When I began searching for a rural property for my off-grid retreat, I quickly found all sorts of places that looked promising at first glance. Everything from mountain views, to green pastures and all sorts of idyllic landscapes that I thought would make a great acquisition. Buying off-grid land requires preparation and there are a few things that you should know before signing the papers.
Before you settle on a certain property and you put down the deposit for your off-grid land, it is smart to take some time and think about the choices you have. I recommend asking yourself the following questions when looking for off-grid land:
How much off-grid land do you need?
If you plan to start a homestead, you can do so on less than an acre. If you want to build a remote bug out location you may need more than an acre. Do you want livestock? Do you plan to have orchards on your off-grid land? What do you want? For example, cows require a minimum of one or two acres of dedicated pasture each. On the other hand, chickens and rabbits require very little land. Think about this and if you have doubts, get far more land than you think.
Can you afford the off-grid land?
Off-grid land is not expensive, but even so, only you know how much of it you can comfortably afford for the home and land. Are you able to purchase the land you want and be debt-free? If that isn’t the case, can you at least afford the down payment and have financial reserves to deal with the unexpected? Besides answering to these questions, you should also take into account how much will set you back any possible improvements to the land or building.
How is the water?
Check if your off-grid land has excellent water and where does it come from. Is the source of your water a natural spring or does it come from a well? If your water comes from a spring, is it located above the elevation of the house and garden so that you can use gravity for water distribution? If the water comes from a well, do you know how many gallons per minute can it produce and what is the static water depth? You need to calculate your water needs before your sign the papers.
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Is your off-grid land suitable for alternative energy production?
Many of those who buy a rural property dream of living completely off-grid, but they do not know if their land is conducive to energy production. If you plan to use solar energy, does the land have excellent sun exposure? If you are considering using hydro or wind power is the land suitable for that? Do you have a woodlot so you can cut your own firewood for heating and other purposes?
Have you checked the weather lately?
Before you get the land, you need to have a good understanding of the local weather. Do you know how much rain per year does your area receive? Even more importantly, how frequently does the rain come? How are the winters like where your new rural property is located? Will you have to deal with drought during the summer? Do you have to worry about things such as hurricanes, tornadoes or wildfires?
Do you know anything about the growing season and how long it lasts?
Regardless the reasons behind buying an off-grid land, you will garden and in time, you will garden a lot. Have you spoken with your future neighbors or agriculture extension offices about what crops can be grown there and when they must be planted and harvested? Do you know what types of fruits can you grow? Do you have skills in these areas and are you able to handle it or will you have to start from scratch?
What is the community like in your area?
Before you move on your piece of property you should know a thing or two about the community and your immediate neighbors. Are there like-minded people in your community? What crime is in the community and how close is it to the property you are aiming for? Are there many foreclosure listings or only a few? Is there lots of traffic due to major roads? Did you have a chance to introduce yourself to the neighbors before making an offer? Do you have anything in common with them (hobbies, political beliefs, religious views, etc.). Would you invite them over or would you ask for their help if needed?
How remote or how close to town is your off-grid land?
If you intend of building a bug-out location on your property, seclusion may be one of the best things for you, but if you are a novice homesteader, it can be the worst. How close do you want it to be to a town and what do you expect out of the town? Do you want a store or two or do you want restaurants, pubs, golf courses and such? You should really think about what you want from the community and find the one suited for your needs.
What are the characteristics of the off-grid land?
Is it flat, gently sloping or steep mountainside? Is it wide open with no trees or are there wind breaks on the property? How is the soil drainage? How is the flora on your land? Are there any plants that can fix nitrogen to the soil? Does the forage match the animals you intend to breed on your property? Will your future garden have maximum sun exposure? Are there pastures cross-fenced for rotational grazing? If so, what is their condition and how much time will it take you to maintain and mow them?
How was the off-grid land previously used?
Before you put down the first payment you should inquire how the land was previous used. Where chemicals used and, if so, when were they last applied? Was the land frequently disked or tiled? Have you confirmed that you will own all water and mineral rights?
How is your land accessible and who maintains the roads?
Is your future property accessible by maintained roads or is it accessible only via unimproved roads that you may need to maintain? Is there a driveway to your house and if not, do you need to install one? Have you considered the costs for gravel, plowing, grading, etc?
Does the off-grid land afford the ability to hunt and/or fish?
Regardless if you grow much of your own food, you can also enjoy meat for free if you hunt or fish. Does the land allow that? Is there an abundance of wildlife such as deer, turkey, wild pigs, freshwater fish or whatever you are interested in? Having access to such food sources can dramatically reduce the food budget for you and your family.
Are there potential hazards that you are not considering at first?
Snakes might not seem a big hazard, bur bears and wolves are a real danger for you and your livestock. Poisonous vegetation that could harm you or your animals is also another thing to look for. You don’t want to discover that you have an invasion of poison sumac, poison ivy, poison oak or even wild cherry trees on your land. Embracing the beauty of an off-grid life means also embracing all of nature so you need to know about the hazard it brings.
Are there zoning restrictions?
A few years back, when I bought my rural property, I double-checked that there aren’t any HOAs or covenants for my area. Regardless of what your plans are now, you must be sure there aren’t any zoning restrictions that can foil your future plans. If you plan to erect barns and simple farm structures you might need a permit for that. Not to mention that certain states are trying to ban off-grid living. Do a thorough research about the rules and regulations from your area before signing the papers.
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Did you have the chance to get familiarized with the area before making an offer?
If you are unfamiliar with the area in which your off-grid land is located, you can rent or camp there for and extended time before buying. This will clear things out and it will help you discover if it is the right community for you. It will give you a chance to interact with the people and to discover the wild nature of your future property. If you have the chance, try it before you buy it!
I encourage you to make a list with the questions above, but also to add your own before buying the rural property you’ve found. This is a major life decision and it requires planning and preparation. It may be one of the most important decisions you ever make and it will dictate your future path. I hope that the answers to the questions listed in this article will help all those who are looking for a rural property, as they helped me when I did the move myself years back.
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