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Published: Sunday, 3/23/2003

City comforts vs. rural reality

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE REAL ESTATE WRITER
Open spaces are appealing to many, but some homeowners soon find they're not cut out for country living. Open spaces are appealing to many, but some homeowners soon find they're not cut out for country living.
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Fueled by the lure of open spaces and a quieter pace of life, more homeowners are opting to buy or build in rural areas in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

But sometimes they are in for a rude awakening, prompting calls to government officials who are stuck between new residents wanting better amenities and long-time dwellers angry their way of life is disappearing.

“There's a definite clash of culture between the people who have always lived there and accepted the reality of rural life ... and the people moving in who want changes,” said Larry Merrill, executive director of the Michigan Townships Association in Lansing.

“Our members express a frustration that, as public officials they want to accommodate their residents, but they find expectations are so high that they can't meet those expectations.”

The Hancock County office of the Ohio State University Extension in Findlay offers guidelines for homebuyers and builders in its area, covering a variety of aspects of living in a more rural area.

Suggested for people considering such a home purchase:

  • Find out what home utilities are available, including electric, water, gas, sewage, telephone, and cable.

  • Look at whether the neighborhood has sidewalks and curbs, or ask whether they are planned and whether owners will be assessed to pay for it.

  • Examine the surrounding area, check for how much is farm and whether there are cows, hogs, or other livestock that may be considered a nuisance to live near or which may adversely affect the resale value of property.

  • Check out the street and traffic pattern. Find out whether there is snow removal.

  • Ask about garbage collection.

  • Determine whether there are quality schools within walking distance, or whether school buses are provided for transportation.

    “We were interested in helping to have less hassles for people,” said Barbara Brahm, an extension agent in Findlay. “The section in there about easements, for example, [is the] result of questions and problems that actually came up. You'll see people buy land and find out they can't put the driveway where they wanted.”

    She added, “We get a lot of questions from folks who do not understand country living.”

    Jeff Gordon, associate professor of geography at Bowling Green State University, said owning your own home with a little land is engrained in the American psyche, setting up the battle between urban dwellers unequipped for country living and existing residents who don't want development and congestion.

    Common complaints from those new to the country are the noisy combines farmers run at night, farm machinery that doesn't move very fast on the roads, and use of chemicals that can drift onto a neighboring lawn or garden.

    Other hard-earned lessons, according to the Hancock County guidelines, are that it is dangerous to burn trash outdoors because field fires start and spread quickly and there is no leaf removal. Or that all kinds of critters (such as skunks, dogs, deer, coyote, cattle, raccoon, and fox) often come to visit and that farm animals often don't have the best of smells.

    Country distances can also be a problem, Dr. Gordon said. A new rural homeowner may think of ordering a pizza for home delivery and find out there is no delivery. Or if children are in sports, that could mean traveling across the county to get to a game.

    The flip side is that growth in rural areas often means increased demands on schools, police forces, and other services.

    “Plus, you don't have as many neighbors and the ones that you do have might not be so happy that these new people are coming in,” Dr. Gordon said.

    “A lot of rural people feel overwhelmed by the influx of urban people.”

    One solution, he explained, is to create greenbelts, essentially rings or boundaries around urban areas that don't allow expansion and keep the outside areas agricultural.

    “Greenbelts cut down on the sprawl and farmers can continue to farm.”

    More than half of the homebuyers who signed up for UBuildIt, a consulting service launched by Toledo builder Bill Schoen, are considering homes in rural areas and many have found a number of issues to work through before going ahead with their home.

    One set of clients learned that zoning requirements will not allow them to split their parcel to allow several homes because government officials want to preserve farmland, he said, while another learned municipal water lines don't reach to the property and a well won't work.

    “My best advice to anyone is to call a builder before buying the land, so you have somebody with you who can point out some of these issues before it's too late,” said Mr. Schoen.

    Dick Newlove, a broker with Newlove Realty, Inc., in Bowling Green, said he warns clients of the realities of rural living.

    “You're often not dealing with public utilities,” he said. “You'll have wells and some kind of onsite sanitation system. In many cases, townships and counties don't plow snow because there are many, many more miles to take care of.

    “These are all just things that are adjustments to that type of lifestyle.”

    With the lower tax rates of rural areas comes fewer public services, said Mr. Merrill, of the Michigan townships group.

    “People will call and ask, `when is our trash picked up?' and they're told, `when you call someone to haul it away.'”

    Newcomers will lobby the township boards for more services or help, but that can mean more expenses that can only be paid for by raising taxes, which no one wants, Mr. Merrill said.



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