For solar panels to generate the most power possible they need to face the sun, which means they need to face south. They also can’t be in the shade which is why we couldn’t put solar panels on our house in Haddonfield: too many tall, old, but very beautiful, trees. Even though Camden apartments weren’t an option, Jed realized that there were hundreds of roofs on commercial buildings and warehouses that faced south and that would be perfect for solar panels. But solar panels are still relatively expensive, so it was not surprising that few building owners hade enough spare cash available to invest in solar even if it was a good return on the investment. But by now, Jed had sold the avocado orchard in California and was itching to put the money to work.
So off we go for the next month searching for the perfect south-facing roof. Up and down the White Horse Pike. Up and down the Black Horse Pike. Eventually we find ourselves out in the country, looking at big roofs on barns instead of warehouses. It begins to dawn on us that maybe a barn is just the ticket for this solar panel project. When we had been prowling about looking for watermills we had passed dozens of lovely country properties, many with beautiful old barns. Did we want to live in the country? We liked Haddonfield, why would we move? But we were intrigued by the possibility.
Hours and Hours of Google Maps
The cool thing about Google Maps in 2009 was that they had a link to properties for sale (it’s gone now). So you could pull up an area and see all of the realtor listings. Then you could pull up a property and take a look at it from an aerial view, and from the street view. I lost track of the number of hours Jed spent on line looking for barns for sale; suffice it to say that he looked at hundreds of listings. One was for 80 acres of preserved farmland about an hour away that was being auctioned by the state. We drove out one weekend to look at it. It was beautiful land with big old trees near an old farmhouse and suddenly we were serious about thinking we might live in the country. But 80 acres? Wake up! Wake up! On the drive home we concluded that we had to set some criteria for our search if we were really going to buy a place where we might live. Yes, it should have a barn that faced south, but it couldn’t be more than an hour commute from the IVA office since it was unlikely that we’d be retiring any time soon.
One Sunday morning
It wasn’t coffee and the newspaper on Sunday mornings for Jed. It was coffee and property listings. One Sunday in late spring he said ‘Hey, come take a look at this one. It may be worth a drive to the country.” The listing showed a big field, with a big red barn at the back, and the remnants of a house. It was near Mullica Hill, half an hour from our office. The coffee went into go-cups and we were on our way. When we arrived there was no ‘For Sale’ sign, but the address was right, and we could see the barn and the stone chimney from the house. So we decided to venture down the gravel road. While Jed looked at the barn, I wandered over to see what was left of the house. There was a pretty little meadow at the back with two deer grazing down by a winding creek. They looked up startled to see visitors and bounded quickly into the woods. After about ten minutes we were both saying to each other ‘This is it!” We got back home and immediately called the realtor’s number to say we were interested. It wasn’t long before we got a call back from the realtor who informed us that unfortunately the property had already sold. “But I’m sure I can find another one just like it for you,” he assured us, and so it wasn’t long before we were back on the road and on our way to meet Warren.
Warren and his Black SUV with the bright yellow Weichert logo are a pretty common sight around Gloucester County. Warren is only a part-time realtor, (he’s also a part-time hair stylist), but he’s one of those guys who seems to know everyone – and their houses. We looked at dozens of listings over the next couple of months, but we didn’t find another one with a big barn, and a pretty little meadow, and a winding creek. We were out one weekend tromping around a muddy field and about to call it quits when Warren let slip that he was pretty sure that the sale on what we now regarded as ‘our’ property would never go through. He didn’t say why, but he said he’d let us know if it were to come back on the market. With that, we called it quits and went on vacation. Yep, the deal fell through and we had a chance to get the one we wanted all along.
I’m not mowing all that grass or….. we could grow grapes!
We began to check out the Mullica Hill property in earnest. The pole barn was in reasonably good shape, not pretty, dirt floor, full of big bulldozers, but functional. Most importantly it looked sturdy enough to support a bunch of solar panels. There was what looked to be a new foundation by the house, and the listing said there was a brand new septic system. There was a big field of almost five acres between the house and the road that looked green, but we had no idea what was growing there. After looking at a 100 ‘farmettes’ sporting giant lawns, I knew I had no interest spending every weekend on a riding mower. Jed’s five acres of avocados in Ojai got us to thinking about an orchard, and we knew that New Jersey was a pretty big peach producing state. We began to investigate peaches, and learned that local farmers were pulling the peaches out in order to put in grapevines. There was more money in wine, and grapes had been grown in the state up until Prohibition. That there was even a town called Vineland seemed like a good omen. The more we thought about it, (Well actually the more I thought about it, since Jed had declared that the barn was his project and I could do what I wanted in the field.) the more wine grapes seemed to make sense. We like wine. I like to garden. So what if we’d never made wine or grown grapes before. We could learn.
So we had some soil tests run, and while the PH was out of whack in two directions, there was nothing lethal in the soil and it seemed to drain ok. We could fix the PH, buy some grape vines and we’d be in business. So we made an offer, and after a little back and forth, we had an agreement and a September closing date.
You are an ignorant person!
We were up bright and early the morning of the closing, and stopped by the property one last time to look around. It was a beautiful summer day with a cloudless sky, and temperatures climbing into the ’80’s. We had brought our friend Paul, who is a lawyer, as a precaution. During the course of the summer we had learned that the ‘new’ septic system had never been permitted, that the previous owner had been fined by the EPA for bulldozing down trees around the creek, and that the sellers were in the middle of a divorce. So we prepared for the unknown.
Things got off to a rocky start, and quickly ground to a halt when it became apparent that
1. The wife, who was also a Weichert agent, was trying to engineer the sale as private and not through the agency so that she wouldn’t have to pay any fees.
2. The husband’s divorce lawyer had a lien against the property for his fees.
3. The wife was supposed to get the property in the divorce, but the title hadn’t been transferred, and now the husband was refusing to transfer the title unless the lien was taken out of the sale proceeds.
They stepped outside to resolve the problems. There was much yelling and shedding of tears in the hallway, so the agency manager stepped in to mediate. No luck. After an hour of sitting, Paul, Jed, and I announced that we were heading across the street for breakfast and we’d be back in an hour. We returned, hopeful that things had been worked out and we could proceed. Wrong. The wife tells Warren that if he gave up his commission there would be money to cover the lien. Jed goes nuts and says that if Warren loses his commission we would withdraw our offer. All hell breaks loose. Jed is accused of being ‘a very ignorant person’ by the very distraught wife, but eventually we make it to the end, title and key to the barn in hand.
WHEW! Pam and Jed’s Amazing Ten Acre Adventure is About To Begin!