There are several things you need to look for when buying your homestead property.
What type of zoning is it? What about water rights? Internet/cell phone access? Purchase or lease?
We bought our homestead, our “forever farm” roughly 3 years ago after a year of searching. In our long search, we got our heart broken, we made mistakes, but we learned a LOT.
So we sat down one night and brainstormed everything you should consider when buying your homestead land.
17 Things to Consider When Buying Your Homestead Property
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.
4. Is The Property Off of a Paved Road or Dirt?
There are several reasons to take this into consideration. If the road your future homestead lives on is not managed by the county, snow can become a real hassle.
Dirt roads are also harder on vehicles and vehicle maintenance.
Between pot-holes and dust, dirt roads will take a toll on vehicle suspension and rust.
In addition to the dust on your vehicles, dust gets kicked up and can coat your house, your clothes, every inch of your farm. It can be a HUGE pain.
However, dirt roads also slow down traffic and make it safer for kids, pets and livestock that might happen to wander out. Just things to consider!
5. Buying a homestead – Type of Soil
While the type of soil on your new farm may not be readily available information that your Realtor will know, it is very easy to look up the information online.
Simply type in the address to http://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/WebSoilSurvey.aspx to see a soil survey (click on the Soil Map Tab).
The majority of the land on the property we are considering is classified as silty loam.
I honestly had no idea what that meant, but a quick Google search told us it was excellent for gardening.
Seeing the soil survey also showed us a flood plain that wasn’t disclosed by the Realtor.
These types of concerns will tell you where you can or cannot build a structure, or if your property contains a soil type that is not conducive to your Homesteading plans.
6. Distance From Stores, Friends and Family
We all dream of being far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life, however, it’s nearly impossible to be completely removed.
Before even looking for your homesteading property, take into consideration how far away from modern conveniences you want to be.
If your kid misses the school bus, or wants to participate in sports and after-school activities, how far will you have to drive?
If you’re in the middle of a recipe and realize you’re missing a key ingredient, will you have to throw it all away, or can you run to the store?
Will you have to sacrifice a social life because your friends and family are too far away to visit? Or is being too far away from family a good thing?
Your answers to these questions will be unique and individual, but should be considered before you invest in a property.
7. Property Tax
The property tax rate can be assessed from the local county government offices. If you’re lucky, it will be available online.
You may have budgeted for a monthly mortgage, but did you take into account the property taxes? Are there multiple taxes?
Will you have to pay a county tax, as well as a city or parish tax?
Is the property assessment up to date?
If it was assessed years ago, you could end up paying a vastly different amount (higher or lower) depending on a current assessment.
The property we’re looking at is broken into three separate segments: 1. Homesite, 2. Wooded, and 3. Flood Pain.
Each is taxed at a different rate.
8. Are There Cell Towers or Electrical Lines Nearby?
Having a cell phone tower or electrical lines on or near your property can have both its pros and cons.
Because they can be an eyesore, you may be able to get the property for less than it would be worth otherwise, and many electrical companies will offer you free or discounted service for the use of your land.
However, Electromagnetic Fields that these power lines can give off can disrupt sleep patterns and make people irritable.
A quick Google search can give you all of the adverse symptoms to exposure to these EMFs.
In my personal experience, I would never want large powerlines on my property. I used to work at an equine hospital that had nearly 20 horses, all from one farm, come in with colic.
After triaging the horses, we found they were all severely dehydrated. It took weeks of investigation, but the cause was traced to electrical lines on the property emitting stray electricity through the ground and to the metal water troughs.
While the horses weren’t exactly being electrocuted, they were receiving enough of a zap every time they went to drink water, that they began simply not drinking.
While this may be a freak incident, it was enough to deter me.
9. Are There Existing Outbuildings or Suitable Location for Future Outbuildings?
Existing outbuildings can be a blessing if they’re well-built and suit your needs.
What good is a calving shed, if you never plan on having livestock? It just becomes one more building to maintain or neglect.
Many outbuildings can be adapted or modified to fit your needs, but every extra building will need to be insured and maintained.
This is a case of wanting to have the perfect number – enough outbuildings to serve your purpose, but nothing more.
If your property does not come with outbuildings, are there suitable locations for them to be built in the future? Is the land flat enough, or stable enough?
Will your outbuildings need running water or electricity?
10. Do You Have Property Access Rights?
Last year my sister-in-law and her husband had found the perfect property for them to build their new home.
It was just the right size, in the perfect location, and at a great price!
Unfortunately, the property was part of a larger parcel that the neighbor had owned, but foreclosed on.
That neighbor, who was bitter against the bank, owned all of the access rights to the property my sister-in-law wanted to buy and was not likely to allow anyone to put in a driveway to the foreclosed property.
It may seem like a simple thing, but if your neighbor wants to be difficult about it, he can be.
11. How Much Land (and What Type) Do You Need?
This is a hotly debated subject with no right or wrong answers.
The key here is to find the balance between enough land to grow and be able to achieve your homesteading dreams, but small enough to maintain with ease.
Do you need large, fenced in paddocks for horses? Or will smaller goat runs do? Do you need 20 acres of forest because you’ll hunt often?
Or will one acre of gardens do? Do you want to be close to your community, or so far removed you can’t see your neighbors?
For my family, we want to be far enough removed to not see our neighbors.
We want forest to be able to hunt, collect firewood, and forage for wild edibles.
We would like some cleared land around the house for gardens and a yard, but want that to be as small as possible so we have less to maintain.
In the future, we can clear more land for goats/horses/cows/pigs, etc.
12. Who Are Your Neighbors?
While you can’t always control who your neighbors are, it’s better to go in with some knowledge.
Your neighbor’s names can be looked up in the county property records.
A quick google, or search for registered sex offenders or any criminal history can be done in an afternoon.
If the seller of your house, or any of the properties around it is a developer, you could be looking at buying your perfect piece of paradise, only to have a sub-development go in next door.
If nothing shows up online, think about dropping by and introducing yourself.
People love to chat, and mostly will gladly share any local dirt or gossip with you.
Think of a list of questions to ask them before you introduce yourself.
Have they lived in the area long? Have they had any issues? Do they know of any developments or roads going in nearby?
13. County Property Records
If you haven’t already, go to your county’s government website and look up the public records for the property.
You should be able to find the owners, the tax assessed value, the number of acres and what type (ie 5 acres of agriculture, 10 of forest), if there are any easements, etc.
How many times has the property been sold? Many quick sales could indicate an underling issue. (Maybe it’s haunted!)
Was it purchased for cheap and sold for much more a few months later?
Chances are a flipper got ahold of it. Can you trust that their fixes were solid and not just cosmetic?
Pay particular attention to when the current owners purchased it and if/when they refinanced and for how much.
You may get a quick glimpse into their financial situation and have an advantage.
For example, the property we were looking at was owned by an estate. The gentleman passed away and his only living relatives wanted nothing to do with it. Advantage = us!
14. Homeowner’s Insurance
Before you sign anything with the bank, check with your insurance company to get an idea what it will cost you.
The bank can estimate this monthly fee, but when dealing with a long-term investment, you want to be sure. T
he bigger the house, the more expensive to insure. The older the house, the more expensive. The more outbuildings, the more expensive.
Also be honest with your insurer regarding any future ventures. If you want to board horses, or have a pick-your-own farm, or farm stand, ask them what that involves insurance-wise.
This is a hard one to pin-down, but it’s important to think about. Is the house on a well or city water?
If it’s a well, what’s the quality of the water? How deep is the well? How many gallons per minute is the pump?
If it’s city-water, what is the quality like? Is the property on a watershed?
Is the surface water clean? The federal Clean Water Act requires each state to evaluate the quality of surface waters and produce a list of surface waters that do not meet the standards for designated uses.
This could be the pH, e.coli, fecal matter, mercury found in fish tissue, etc. Definitely a good thing to know!
Is the house on a septic or city sewage? If it’s septic, think about asking that it be pumped and inspected as a condition of your purchase.
Does your local electric utility buy-back any surplus electricity produced by solar panels?
16. Distance From Hospital or Medical Care
This is similar to number 3 and number 6, but I separated it out because of it’s importance.
Do you or a family member have a bee-allergy, or peanut-allergy?
This may mean you want a closer proximity to the hospital.
Do you hate doctors and refuse to go? You may not care how far away you are then.
Chances are (unfortunately) my son will need allergy shots. I want to be close enough to medical care that going to the doctor three times a week is reasonable.
Again, it’s all personal preference.
17. Future Goals
I’ve alluded to this as well throughout this three-part series: what are your future goals?
In your wildest imagination, what can you see yourself doing?
If you plan to be on a piece of property for any length of time, you want it to fit you like a great pair of pants.
Small enough to fit, big enough to be comfortable — and will grow when you do. (Gotta love maternity jeans!)
Personally, I can see myself running a boarding facility, or riding school. I can see us growing enough crops and livestock to run a CSA.
I can see my husband and kids putting in miles of trails in the forest for off-roading.
These things may not be realistic. They may take 20 years to happen, or never happen at all. But I’d like to be the one to decide that, not my property.
Sunday 19th of March 2017
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 http://smallhousebigskyhomestead.wordpress.com
Sunday 19th of March 2017
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! Lauren
Victoria @ Simplified Life
Monday 4th of April 2016
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!