Chimney Inspection & Appraisal Done!

moose sentry

The FSA hasn’t assigned a date for Closing on the sale of the Swinging Bridge Farm yet, but I can feel that day drawing closer. So far I’ve managed to overcome every hurdle, jump through every hoop set out for me. Last week I got the chimney inspection done, and just yesterday the property was assessed by the Appraisor─the final obstacle in the FSA’s long and drawn out loan process. If I had to wager on it, I’d guess Closing will take place in early February. OMG!

moose sentry
This mounted moose head stands guard in the woodshed at the Swinging Bridge Farm.

The New Portland farm had been winterized back in the fall─the water had been turned off and all of the pipes associated with the plumbing had been flushed to prevent them from breaking. There’s no heat running, and the electricity is off. The old farmhouse is sitting there waiting as patiently for me, as I am for it.

Because none of the utilities are currently running, the FSA opted to waive the inspections of those systems, and instead Nathan Persinger, the FSA agent working on my case, spoke with various contractors who had worked on the place over the last decade. He extrapolated from those conversations the conditions of the electric, plumbing, and heating systems and documented it for the FSA’s records.

That just left me responsible for the chimney inspection.

I waited til after the holidays were finished before setting about tracking down someone to do the job, and then it took several attempts to get someone on the line. Did you know that a volunteer fire department can’t inspect your chimney? After contacting the local Madison Fire Department and learning they couldn’t help me, I reached out to the Skowhegan Fire Department and several chimney sweeps before Percy York of Skowhegan finally agreed to do the job for me.

Percy York was an older gentleman, perhaps in his seventies, shorter and squat, barrel-chested and a little bow-legged. We met in Madison and he followed me up to SBF last Wednesday. Upon arrival he got down out of his truck to join me in the driveway, grumpily announcing, “I thot we was never gonna git he-ah!”

I laughed it off good-naturedly, but he reiterated, “If I’d known it was this far out I never would have taken the job.”

I had warned him on the phone that it was located in New Portland, though I suppose the address might actually be considered part of “West New Portland”. Regardless he was there and so I just thanked him sincerely for trucking way out there for me and told him I had the $50 cash we’d agreed on if he still wanted to look at the chimney.

He did look at the chimney─both of them. There are 2 chimneys at SBF: the original chimney, which runs straight up through the center of the main house, and a newer chimney Mr. Fletcher (previous owner) had had installed in the summer-kitchen/woodshed end of the house. The new chimney is fairly pristine, since Mr. Fletcher had scarcely used the thing, but the old one has been sealed up and is no longer usable. In fact, the brick of that old chimney is crumbling with age, and will likely need to be removed in the next 10 years.

Mr. York, the chimney sweep, also pointed out that the existing woodstove attached to the newer chimney wasn’t air tight and should either be re-sealed, or the woodstove should be replaced. As well as the fact that I would need a hearth pad. I had suspected as much.

There’s a secondary heat source at SBF─a propane-fueled monitor heater. However I still want the use of a woodstove, so I’ll be on the hunt for a second-hand woodstove. If you’re a local reader and can hook me up with a good deal on a solid woodstove, feel free to drop me a line!

The Appraisal however, was not my responsibility. That was done at the request of the FSA, and could have taken up to 3 months to get the necessary report, which is crucial to the loan-request. As a federal office, the FSA has to recruit an outside contractor for an unbiased assessment of the property. The government will not pay one penny more than the actual value of the property, so the price I agreed to pay for it has to be equal to or greater than what this appraisor values the place at. If his appraisal come in lower than that $174.5 I agreed to, it could very well be the end of the road for me. I would have to hope that the Seller would renegotiate with me, or I could try to secure a secondary micro-loan to make up the difference.

In a surprising twist, the appraisal job was award within just a couple of weeks of being open to public bids. The job went to one Jarrett Goold with Farm Credit East. He met Leah Watkins (my spunky and awesome realtor) and myself at SBF yesterday to conduct his inspection, and set about his business with clipboard and camera in hand.

He paused to ask questions about various features: which chimney was the good one, whether or not the old house was insulated, what kind of flooring ran through the house, was there dry wall or was it all plaster? how many bedrooms did I consider the place to be (There’s an open landing at the top of the stairs that could be considered a living or storage space. I intend to use it as a bedroom though, which means it will be a 4-bedroom house.)?

Mr. Goold scoped out the newer poured-cement foundation and the sill that old Mr. Fletcher had had replaced under the main structure of the house, the water heater, and the old double-hung windows. Then Leah and I showed him the attached woodshed and the inside of the barn, where some of the old beams had been replaced to shore the thing up.

Before we parted ways, Mr. Goold shared with us that the land alone, with it’s 150 acres of mature tree growth, was worth nearly what I’d agreed to pay for the property. That meant that once he figured the house into it, his appraisal should come in at or above that $174.5 figure. What a relief it was to hear him say so!

He told us he’d have the report in to the FSA by next week.

Once the Appraisal is in, then it’s time for the Lawyers. I’ve asked Ernie Hilton to do the legal work on my behalf. If you’ve been following along, you might recall that Ernie and Gwen Hilton have supported my ambitions from the very start. They’ve hosted my apiary on their property for years, have been devout patrons for Runamuk and the Madison Farmers’ Market, hosted my FarmRaiser party in their fantabulous old barn there in Starks, and have been pillars of wisdom, inspiration and support for me. It seemed only fitting that Ernie should be the one to represent me in this transaction of a lifetime.

Ernie will have to research the property title, draw up the contract, and coordinate with the FSA the Closing on this sale. I think it’s fairly safe to say we will be Closing sometime in February. That’s just a few weeks away!

Something amazing is about to happen so stay tuned! And then watch Runamuk grow! Subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly in your inbox so that you’ll never miss a thing!


swinging bridge farm

Yesterday I received the news I have worked long and hard for. Nathan contacted me from Maine’s Pensobscot County Farm Service Agency to say that my loan request was approved by the state’s Farm Loan Manager. I can scarcely believe it!

Honestly I hadn’t expected to hear anything until later next week, so it came as quite a surprise when the email came through with the Notification of Loan Approval attached. I had to read Nathan’s words twice through, not daring to believe it at first lest I’d read it wrong, and even then I had to open the file and read the document entirely before I could accept that it was really real: my loan request has been approved! I’m buying the Swinging Bridge Farm!

At first I was so stunned that I was shaking. I couldn’t sit down, I had to stand up. I hugged Paul repeatedly, danced with Murphy, and bounced up and down; I was laughing and crying at the same time. After years of working toward this goal─to buy a property that would serve as my forever-farm home and become the pollinator conservation farm that I have envisioned since I began working with bees nearly 8 years ago─all of the struggle has finally been rewarded. I’m buying a farm!!!

Indeed, the FSA’s monstrous loan application and drawn out process has felt very much akin to a college final exam, upon which my degree depends upon. I did not attend college and am largely self-taught, but I feel I’ve earned that degree─or the equivalent of it─in the form of this loan approval. Did I mention I’m buying a farm???

We won’t actually close on the purchase for months, however. The FSA’s grueling process dictates that an appraisal of the property be done by an outside operative, which means the government offers the job to real estate appraisors across the state. The appraisors have something like 45 days to bid on the job, and once someone has been selected that person then has another 3 weeks or so to get the job done and turn in their report to the FSA.

They do this to ensure that the government isn’t paying too much for the property. The FSA won’t pay more than the value of the property, as these loans are funded with tax-payer money. This could mean that I might have to re-negotiate with the Seller if the FSA’s appraisal comes in lower than our current Sale Agreement, and that can sometimes be a sticking point. However, I’m fairly confident that I’m getting the Swinging Bridge Farm for a good price, and if the appraisal should come in lower than the $174,500 I’ve committed to, I have faith that the Seller will work with me to make my dream of farm-ownership come true.

In addition to the appraisal I need to have a number of inspections done on the house, including the chimney, electrical, plumbing and septic, and a water test. These I’ll have to pay for out of my own pocket before closing, but it makes good sense to have these things looked at to ensure the safety of not only my business, but my family as well.

swinging bridge farmTitle research needs to be done, and I need to have insurance in place before closing too. I’m pleased as punch that Ernie Hilton has agreed to do the legal work on this for me. Ernie and Gwen Hilton have supported my ambitions with Runamuk for years. My most valuable apiary is located on their farm in Starks, where bee-forage is prime and allows me to produce high quality honey. More recently the Hiltons hosted my FarmRaiser party in their historic barn. It seems fitting that Ernie should be the one to help me seal the deal on this farm-purchase.

We’re probably looking at closing (I’m estimating based on the information I’ve gleaned from Nathan during this whole process) in the late winter or early spring. I’m going to wager that it will be sometime around the Vernal Equinox─the first day of spring: March 20th. After that I’ll hold off on the “Great Farm Move: the Final Chapter” until after mud season. The house at the Swinging Bridge Farm is coming to me fully furnished, so I’ll use the time in between to organize the place, sort through the existing “stuff”, and define spaces and work stations within the house, the attached shed and barn, for Runamuk and for my family.

But there’s also the chance that we may not close til June. It all depends how how smoothly things progress. Whatever the wait, I know I have something to look forward to at the end of this road.

After living in tight quarters for the last year, with a full-sized bed in what should be the family room, my 2 boys sharing a room, and Runamuk crammed in around us─it will be a huge blessing, and a big advantage to have designated spaces once again. While I support the concept of tiny-homes, with my operation requiring accommodations for various oils, soap curing, product packaging, honey storage, farmers’ market supplies and writing materials─it’s challenging to fit it into a small space and coexist. My boys will value having their own rooms once more, and Runamuk will have the space it requires to thrive and grow.

OMG I’m buying a farm!!!

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