Shopping for a Homestead: Part 1

by Jeremey Weeks

Everyone has their own reasons for wanting a piece of land.

What are your needs? What are your wants? Will you need room to grow?

Allan Savory’s Holistic Resource Management book points out that you need to have specific goals for your life. Understand the goals and what it takes to make them happen. Choose your land accordingly.

I’ll explain who I am and my goals so that you can understand some of the factors that led to my first purchases. I didn’t know what the future had in store for me, so I ended up purchasing again.

At the highest level, my goal is to provide a happy, healthy environment for my family, friends and me.

When I purchased my first parcel, I had kids in the house. I was self-employed. I was looking for a something to live on in uncertain times. Later, my homestead began to turn into a real income opportunity and I needed more and better land.

What is your budget? Do you need a loan?

Unless you are financially well off, you need to think in terms of monthly payments and a down payment. The amounts are going to vary according to where you want to buy. It’s hard to get conventional financing for what is called “unimproved land”. The land has to have a few things like a well and septic for most financial entities to consider it a good risk. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy unimproved land. You’ll just have to find other ways to finance it. There are often owner carry opportunities that will work, even if you have bad credit. There’s a price, usually a higher interest rate and other “gotchas”.

Do your goals necessitate that your land be a great distance from where you live?

There are many reasons this may be the case. I found that I would need too much equipment and pay too much for irrigation if I paid for land close to my original home. Cost can be another factor. I also avoided land in states where income or property taxes would pinch a great deal.

Do you need a house or need to include space for one on your land?

It’s great if you can afford to buy land with a home on it. My experience was that I wasn’t able to satisfy my requirements for both home and land unless I spent more money than I wished.

Are you going to need any outbuildings or space for them?

It’s difficult to have too much storage. You’ll want to keep building materials out of the weather as well as tools and farm implements. Additionally, a barn or shop may be a need. There are several ways to go, just make sure you take the need into account.

How about utilities?

What can you afford? It’s great to find a parcel that has utilities or where utilities can be brought to the parcel.

Utilities aren’t necessarily an immediate need. You can rent a porta-potty in the spring and summer. Buy a generator or solar panels for electrical needs.

How much water? What kind? Means of irrigation (if any)?

The requirements for water will depend on your region. You’ll need some water. Do you want a well already installed? Do you require a water feature like a pond, lake or stream?

What land features?

Do you need trees, slopes or sun?

I almost bought a forested acre of land in Idaho ten years ago. I wanted something that would be close to my work. I was driving 90 miles one way to work at the time. Why didn’t I buy? The land was on the north side of the mountain. There was a little direct sunlight in the morning (summertime) and none after that. While the view was great, there were significant challenges. Ultimately I passed it up.

How much land for growing pasture, fruits and veggies?

It’s my opinion that a family can starve on 1 to 3 acres. There isn’t very room for living space, gardens and pasture. A lot of money is going to be spent bringing food and fodder if you live on a small acre parcel.

It is difficult for one person to manage more than 5 acres of garden and pasture. This number changes according to your climate, soil quality, land features, amount of sun and many other factors. I believe 5 acres is a good minimum size parcel. You will have room to expand a small garden to a large one and room for poultry, sheep or goats and maybe a cow or two.

10 or more acres of good land is a sign of prosperity. 20 or 40 acres of usable land is a great goal.

Shopping for a Homestead: Part 2

Financing the Homestead:  Improving Your Credit #1

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