This article originally appeared in the 2017 Winter Terra Firma Magazine, the official publication of the REALTORS® Land Institute.
As fall and winter are around us, I can think of nothing better than to drive out in the open country side and appreciate the views, the rolling pastures and the calm. You may want to stop and smell the fresh air and the crispness as it surrounds you. No vehicles except for an occasional farm truck or tractor. This is the country. For me, this is the land that lies between Houston and Austin and San Antonio.
Our offices are constantly asked about moving to the country. Their reasoning is the return to their hometowns, different lifestyle, out of the hustle and bustle, maybe the love of the land. But it is also investment. This is all the land we have. There cannot be any more manufactured for growth, enjoyment, recreation.
Our location is rural from towns of less than 100 to those of 15,000 or more. But the air is cleaner, fresher, the small town lifestyle of festivals, fiestas, parades and other fun and unique gifts of small town living abounds.
So what is rural living? Obviously the population is much less. Our houses are spaced more widely apart. Even in town lots are larger. Go outside city limits and tract size grows by leaps and bounds. There is room for grazing animals, large pieces of agricultural land and greenery. We live in nature, which has a very positive effect on our health. Pollution levels are lower due to fewer vehicles and less industry. Our technology is catching up, and many people in rural areas have short to no commutes and work shorter work weeks. You have privacy, it is peaceful, and there is tradition.
Groceries, pharmacies, and medical facilities are more accessible than ever. Hard working people, who still care about what they do, provide services equal to or better than those found in urban areas. People hold the door open and ladies or the elderly are first to pass through. Politeness and manners still matter more than in most urban areas and are always noticed. It is safer, but as the larger cities grow out towards our country towns, the reality is you still need to take heed of what is around you. However, being in the country, you will also find many people carry handguns and you will still see pickups with a gun rack–a natural deterrent in the country.
The problem arises when the property is more expensive than expected, when a buyer thinks they are aware of the costs of building, upkeep and hard work it is to own a country property. This is no different from any other area of the country. Most of all, they think fifty acres is their goal but have no idea what it means. They get out on property and they are shocked to see how big it is, quickly twenty acres or ten acres is much more in their plan. Naturally, there are still large parcels available for the farmer or rancher want-to-bes. That is part of what we do in the farm and ranch business. It is essential that we as land specialists help the buyer with what purchasing a farm or ranch really means.
Property for $5,000 to $100,000 per acre and all in-between are possible to locate. But where do you want to be? Are you going to live permanently on the property or is it a weekend, future retirement property. Our property in this triangle is not inexpensive. That being said, I just sold a half-acre lot in a very desirable in town subdivision for $200,000!
A question remains: How are we going to be proactive in rural areas and not hang on to the success of the past? How do we encourage young people to want to be involved in rural farming if you don’t have a proactive message? You are competing against the world and opportunities everywhere in more urban areas. Young people need opportunity to continue to run the family farm or ranch or to stay in their hometowns and not feel they cannot make a living in small town America.
Rural America encompasses nearly seventy-five percent of the land area of the United States. It only accounts for fifteen percent of the country’s population. The census bureau classifies rural areas as open country and settlements with fewer than 2,500 residents.
Industry and college educations have pulled our young citizens into urban areas where they marry and grow their families. Most of them do not return to their rural roots. However, as we see in our area of Texas, more young families are coming back, not in droves but in steady thoughtful ways. Family roots, family farms and ranches and a slower pace. We still need to find a way to make rural America enticing enough for those in their twenties and thirties and forties to stay, work and raise their family.
How do we do that? This area for certain is seeing growth due to our most desirable location in that magical triangle spoken of before. An hour to Houston, 1.5 hours to Austin and 2.5 hours to San Antonio makes this a great place to be. Our economy has turned to tourism as a major factor to entice the public here. Fifty years ago it was agriculture mostly driving the economics. New companies are eyeing our area due to the location, as our Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce work diligently to increase work places and jobs.
Second home ownership is driven by amenities and age. Let’s get the children back to our family roots and be closer to grandparents. Let’s buy a weekend place so we can breathe, relax and socialize in a different way. If our area is 60 percent second homes, that is a huge population to get engaged when owners only come to the country maybe twice a month, if that.
Another point of rural living is scientific. It is confirmed what every urbanite has long suspected, life in the city is more stressful. Those people who are born and raised in urban areas are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and schizophrenia than those brought up in the countryside. Studies show, that exposure to green space reduces stress, boosts health and makes us less vulnerable to depression. This information comes from a study of the brains of volunteers from urban and rural areas.
Pollution, toxins, or noise could all contribute, however, other studies show access to green space soothes frayed nerves and improves wellbeing. Further studies show, that those with access to the county side are less likely to have heart disease or strokes.
Is this what contributes to the rise in retired people moving to our area? I say so, but also our area is culturally diverse. Orchestra performances, plays with professional actors, restoration of old buildings, shops with high end goods, restaurants and other venues for concerts and music of all types as well as restaurants with more refined menus are popping up all over. The rural arts are benefiting all age groups as spectator or participants. Renovations to existing buildings, are giving them the ability to support more activities for young people drive the younger residents to stay and enjoy events and to invite their friends from the big cities. If we can culturally capture their interest, it is much better as they experience the benefits for all citizens. Years ago I would hear people say there was nothing to do here…. Not anymore!
Also, a small community lets you participate in helping others for fundraising to save a theater, museum, parks, libraries and hospitals. A great fear for country towns is not only the loss of the countryside itself but also the way of life and the community involvement. General concern and care of neighbors and generations of tradition is the focus. We take care of each other and work together to bring a new soccer field, sports complex and other fights for the community.
One thing about living in the country is that when the power goes out after a major storm, it could be days or weeks before power is restored. If a piece of equipment breaks down, it may take weeks to repair and this can mean trouble when it is essential to the running of your farm, ranch or small property. There are no push mowers on properties with twenty acres or more! You become self-sufficient because you have to be. You do a lot more hands-on repairs that you never dreamt of needing to do. It’s an exercise in patience, willingness to learn, taking turns and helping neighbors. In that way, you earn a pat on the back, a handshake, a beer on the porch and know that the person you just helped get a job done is a person you can rely on to assist you, too. Neighbors are key in the country. It is a pace of life you learn to live with.
That is not to say that being part of the country community can take some getting used to. From uninvited visitors, human and wildlife, to the internet not working, cell phones dropping calls in low areas, septic tanks instead of sewers, no streetlights or pavement, it is a far cry from many newcomers previous urban lifestyles.
I hope people will come to visit and stay a little longer than for an ice cream cone or a beer. I hope people come to experience our way of life, the more they can enjoy, appreciate and support it. Our future lies in being able to deliver sustainable communities with thriving local economies made for and by the people who live there.
About the author: Cathy Cole, ALC, Owner/CEO of Heritage Texas Country Properties, the largest real estate company in south central Texas. She served as the Chair of the REALTORS® Land Institute’s 2016 Government Affairs Committee and as President of the Texas Chapter of RLI. Cathy serves on the Nominating Committee for Texas Association of REALTORS® and is currently a member of their Land Use Sub-Committee. She is also a founding member of the Texas Land Brokers Network.