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Firm Offers Greener Acres For Urban Dreamers


Firm Offers Greener Acres
For Urban Dreamers

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Although gas prices are hiking up the cost of commuting, they're not deterring some people from pursuing their dreams of living in the country and being farmers.

To them, a small-town real estate service that's eyeing Canada as a potential market is providing
a Green Acres-like opportunity.

The service, based in Kansas City, Missouri, is called United Country Real Estate. I was introduced
to the franchise-based company last week at an agricultural communications and marketing conference. There, at a trade show booth, company owner Dan Duffy explained that he and his network of 4,000 agents and 700 offices across the U.S. are helping connect what he openly calls idyllic lifestyle seekers with their dream properties.

Finding affordable dream homes is what we hope all real estate agencies will do for us, regardless of where they're located. But usually, potential buyers don't ask agents to purposefully find places for them in the middle of nowhere, halfway across the country or the world.

But that's United Country's niche. Duffy says about 50 per cent of its clients buy properties from out of state. Typically, they're investors, or buyers who are tired of cities.

Like wannabe farmer Eddie Albert of Green Acres fame, they've bought into the romanticized image of living in rural America. They've also helped keep U.S. rural property values from following their urban counterparts down the tube, as a result of the sub-prime mortgage disaster.

Duffy says the same recipe could play out in Canada. Our wilderness, wide open spaces and pristine landscapes have grand appeal, and he wants to talk to small-town agencies who might be interested in becoming part of his network.

He's not the first to consider this, and he won't necessarily start a trend. For example, Ontario has seen a 17 per cent increase in its horse population since 2001, attributable in part to a growing number of new horse owners, rather than existing farmers.

And real estate companies that specialize in finding commercial farms for international buyers are well established. But usually, those buyers are real farmers, not idyllic lifestyle seekers. However, rising commodity prices make farming look more attractive than it has for years. Not only do buyers think they'll get a new lifestyle, they might actually make some money farming, too, although
income is not their main concern.

Those of us who were raised outside cities know the realities of rural living are different than the postcard image suggests. Country life has a definite beauty. But it also has frustrations.

Among them are government regulations. For example, the same deer, elk, wild turkeys and other animals people want to find in their camera viewfinders wreak havoc on crops, and farmers get
little compensation.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture calls this damage "hit and run." Farmers have the right to get rid of certain wildlife, but only if the animals are caught in the act of destroying a crop. Even then, an increasing number of farms are in no-shoot zones of cities and towns.

New farmers may be surprised to find compensation for such losses is based on a quarter-century old model. The federation has been trying to get the province to change that, but hasn't had any luck.

With harvest around the corner, it's launching a new missive, hoping outdated compensation regulations can be reviewed.

"Wildlife management in Ontario has become wildlife wastefulness," says the federation. "Ontario needs to manage its resources for the benefit of the species, farmers and all Ontarians."

Indeed, that's just one of country living's challenges, a big reason why moving from the city needs
to be an eyes-wide-open decision. Multiply the challenges exponentially if farming's on your horizon.

But in Ontario, if you someday see "sold" on a United Country for-sale sign, you'll know the challenge is continuing to be accepted by modern-day Eddie Alberts who believe Utopia lies somewhere down a country road.

Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications at the University of Guelph.

United Country Real Estate is the only national real estate and auction franchise system specializing in residential, farm and ranch, commercial, retirement, second home and recreational properties in small cities and towns across America. The company currently publishes nine niche real estate magazines and executes a marketing program that attracts more than 925,000 visitors a month to their website, the leading real estate web site in its market. United Country reaches more than 90 million homes each week through its national advertising of franchisee-listed properties in various local, regional and national print media outlets. With a heritage that dates back to 1925 and headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., the company supports more than 700 franchisees in 44 states and markets a national database of properties at www.unitedcountry.com.

2820 NW Barry Road, Kansas City, MO 64154
816-420-6200  www.unitedcountry.com

Members of the media needing information on United Country or our marketplace, contact
Kyla Barcus, Public Relations Department - kbarcus@unitedcountry.com

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