Q & A with Clare Stevens, broker and owner of Ramsay Realty, with offices in Jacksonville and Ruch.

Winter is a good time to shop rural property

Q: Rural properties take on different identities during winter. What should potential buyers think about when they are considering buying a house in outlying areas?

A: I tell people the best time to buy is winter. If you love a place then, you will really love it come spring and summer. In December, you can find places where the sun doesn't shine for a couple of weeks, especially in the Applegate where ... mountains are steep.

The only difference between the summer and fall or winter is color. A lot of people think there is a difference versus the East Coast, and they wouldn't see any; it's all beautiful. The thing that often surprises them the most is learning the hard way to prepare for the frost. They are not prepared for prolonged periods below 20 degrees. They have to learn to turn the lights on in the pump house, learn to depend on themselves for facilities, instead of the cities.

Our property-management service sends notices to people to remind them on cold, cold nights to leave faucets on so pipes won't freeze. Most rural sales are in the last six months of the year, just like the national trend.

Q: What are the advantages of buying in winter?

A: The big advantage is that you know where the sun exposure is. When you can drive on a parcel at 2 o'clock and still see frost on the ground, some like it, and for others, it's not their cup of tea. I tell people to look in the summer and come back in the winter, so they can know exactly what they are getting into. A lot of people come on vacations and then see if they can stand the winters. People don't believe it, but we have green grass all year.

Q: Are there accessibility issues that become more apparent at rural properties this time of year?

A: If you are above 3,000 feet, you are going to have a winter. Most of the properties in this area are below 3,000 feet, but you are only an hour or two away from the snow. That's one of the benefits of living in Southern Oregon. If you are in Butte Falls or above Lost Creek, you probably get snow up there and in the Greensprings. The Applegate Valley is 1,400 feet in elevation — about the same as Medford. I tell people about Jacksonville Hill and the black ice, but that's the only real problem.

Q: Do roads become an issue in winter?

A: The state does an excellent job of keeping the roads sanded and treated with (de-icing) liquid. With a lot of the country roads, you have to wait until the ice melts. I tell people to avoid going to town early and wait until 8, 9 or 10 o'clock. Sometimes it's not possible, but changing driving habits helps. The black ice is the biggest hazard. With private roads, most of them are well rocked. So you are driving on gravel, not a swamp. If you stay on the developed road in the winters, people are fine. If you pull off the developed road, who knows what's going to happen? But it's not like you're getting into 3 feet of snow.

Q: Have fuel prices had an impact on rural property sales?

A: People are thinking about it more, but I don't see it affecting decisions to buy or relocate. I just hear more complaining. Usually people size down from a pickup to an economy car. It's not harder on cars; most of the houses are less than a half-mile off the roads, and private drives often serve three or four properties.

Q: How fast do rural properties sell compared with in-town properties?

A: Rural properties take longer, even in good times. When people list, I tell them don't expect a quick sale. It takes nine to 18 months to get rural places sold. There are more places for sale than 10 years ago, but not as many as the 1980s. There are fewer on the market now than a year ago, but the market has been slow for the past three years.

Q: What is the most important thing people look for when shopping for a rural place?

A: Finding something for their lifestyle, a nice view, wanting to raise a garden, wanting to be on the river ... a lifestyle dream. They have a lot of options here. Whatever you want, you're going to find it in Southern Oregon. A lot of them want to recapture childhood enjoyment.

Reach Mail Tribune business editor Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com. Read his blog, Economic Edge, at www.mailtribune.com/economicedge or follow @GregMTBusiness on Twitter.

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