Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land
Jerry – Yes,Gungnir and I will be setting up our homestead in AK. We’re blogging the whole adventure (or will at least try to as time and internet availability allows) from planning to production. You can check it out at http://www.jenninewardle.com and have a chuckle at our expense while we endeavor to get things ready for our mega-move at the end of July.
OK – pink elephant in the room — the biggest drawback of buying raw land (even if it’s perfect land) is that it won’t be immediately productive. It’s going to take at least one year to clear, build, augment, plant, etc. I’ve never had a garden produce enough to live on the first year, and if you’re going to raise livestock you need to get those pastures & forage crops up to snuff before you bring the cirtters home. All this land tending is a little difficult to do when you are also trying to access water, build your home, build a barn, build a shed, cut down trees, dig out stumps, put up fences, clear out brambles & thickets, set up your power system, defend against wildlife, deal with permits and bureaucracy… well, you get the picture 🙂
Unless you’re planning/willing to go super-old-school pioneer, I wouldn’t count on raw land being able to sustain you until at least the third year you’re on it… first year to clear & build, 2nd year to establish crops & pasture (maybe get some chickens/rabbits), and 3rd year you get a somewhat decent harvest & some larger livestock.
BUT…. there are also sooooo many positives to starting with raw land, especailly if you want virgin soils and things "just so". The worst nightmare you can run into is buying developed property and having to correct everyone else’s mistakes (or get stuck living with them forever).
That and the cost. If you get anything usable – it is going to cost a bundle. Expect 50% more costs to set up for your needs.
We bought 36+ acres with outbuildings and house and the cost is a killer. I’m thinking of turning the 50×45 barn loft into 2 story living space so other sustainable people can rent it and grow food along with us.
Yeah, I think buying raw and improving will probably run you about the same as buying developed in the end… especially if you don’t do most of the work yourself or you run in utilities etc. But you can usually buy large acreage of raw land for much less than small acreage of developed… so the costs tend to even out. Land, like everything else, is cheaper up front when purchased in bulk with no frills as long as you realize that you’ll have to invest time and resources on the back end.
I truly respect, and envy, all you people going back to the land. We’ve been touring local farms lately and it seems like such a natural thing to do, such a great way of life. The farmers have said to make sure land you buy has water, water, water (ponds, springs, creeks, rivers, etc.). And fencing already set up.
I have been toying with the idea of buying land myself. We have been looking at land in our area but it is prohibitively expensive. We maybe could buy a few acres, as in 5-10, and then build a house, put in all the systems, but we’d be in debt up to our eyeballs to do that. I do not like the thought of being in so much debt, even if it’s "good debt" like a mortgage. Personally, I really don’t think there is such a thing as "good debt."
I think my wife and I have decided to buy in town. We’d like a house that we can pay off in 4-5 years or so. We’ll be looking for a nice large sunny yard where we can get a small backyard permaculture setup going. We want to be able to continue riding our bikes/bus to work, be close to family, markets, jobs, etc. Just a simple and affordable place in town. I think that is our most realistic option.
To all the folks like me discouraged by the high price of land in your area, you can still do pretty amazing things in small places. Just look at the Dervaes family – http://www.pathtofreedom.com/ and other urban homesteaders.
I would recommend you check out the http://www.earthship.org website. Most of the research and development for the Earthship has been done in Taos NM where the annual rainfall is near 9 inches. Sustainable living has been developed using a combination of rainwater/cistern catchment system, composting toilets and an attached greenhouse which uses a greywater bio-filtration system as the water/nutrient source for the plants. Lots of interesting solutions and while Nm does present challenges, it is doable.
The earthship design system specifically addresss sustainability and cost issues. Most of the structures are developed using recycled tires and local materials. I design and build sustainable homes in Calif where the climate allows for other solutions but my Mothers side of the family was from Chama NM. She lived completely off the grid and grew up basically on horseback in a family/community environment that was self sufficient, no power, fuel, etc other than human and animal.
I currently use ICF construction (insulated concrete forms) which provide good structure, insulation and longevity. The energy used today to build a structure will be much harder to come by as we move further past peak oil, etc.so that is something I encourage everyone considering building a new home, etc to consider.
What part of NM are you looking to settle in?
I also can’t help but be impressed by the challenge that Plickety and Gungnir are taking on. Heck I’ve lived in Alaska for most of my life, part of that in a rural area, and I can honestly say I’m not sure how successful I would be in taking on an endeavor of that scope
Conditions can get pretty extreme in Interior AK and the cost of food and goods is high, but there are some noteable advantages. Very small population and plenty of space, much of the population of rural Alaska is more self-sufficient (and often much friendlier and helpful) than the average American, no state sales or income tax, subsistence fishing and hunting is allowed (with some restrictions), and the area where they’re moving to is one of many where there are no property taxes. All very ideal if you want to live off the grid. I hope to buy land of my own in a few years to build on, but don’t know yet if it’ll be in Alaska. Depends on how well my wife and son warm to Alaska
personally i wuld get as much with the land as possible . i think ready did vey well ………he is just up the road from me.
i am constantly amazed at the locations people pick to live in off the grid. yes indians lived in new mexico for thousands of years but the populations were small and certainly the lifestylw was vastly different. adequate water is essential 7-9 inches is doable but why bother when you can get better land cheaper with 40- 45 inches a year. and as for alaska the older i get the warmer i like it.
come see me if you are interested in doing things a little easier…………….arkansas is a steal waiting
"…warm to Alaska" — pun intended, Nickbert?
Besides all the excellent advantages that Nickbert mentioned about our location, the cold climate was actually part of our selection criteria! As strange as that might sound to most folks. I have an autoimmune disorder that becomes unmanageable in warm/hot/humid climates, and my Aspergers makes me hyposensitive to cold… that combo is a bonus! The older we get, the less we are able to tolerate the heat. Besides, you can always put on more clothes if you’re cold; but if you’re hot, once you’ve stripped down, it’s game over.
I think my strongest advice to anyone wanting to "go off-grid" would be to sit down and really spend some time listing all the criteria that’s important to you, and then prioritize the list and make note of any viable alternatives/work-arounds. This prioritized list will make it much easier for you to find the right property and location, and you’ll know a deal breaker when you see it.
We did find a few places in our search that met some criteria, like cheap land or plentiful water, but didn’t meet our top three (isolation – for our heads, no/low taxes – for our wallet, cool/cold climate – for my health). Interior Alaska did. We can work around the low rainfall and dark winters. We can deal with sub-zero temps and earthquakes and volcanoes and forest fires.
Every place you go is going to have it’s own set of difficulties, some worse than others depending on your preferences. For instance, you couldn’t pay me to live in Arkansas… it’s too hot, too buggy and has too many tornadoes But that’s just MY preference, someone else may love it and it may meet all their criteria!
For instance, you couldn’t pay me to live in Arkansas… it’s too hot, too buggy and has too many tornadoes
Interesting comment about "too buggy".
I have been in interior Alaska several times in the summer and the mosquitos and flies can be thick beyond belief. No bugs in the winter for sure but the summer makes up for it. Bring a head net.