None of the following constitutes legal advice. Always consult a licensed professional.
OMG! The Fence Costs How Much?
Sticker shock: OK, now you’ve received one or more bids for your homestead fencing. The pricing might take you back a bit. You may have to forego the new tractor, disker, or even the livestock themselves. The dream you thought you could afford just became unaffordable. You’re starting to think, “how hard is fencing really?” You should think about this long and hard because fencing, especially over rugged or wooded terrain, is tough without the right equipment.
Before you dismiss your contractor’s bid or multiple bids, it might be wise to invest in a simple $20.00 post-hole digger at your local hardware store. Attempt to dig one hole on your line for just one post, say three feet deep, and see how that goes. Chances are you’re going to realize that specialized, heavy equipment is a time saver for ANY and ALL types of fencing you might entertain. You may realize that $10 a hole with a $200 minimum is just a drop in the bucket, especially when you have 300+ holes to dig!
At one time, my wife and I owned a property in Salado, Texas. We elected to fence most of the property ourselves. This involved a lot of land clearing to accomplish the task. After spending the first four months bent over a chain saw and bending both the front and rear bumpers on my truck beyond repair, I was utterly spent. In contrast, my neighbor had hired a contractor to clear his line to build a fence on his side. The contractor had a specialized skid-steer with a flailing chain attached to a huge drum. He cleared more in four hours with that machine than I’d done in four months. I gained some serious perspective and humility from that experience.
You’re right to be concerned about farm and ranch fencing costs, though. If you’re going to sharp-shoot your bids, doing this on your own is best. Questioning the proposal or the value of the materials should be done tactfully by performing your own research away from the contractor. Be sure to take into consideration the availability of materials needed and how much it weighs. Where and how far do you have to go to get it? How much time will be involved in the simple logistics of just getting the materials to your property? Believe it or not, this is an aspect of your bid that your contractor may be willing to negotiate. Your contractor probably doesn’t make much on materials or logistics. If you can go and get it, purchase it and bring it and stage it, he might be very happy to work with you on this point.
If you’ve never worked with or operated heavy equipment, do not attempt to negotiate this part of the bid. One 200′ long roll of 5′ tall woven “horse fence” weighs approximately 300 lbs. Imagine hauling that in the back of your 1/2ton pickup or on your 500 lb GVW trailer. If you don’t have the right equipment to haul it, it may not make sense to negotiate his 10%-15% profit on the materials.
This might be the best money you have ever spent. Take into consideration the upkeep, fuel costs, and on-site time vs. actual working time. These are all things the contractor must plan and prepare for. Renting equipment on your own is inadvisable. Your contractor knows the equipment, will transport it to your site and will deal with the inevitable breakdowns. You are probably not prepared to wait three days for a hydraulic fitting that splits in half when the auger bounces off a solid piece of rock. Your contractor is. It’s his equipment. He probably has two spares in his rig. These are the things you should be thinking about before dismissing that bid that gave you sticker shock. The bid will most likely be fair, especially if your contractor comes highly recommended, and you took the time to validate his recommendations.
This is the one. You know it. The perfect place! You and your spouse love the house, the school district comes with high scholastic achievement, and you’re confident THIS is the place for you and your family. Keep in mind, unless the property is a brand new build with a brand new fence and brand new roads, you’ve probably got some work ahead of you.
Looking at these fence factors in advance and objectively listing these potential issues up front is all part of your contract negotiation on an agreed purchase amount. Chances are the existing owners are retiring from farming or ranching. If they’ve been there for years, assume they know all the issues on the property. However, don’t make the assumption they will disclose all of them to you without prompting. This is where it will serve you best to have an objective opinion about things that are in question.
Let’s assume you know very little about fencing. You can see that the fence line is in disrepair, but you have no idea how to fix it, much less assign the repairs a value. The existing owner has been living with the fence this way for a very long time. To them, the fence is still as good as the day they put it up 30 years ago, and their cattle on the land is a testament to that. They may not negotiate any money off the contract from your own evaluation or because it “looks old.” But, they might be willing to deal with an objective professional opinion.
When you see sagging or broken barbwire, posts pulled up out of the ground, concrete footings pulled up, and gates that do not open, much less line-up, that fence has moved. Keep in mind that all homestead fencing moves with soil swelling and contraction or years of cattle pushing on it. If you can’t open a gate, you can’t use it. You can’t graze your animals in that pasture if the fence is down.
Most farmers and ranchers understand and can appreciate contingencies when it comes to real estate, especially when it comes down to the welfare and security of livestock. Getting a professional objective opinion, even if you have to pay a disinterested party $500 a day to inspect it. This might save you $18,000.00 on replacing a half mile of fence and gates. The sellers might even repair the fence to the point of usability upon move in if you ask.
There are many other things to consider when looking at a fence line on a property. If there is a water trough next to a fence with a hose bib, but the tub is dry, walk right up to it and attempt to turn the water on. If it works, GREAT! If the faucet doesn’t work, ask why and when it stopped working. Now, ask the current owner where the pipe is and how it is run to the water trough. Knowing where existing subterranean electrical and water lines are is critical to being able to put up a new fence or repair an old fence with confidence.
Keep in mind that a fence is just a fence. If it worked for the existing owner, chances are they don’t feel the fence adds to the value of the property or, conversely, takes away from it. Unless they have just paid thousands of dollars for the fence to be installed on the property! And that is precisely what you should be thinking about when looking at homestead fencing system on a prospective property. Fencing is hugely expensive regardless of the type you choose, the style, or the purpose the fencing will serve. Ask questions, plan judiciously and do it right the first time. The payoff may be savings in time, money, and aggravation.