Does Your Homestead Property Have What it Takes?

When I began planning my move into a life of homesteading, I knew I’d be working from home. At the time I had a full time consulting job that required accessing the internet for everything. You’d think I would have paid more attention to whether or not my new home would be suitable for a modern home office.

I had the space laid out, and I’d picked out the armoire that would keep all the office stuff out of sight when not in use. As beautiful as the iMac is, it clashes a bit with my uber-rural heritage log cabin aesthetic. All was set and ready to go. Until I called to get my high speed internet installed.

3 Things to Check
BEFORE Buying Your Dream Country Property

If you’re still in the planning stages of moving to a rural property, or are simply dreaming, it’s easy to get all caught up in the romance of it all. Beautiful rolling hills, big endless forests, babbling brooks, the smell of leaves and the chirp of birds.

And the quiet… ahhhhhh… so delightful…..

But if you plan on working from home on your new property, here are three things you need to have in place before signing that real estate offer:

1. Make sure you can get high speed internet (or at least a reasonable fascimile).

Don’t make the same mistake I did and delay your ability to work from home because you didn’t do your homework. Call local internet service providers (ISPs) as soon as you fall in love with that homestead property. Find out what packages are available, and what they cost. In many rural areas, especially here in Canada, the services are pretty limited. I ended up with a satellite service through Barrett Xplore using their upper end home package. In hindsight, I should have had one of their business packages installed, but the price difference was substantial.

So what do I get for $79 a month? Something halfway between dial-up and high speed, maybe leaning slightly towards high speed. Except when a storm rolls in, or a leaf drifts in front of the signal path. You think I’m kidding? I wish.

Here’s a typical scenario:

How to watch a 20 minute streaming training video at my house:

Step 1: Go to website, click on video, click ‘play’.
Step 2: Go clean the gutters or vacuum the cobwebs or turn the compost pile for at least 40 minutes while said video streams through once. Don’t dare try to do anything else on the internet while video is streaming, or video will take an hour to load. Or more. Or it will crash your relatively new iMac.
Step 3: When loading is completed, watch video (finally).
Step 4: Hope the computer doesn’t hang, because then you’d have to load it all over again and you might be out of chores to do.
Total time elapsed from the click of ‘play’ to finishing the video? One hour. Unless it’s foggy. Then all bets are off. No wonder I can’t focus on one thing at a time any more. If I did, I’d get nothing done. Literally.

Now, I can’t blame the company – they’ve been excellent to deal with and are always helpful. But I clearly needed a higher end package from the beginning, and should have asked more questions. Instead, I took the advice of the installer, who really didn’t understand what kind of work I do or what kind of internet access I really require. I guess I wasn’t quite clear enough. If I was using the computer only for email and surfing around, the odd online meeting, etc., it would likely be fine. But I work with huge files – 30, 50, 80 MB and larger. It’s a big problem.

Apparently Barret Xplore is coming out with a new 4G satellite network, so that will likely improve things dramatically, but in the meantime, I need to upgrade my service if I’m not going to be bald and bruised from bashing my head against the desk and pulling my hair out. I guess $150 a month for internet service is a small price to pay for increased productivity (and a full head of hair). Until the hazelnut tree at the end of the driveway grows up and blocks the satellite signal. Then I’ll need to go buy a $100 tree pruner. Maybe they should give away coupons for chainsaws with every satellite account. I’ll have to suggest that.

2. Check the power outage history in the area.

I grew up in the same area I’m now living, so I’m used to power outages. I always found them sort of comforting, in a cozy sort of way. The candlelight, the fire in the woodstove, the quiet. A chance to reconnect with family over a board game without the distraction of media. But if you’re running a business from home, a power outage loses it’s cozy factor pretty quickly.

Before you decide on a property, check with your local electrical utility, neighbours, old guys in the coffee shop – whoever will talk to you about the history of power outages in the area. Not only will they interrupt your work (the power outages, not the old guys in the coffee shop – but they can be chatty… I’d be careful!), but they can wreak havoc on your computer equipment. I lost the hard drive of my iMac and my laptop this past winter from what we think were too many power sags. Which put a bit of a crinkle in my work schedule.

Bottom line – if the power in the area is super unreliable and you’ll be working from home, you’ll need to either reconsider the property, or spend some time and money ensuring you have stable back-up power systems. We’ll be talking about this in a future post, as it’s not something I’ve done yet, but plan on it this winter.

Even if the electrical outage history in your area is pretty good, get yourself a high quality surge/sag protector. After I lost both my computers, the satellite dish installer (yes, a component of the dish went shortly after I got the computers back) told me that it’s the power sags in our area, not spikes, that take out electrical equipment. Apparently they’re caused by branches on the lines, or something. And there are a lot of branches drifting onto the lines around here, especially with any sort of wind. It’s amazing to me our hydro company doesn’t do more maintenance. Maybe it’s cheaper for them to just fix things when they have a massive outage than to trim the trees regularly. Either way, it can affect your work in a big way, so make sure you check into all of this before you move. At least then you’ll know why your brand new iMac needs a new hard drive.

3. Scout out the nearest town for a cafe or office hub with reliable high speed internet.

For all of the reasons above, you’ll want to find another place to work on those days the power isn’t restored within a few hours. If you’re planning a back-up power source, or your new property will be running on solar power or some other system, you won’t need this as much. But for the rest of us who don’t have those options at the moment, an alternate ‘office’ is critical.

Before you buy your new property, check out around the nearest town to see if there are any cafes or small business hubs with wireless internet. The local library is another spot to check. Now, of course there is the possibility that if the power is out at your house, it will be out in town, too, but usually the grid is set up in such a way that everything doesn’t go out at once. That’s something to ask the power company. In our case, we’re on a trunk of about 1600 homes across a huge area. So if one tree falls across a line at the edge of town, or a car hits a pole, or there’s a fire, we’re all out of power – including the local ferry terminal (though they have back-up systems). The last outage here was an entire day. Before that, I think it was two days. Some areas were without power for a week. Worth checking into.

Does Your Dream Property Pass the Test?

This is just the beginning, of course, but if these three things are checked off your ‘to-do’ list before you decide on a property, chances are your home office adventure will roll out without a hitch. At least until the storm rolls in…lol

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