Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land
Short question – but long in content – I am in the market to purchase some raw land here in New Mexico. Probably on the order of 5 acres or so. My wife and I have batted this around for years – now seems to be the right time. Anyone have any insight on buying raw land? Everything I’ve read clearly points to clear title and access to utilities. Of course, being in NM, water is an issue. But, anyone have experience that they could offer?
Again, thanks for everyone’s insight. February I was turned onto this sight…since, my wife and I have put most of our energy into self preservation. It is a beautiful thing.
My husband and I bought farmland about 15 years ago to build on. I would just say, get ready to spend money. Digging our well turned out to be very expensive – the depth to which you have to drill can vary a great deal even within just an area of a few acres. (We’re in the Midwest, by the way – not sure how they deal with water issues in N.M.) We set the house back about 500 ft from the road, so even trenching to run utilities added cost. Unless, of course, you’re planning to be off-grid. 🙂 Also, we had to have a water treatment system because the well water quality was not great.
Also be prepared to battle nature – you are disturbing land and wildlife. We were overrun primarily with mice and wolf spiders, but N.M.problably would offer some more exotic creatures.
Depending on how far out you are from civilization, getting help or services (fire, police) can be an issue.
Despite all of that, we loved it, and there are a lot of advantages. We lived there for 11 years, and have since moved to a smaller, cheaper house ,mostly because our real estate taxes just got too high. If the housing market ever turns around, we will probably go back and by another piece of undeveloped land, and build again. But we would be smarter this time, and build a much more enviromentally friendly house.
I would say be ready for the fact that things will probably cost more than you think – and be prepared for some adventures!
Right on- Be Ready for Added Expenses!
Whether its digging a well or hauling water – cutting fire wood or bringing in gas – it all costs bundles – even when you do it yourself.
I would start by putting a travel trailor there so you at least have the resemblence of a roof over your head. Power that first.
If you are going to live off the land – expect equipment & seed costs to kill you your first years. Getting crops in isn’t an easy task – and of course fighting nature to do it. Figure at least 3 years before you are good at it and can be self-sustaining. We started our MyBackachers.com website just because we made so many mistakes and were breaking our backs doing everything by hand – but we started with some good ideas. It’ll be next year before I think we are set-up for the long haul ahead.
Good luck – it takes time and money so if at all possible – try not to do it alone.
We just bought 80 acres of undeveloped forest. Running utilities is a cost prohibitive scenario, so we’ll be off-grid and on satellite. That’s going to be expensive, but not as expensive as having utilities extended a mile to our property (and then paying monthly bills to boot).
Biggest issues are probably water and septic. Drilling a well can be very expensive and you pay whether they hit water or not… or pay upfront to have a really accurate sonar survey done first… and you still aren’t guaranteed quality or adequate flow. Sometimes it’s just cheaper and easier to have your water tanked in instead. Also, bone up on the water rights in your state… you might have water on/under your property that you aren’t allowed to use because someone else nearby owns the rights to it! So that’s something to research. Septic/waste is a whole other problem. You’ll need perc tests and approved plans for most areas and the regulations and red tape are horrible. We’re lucky enough to be outside the regulated area and will be composting rather than using septic… but this is illegal/frowned upon in a lot of municipalities.
Also, starting with raw land, you aren’t guaranteed good, arable topsoils so it might take a few years and a couple hundred dollars to bring in topsoil or amend your soils enough to grow a decent food supply. Having livestock volunteer manure helps with that, but you gotta be able to grow (or buy) enough food for them first.
Another thing to consider is whether you can properly site your intended house on the property to ultilize passive solar design for heating and cooling; and whether your site provides adequate solar or wind power if you’re off-grid. The land might be lovely, but if the only decent building site is in the shadow of a bluff facing the wrong direction, your homestead is really going to suffer. If you have to make a site flat to build on, that could get really expensive; but the only flat spots might not have strong enough subsoil/bedrock to support the foundation.
Basically, it’s all doable, but expect to pay a pretty penny in appropriate surveys or take your chances winging it and possibly have to rebuild again later. Always best to pay up front to do things properly in the first place IMO, that way you can rest easier in the long run with only minimal maintenance costs.
I have to say that I admire all you people that are returning to the land and fending for yourselves. You’re like a new breed of pioneers!
My hat’s off to you and I wish you the best of luck!
tocoadog, I wouldn’t recommend New Mexico for this – you intend farming? what part of the state? You must really have irrigation to farm and decent land with surface water rights is very scarce. A well won’t cut it for more than a few potted plants unless you are talking irrigation-scale drilling and power consumption to run it. Traditional culture in New Mexico was village-based with ditch irrigation and sheep and goat grazing with a little hunting and gathering on the side. There are rather few places in the state suitable for this and they have been occupied for centuries. A house in the country is possible but don’t expect to subsist off the land – it is just too arid without a straw in the river…
Beautiful state though!
Well, I certainly wouldn’t do it the way I bought raw land for the first time.
1) Is it surveyed and is there public road access or easments allowing access and egress of and to the property? I was told it had been surveyed by the seller, but he didn’t have a copy of the survey. I bought it anyhow.
I fought neighbors for three years for access to the year round spring which I intended to be my water supply. Turned out it was on their property.
I bulldozed a driveway over what I thought was my property, no, it was partially my property and two small tracts of two other neighbor’s property. Cost me a bundle to get through that.
2) As others have pointed out, it costs a bunch to turn raw land into livable land. After my first experience, I would only look at land that already had improvements there I wanted, such as a well, septic, electricity, etc. I discovered it doesn’t cost THAT much more to buy improved property than it does raw if it’s just the utilities you want.
3) I would insure that I liked the people in that area before I bought. Hang out at the local restaurants and do your shopping there for awhile before buying. No, I don’t buy the old adage that people are just people and the same wherever you go. I live in Missouri because I like the people here. They will talk your ear off in the Walmart line and the clerk may pull out pictures of her grandchildren for you if you aren’t careful.
My New Jersey girlfriend and her daughter are simply amazed at the difference in people when they visit here. My Jersey girls are so used to nobody being friendly that they eat it up and the old man (me) generally stands at the back of the line at the supermarket drumming his fingers for 30 minutes.
I have lived in places where the people are just snarky and one small town I lived in held the concept that if you don’t have ancestors going back 50 years in that town, you will always be a newbie there.
4) Insist on a general warranty deed rather than another type. In the warranty deed, the seller warrants that the property is free and clear and if problems come up later, they are his problems, not yours as the new owner.
5) Have a title search done to insure there are no past problems with that property such as leins, court judgements, etc. Then buy title insurance just in case. It doesn’t cost that much and you can sleep at night.
6) Finally, I would look at it’s natural resources to see if they meet my needs. Does it have trees for my log cabin and for firewood? Is it elevated if I need wind power, Is there grass for my cow and brush for my goats?
"Biggest issues are probably water and septic."
That depends….. septic, or rather sewerage (because septic is ABSOLUTELY the wrong way to go!) can be done very cheaply. To begin with, I would absolutely and unequivocally go for a dry compost oilet. You’ll save heaps on water and plumbing, and the end result is a resource, not waste. NO WAY would we have it any other way here…
Regarding water, I suspect (because I don’t know!) that harvesting water off your roof would have to be way cheaper than a well. And like everything else you need to be self sufficient in, you need to use your resources as efficiently as possible. Recycle recycle recycle…. the other day Glenda and I had a bath (twin job :-)) and instead of pulling the drain when we finished, I syphoned the water into the duck’s bath…. I stress we only do this when we have a glut of both water AND hot water, currently the case.
For ideas on alternative ways of dealing with greywater have a look at http://www.greywater.com.au Their biological grease trap is particularly BRILLIANT!
The one thing we have found expensive (apart from building a house of course) is fencing. Even on our 1.7 acre farmlet, we’ve put in hundreds of yards of fencing…
Just out of curiosity, what is the going price for 5 acres in NM?
For reference, in Southern MO, I purchased 86 acres for under $1400 each with a home, well, grid, 30×40 barn, tractor, and 2 lakes just under 2 years ago. Today, maybe $1200. We have no water (if anything, too much rain), drainage, soil, livestock, or resource problems, but tornadoes can be a bit of a hazzard. Put your house underground, and eliminate that problem while cutting your heating and AC needs to 1/4 – 1/3 a stick built house. We also average 12MPH winds (excellent for off grid living) and 4.7 hours/day sun.
These things, more than anything else, is what I was looking for. Energy, soil, water, and waste is most important, and you can’t build wind or an aquifer no matter how much money you spend.
regarding water and waste… I meant these are the big ones that can get you in a lot of spendy legal trouble with the government (at least here in the US), and the red tape is absolutely horrible in most municipalities. I agree that composting toilets are the best way to go… unfortunately it’s still illegal in a lot of places (unless you’re in the boonies). I agree that rain water collection is an awesome way to get water and is more economical than drilling a well… unfortunately, when you live in an arid place like New Mexico or Interior Alaska, that measly 12 inches of rain a year isn’t going to meet your needs unless you have a really big roof… which would probably cost as much to build as getting the well dug.
Fences can run you a pretty penny. If you have some local resources (lots of trees or rocks), it sometimes works out better to make your permanent fences "walls" and use the poly-wire, etc for your temporary/movable internal fencing. A friend of mine outside the Mojave desert made all her exterior fence-walls from cob/adobe… cheap and cheerful, just took some time and a lot of friends. But at least she’s finally stumbled on a goat-proof fence!