Living in the Delaware River Valley is an appealing lifestyle: Historic estates, charming cottages, vacation homes on the river, stone carriage houses, farmhouses with barns… more land, friendly people, farmer’s markets, privacy, clean air and scenic vistas of rivers and fields… the reasons and attractions are endless!
The Buying Process reviews the steps for purchasing a home. However there are specific aspects of buying a rural property. To some buyers they may sound intimidating, or come with a sharp learning curve.
At River Valley, we have learned that even experienced home buyers from urban and suburban areas might not be familiar with some of the aspects and issues of a predominantly rural area. We have been able to anticipate many of the questions that arise when considering a “Country Home” purchase.
Septic Systems and Well Water
Few country properties are connected to a municipal (piped, treated) water supply or sewer system. In general, the River Towns of Lambertville, Stockton, Frenchtown, Yardley, New Hope and Morrisville have public water and sewer; because these more densely populated areas have the number of residences and businesses to support the municipal investment.
The more rural areas of River Valley’s service area in Bucks, Mercer and Hunterdon Counties, including Delaware, Solebury, the Amwells, Kingwood, the Makefields and sections of Hopewell do not have water and sewer systems. Therefore, you may be considering properties that depend upon a well to supply drinking water and a septic system to remove waste.
Both systems can be tested before you buy the property.
Country properties dispose of sewage with a septic system. Through a combination of a septic tank, distribution box, and perforated pipes called laterals, and sometimes a pump, the sewage is absorbed (leached) into a disposal field. It is a good idea to make sure that the septic system is working properly before the actual closing of your country dream home.
A septic system inspection usually includes a visual inspection of the area around the system to look for obvious leaks. The inspection will also include pumping the contents from the tank and a visual inspection of the inside of the septic tank after the pumping is completed. The inspector may also test the drainage of the septic field, to insure that the absorption rate is acceptable. Some inspection companies will use cameras to inspect laterals, and others might use a harmless dye in the drain to track the flow of the waste system. Load or capacity tests are often considered for vacant homes.
When your water is sourced from a private well located on the property it is important to ascertain the potability of that water.
In 2001, the NJ State Legislature passed the Private Well Testing Act. Under this law, most wells must be tested before a house can be sold. This testing provides important information about your drinking water quality. In general, the seller is responsible for providing these test results, done through certified laboratories, to the buyer and their representatives. Information on the Private Well Testing Act can be found here.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) does not regulate private wells. However, since DEP receives many questions from homeowners about their privately-owned wells, they have a web page to provide homeowners with information about them. That page can be accessed by clicking here.
In addition to septic system inspections and well water tests, there are a number of other environmental tests that might be applicable to your purchase. Not all of our buyers choose to incur the costs of these tests, but depending on the specific need and use of the property, they can be a good investment of a buyer’s resources. These tests include, but are not limited to, the following:
Lead Paint Testing
- The NJ Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 was designed to protect families from exposure to lead from paint, dust, and soil. A section of this law requires the disclosure of known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before the sale or lease of most housing built before 1978. A home, or area of a home, can be tested for the presence of lead. Please request the Federal Information guide, “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home” from your River Valley agent. Further information on lead can be found at the following site here.
- The Pennsylvania Lead and Healthy Homes Program (LHHP) seeks to create safe and healthy housing by addressing environmental health and safety issues in homes. Pennsylvania’s diverse landscape of rural and urban communities includes some of the oldest housing in the nation. To promote safe and healthy housing, the Department of Health is developing the Lead and Healthy Homes Program. More information on the program can be found here.
Mold is present everywhere – indoors and outdoors. There are more than 100,000 species of mold. Molds can produce allergens, toxins and/or irritants. When moldy material becomes damaged or disturbed, spores can be released into the air. Exposure can occur if people inhale the spores, directly handle moldy materials, or accidentally ingest it.
Mold problems have become more prevalent because of increased use of cheaper building materials which are more prone to growing mold when wet. Although molds have always been present in homes, energy conservation projects such as window replacement and increased insulation have made homes more air tight thereby reducing fresh air exchanges. Moisture and lack of ventilation make a perfect environment for mold. Additional information can be found here.
Underground Storage Tanks (UST)
Gas lines do not run in many rural communities, and therefore fuel for heating and cooking is often propane or oil. We recommend that buyers request that any underground storage tanks used for fuel oil be removed, or abandoned in place with proper certifications. In some cases, buyers might choose to test an insured tank, but almost every real estate attorney that we are currently working with will recommend tank removal/abandonment. UST removal is often a condition of mortgage approval as well. Additional info can be found at the following site here.
Wood Destroying Insects Inspections
Most buyers choose to have an inspection to determine if your prospective home shows evidence of infestation by insects or wood-destroying organisms. Several varieties of small bugs can do extensive damage to a home, especially as they gnaw away at floors, support beams and wood framing hidden behind the plaster in your walls. A WDI inspector will pay close attention to any signs that these pests exist and will give recommendations to repair and control the issue. More information on household and structural pests can be found here for New Jersey and here for Pennsylvania.
Phase One Environmental Report
This extensive Site Assessment will identify and evaluate the potential environmental concerns that may be associated with the property as a result of past and present operations at the subject property and surrounding properties. To accomplish this, an engineering firm uses information from regulatory agency files and other sources, and also does a visual internal and external inspection of the property.
The following vendor sites have additional information on more extensive environmental testing.
Equine and Agricultural Standards
The River town communities of Lambertville, Stockton, New Hope, Yardley and Frenchtown hug the Delaware River. Surrounding these towns are the fertile river valleys of Hunterdon and Bucks Counties. This bucolic acreage hosts organic chicken farms, alpacas, llamas, buffalo and Scottish Highland cattle. Much of our land is chemical free, and quite a few resident farmers have acquired organic certification for their crops and livestock.
The rural municipalities in Hunterdon and Bucks Counties allow for the boarding and housing of horses or other livestock. Some municipalities have acreage minimums, and others determine suitability based on sanitation and safety standards. Agricultural barns need to be a specific distance from the house, and care needs to be given to proximity to wells, streams and ponds.
The River Valley Team will help you determine if a property meets your equine or livestock needs, and will provide you with good municipal contact information so that you can speak to municipal planners directly.
- Amwell Valley Trail Association
- Covered Bridge Trail Association
- Local Harvest
- Hunterdon County Farm Stand and Market Directory
- Hunterdon County Agriculture Development Board
- Mercer County Farmland Preservation
Preservation, Open Space and Clean & Green
Many of the residents in Bucks, Mercer and Hunterdon Counties feel that they are Stewards of the Land. Respectful of our environment, our heritage, and our future, property owners work with local, county and State government to preserve land and minimize development. This is accomplished in a number of ways.
Each municipality has its own Open Space committee, charged with identifying land to keep as open space, either recreational, passive recreational, or in its natural state. The Open Space committees will work with private entities, conservation groups, state planners and grants, and local referendums to finance the purchase of land that otherwise might be developed. In Pennsylvania the Bucks County Open Space Review Board oversees this land preservation.
Some significant parcels have been farmland preserved, which is when the owner retains ownership of the land but agrees to deed restrictions that pertain to development and easements.
Other parcels have been sold outright to conservation groups whose mission is to create hiking or biking trails, native environments, stream and river access, or wildlife habitats.
From many directions, every effort is being made to assure that your country home will remain so! Benefits to our buyers include the ability to purchase a home and be assured that the view out of their window will remain for generations to come. Other buyers take advantage of purchasing land that has not been preserved, and then pursue preserving that land or approaching conservation groups to gauge their interest.
The River Valley team will be able to identify preserved and Open Space, and suggest contacts if you are interested in preserving or pursuing conservation programs.
The River Valley service area includes a significant number of Historic Districts, as well as notable historical homes. These districts include Pleasant Valley, Mt. Airy, Prallsville, Covered Bridge, Clover Hill, Reaville, Ringoes, Lambertville, Quakertown, Frenchtown. In PA, there are 45 designated historic districts in Buck County alone, and these include Carversville, Lumberville, Center Bridge, Cuttalossa, and Mechanicsville. The River Valley service area’s close ties to our waterways is further acknowledged by the Delaware and Raritan Canal District.
Historic preservation has helped to enhance the River Valley area’s sense of permanence and community. Historic buildings and properties are preserved to protect important historic events and architecture. Mills, Farmhouses, Inns and private residences have been preserved. Historic preservation easements are legal documents made to ensure the preservation of a property by restricting activities that might harm the historic character of that property. The preservation easement places specific conditions on a property and conveys the right to enforce those conditions to the holder of the easement. More information on the types of easements can be found here for New Jersey and here for Pennsylvania.
In addition, much of the housing stock is historical, but without the formal preservation easement in place. Wonderful examples of homes from the Colonial, Federal and Victorian eras grace our country roads and river towns. Our residents share wonderful resources to locate the best renovation specialists, designers, period trim and hardware, flooring and lighting.
New Jersey’s Farmland Assessment Act provides for a lower tax assessment based on productivity of farmland if it meets very specific eligibility criteria. To qualify for the tax assessment reduction, a landowner must have no less than five acres of farmland actively devoted to an acceptable use for the two years immediately preceding the tax year being applied for, and meet minimum gross income requirements based on the productivity of the land. Acceptable uses include livestock, qualifying woodland, and Agricultural. Click here for a guide which is a comprehensive tool for understanding Farmland Assessment.
The Pennsylvania Farmland and Forest Land Assessment Act, commonly known as “Clean and Green” or Act 319, provides for lower property tax assessments of land capable of producing wood products, agricultural land, and open space land open to the public.
For more information click here.
It is important to understand the current farmland designation on any property you are considering. That way, you can research and determine what you as the next owner would need to continue in order to maintain the current tax status. At River Valley, we can help you understand the process and help explore your acceptable use options as the new landowner.
Zip Codes Explained
In a rural community, there are often not enough households to support an independent Postal address or zip code. Or, small villages within a municipality are so established, including an independent zip code, that it is the preference of the residents to maintain that identity. Hunterdon and rural Mercer County have a number of these communities.
An example of this would be the municipality of West Amwell Township, NJ. West Amwell is an expansive farming community right outside of fun and funky Lambertville. With 21.8 square miles, and under 2,600 residents, there is no Municipal Post office for West Amwell Township. So, a letter to a West Amwell resident will be addressed to Lambertville, NJ 08530. A GPS will use Lambertville for directions. However, that resident would live in the Municipality of West Amwell, Hunterdon County, NJ. They couldn’t vote in Lambertville, nor use the recycling center.
Another example is Solebury Township, which has a total area of 27.2 square miles of which 26.6 square miles is land and 0.6 square miles is water. Anyone who has mail delivered to their house has a Solebury zip code of 18938, but its villages include Bowman Hill (also in Upper Makefield Township,) Carversville (also in Plumstead Township,) Center Bridge, Highton (also in Buckingham Township,) Lumberville and Peters Corners.
Here are the zips and municipalities… it’s a little tricky, but chalk it up to one of the charms of country living!
HUNTERDON COUNTY ZIP CODES
Alexandria Township Stockton Boro
Pittstown 08867 S
West Amwell Township
Little York 08834
East Amwell Township
Three Bridges 08887
Whitehouse Station 08889
MERCER COUNTY ZIP CODES
BUCKS COUNTY ZIP CODES
Forest Grove 18922
New Hope 18938
Fairless Hills 19030
Lower Makefield Township
Morrisville & Yardley 19067
New Hope Borough
New Hope 18938
New Hop 18938
Solebury Township 18938
Pt. Pleasant 18938