17 Things to Consider When Buying Your Homestead, Part 1

Posted April 4, 2016 by Lauren Dibble in Lifestyle / 3 Comments


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17 Things to Consider Before Buying Your Homestead

Things have been quiet lately on the homestead. Between the winter-weather and the fatigue I’ve been experiencing with the pregnancy, I haven’t had much energy for homesteading projects. Winter’s yin is a time for dormancy, hibernating, resting and preparing for Summer’s yang. It’s a perfect time to start day-dreaming about all of the experiences and projects the Summer will contain.

One of these day-dreams led me to find a beautiful property nearby that is for sale for a reasonable price that hubby and I are very interested in. It’s been on the market for a few years. It has 60 mostly flat acres, some wooded, some already cleared and a hundred year old farm house in need of repair. I won’t tell you where it is in case someone tries to buy it before us!

The property is perfect. It’s already on a well with septic, so the only work we would have to do to get completely off-grid would be to install solar panels. The back yard area is large enough for vegetable gardens, chickens, and maybe a large cold-frame or high tunnel green house. The backyard is separated from the rest of the property by a small creek that is more swampy than creek-y but that can always be fixed.

Then there’s about 20 acres that were cleared when the house was first put on the market, two years ago, in the hopes to sell to a developer. The remaining 30ish acres seem to have been cleared of large lumbar, but is still densely wooded.

Our NC tenants’ lease is up in June, which means we’ll be putting that house up for sale around the end of April. Once we can sell the NC house, the baby is born and I can go back to work at a 9-5, we’ll be in a position to put in an offer on this 60 acres.

It’s a long time to wait, but in the meantime I’ve started doing the research we need to do to be prepared to buy such a large property that will eventually become our “forever farm” or the Hillsborough Homestead.

There are several things you need to look for or consider when looking for your homesteading property. What type of zoning is it? What about water rights? Internet/cell phone access? Purchase or lease?

I’ve broken this post into several parts to make it easier to digest. Look for Parts 2 and 3 to be published in the next week or two.

1. Zoning Laws

Check to make sure you understand what type of zoning the property has. Is it zoned industrial? Agriculture? Residential? There are different rules that apply to each zoning type. Any area that is considered flood plain, or an easement, or protected under conservation rules should be noted. How strictly these zoning laws are enforced depends on your local country government.

If the land you are considering is strictly zoned agriculture, you may need to request permits to change a portion of it to residential before you’ll be able to build on it. Your realtor or local county office should be able to tell you what type of zoning the property you are considering is.

2. Internet/Cell Phone Access

This may or may not be a big concern for you. If you are truly looking to go off grid and get away from it all, you may want limited internet and cell phone access. However, if you want to have a foot in the modern world as well as the past, you may need to consider the availability/quality of internet and cell phone access your new Homestead has.

I, personally, do a lot of work online and there’s nothing more frustrating than slow internet. It’s also important for our family to have uninterrupted cell phone access in case of emergencies.

A friend of mine moved to a new neighborhood in California, in a major city, but the part of the mountain his house is on gets terrible cell phone service. Truthfully, it’s strained a few of his friendships with people he primarily chatted to over the phone because they would get frustrated with the dropped calls and bad reception.

3. Distance From Present Job

Our family plan is to commute to our present jobs for the next year or so, until we have the farm infrastructure built up enough that I can quit the 9-5 and run the Homestead full time. My husband, however, is military, and has at least 7 more years commuting to his present job whether he likes it or not.

If dropping everything tomorrow to homestead is not a possibility for you, pay close attention to how long your new commute will be. Property farther from town is cheaper, but you’re trading money for daylight. You’ll be sacrificing homesteading hours for hours in the car.

Now’s your turn! What things did you take into consideration, or what lessons did you learn when looking for your homesteading property?

Check out Part 2 and Part 3 of this series to see more.

3 responses to “17 Things to Consider When Buying Your Homestead, Part 1

  1. Love this post and you give some great tips Lauren. When we purchased our property we took our time thinking through where to locate the house and buildings. We planned out where we wanted fields for animals in regards to the water source and distance from the barns to the house. Even though it felt tedious at the time, it really helped in the long run. All the best as you pursue your forever farm!

  2. I’ve been homesteadingnow for 15 years and am a senior citizen. This means I think (and hopefully you will to) that I have enough experience to share with others that just might be worth considering.

    1) The commute might be harder on you (hubby) than you can imagine. When we sold our city house and moved to the country my husband was still working fulltime in the city. He needed to work 9 more years untill retirement and we needed his income to survive. This meant his getting up at 4:15 a.m. five days a week and an hours drive in good weather and sometimes a 2 hour drive in snowy weather and not getting home most nights until 6:30 p.m. or after if he did some in town shopping. He would eat dinner watch TV a bit and go to bed by 8:30 p.m. exhausted. That was all he could manage after his long day. This also meant driving into the sun both ways; and this was his biggest complaint. In Michigan this meant investing in a 4-wheel drive vehicle – a large extra expense. In those early days gas was expensive and that meant $450.00 a month right off the top for gas. Many miles also meant extra oil changes, many tire repairs and a lot of wear and tear on a vehicle. All of these meant extra expenses in our very tight budget. This also meant I was on my own for 12-13 hours a day on the homestead; in isolation having to handle everything by myself and begin my home based business and the house renovations alone. (And I did not have a tiny baby either.) Even though I truly wanted to make this move, I suffered from depression and had a very difficult time adjusting to our new community. I was used to things being near by and over educated, over read and a liberal in a an old-fashioned community of Republicans. In truth it took me more than 5 years to adjust, to find my own community of like minded folks…much longer than I ever expected. This was a very difficult period for us both.

    2) Expect the unexpected and budget a LOT for unexpected repairs. In the county weather is harder on houses and equipment and the infrastructure is less, older and more iffy when it is there. When one is used to curbs and gutters, city sewers, water etc. where the waste is just whisked away its an adjustment to have septic and drain fields, esp. when they fail and they will. Just three months after we moved into our Small House Homestead our entire septic system failed. Yes, it has passed the inspection but it failed anyway. And after the expenses of our move, the $700.00 cash up front to fill the LP tank, we did not have a couple of thousand extra in our accounts to get this replaced. But we had no choice as the septic system backed up into our shower. Pew!! We also discovered that the entire underground pipe sysem was the very old kind, had also failed as the pipes were clay, very thin and had to be brought up to code so we had to replace all the underground piping from the house to the septic/drain field on top of replacing the septic and drainfield itself. The next year the water pump failed. We also had to relace the hot water heater-another $850.00. We also unexpectedly had to shut down the gray water tank (code) and connect it to the septic, another $500.00. There is a LOT more expensive underground infrastructure in a county home to be aware of. And as city folks we were not as aware as we should have been. Some older homes can be a bottomless pit as far as money goes and our 1950’s ranch style home definitely was. So be prepared for the worst and many more expenses than you can imagine. Get the BEST inspector possible and pay what ever it takes to be inspected from top to bottom and even then expect things to fail.

    3) Finding qualified, trustworthy contractors, plumbers and electricians in a new location can be hard. In the city such businesses owners had to be good in order to stay in business. No so for the country. Somehow they managed to survive whether they did quality work or not. When we were brand new to our community (even though we got a neighbors referral) we had no way to distinquish the good ones from the bad and we got taken once or twice with shoddy work. More money basically thrown away.- another $3,000 for a deck that was sloppily built and $500.00 for tuckpointing of stone on our house that was done poorly. Now I have to hire contractors and handymen from an hour away and pay their travel expenses in order to get qualified ones.

    4) Plan to drive to a larger city to find good healthcare, dentists, eye doctors, car repairs and tires, etc. We spend at least one day a week driving an hour each way to get to a doctor, dentist, other appointments, a Big Box store and to shop and run errands. This means at least one half of a day (and often more) on the road and a very long, exhausting day. I can’t imagine doing this with a baby or a young child. Even after 15 years I have not adjusted to this.

    This probably all sounds negative but I am sharing because I was an “idealistic” person when I made the move to the county to homestead. My intention is not to discourage anyone but rather to inform them so they gain the skills and have the country knowledge I did not have when I set out on this adventure.

    Donna at the Small House Big Sky Homestead, SW Michigan

    • Lauren Dibble

      Hi Donna!
      Thank you so much for your insight! Being able to share the things that we learn with like-minded people is the whole reason we started this blog and I definitely value what your years of experience can teach us!
      You are absolutely right about the commute. Our commutes will go from 15 minutes to 40 in a good day if we close on the farm we’re looking at. It’s definitely a concern, especially with my husband’s lack of patience on the road!
      We had a similar situation to yours when we bought the house we’re in now. We moved in and our water bill was well over $100, where it was around $20 just down the road. Turns out we had a leak and had to replace the water line from the main to the house. $1000’s right off the bat. Very frustrating.
      And I think about your fourth point often. Right now, everything is literally across the street. I don’t have to plan my outings or groceries nearly as much as I will when we move. But that’ll probably be a good thing for me – I need to start planning things out!
      We’ve put an offer in on a farm, so I’m sure you’ll be seeing posts soon about our process – good and bad.
      Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom!

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