Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rurality Then and Now, Here and There (Part IV): "End of the World"


In an earlier post, I said that the properties we were looking at in the foothills of Amador and El Dorado counties might be categorized as either “rural gentrification” (a/k/a/ “rural light”) or “end of the world.” I’m writing today about the latter category.

Like the “rural gentrification” properties, the “end of the world” properties may be in housing developments or subdivisions. If they are, however, they tend to be in older subdivisions and those with fewer covenants and restrictions – and those with more lax road maintenance and homeowner associations. We’ve also noticed that sometimes the properties at the rear or end of the road in a subdivision are in this category, while those nearer the county or state road entrance are not.

Needless to say, such properties tend to be farther off the beaten path, farther from amenities such as grocery and hardware stores and post offices. Never mind restaurants. They also tend to be larger lots or parcels, usually down long dirt or gravel roads -- which seem longer than they are due to their condition. Reaching these properties makes four-wheel drive vehicles appear no longer to be the luxury that they are in the ‘burbs where we live. These properties are often “off the grid,” and the water situation is more likely to be iffy. We’ve also noticed that there seems to be a lot more junk in view en route to these properties. (See bottom photo). These are the properties (and not just the junky ones) that one realtor associated with meth houses. Nevertheless, many offer stunning views. (See top photo). Most have potential.

We’ve also noticed that the folks who live in these places tend to be the “back to nature” type. Each is living on more than 60 acres. They seem to relish the adventure of living off the grid; they also tend to have lots of practical skills to navigate the challenges. We met some of our prospective neighbors while looking at one Amador County property, and they seemed like really nice folks. Both couples are in their 40s or 50s and have been living in the area less than a few years, having moved from out of state. They’ve both lived city lives but prefer where they are now. They clearly place high value on their self-sufficiency and their privacy. One couple has made clear, for example, that even though the owner of the property we’ve considered buying would have a legal right to pass over roads on their land, they will not permit it. They have taken this stance because they, not the homeowners’ road association, maintain the road. Right of access via the road over the other’s property is less clear legally; what is clear is that the other owners won’t permit it. In both cases, one would likely have to litigate to achieve a resolution that would permit access, but that would undermine neighborly relations. And I think these are neighbors we'd want on our side over the long run. Besides, another road runs onto the property, but it is more circuitous and less well maintained. (So much for that homeowners association and the road upkeep function).

Both couples are, in one way or another, telecommuting from their very remote properties, and they have had DSL lines run onto their property for that purpose. One was very proud of the fact that he hadn’t been off his property in several months; his wife goes into town for the grocery shopping and such. They drink well water, and they get power from some combination of solar panels, generator, and propane.

So, you get a sense of why I call these the “end of the world” properties. They are the sorts of places you can imagine hunkering down and hiding away, if necessary. As romantic as I find the prospect of living on 80-100 acres, off the grid (take that, utility companies!), I’m not so sure that the oft-touted (by realtors and immediate neighbors) “end of the road” privacy is for us, nor the inconvenience that goes with it. Even with the practical skills to manage such a place, it sure looks time consuming, and this property is supposed to be about week-end relaxation and retirement . . . Plus, as I said in my first post of this series, how much privacy do we really want?

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