Diary of a Transplant: The Creative Rental

  |  March 15, 2012

For years we lived the good life of the lowly-taxed in Park Slope. I’ll never understand why we paid a fifth of the taxes we pay upstate, for a Brooklyn property that was worth three times the one we have up here. Brownstoners, enjoy it while you’ve got it.

Upstate, it’s another story. It’s as bad as Montclair up here, at least if you have land.  High taxes are the main reason we gave up our original fantasy of 30 or 40 acres of sprawling woods, and a major reason we came over to Greene County. $20K in taxes every year? No, thanks.

But we still wanted to figure out a way to have our lean little acreage pay for itself. There is the farming exemption (wherein if you make $10,000 in farm-related sales, your property is taxed at a much lower agricultural rate, rather than at a market rate), but that seemed ambitious to us, unambitious gentlemen farmers that we hoped to be.

So we stuck with a familiar formula: the tenant. We did this in Park Slope, with our third-floor tenant paying almost the entirety of our mortgage. Couldn’t we go the same route upstate, just to cover our taxes?

Yes, we thought could, because we found a property that had an annexed barn apartment, which we renovated, and then sought to rent out.

We already knew we wanted to offer the rental as a farm stay. I’d been reading about farm stays for years. A friend in Delaware County (another Brooklyn transplant) is neighbors with this nice farming family, who offer a high end farm stay through a program called Featherdown.

I thought we could do it a little more home-style. Hey, people, stay in our cottage, get some pony rides, help us feed the goats, bear with the on-going improvements, mellow out, that kind of thing.

We were all ready to go, except that our interior renovations were set to be complete just in time for winter, and us with no built-up clientele. Worse, after Irene’s wrath, we were in the middle of a spectacularly unspectacular autumn, with nearly epidemic proportions of mosquitos.

Where would we ever get renters in that post-Irene mucky fall, poised to go into what I figured at the time would be another lock-down Arctic winter? We were going to have to get creative.

Why, we’d do a time share, of course! We’d find families to commit to a year of weekends.  Each family would get a weekend per month, and two weeks per summer, at a slightly reduced rent. They would sign a year lease. We’d find three families, and keep the fourth weekend open to experiment with renting through the rental site airbnb. We’d include egg-gathering as part of the deal. We’d put pony rides into the lease!

I started with an email to the alumni list at my kids’ old preschool, breathlessly describing our farm share offer. As it turned out, what seemed like such an obviously fantastic deal to me actually took a little wrangling to sell to others. The only person willing to take a chance was my old college roommate, also a parent-alum at the preschool. With her help we found two other families. Despite swarming mosquitos, a cottage that didn’t even have the floors installed at the time, and rainy exploratory visits, each of these three families signed on.

We totally lucked out. These families are great, with awesome kids, all around the same age as our kids. We’ve all become great weekend neighbor friends, and the visiting kids have learned their way around the farm and become adept country kids. There are sleepovers, there are bow-and-arrow-making sessions, there are pony rides. Recently, three visiting kids got to watch a chick make its way out of its shell.

Are we covering our taxes with this arrangement? Yes! Well. Sort of. Some months we are. We would be covering the whole tax bill, if we didn’t have to pay for heat. Which killed us, even in this mild winter. Something to think about when planning a rental.

But we’ve still had an amazing run so far, and have loved having an ever-revolving cast of Brooklyn neighbors, even up here in the boonies.

Our fourth weekend is often available, as are occasional weekends when our regular tentants can’t make it. I’ve posted our rental here on the Upstater classifieds. Come on up! Our ponies need grooming, our stalls need mucking, our new hoop house needs seeding.. (Although, of course, tenants are always welcome to kick back and do no work the entire weekend.)

Do any of you do creative rentals, or have experience with farm shares? We’d love to hear about them!

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