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Greener fields? The challenges of rural real estate

March 2017

Greener fields? The challenges of rural real estate

February 23, 2017

Man surveys farmAlthough the landscape features trees, lakes and farms rather than office towers, working in rural real estate does not always mean greener pastures.

Rural real estate poses unique challenges. The EDGE newsletter talked to three Ontario REALTORS® to learn more about working with recreational and rural properties.

Small town realities can be hard on the ego, says Rick Lobb, a Huron County REALTOR® with 20 years in the business. “We can’t expect people we know to list with us automatically,” says Lobb. “In smaller areas, many people know more than one Realtor. Often they have several other connections, so it can get awkward at times. A prospective client will say that their family member already knows another Realtor and so they plan to work with that person.”

Covering a wide geographic area in order to earn a living means being familiar with different types of properties, he says. That includes lakefront, farmland and various towns and hamlets. “You must understand the nuances of each type of property in the area in order to have a successful career.”


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Mary Ellen McCamus is a Realtor and broker of record in Peterborough County as well as in the Cavan and Millbrook areas. She has worked in real estate for 31 years. She finds a big challenge to be a recent phenomenon in which Realtors come from elsewhere and are unfamiliar with the community where their clients seek a property. “Not all out-of-town salespeople have done their homework when their clients are looking at rural properties,” she says. “They don’t always know the local area or market comparables in the region.”

Consumers should ask prospective Realtors about their knowledge of, and experience in, a particular community, the sources advise. When the real estate representative knows the community well and has handled transactions there before, he or she is serving the client’s best interests, they say. The Realtor in that case is aware of specific local issues, taxes, bylaws, restrictions and the state of the market. Realtors who are unfamiliar with a community can refer their clients to a local salesperson or broker. In turn, they may be able to negotiate a referral fee with the salesperson in that community.

"You must understand agricultural processes. These properties are incredibly valuable and there’s no room for mistakes"

Rural real estate can be very satisfying, says Doug Monett, a former OREA instructor and Toronto Realtor who now lives and works in Huntsville. “Everyone seems to be a little more civil and pleasant in a smaller community,” he says. “There’s less of a panic to get the deal done. There’s often time for a cup of tea and a proper discussion about the transaction that is being contemplated.”

Selling rural properties in cottage country can be challenging because no two cottages are alike, says Monett. “In many GTA subdivisions, once you have viewed the usual five builder’s models, there are no surprises,” he says. “In rural real estate sales, we must ask a lot more questions per offer, and do a lot more homework per transaction.”

Selling farm properties also requires additional knowledge, Lobb notes, because farms are extremely specialized and each crop has its intricacies.

“If you sell farm property, you must understand agricultural processes because these properties are incredibly valuable and there’s no room for mistakes,” he says. “A farm is a commercial endeavour, so you must also take the HST into account. If you sell to a city person who isn’t going to farm the land, the HST needs to be paid out [to the government, because the property will no longer be HST-exempt] and the buyer should understand that.”

The agreement of purchase and sale and other real estate documents must address the HST properly, McCamus adds. “If the HST is simply included in the price, the farmer who’s selling the property ends up paying it, not the buyer,” she says. “That’s why I make sure it’s written in the contract that the HST is ‘in addition to the purchase price’ if that’s the case, so that the document is clear to everyone.” Realtors are also advised to refer both buyers and sellers to their accountants for clarification on tax matters.

Rural properties generally have wells or septic systems -- elements not found in urban areas. Sometimes the location of a septic system is not documented, Lobb notes. In other cases, he says, multiple families share a well in a neighbourly agreement that was based on a handshake.

“Realtors need specialized knowledge about identifying and handling these situations so that protections can be written into the offers,” Lobb says.

Environmental and conservation authority issues can also bring challenges to rural sales that urban Realtors may not encounter. For example, buyers of waterfront properties may face environmental or other restrictions if they wish to rebuild a home or cottage. Moreover, many areas have limits or restrictions on the erection of structures too close to the water’s edge, including docks and sheds.

Some may believe that the rural real estate market is insulated from the economic ups and downs of big cities, but that’s not the case, they say. Monett and McCamus both see fallout from the competitive Toronto market in their respective areas.

“The current, overheated Toronto market has delivered many new residents to our area who have retired and cashed in on the huge increase in their GTA property values,” Monett says.

McCamus says the proximity of her region to Toronto is “making us extremely busy. We now see a level of competition we haven’t had before,” she says. “There’s more hastiness to transactions than we’ve seen, and the timelines have sped up due to the competition among buyers.”

In the Goderich area, Lobb says “the markets are so small that the provincial economy doesn’t have a huge impact. If both the salt mine in Goderich and the Bruce Nuclear plant are healthy, then we have enough local business and spinoff from tourism to sustain us.”

Monett says his business approach to tough times is the same, regardless of his location. “Slower periods can be overcome just by picking up the phone, knocking on doors and getting face to face with buyers and sellers,” Monett says. “That’s true in both rural and urban areas. Every year, people have to buy and sell homes regardless of the state of the economy.”

One key approach is to keep in touch with clients when times are slow, McCamus advises. She remains upbeat even in slow times by relying on “family, faith and friends”, she says. Monett adds that quieter periods still demand diligence. “I still get out and try to and talk to prospective buyers and sellers. That’s the best medicine for ‘sales depressionitis’.”

Technology plays just as large a role in rural business as it does in urban centres. “It’s much harder to focus on one thing at a time,” laments Lobb. “It demands multi-tasking.”

There is an upside to technology though, McCamus adds. “It has made agents more accountable, and you can get property outlines, assessments and ownership information online. That’s a huge asset and a time saver. You’re not walking into a house blind anymore.”

Speaking of entering a house, safety is important when you show rural homes, McCamus says. “Follow the same process as elsewhere,” she says. “Make sure people know where you’re going and who you’re meeting. Be aware of everything around you, and always keep your phone with you.”

Tips for selling in rural areas:

  • Learn about the diverse types of properties available, since you may not have the luxury of specializing in one segment of real estate. You may be dealing with farms, waterfront property, homes, condos, etc.
  • Know the local services and amenities: the location of schools, daycares, hospitals, babysitters, etc. It gives you an edge over outside Realtors and adds value for your clients.
  • Understand the ins and outs of wells and septic systems.
  • Market to the area’s strengths, economic climate notwithstanding.


Story by Elaine Smith. Sources: Rick Lobb, Mary Ellen McCamus, Doug Monett.

Editorial Policy: The REALTOR® EDGE newsletter is produced 11 times a year by the Ontario Real Estate Association. The newsletter aims to provide practical and useful news and information about the real estate industry to members of the association. The opinions expressed in the newsletter are not necessarily those of the publisher. The newsletter welcomes submissions from the real estate community, including letters to the editor, opinion pieces, events and news. The newsletter reserves the right to edit, based on space restrictions and/or suitability, and/or to refuse submitted material for inclusion in the newsletter without reason. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the express written permission of the publisher, OREA, is prohibited. Contents are copyright of the Ontario Real Estate Association.

Editor: Mary Ann Gratton

Contributors to this issue: Elaine Smith, Merv Burgard, Mary Ann Gratton.

Senior Web Editor: Shade Lapite; Web Specialist: Damond Rawls.


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