Surprise Hurdle in FSA Loan Process

Surprise Hurdle in FSA Loan Process

When we left off, I’d been waiting for the appraisal to come back on the Swinging Bridge Farm before the FSA would proceed to the final stage of their loan process for Direct Farm Ownership. Everything hinged on that figure, so it was a fairly monumental milestone. I’d expected to hear from Nathan over at the FSA regarding the report, but I hadn’t expected the surprise hurdle I am now faced with as a result of the Appraisal.

surprise hurdle
Photo credit: Lacey Byrd via Instagram.

The Appraisal was significant because the FSA (Farm Service Agency) can only pay the value of the property and not a penny more─as their programs are funded by tax payer monies. If the property appraised at less than what I’d agreed to pay for it I would have had to either renegotiate with the Seller, try to come up with the difference, or walk away. Thankfully the Swinging Bridge Farm appraised at $175K, so the value of the property supports the loan. Barely.

However this appraiser sited the house as “Currently Unlivable” due to a lack of insulation, windows that need replacing, and water damage that may or may not have caused structural damage or possible mold. When we started the process the FSA had informed me they don’t require Home Inspections, but in light of the Appraisal the FSA is now requesting a Home Inspection be performed before we can proceed.

One of the provisions of the FSA’s farm loans stipulates that real estate investments must provide housing for the farmer, so this was a red flag for them and it makes good financial sense to investigate this further to find out if it really is a problem. I understand and accept where the Farm Service Agency is coming from.

At the same time, I am beyond frustrated with the man who did the appraisal. Leah and I met Jarret Goold at the Swinging Bridge Farm that day, and I was not impressed with him. It didn’t seem like he had done his homework before arriving there with his clipboard. Leah had sent him all of the information we had collected regarding the updates that have been done to the old farmhouse over the last 2 decades, but he hadn’t even looked at it. He deferred to my knowledge on the status of various conditions in the house, and he asked for information that is readily available in the public tax record.

What’s more, I specifically recall having a conversation with him about the condition of the house and it’s livability. He thought I’d have to wait til the summer to move in, when I could make some “improvements” to the house. I feel like a life of hardship growing up in central Maine has prepared me for this─I am confident that I can put plastic on the windows, put a new hearth pad and woodstove in the place, and move over in March or April to tough it out til the May/June warm up and still do the improvements to be better set up for next winter. And I told him as much.

Obviously we disagreed.

new portland wire bridge
The historic Wire Bridge in New Portland, Maine lies just 2 miles downhill from the Swinging Bridge Farm.                          Photo credit: Mainely Casey via Instagram

It’s disappointing and frustrating at the same time. I believe that Mr. Goold and I are coming from 2 different walks of life on this one: it’s the old “one man’s shack is another man’s palace” syndrome. Compared to where I’m coming from, SBF is a palace and I know that she just needs someone there who can fix her up and show the old house some TLC. Which I’m gung-ho to do.

I know though, that when you’re at the Bottom you’re accustomed to a standard of living that most people would never consider enduring─so much so that some folks can’t even contemplate what it is to scrape by and go without. At the Bottom you have to learn to endure because that’s the only way you’re ever going to get ahead in life. I have been at the Bottom for 37 years; I’ve learned to accept my station and even embrace it. It’s become an art-form for me and for people like me who are also at the Bottom, but who still have hope and dreams and ambitions.

Within 2 hours of learning of this surprise hurdle from the FSA, my realtor (Leah Watkins) had lined up a Home Inspector for me. With the mold test it will cost me an additional $575 dollars to appease the FSA and to prove that the house is indeed livable if you have the wherewithal to do so. The inspection is scheduled for Monday, February 5th.

I am very confident in the structural integrity of the old farmhouse. My family built─not 1, but 2─houses when I was growing up, and my mother was just another member of the crew. She taught me how to use tools, how to build stuff, and how to fix things─it’s one of the few good things that woman ever did for me. I’m pretty comfortable with construction and I have a good grasp on architecture. I know how to recognize when a building is failing and that is not the case at SBF.

Yes, she definitely has some water damage from a leak in the roof that has since been repaired. But I believe that’s only aesthetic damage. I doubt there’s much risk of mold since the old house is not insulated, and also because it’s the depths of winter and the house is currently not being heated. I’ve seen black mold before─lived with it─and I saw none of that at SBF to concern me.

What I am concerned about is the well-being of my family.

My 2 sons: BraeTek and William.

I have 2 children who desperately need a home that offers the family atmosphere required to create routines and stability in their lives. With a 15 year old on the autism spectrum who is struggling to cope with the challenges of adolescence, I am desperate to cultivate that situation. As a single mom I cannot afford to rent anything either; I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. My kids need the Swinging Bridge Farm.

The idea that SBF might not be livable never once crossed my mind. Now though, there’s a sliver of doubt. What if I’m wrong…. Perhaps I’ve been at the Bottom so long─spent so long reaching for this impossible dream that my perception is the one askew.

And with that thought comes the question: What will I do if this all falls through? What will I tell my boys?

The thought strikes a cord of fear that runs clean through me like a hot knife. I don’t know what I will do. Wait for another property to turn up I guess, and start again.

The FSA’s loan process is long and grueling. At this point I am just tired; I’m emotionally exhausted from the whole ordeal. To have come so far─to be so close to attaining a home for my farm, a home for my kids, and security for myself─and to have it all threatened like this is terrifying.

Nathan fully admitted that the appraisor isn’t really trained to make those kinds of determinations. Hence the Home Inspector.

Well I will gladly shell out the $600 to prove the appraisal wrong, and when this is all over─after we’ve Closed the sale and I am able to move my boys over there─it’s going to be ON. Roller-derby style. No holds barred. Just you watch what I will do with the place!

I know it’s not going to be easy. I have not asked the Universe for easy. I know better. It costs more to take the easy road lol, and I’m at the Bottom with no desire to be at the Top. I have principles that prohibit me from living that life. So I will take the 137 year old farmhouse with her original windows and doors, her lack of insulation, and her run-down appearance and I will build something amazing and beautiful. And the world a better place as a result. Just you wait n see.

I could use some good ju-ju! Leave a comment below and send me some positive vibes to help me get over this last hurdle. Subscribe by email to make sure you don’t miss the latest updates from Runamuk! Who knows what will happen next!


  1. Hollys Bloomers

    Good morning Sam !! Aaaagggghhhhh. You’ve come sooooo far !! I pray you see your dream come true !! I do not like that at this point in time, this has come up …I really think you have it in you to make a go at SBF (?) …. keep us posted … positive thoughts going out to you !! You are amazing to take this on !! I think the farm needs you as much as you need her, and she’s gonna pull you across the finish line !!!

  2. Darlene Alber

    you go girl God Bless you, your children and your farm. Call it in girl call it in. It’s yours and the boys if you see yourself there. If God sees it safe and It’s His will for you and you know it. then no man can take it.

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