Whether you already have a homestead and are looking to expand it, or if you want to take the first steps toward starting a one from the ground up, buying land is something you have to do.
This is never easy, as there’s so much that you need to evaluate beforehand, from the geographic location to the condition of the buildings that are on it. For those who are seeking to buy land the first time, the process can be overwhelming.
When making such a significant purchase, you need to ensure that you really are making the best decision possible. Everything, from renovations to soil improvements take not just money, but also time. In order to avoid wasting money on a piece of land you’ll later regret, here are some points to consider when buying land for homesteading purposes.
1. Accessibility to Nearby Towns and Cities
When imagining their dream homestead, many people think of a remote area with no neighbours or amenities around for miles. While this may seem idyllic, you do also have to think of the consequences that come with this “perfect” location. Many of the luxuries that you now take for granted, whether this might be a close proximity to shops or access to healthcare, may be items you need to compromise on.
In addition to the location of the closest amenities, you also need to consider how accessible, in general, your land is, especially when bad weather strikes. If your road to the property is not tarred, or at the very least paved with gravel, and there are heavy rains, you might run into problems. You may find that you need to purchase a vehicle with four-wheel drive in order to make a homestead in such a location work for your family. Heavy snow can also restrict your property’s accessibility, so be prepared for all options (including the potential of needing to buy a snowplow, as plow companies rarely plow long, rural driveways, and when they do, you can expect to pay a pretty penny).
As mentioned above, the idea of not having to deal with neighbors is extremely appealing to many, but, as always, there is a downside. With nobody else living around you, security may be an issue, so you might need to consider extra security measures.
If you do have neighbors nearby, it would be worth meeting them before purchasing your property. Speak to them about what you intend to use the land for, and make sure that there are not going to be any conflicts further down the line.
If your neighbors live close, it’s worth building a relationship with them for several reasons. It’s always good to have somebody to rely on if machinery breaks, or you run out of supplies, or if you need to head out of town and want somebody to watch your livestock. Alternatively, getting to know your neighbors will ensure that they are trustworthy. If they aren’t, you may want to invest in extra security measures for when you happen to go away.
3.Distance from Main Roads and Markets
If you are planning on both growing and selling produce, then you need to ensure that you are not too far away from where you intend to make the majority of your sales. Being near a main road is perfect if you want to set up a small farm stand, while having easy accessibility to local farmers’ markets or wholesalers can also be a bonus. If you end up having to travel a long distance for these, this really increases your overall costs.
That being said, many self-reliant homesteaders have turned to the Internet as a way to sell their goods with zero overhead costs. You can sell many farm-produced items, like honey, wool, and leather, online via shops like Etsy. Other items, like produce, might be harder to sell, but you can almost always find a market for goods if you look in the right place.
The local climate is something to prepare for in advance, as this will ultimately dictate what you do on your land. If you are purchasing land within a hundred miles of where you currently live, climate will likely not be an issue, as you will already be familiarized with it. However, keep in mind that things like altitude, as well as bodies of water and mountain ranges, can change weather patterns drastically within just a few short miles.
If you are planning on moving to a completely new location, start by taking a look at the plant hardiness zone that your potential homestead is located in, as this will tell you more about what you will and will not be able to grow. Seek out advice from locals as well as the Internet to find out what plants grow well in certain locations.
Research each season in depth, and decide whether the crops you want to grow will be able to cope with the conditions that each season brings. For example, strong winds during the winter, or a scorching sun in the summer, may be a deal breaker for some varieties of plants.
Beautiful views are often an important aspect of buying land for many homesteaders (who aren’t necessarily prepping), but if this is something that will have a significant effect on your land value, as well as your overall enjoyment of the property, you will need to put some time into making sure that these are a component of your land-buying process.
The land that you look out on that provides these views will be owned by somebody else, meaning that they could decide to dramatically change what is right in front of you in the near future. This is especially true for commercial farming operations, as land usage can change quite a bit depending on production practices. If your potential homestead is within the view of other properties, and vice versa, keep this in mind. What your neighbors do can drastically impact your views and what you do can affect theirs.
If it’s not within an impactful distance, remember that your practices still affect those around you, and the opposite is true as well. For example, if you one day plan to sell your property, make sure you are keeping things in proper working order, and attractive at that – you don’t want to hinder your future success by making hasty decisions (like clearcutting an entire strip of woods) now.
Zoning restrictions are something that you will most definitely need to look into if you are interested in a certain piece of land.
Conservation restrictions have the potential to remove much of your flexibility when it comes to what you can do with your land, and any zoning restrictions in general could have a huge impact on the overall value of your land and property. For example, if you live in a protected wilderness area, you may have immense difficulty obtaining the proper permits to even build just a house.
If you are purchasing land that is not agriculturally zoned, you may run into issues raising livestock – even chickens – on your property. Neighbors and officials may file complaints about the stench or scale of your homestead operation. Make sure you read all the fine print before purchasing land for your farm, no matter how large or small you intend to make it.
It would also be a good idea to speak to the local county development office to find out whether there are any active applications, or even potential ones, for developments nearby. This is especially true if you are buying a small parcel in land that is in close proximity. This could be a major issue, especially if you plan to raise animals.
The Land Itself
7. Soil Quality, Type and Drainage
You are likely going to want to grow your own produce on your land, either for personal or business use, which means that you really need to pay attention to soil quality.
Many edible plants prefer a mildly acidic soil, with a pH of around 6 to 6.7, although small differences in this pH level can be easily remedied. However, if the soil is leaning heavily towards the alkaline side, then this is something that can be challenging to work with, especially if you are trying to grow crops on a larger scale.
In addition to the soil’s pH, you need to also take a close look at soil type and texture. While sandy soils will drain well, they are often lacking in nutrients, whereas clay soils are good for retaining water, but end up cracking when they are dry. A good loam would be ideal for growing crops.
If you are unsure about the soil quality of a potential piece of land, it could be worthwhile taking a few samples and sending these off to be tested. These tests will be able to identify fertility issues, whether this may be with primary nutrients or micronutrients.
When it comes to testing for soil quality, there are three main categories for which soil scientists may test:
- Chemical – this tells you about the relationship between soil water and nutrients, as well as contaminants and plant health
- Physical – this looks at soil hydrologic characteristics, as well as its structure and erosional status
- Biological – takes an in-depth look at the organisms within the soil, from organic matter to nutrients
Drainage is also really important, especially if you want to maximize production. If adequate drainage is not available, then the cost of putting this in is something else that you will need to account for. Again, this is something that you will learn about more if you have your soil tested.
You can choose to test your own soil. Many farm and garden stores sell soil test kits that can be used to test for certain microbes, as well as key nutrients and micronutrients. It’s also easy to test the composition of your soil to determine whether it is clay, sandy, loam, etc. Keep in mind that while soil type may be a bit of a hindrance when you’re just getting started, as an undesirable soil type or composition may give you a bit more work to do, you can always change your soil type. This should not be a deal breaker – just something else to consider. Soil can be amended by adding organic matter and other sustainable practices, so keep that in mind as you are researching land.
8. History of Cultivation
The way in which a piece of land has been used in the past will have an impact on how you can move forward with it. For example, you would need a management plan, and plenty of plants and other organic matter, to turn fallow ground into something productive, while unmanaged land would require some serious weed control, as well as quite a bit of soil rehabilitation. Again, this is not a deal-breaker, just something else to consider. You will likely need to begin cultivating your land the season before you intend to plant in order to make sure it is workable.
9. Aspect and Altitude
The aspect of your land refers to the direction it faces, which is important for understanding how much direct sunlight you will be getting. South facing is the best, as this means that you will have sun throughout the day, but, if this is not possible, west facing is your next best option. If your property does not have a desirable aspect, you can help remedy this by building greenhouses, hoop houses, and cold frames to help extend your growing options.
Altitude can also make a difference, especially if you are planning on growing crops. The higher you are, the colder and drier the air is, which affects plant life.
Many think that perfectly flat land is best, but having a small amount of a slope to your land can actually be beneficial. This gives you the opportunity to use the natural landscape to carry water from up high to down below, without needing to pump it, while also giving your land a bit of protection from flooding and strong winds.
However, land that is sloped more than 20 degrees can prove to be more of a challenge. This makes it much more difficult to put productive systems in place, and are often best left to grow as a forest. Land that is extremely sloped can also pose a challenge in terms of runoff and erosion. Building steps or lattices can help remediate some of these issues, but keep in mind that you might always have an issue if you purchase land that is extremely hilly.
When it comes to land with a slope of less than 20 degrees, this is great, but you do need to look at the way in which the slope is oriented. You may need to install irrigation systems to help make your work a bit easier.
Microclimates can have a huge impact on the crops that you grow, and can vary quite significantly from the general climate of an area.
When viewing a piece of land, you will likely not be spending enough time there to learn about its microclimate in-depth, but there are still quite a few features that you can look out for, with each one teaching you a bit more about the microclimate of a specific area:
Houses, buildings and paved surfaces absorb heat in the daytime and radiate this back out at night
- Hedges can be great wind breakers, whereas walls can often act like a wind tunnel
- Small patches of lawn can have a cooling effect
- Dips in the land, as well as lower valley areas, can end up being frost pockets
There are many ways in which you can go about modifying your land’s microclimates, but these do take some time, so it would all depend on what you intend to use your land for, and how quickly you need to bring it to maximum production.
12. Going Organic
If you are looking at land that has already been registered as organic, you should definitely take the time to look into this further, and make sure that everything is up to code. Organic land usually comes with a much higher price tag, as well as regular inspections, so make sure that you know when the next inspection is. Your organic status is not something that you will want to lose, but it can take quite a bit of effort to comply with the requirements that come with this.
For land that has not yet been registered as organic, you should have a soil test done to check for any residues or heavy metals that could affect whether or not you would ever be able to grow organically. Beyond that, organic growing typically just requires abstaining from pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals, and following a few other sustainable growing practices.
13. Natural and Man-Made Disasters
A natural or a man-made disaster is something that could obviously devastate your homestead. Your home, barn, garden and livestock could be gone in a heartbeat, and you might be forced to bug out in spite of all the preps you’ve done to bug in
Nearby nuclear plants, toxic dumps or mining operations could all prove to be a threat. Avoid purchasing a homestead that is within close proximity to any of these features.
With natural disasters, flooding may be common in the area that you have chosen, while land near the coast could be susceptible to a tsunami. Fire is another disaster to be aware of, so make sure that your land is not near an area where wildfires are common. You can take a look at the vegetation that surrounds the land for any signs of burning too.
If you live in an area that might be prone to a cataclysm, whether natural or man-made, look into what your homeowners insurance might cover. Be prepared for high deductibles on your insurance if you are planning on raising livestock, or for insurance companies to decline you outright. Purchasing farm insurance is often a better option for larger homesteads.
Trees, especially mature trees, have numerous uses on a homestead. Not only can mature trees be a source of food, but they can also be a source of fuel.
Many buy land for the trees that live on it, because the timber makes for a potential income source in the future, and will only rise in value. If this is your goal, then you need to check for any environmental factors, such as endangered species, that could affect your usage of the trees. You should also monitor the health of your trees.
The timber rights of your land are also important. Usually, these are provided conditionally through the sale, but you should also check to make sure that there are no outstanding timber contracts on your land. If there is, and you are still interested in the land, check to see when the contract expires, as well as the state at which the loggers are required to leave the property once they are done, as this could save you from clearing up a huge mess or from companies clearcutting the entire property.
Speaking of cutting, this is something else you might want to consider. If you don’t plan to use the trees on your property, and they are highly desirable commercial species, you may want to think about putting a timber contract in place to get them removed. You don’t have to cut lal of your trees, but freeing up some of the woodlot will give you more space for greenhouses, barns, and other outbuildings (as well as animal pasture) if that is your goal.
15. Natural Water Sources
Natural water sources are always a bonus, but you need to check whether or not you have rights to any ponds, creeks or wells that are on your land. There are many laws surrounding water irrigation, so this is important if you intend to use your natural water sources for residential purposes. Some areas have restrictions on how you use the waterway based on what lies downriver of the body.
Even if you do have the rights to your water source, you need to make sure that your water source is reliable. If not, water harvesting is something that you will need to look into sooner rather than later, so try to identify where you would place your water tanks, ponds or anything else you would use. You may also need to drill a well, so factor this into your budget as well.
You should also check what the land use is like just upstream of your water source, to make sure that the water is not being contaminated.
16. Fencing and Hedging
Fencing can be a huge expense, with the cost rising in proportion to how much land you end up purchasing. Land that already has stock proof fencing will make life so much easier, although you will need to walk around the perimeter of the fence to check that it is sturdy, and does not have gaps that would be costly to repair.
If there is no fencing on-site, and you are willing to spend the money to put this up, make sure that you are absolutely certain you know where your land boundaries are, as well as any necessary access areas to water sources or other properties.
Strategically placed hedging is another bonus, especially in open areas that are susceptible to extreme weather conditions. Well-maintained hedges will not only provide protection for crops that you grow, but also for any animals in the winter and hot summer months.
17. The Removal of Junk and Garbage
From old oil barrels to piles of tires, it is easy for junk and garbage to accumulate on a homestead. While taking a look around, keep an eye out for any garbage that you would want removed, as this is something that you can stipulate as part of the sale.
Of course, small items are easy to remove, but larger ones can take time and money to remove, which can all be taken care of for you in the sale agreement. Some items are even toxic, which can be impossible (let alone expensive) to remove, and again, should be part of the agreement.
That being said, sometimes one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. If the previous property owners have left old feed tanks hanging around that they have no use for, make sure you ask to have them left when they depart. This could save you some serious time and energy as you get your homestead started,
18. Shared Access Rights
If the land that you are looking at has to share an access way with the public, or other land owners, this is something you need to get more information about. Shared access rights are common in scenic areas where the public might be given permission to walk through your property to access hiking trails or fishing spots. You may need to contribute to maintenance for everything from roads to gates, so make sure that you factor these costs into your budget.
In addition to the financial side of shared access rights, you also need to think about how comfortable you would be with the idea of strangers walking through your land, especially if any public walking trails cuts through a part of it. You may need to erect extra fencing and gates in order to keep walkers and their dogs away from your livestock.
19. Possibilities for Alternative Energy Sources
Even if your land and house are connected to main utilities, it is always a good idea to have the option for alternative energy sources. You may not look into these now, but they are a great backup should you ever need them.
When it comes to options for alternative energy sources on a homestead, these are some of the most common:
- Wood fuel – discussed above in the trees section
- Solar – may need to be combined with another energy source in northern regions with less daylight hours
- Wind – needs a steady wind
- Hydro – fantastic for year-round, 24 hour energy, but you do need a certain amount of flowing water
- Methane – one of the least used of alternative energy sources, but one of the easiest for an individual to set up on their own
Many of these energy sources, like solar, wind, and hydro, can be incredibly expensive to get started. Luckily, many homesteaders have begun to supplement their farming income by tapping into incentives provided by state and federal governments to invest in alternative energy. Do your research, because many of these options may provide you with a nice chunk of change once you’ve born the brunt of the initial investment.
20. Working Out How Much Land You Actually Need
When it comes to how much land you need to buy, this is not something that you will want to compromise on.
To work this out, you need to make a plan of exactly what you intend to do on your homestead, and then decide how much land you will need to allocate to each goal.
For those just starting out, five acres or so tends to be enough to grow food, for both humans and livestock, while giving the livestock enough ground to graze on. If you are in doubt, purchasing more land, rather than less, would be the way to go, as any extra land can always be sold on, or even rented out as an extra income source.
This is just a general rule of thumb, however, and it is assuming that all five acres of the property you purchase are composed of tillable acreage. Acreage that is not tillable – like dense woodland, overly rocky soil, or muddy swamps – should not be factored into your calculations.
21. Land for Survival and Preparedness Purposes
If you are wanting to go completely off the grid and live more of a survivalist lifestyle, then there are a few certain features that you will need to look out for.
In terms of geographical location, you want your land to be in a solid defensive position, meaning that you should have plenty of rocky cliffs, ravines, and rugged terrain. A tall hill, on the other hand, provides a great vantage point.
The larger your land, the better, and this should ideally not be near any high traffic roads, or even visible from the dirt road that leads to your land. Try to aim for at least half of your land to consist of forest, as this not only gives you a source of firewood, but also a place from which you can hunt and trap wild game.
A water source is essential for survival purposes, and one that you can fish from would make it a great food source too. If you do intend on fishing, then you will need to research the native fish populations in that area, as well as any fishing regulations to which you must adhere.
For land that does not have its own spring-fed pond or creek, you could build your own man-made pond, so long as you create one that has a good run-off.
22. State of Main Property
You are likely going to want to have a house on your homestead, and if the land that you are buying already comes with a house on it, this is a bonus. Even if you want to build your own home, having an existing footprint can make the task so much easier than having to start from scratch. If a home is already built on the property but is not in habitable condition, consider having it torn down and using the existing foundation, slab, or basement it rests upon.
The cost of building or renovating a house need to be factored into your budget, as this can often cost more than the land itself. Also consider the amount of time and effort you want to put into this. If you work full time and do not want to oversee yet another major project, you may be better off finding some land that already has a livable property on it.
23. Mains Electricity, Water, Gas and Sewerage
Even some of the most remote properties will come with a main electricity supply these days, but this is not always a guarantee. If you are buying land that has a property on it, or even just outbuildings, you will need to find out exactly how it is, or is not, connected to utilities.
If your property is not well-connected to utilities, this is not necessarily a bad thing. There are many alternatives out there, from a wood fired range to septic tanks to borehole wells, and these can often be cheaper than having yourself connected to main utilities.
However, they do come with a downside, and this is the fact that they are usually less reliable, as well as less convenient. If you decide that you would rather be connected to main utility suppliers, then it would be worth looking into the cost of having this done before purchasing the property. In many areas, this can be extremely expensive, and could very well eat up a huge chunk of your budget. This is especially true if you are building a property that is far off the beaten path, or if you want “luxury” utilities like cable and Internet.
When it comes to drinking water, many rural properties obtain this from a well. If this is the case with the property that you are considering, it would be advisable to have this well water tested for metals and any other contaminants. If it is full of arsenic and lead, treatment could be expensive.
Telephone and internet services are also important for many, and if your property does not come with these already installed, then you will need to look into the costs of doing so, as well as whether or not it is feasible for your property in the first place.
You can never really have too many outbuildings, and you will be so grateful for this extra space as your homestead grows. Think about how many outbuildings you know you will need, whether this may be for housing livestock in the winter, feed storage, workshops or machinery.
Of course, you can construct your own outbuildings, but the cost of this, as well as the possibility of needing permission, would also need to be taken into consideration. And, again, the time factor plays in if you are already operating within a tight schedule.
25. Extra Accommodation for Workers and Volunteers
Whether you plan on hiring farm hands or are going to be providing accommodation for volunteers in exchange for some hard work, you will need some extra space in which to house them. If you do not like the idea of having them in your main house, you will need to dedicate an extra outbuilding or two for this purpose.
26. Permission for Running a Business
If you are intending on making money from your homestead, then you will need to check that you will be able to acquire permission to run a business from that site. This tends to be quite straightforward, but does of course depend on the exact location you have chosen. In many areas, you may be suspected to agricultural inspections to make sure any meat or vegetables are being grown, harvested, and processed in sanitary conditions.
27. Restrictions on Buildings with Architectural Importance
Many buildings, from country estates to humble barns, have actually been listed as buildings with architectural importance. While you will still be able to restore or modify these buildings, you will be faced with severe restrictions on what you can and cannot do. You may also need to be granted permission before making any changes, giving you much less flexibility when it comes to renovations.
Bagging a Bargain
28. Property and Land Auctions
Property and land auctions are a great way to bag a bargain, as this is often the route that people take when they are looking for a quick sale.
Begin by looking for auction houses that sell land in the area you are looking in, and then get yourself onto their mailing list, so that you will be mailed auction catalogs a few weeks before each auction is held.
Once you see something that you like, arrange a viewing as early as possible. Many sellers are happy to sell their land before an auction, so if you fall in love with a place, it may be worth putting in a pre-auction offer. Often, once you tell a seller what you are planning to do with the land, they may be more eager to sell to you directly instead of with working with a realtor or broker who might convince other sellers just to raze the property.
Once you have decided to go for an auction property, it is important that you set yourself a budget and make sure that you stick to it. It can be so tempting, in the heat of the moment on the day itself, to keep raising your bid, but you do not want to be stuck with a heap of unexpected debt.
29. Word of Mouth
In rural communities, it is extremely common for land to be sold privately, meaning that they do not actually ever end up on the market available for viewings. This is another great way to find some land at a great price, but you will need to build up relationships with local farmers in order to be the first one to hear about a place going up for sale.
30. Local Newspapers
The internet tends to dominate most industries these days, including the property industry, but sellers in rural communities still frequently turn to their local newspaper when wanting to sell a house or some land.The local papers will tend to have one day a week where they print a special property section, so it is worth subscribing to the paper for that day, as this is a great way to meet private sellers.
31. Registering With Real Estate Agents
While the majority of real estate agents will know exactly what they are doing when it comes to residential properties, there are only a few that specialize in rural land and properties. It is not essential, but having an agent that knows a thing or two about rural land can really help, especially if they can advise you on aspects such as soil type, water availability and land use in the past.
When it comes to actually registering your details with them, it is easy enough to send out a mass email to all of the local agents, but this is not going to make you the first one they call when a great place is about to be put onto the market. Instead, you need to build a rapport and a relationship with a few key agents, so that you are the first buyer that they get in touch with when a bargain becomes available.
32. Free Land
Thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862, potential farmers were given free plots of land, so long as they were living to live there and work the land.
Sadly, this is no longer done today, although Alaska is your best bet if you are looking for cheap land. The Alaska DNR sells off land extremely cheaply, either by a sealed-bid auction, an over-the-counter sales system, or a site staking system, with each one giving you a great opportunity to bag yourself a bargain.
Other states, such as Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota, also offer up some great homesteading opportunities, with many properties given away for free, or with extended tax benefits. However, there will not be a large amount of acreage that comes with this, and you will also likely need to follow specific requirements for the house that you will be building, adhering to rules relating to everything from size to layout.
The best way to find these opportunities is by contacting local authorities. Their websites are a good to start, but you will find many more doors will open for you if you actually make some phone calls and build up relationships.
Outside of the USA, free land in the Yukon Territory of Canada has been available since 1982. Each year, the government gives away about ten plots of land, with each one measuring around 160 acres. Of course, there are conditions that come with this, and you do need to have been living in the Yukon for over a year, but this could be a fantastic opportunity for many.
For those wanting to move to Europe, there are certain countries, such as Spain and Portugal, where you can buy land at rock-bottom prices. If you spend a certain amount of money on your land, then this will also come with a tax-free residency visa, making the legalities of your move so much easier.
While the majority of the points mentioned above relate to just about every country, there are a few regional particularities that you should be aware of, depending on where in the world you live.
In the US, homestead rights do not exist under common law, but they have still been enacted in more than 25 states, including Arizona, California, Ohio and Texas. Since these laws are constantly being updated, you would need to check with local governments for the latest.
For those considering a move from the USA to Canada, you will not find too much difference in the laws surrounding what you want to do with your land. The main difference will be in terms of climate, as well as the fact that Canada has a much lower population density, making it ideal for those who really want to be alone in the wilderness.
In Australia, buying a parcel of land comes with a set of legal responsibilities. These include:
- Controlling pests and invasive weeds
- Animal welfare
- The use of chemicals
- Maintaining boundary fences along public roads
- Fire preparation
These laws are strictly enforced, and are something that you would definitely need to follow when buying land anywhere in the country.
Buying a parcel of land is not a simple task, and requires a significant amount of effort on your part if you want to ensure that you really end up with the perfect find. Putting together a checklist of all of the things that you require from your land, as well as the questions you need to ask, will always be helpful, and is a good way to ensure that you stay on track with your search.
If you have recently bought some land for a homestead, please share your top tips with us in the comments section below!
Dan has come into contact with homesteading when he was 4 years old, and would spend summers in the countryside with his grandparents. The skills and the mindset that he’s learned now allow him in his mid 30s to better prepare for whatever may come.