded location with no near neighbours (We’ve had more than our fair share of nosey neighbours in the past so this time we wanted complete privacy and peace)
Stone built period barn and stables
5-100 acres of flat, green pasture surrounded by trees for privacy, shade and wildlife. (We had no idea how big an acre was)
Olympic menege (large sand school for horse riding) (My favourite hobby was riding my horse and I love to ride dressage so we wanted somewhere to excercise the horses at home)
Off grid & completely bill free (Daydreaming much?)
Budget : £150K (Yep. Sounds totally realistic)
Eventually of course, this list got canned and our limited budget and 2 year fruitless search forced us to resort to the risky process of auction….So when the hammer finally fell, what we actually ended up with was :
A 2/3 bed detached bungalow – Luckily for us, being that its 90 years old the bungalow with 3 fireplaces and lots of character. Another unexpected bonus is, the small sq footage makes its quick and easy to clean, leaving much more time to spend outside!
2 wooden stables – while they may not be the idyllic stone built stables had we dreamed, they have been a blessing nonetheless. As well as providing shelter for our animals they double as work shop, wood store and coal shed. And in a rainy climate, somewhere to keep things dry is a real godsend.
3.5 steeply sloping, poorly draining acres, a marsh and a large pond Ok so our acreage is not great. And drainage problems plus crippling hay, shavings and feed costs in our first year put us under so much financial pressure we had to sell our beloved horses (which was heartbreaking.😢😰😖😭💔) However, there are plenty of other things we can do that suit a wet climate and we are currently exploring breeding Khaki Campbell ducks, and possibly becoming the UK’s first algae farmers growing spirulina as a health supplement.
“When life throws you lemons…Make lemonade!”
Own water supply – our water comes from a natural forest filtered spring that flows down through the natural sediments of the mountain. And let me tell you, a bath in this stuff is out of this WORLD!!!
1 very near neighbour – Though at first we were wary of having another house so near. But Barry, who has lived alone in the forest for almost 40 years, has turned out to be a wonderful neighbour. He respects our space and privacy, he’s taken the time to get to know us, and we love him to bits.
Semi – off grid
Ok, so we may not be fully off grid but having electricity for power tools while renovating has been much appreciated. Long term though, we hope to get some type of alternative energy installed so we can get completely off the grid once and for all. Were thinking a blend of hydro and solar should do the trick but their not cheap so we have to wait until we have the cash to spare. In the meantime though, we have our tRUSTY old rayburn to heat the radiators, cook on and heat our hot water. And I must say, it still blows my mind now how well the system works. Everytime I have a hot bath or cook on it I can hardly believe we heated that our selves from wood scraps we found in the garden. It makes you appreciate a bath sooo much more when YOU heated it and you know there’s no bill coming in the post…It’s such a good feeling to know that if the world went crazy tomorrow and the grid went down, we would still be cooking, bathing and toasty warm.
Auction – We took a huge risk buying a house via auction but we had no choice. When we put our 14K deposit down after bidding closed we weren’t even sure if we could get a mortgage on it due to its dilapidated state, which would’ve meant losing the deposit! But we took the gamble and thank goodness we found 1 lender in the nick of time that would work with us. And though it was a BIG risk, it was worth it in the end. Because we were able to get a very much needed bargain to start our new life.
So, the moral of this story is stay open minded and don’t limit yourself. Be willing to budge on the things that don’t matter, and remember the fun is in creating your perfect rural home. Not buying it ready made.
And sure I still get a little bit jealous of that cwtchy little cottage Winslet has in ‘The holiday’. But now we’ve spent a year in our bungalow I am a serious fan and advocate of the #microhome. The amount of time & energy we save on cleaning is unbelievable, leaving loads more time for other things. Not to mention how much cheaper and easier it is to decorate, heat and maintain.
Right….I’m off to sink myself into a deep candlelit bath in my own fresh hot spring water…BLISS! 🛀💗♨
Thanks for reading!!!