When my wife and I were on our ‘OE’ in London, we dreamed of buying a lifestyle block back in New Zealand. We dreamed dreams of angora goats, Araucana chickens, and pine nuts, along with various other creatures and crops – the wildest of which was the consideration of a black soldier fly farm. Despite these dreams, the reality of our urban careers drove us further toward our urban lifestyles, and I now find myself (happily) based in central Auckland as a financial adviser with little more than a worm farm and an office beehive.
Despite the dream of the countryside not coming to fruition for us, I am seeing more and more of my clients considering how they might go about moving out of town for retirement, semi-retirement, or for a better lifestyle because they now have greater flexibility to work from home. An example of this is an older couple that I spoke to just before Christmas, who wanted help to understand how much they would need to save to be able to trade their house for a lifestyle block, whilst also having enough money invested to support them through their retirement.
I’m no farming expert, but in my quest to help this couple I did learn a few things that might be useful to you if you are dreaming of an idealised country life.
As is true for my wife and I at this stage in our lives, country life isn’t suited to everyone. If this is your dream (and you are still at the dreaming-only stage), you’ll need to think about what you really want from this future life. E.g., Are you thinking of buying something so that you can keep a few chickens and some four-legged friends, or are you thinking of buying something that needs to be commercially profitable and replace your existing income?
If you’re at the dreaming-only stage, the important questions are those of the realities of the dream of buying in the countryside. Things like:
- Travel: How will you commute to work if you need to? How will you get the kids to school?
- Health: Do you have the fitness to work on a farm and walk up and down hills every day? Will you need any medical care, and if yes, how will you access it?
- Family & Friends: How far away from your friends and family will you be? Will they visit you or will you visit them? Are Christmas holidays away still a possibility if someone needs to tend to livestock?
- Amenity: How will living further away from the city impact your daily lives? What are the positives of getting away? Are there any negatives? (It certainly stops the ability to pop to the corner shop for a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk.)
- Finances: How much do you need to have saved to achieve this dream lifestyle? – Including the costs of things that you might not otherwise consider (machinery, tools, vets bills…).
In our household, we do still dream of either owning a slice of the countryside or of a beachside bach, especially after having just come back from a few weeks of summer holiday. But we think about it more as an expense, with the trade-off being that we get a place to make memories with our children as they grow up. If we were to buy a lifestyle block in the near future, it would need to be within two hours drive from our Auckland house and be very low maintenance – perhaps farming carbon credits or providing rental accommodation for others dreaming of this same life.
If your plans for a lifestyle block have advanced well beyond being a pipedream, you might already be at the stage of hunting for that perfect property. In that case, buying a lifestyle block is quite different from buying a house in the suburbs. A good real estate agent, lawyer, or adviser should be able to help you get to know what to watch out for, but here are a few additional things to watch for when compared to buying a regular suburban family home:
- Permitted land usage: Not all land can be used for all things. Make sure you’re not dreaming of having livestock only to discover that you’re only able to grow green beans.
- Water supply: How much do you have and what is the source? Is it rain collection, town supply, or bore? Is this water shared or is there an easement of some kind? Is this water enough for your desired creatures and crops?
- Cell phone coverage and broadband: Do you have both? Are there dead spots on the land where a cell phone won’t work?
- Fencing: Is it fit for the purpose you have in mind? Or are you going to need to replace the lot to get your dream up and running?
- The land: Is the land prone to flooding? Is it prone to slips?
- Septic tanks: Do you have one and is it clean and fit for purpose? (Pro-tip: You can make the purchase of a property conditional on the septic tank being cleaned.)
This list is not designed to be exhaustive, as there is much to consider. And life as a lifestyle farmer is very different depending on if you have an olive grove compared to cattle (for example), but as always it pays to go into these things with your eyes wide open rather than wired shut. Whatever you’re scheming of or dreaming of, I wish you the best of luck with it.
Adam Thompson is a financial adviser with Rutherford Rede, where he helps people to plan out their retirement, manage their investments, and “calculate how much is enough?”