Choosing a Country Homestead in Tennessee

tennessee flag

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

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!


  1. This post is so timely for me. Yesterday I returned from a six hour drive to Ky. to visit ONE property. It looked absolutely wonderful online; the realtor knew what I wanted and had answered a few questions beforehand. Yet, I came home overwhelmed and ready to cry…and finding ticks in our hair ten hours later.
    This has been going on for a year now. Your post has echoed my experience perfectly; now I understand what has been going on a bit better. I had been ready to surrender but I think I will rest and regroup today; I’ll start again tonight or tomorrow.

    • loclyokel says:

      Never Surrender! It’s out there somewhere. We have been looking for 3+ years between NC/TN. Can’t tell you how many properties we looked at in NC that looked fantastic on realtors page but on personal inspection were DUMPS with no maintenance being done at all. Just what I don’t want is a place that I have to spend the rest of my life bringing up to par. Work is not what I dislike, its fixing others “rigging.” Finally, I think we have given up on NC as the folks there think their land is all covered with gold and underneath are oil wells just waiting to be tapped, or so it seems. I am a west coaster (Communist Oregon) but that aint gonna happen w/ DW (is that dear wife or dish washer?) having family in the Midwest. We have gotten dejected at times after many days looking and picking bugs also, but we believe that our place is out there so we keep on searching. It’ll happen.

    • Some appropriate music if MD approves.

  2. Very fine article. Thank you, Contributor. Congrats!

    Would you mind telling us which 2 counties? (I understand if you don’t.) I’m thinkin’ & wishin’ & hopin’ of getting out of NJ and have been doing some poking at TN.

    • loclyokel says:

      Mari, I second your request for “which counties?” I myself have internet searched many of the “plateau counties” and thought I had a location I.D.’d then it got pulled off the market. Have physically searched some of the more northeastern non-plateau counties too, just not the right spot. My luck, but I’ll keep looking. Florida is hotter every year!

    • Jersey Drifter says:

      And I second your ” thinkin’ & wishin’ & hopin’ of getting out of NJ “

      • It’s gettin’ worse every year. Six shootings in one week in my mostly rural county. Sweeney’s latest is a proposed 15% business surcharge.

    • patientmomma says:

      Madison, Chester and McNairy were my top choices.

      • Interesting, patientmomma. To close to Memphis for me. I’ve been poking more at north of Sparta and maybe north of Cookeville.

  3. Good article. Much of it would apply to rural areas in any state.

  4. Tactical G-Ma says:

    Good article. Well written and good info.

  5. Retired says:

    My question: having the retreat sounds all and good and might prolong your surivel time from the general masses…..but from the goverment ect. do you really think it will help much…
    The large population areas will implode and only require a perimeter security force leaving the rest free to go looking( hunting) and with all the increased info pushed on the web well ….
    I do not intend this as insulting or belittling I any way to every one fortuneate enough to move to the hills… Thank You

    • patientmomma says:

      Yes, I think it will improve my chances of survival. Nothing is guaranteed!

  6. Finn Mahone says:

    Good article. Some nice bits of information that you gave us. I am another one looking to get out of NJ. I have a retired friend in Tennessee and though I haven’t been there yet I want to see what it’s like for the possibility of relocating. Since I am not of retirement age I do have to find a job there. I’ve started looking on line at the local papers there for jobs in the area.

  7. You bring out a good point about topography. Tennessee’s topography is varied and changes rapidly. About the only way to determine is through walking it.

    I did not know anything about “tax relief programs” which is something I will need to do more research on. Do I understand correctly that you needed to lay the taxes for he property for all the years it had been in that program? That could add up quickly.

    We are also looking at TN for the future. Driving the back roads while exploring for the future homestead makes for a lovely weekend.

    • patientmomma says:

      Not for all years, only for the most recent year when the property is sold.

  8. Babycatcher says:

    We moved from eastern VA to Rural TN almost 10 yrs ago. Best move we’ve ever made! We had friends in the area who could help us find a place, and we ended up buying the house they were renting!( they were going to move to the Lake and their lease was up….although the house needed updating( still working on it) it had a fairly new barn with water, a pond, and room for a garden and chickens. And horses! I now have a pair of Morgans I’m training to drive. This is a lot of work, but so worth it. The city we used to live in went downhill shortly after we left. We got top dollar for our old house( spent 3 yrs completely renovating it) so no mortgage. But peace and quiet, and near enough to civilization if needed, but off the beaten path. Heaven, I’m telling you! We put in a vineyard, dwarf orchard, garden, 6 flower beds, and still putting it together. I hope I spend the rest of my life here.

  9. Sandra
    That was an excellent article.
    The section on federal giving relief on the taxes makes on think…ah. Why would the feds have anything to do with a state and its taxes for a piece of land. Makes one wonder what other sneak things have they might have done to property owners in TN.
    Where we live the county offers seniors a reduction until they pass away and then those back taxes have to be paid out of the estate.
    I shall use your knowledge for our land search, we are looking at a place for a *get away*. Summers where we reside are just way to hot for me.

  10. vicki c says:

    Great article, I wish you the very best. Would love to be 15 yrs younger and be able to do the same. I have grown up in the city all my life but would love the chance to live off the land and away from it all. The closest thing I can do now is home canning/dehydrating and reading articles like this.

    • Vickie,
      Your never too old. DH and I found our land Feb 2007 and moved in September, that month I turned 52.
      When I look back I’m amazed at what we accomplished ,, just the two of us. We bought 27 acres of land with trees and that was it. Some things we had to hire out. The barn came down from PA on flat bed trucks and was assembled on site.
      But we cleared the area for the pastures, planted the grasses and put up fencing out selves. We couldn’t have done it with out the John Deare,, DH used it more like a bull dozer back then.
      Sometimes you just have to jump in and start the project,, you will surprise your self with what you can do!

  11. vicki c says:

    My husband would never do it, cant get him to move. I am the more energetic one when it comes to things like this, but I love reading about other peoples adventures and how they are coping with things.

  12. Congrats on the move. Good for you! I am more of a Pacific Northwest kind of gal. I did not know about the tax break in TN.

  13. TNSioux says:

    Welcome to TN! Great article, very good information. We made the move from FL to TN in January and have never been more pleased or at peace. We are in our 60’s and it has given us a new zest for life, there is so very much to learn and explore it keeps our body and minds moving. We plug along and do what we can each day and have such a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment as the wood pile grows and the garden is harvested. Next spring I want to take on chickens. We grow in our knowledge each day and I credit MD and this site for providing us with the most useful and practical information available. At our age we keep on preparing but also take time each day to enjoy what the Lord has provided and laugh at our mistakes in the learning curve. He has a great sense of humor! Enjoy your new home.

    • patientmomma says:

      You must get some chickens and and ducks, they are the most fun to watch! They keep me laughing, which is a mood elevator! Very easy to train and to take care of.

    • loclyokel says:

      How about a piece on how long it took you to find your place and what were the obstacles you overcame to get there? We too are trying to get moved from Fl and I feel time is short!

  14. NJGunGUy says:


    Great article. While I have a number of years left to live in NJ’s suburbs I have often wondered how I would go about finding property once I can leave. This gives me a very good blueprint.

    Thank you

  15. Sandra, happy to have another like minded person in the area. I’m right on the edge of the plateau about 5 miles from a small town. Not as far out as I would like to be but the need to keep and eye on my mother delays any move we would make right now. Nice job finding you a place to call home.

  16. tomatogal says:

    Very timely, thank you so much for the article. We have been looking at a couple of counties on the plateau since this past winter and will be trying to re-locate to TN within the year. My job is transferable, which puts us closer to larger groups of people than we want, but we need to move while we can still do work on a “new” place. Our first “searching” visit will be in Sept to find out how “hot” is Summer…

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