Today’s non-fiction writing contest entry, “Choosing a Country Homestead in Tennessee” is By Sandra
A number of years ago I awoke to the unpleasant reality that when the stuff hits the fan and people were unable to get food and water, they would spill out into the suburbs, even past the burbs, to our sleepy community, to take what they wanted by any means they could. Although I lived in a “safe” area with preps, a garden and neighbors who were hunters, I realized I could not expect them to protect me, nor would I be able to defend the property I owned.
I recognized I was going to have to move out of my comfortable environment. It was just a matter of where. I started to search for a country homestead where I would stand a chance of staying alive and protecting myself. A place small enough to be manageable on a small income, but large enough for my kids and their families to come when “the trigger event” occurs. This is the short version of how I did it.
First, I evaluated how much I could spend. What could I pay cash for, what could I get a mortgage for, how much tax could I afford to pay once I left my job? Would I buy just raw land or could I get some kind of a residence on the property? Once I figured out that magic number, I had to decide if I was going to pay cash up front or get a small mortgage?
I called my bank and ask them what they would offer me and I was impressed with the no points and the very low rate they quoted. I had to pray hard on what to do because I didn’t have any debt. If I used my retirement funds to pay cash for a place it might put me in a tight spot later on. I finally decided to take a mortgage out until I could sell the suburb house and pay off the new mortgage. With a preapproval letter in hand, I started looking for my country homestead.
Where to go? I read the recommended books, considered the options, including moving west where my husband’s family is located. But, I like the state where I live. Tennessee is listed as one of the top 5 “freedom” states and the state legislature, while not perfect, thinks about preserving the people’s rights more than other states I have visited.
Plus, there is no state income tax and while there are four seasons, winter is normally mild and the growing season is about 8 months depending on the year. I got the map out and decided where I was going to start looking. I did a lot of research on the internet to learn about the counties and the small towns in those counties.
I looked up taxes, best use rights, zoning laws and restrictions. Almost every weekend for a year, I was in the car driving the back roads of Tennessee. Besides my BOB, I always had maps, boots, hat, bug spray, compass and a hand gun with me. I frequently got lost and would go into the local café or gas station and ask directions. I talked with the people in the cafes and ask them about the area and if any places were for sale. Some places were friendly and others not so much, which gave me an idea of whether “outsiders” would be accepted or not.
I had to learn about the topography of the land in different counties. When you look at the pictures on the internet, they don’t show you that 13 of the 15 acres for sale are on a 1500 foot high hill, which would only be good for goats. I walked quite a few properties so I could learn the lay of the land. I wanted some acreage, so I learned to use land and farm sites, not realtor.com.
I learned how to check google earth to see what was bordering the land I wanted to look at so I didn’t drive 3 hours to a site to find the next plot was a junk yard. “Prepper” real estate ads and sites were way too expensive for what they offered and real estate agents were not willing to drive 1 or 2 hours from their offices to show you property.
I learned how to work around the agents to go see property myself and talk to the property owner and their neighbors. Country folks are usually sitting on their porches watching the world go by. I’d pull in a driveway and wave at them and if they waved back, I’d go talk to them. They’d tell me who died and who was wanting to sell. I would always ask if the land flooded, how often, where the closest stream/river was, if it was good hunting land, and if they would buy the land. I heard quite a few interesting stories!
After about 6 months, I got pretty knowledgeable and narrowed down the counties I would considered buying in. I programed my favorite internet sites with the parameters I wanted and then it was just watching, visiting and waiting until the right property came up for sale. After about a year, I had my choices narrowed down to two counties and two properties.
One homestead I wouldn’t need to do anything to the residence, the land was pasture with ponds, but it was located closer to a small city than I wanted and the taxes were higher than the other choice. The second choice I would have to refurb the residence, but the land was raw hunting land with a meadow and natural springs scattered throughout and it was more isolated, but still within 12 country miles of a tiny town. Both were about the same acreage and had old barns on the property. I spent a week praying and doing “what if” games in my head and finally put an offer on the property with the raw land.
Buying a property from country folks is not anywhere similar to buying a house in the city or the suburbs. There is a lot of poker face haggling going on, but basically what you see is what you get. If you are not an expert, you have to bring your team of experts with you. You need to have a guy for the house, the electrical, the roof, the well, the septic, and for the out buildings.
If you are going to farm the land, you need a guy to come check the land. Depending on how far out in the country it is located, it is not easy or cheap to get this team of experts out to the property when you want them to come. Did I say that country folks work on their own time schedule?
One thing I will caution readers about is to find out if the property is in any sort of tax relief program. For example, is it planted with trees for logging? Does it have an agricultural exemption? Is it in any program which offers a tax reduction? My property was in a “greenway”, which was supposedly county sponsored; but after research I found it was really funded by the state, which was really funded by the federal government. I had to take the property out of the program, pay taxes from the last year which the property had a tax reduction. By doing this, the property is no longer considered a tax-relief property and is no longer on the government inventory list.
I purchased the property for a reasonable price, considering I was going to have to redo the residence interior. The bones were good but the guts were old. I had to find a contractor I could work with, who would drive an hour into the country! Most contractors would listen to what I wanted and tell me no, it was too far for them.
It took me three months to find two contractors who could do the job and get bids; I picked the one I liked the best. The contractor did the work I couldn’t do; wiring, plumbing, moving walls, digging a basement. It was not cheap and it was not fast, but it was good. Between weather delays, people delays, inspector delays, it was about 8 months to complete the contractor part of the refurb. My sons laid the new floor, painted the interior, changed lights, fans, etc. There are still base boards and crown molding to put back up; plus a hundred other little things to do. It’s a work in progress.
The house had a fireplace with a 40 year old gas log set, so I went shopping for a wood stove to put in the fireplace. Wood stoves are not cheap! Once you find what you need, it has to be installed. I’m not talking about just inserting the stove; the chimney has to be inspected, primed and flued and a topper added to keep the brand new roof from burning up. Again, getting people 1 hour out in the country was a time consuming effort; but it ended well. It heats the entire house to between 66 and 70 degrees, depending on the outside temperature.
I tried to make all the basic systems redundant, the electric HVAC is backed up with a propane generator, which is backed up by a wood stove and fans. The frig and freezer are backed up by the generator and the kitchen stove runs on propane plus the wood stove is also a backup.
The electric well pump is backed up by the generator, but I’m still working on getting a solar system for the well, then I might add to it later. The septic, while new, can be diverted to the first owner’s old country line, which runs out in the woods somewhere. My son installed a video surveillance system that shows 360⁰ completely around the house and which works beautifully. With 7 large dogs outside and 6 yappy little dogs inside, not much goes unannounced.
The last couple of months have been spent fencing the front 2 acres, installing gates, clearing the garden, planning a rain catchment system, and coops for the chickens and ducks! It has been frustrating slow at times but exciting at the same time. I have been accepted in the area and my neighbors are friendly and helpful.
I think any horde, gangs, or desperate people leaving the big cities, which are 125 and 175 miles distant, will get tired, lost and discouraged long before getting anywhere near the back woods, especially if they are walking. Most people out here have guns and I hear target practice going on all the time.
I feel safe; I can defend myself, and am working towards establishing a home business and being at least half-way self-sufficient! I hope this inspires some of you to take the challenge and find yourself a country homestead!
Prizes for this round (ends August 11 2014) in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First place winner will receive – A $150 gift certificate for Fiocchi Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner, and a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads.
- Second place winner will receive – 15 Live Fire Original – Emergency Fire Starters courtesy of LPC Survival and a Survival Puck courtesy of Innovation Industries.
- Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net and copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net.