Buying a lifestyle block

The country life is not always what it seems. Nelson Marlborough property valuer Rod Baxendine talks through what prospective buyers need to know.

March 22, 2021

By Rod Baxendine


With the residential property market remaining hot and central suburbs becoming ever more crowded, it’s no wonder that people are looking further afield to find more space for themselves.

Prices aren’t generally any lower for lifestyle blocks than city homes - in most provincial areas. For example, in Nelson/Tasman, the average price of a lifestyle block could otherwise get you a home on the Port Hills or a central city apartment - but it’s the lifestyle, space and ease of access to outdoor activities that often tempts buyers out of the city life and into the country.

Living on a few hectares of land with some livestock and fruit trees sounds idyllic, but for many new buyers, the reality is not quite so picture-perfect.

People don’t realise how much work it is on a lifestyle block - it’s not all sunshine and roses. As a joke, we refer to it as a ‘work style block'. It’s absolutely essential that you do your due diligence so you know what you’re getting yourself into before you buy.

A lifestyle block is more than just a large property with a big garden, it can be typically 1-5 hectares in size and needs to be worked in some way. If left to its own devices, such property will revert, and become run down..

The current market for lifestyle blocks

As long as the residential market is strong, the sub-market for lifestyle blocks will remain strong too. Buyers looking for lifestyle blocks aren’t usually after a business - they’re first and foremost looking for a home.

Supply and demand are unbalanced, but not to the extent that the general residential housing market currently is. While inner-city homes can sell overnight, lifestyle blocks may still take a few weeks.

Lifestyle blocks and large rural/residential sections on the town fringes are increasingly popular, especially around the regions known for their lifestyle attributes like Tauranga, Napier, Queenstown, and Nelson/Tasman. There’s always a fairly consistent demand for expansion into these lifestyle developments, because that’s why people come to live in these areas in the first place.

While there are some things you’d look for in any home, such as outlook and sun, when buying a lifestyle block there are several other important factors to consider as part of your due diligence.

Here’s what you need to know before you buy a lifestyle block:

Adjoining use: it may not be peaceful 24/7

Sometimes, people move to a lifestyle block thinking it’ll be peaceful and surrounded only by the sound of birdsong and the rustle of wind through the trees.

Their fantasy is quickly ruined when they’re woken by deer roaring or when a neighbour starts spraying in the early hours, or helicopters assist with frost protection, or hail cannons go off.

The rural environment is a working environment for many, and a key concern to look into before buying your lifestyle block is adjoining use: who are your neighbours, and what do they do on their land?

Are they up milking before dawn? What stock do they keep? Do they use noisy machinery? What are they spraying, and how often? Will their work affect your property, lifestyle, and serenity?

Before you commit to a property, make sure you know not just the details of your own piece of land, but what goes on around it too. Those businesses were there first, are permitted activities and work within regulated guidelines. Make sure that you as a lifestyler can co-exist.

Community building and land: effort is required

Community building is much more important in a rural area than in town, because of the distances between neighbours and remote locations of some homes.

It’s important to intentionally engage with your rural neighbours, and it’s considered an expectation that local residents will join neighbourhood watch and assistance groups, be on hand to help in the event of a fire, and generally become part of the local community.

Effort is also required to tend to your land - the size of a lifestyle block means that it must be worked and tended to in order to keep it clear and managed. If it becomes overrun with gorse or other weeds, it is not only an eyesore for the area, but also a fire hazard.

Keeping stock: more than just pets

As well as tending to your land, if you intend to keep stock you have to make sure you know how to take care of them.

It might just be 2-3 sheep in the back paddock or a pig and some hens, but you must think about the health of your animals and do your research so you can recognise early warning signs that something is wrong, and then know what to do about it.

You’ll need a relationship with a vet and a rural supplier, just like a farmer would. It can be beneficial to build relationships with farmers too, so you have someone to ask for advice and guidance.

Effluent disposal, irrigation, ex-land use: developing a vacant block

If you’re buying into vacant land or hoping to develop it, due diligence is more important than ever.

You’ll need to know about effluent disposal, water supply for stock and domestic use, and irrigation. Water can be a major issue in some rural areas and may dictate what you’re able to do on your land - if you can’t get irrigation water, it won’t be possible to grow certain crops.

If you’re in a coastal environment, you’ll also have to take into account what and how much runoff may go into the estuary or bay.

Ex-land use could also inform your choices for how to develop your property. What’s been done there before? What contamination could there be in the soil from pesticides or other sprays?

The soil quality can indicate what is safe and practical to do on your land. In Tasman, there are a lot of ex-apple orchards now being sold as lifestyle blocks, and it’s usually recommended that buyers get soil tests done before committing to a purchase.

Commuting and school runs: if you’re moving with your family

Moving with your family to a lifestyle block can seem like a dream until you realise how long your commute to work now takes, and how much time the school run eats up.

In rural areas, schools aren’t always zoned, but you will find fewer choices in general. Visiting a few options in the area you want to buy can help you decide which school will be best for your children, and which properties you choose to bid on.

The commute to work isn’t the only distance-change you’ll have to adjust to - depending on your location, even a trip to the dairy for a bottle of milk could take up to an hour there and back. Organisation and time management become more important outside the city, and can catch many new rural residents off-guard.

How a registered valuer can help you with your lifestyle dream

The main advantage of using a local registered valuer is their intimate knowledge of the local area and its history.

We know our areas well and we know what to look for - facilities and effluent disposal, power, water, etc. We know where to collect all the relevant, factual information that’s needed and use that to help buyers make an informed decision, and help sellers understand the marketable value of their property.

A registered valuer’s role is to answer questions and provide objective advice so you can find the best property for your budget and needs.

A registered valuer can tell you not only the positive potential for a property but also what the not-so-rosy future could hold - where is there a history of flooding, or potential for sea-level rise, changes in future zoning, other local developments or possible contamination issues?

Before you buy your lifestyle block, talk to the experts as part of your due diligence, to make sure you’re making the best decision for your future.

Get in touch with a rural valuer today

This article was originally published by TelferYoung