Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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tocoadog's picture
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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. 

- tocoadog

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

 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! 

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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.

EGP

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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.

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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!

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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!

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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?

Happy homesteading!!

 

 

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

"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...

Mike

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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, 30x40 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.

Rog

 

 

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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!

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

The other aspect of digging a well that I would be concerned about is that in NM I would guess a 300+ ft. well would be average. The amount of electricity needed to supply an average family water from a well that deep would be more than what is required for proper refrigeration and lighting. Probably 220V 50A, and PV or wind has trouble with that kind of power unless you design the system carefully. You can't just slap a couple of panels up for when the grid fails, you need a real system to handle this load.

Eventually, the grid will let you down, however you cannot live without water. I doubt (but I may be wrong) that you could put a hand pump on a well in NM due to the depth required. It is very beautiful however, and understand the desire to live there. Certain tribes have been doing it for a lot longer than I can imagine, so it must be possibile!

Best,

Rog

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

Right Pickity....Unfortunately some in here are living in a dream.  Go ahead and build your compost toilet in downtown Chicago. These are not answers, they are fantasies. This does not contribute to the overall problem in the least bit, IMO.

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

Jerry - yuppers! Solutions and legalities are entirely site specific. It's good to offer suggestions based on your location, laws and application... but one person's way isn't the only way and might not be at all applicable to anyone else's circumstances 

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

Plickety, anywhere with such small rainfall I would consider marginal, and only livable with cheap abundant Fossil Fuels......  Even putting in well designed Permaculture earthworks to store water IN the soil requires machinery/diesel to achieve, and frankly, if you want to live sustainably without relying on fossil slaves, I'd pick somewhere easier.

Good rainfall (we get ~ 45 inches here) was our primary ticket item when we moved.

Mike

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

Water on the property, including rainfall, wasn't our primary concern because we live in a river valley between three creeks and have full access to the community well to haul water from.  We are lucky in that most of the rain we do get is during the summer growing season, so we can farm just fine without being fossil fuel slaves if we choose our plants appropriately and irrigate with our grey water. For us, living outside municipal jurisdicition without property taxes and having plentiful natural resources for building, hunting and fishing was more important than having easy water.  (we have a lovely glacial aquifer under us if we need it and don't mind having to heat it up first and remove the iron and arsenic from it -- and we can pump enough out of it to farm without becoming fossil fuel slaves either).

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land
PlicketyCat wrote:

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).

FWIW, I have some friends nearby who have installed a composting toilet (local ordinances to the contrary) in addition to their regular toilet.  As far as TPTB know, they're still flushing all that water away.  In reality, they're using the other. 

Viva -- Sager

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

Interesting that the early American Pioneers (and Australian) cultivated large areas using Wind pumps and wells, well before heavy use of fossil fuels.

Sorry Mike but on this I think you're talking out of your ass, hell the Navajo Indians cultivated large areas with significantly less rainfall than we have, and used irrigation and other techniques to maintain their crops. You just crop the right things for the climate. We're never going to grow Avocado's, Banana's or Olives. But sustainable permaculture is about adapting your cultivation, plantation and food growth to meet the needs of both you and is supportable the ecosystem you're in. Anything else isn't really permaculture, and where do we all go when there's no "ideal" growing land left?

Anyone can grow whatever they like under the perfect conditions, of course those conditions vary, you can't easily grow certain things in the tropics, that you can in more Northerly or Southerly temperate or even sub arctic areas, and vice versa. There's also the problem that a lot of the "ideal" farm land is currently owned by big agricorps, regardless of the country of origin. Where we're moving isn't the middle of the Sahara by any means. The Climate where we're moving to is similar to Central/Northern Norway Sweden, they seemed to do ok back in the day too. Hell so did the Mongols and they had significantly lower rainfall than interior AK.

Secondly cultivation is only half of the food aspect, where else can I go pull a ton of Salmon out of the River over a couple of weeks in a row boat? Or get more than 2000 lbs of wild meat walking through my back yard? These seem to be aspects that you don't seem to be seeing. Anyway thanks for your opinion, its duly noted, we'll let you know what happens.

 

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

As far as taxes go I think it would vary considerably by state but here in Texas it is rather easy to acquire an agricultural or wildlife exemption. If one doesn't want the difficulty of dealing with herds or crops the wildlife exemption is easy and worthwhile. They require you plant or maintain native vegetation to support the local wildlife and it is not a burdensome amount that they require. I have 40 acres of prime bottomland on a permanent river that I paid 250K for and my taxes are 50 bucks a year. Their requirement for ag exemption is also rather easy and for the most part is based on an honor system of reporting to the taxing authority. If you are going rural and want acreage it is senseless not to earn your tax exemption.

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

Very true Sam, if your state or municipality offers exemptions of any kind for ag or wildlife land while placing minimal or acceptable expectations and restrictions on you, you'd be crazy not to file for it.  Some states only allow a tax exemption if your land is in a trust... which basically means you do not own or control your land anymore, you're just the steward who gets to live there for free. Knowing the rules and available exemptions should be a critical part of any "back-to-the-land" decision. Some states don't help you at all with ag land... and many farmers get run off their farms because the property taxes are too high. Also, if you're trying to live a simple life and don't want to be trying to farm while working a 9-5 city job (and commuting!), keeping your property taxes low or non-existant just makes sense... why let the quality of your life suffer just to pay high taxes while you're trying to do the "right thing"?

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

Gungnir.

I would be interested in seeing a thread on your move to Alaska. Are you homesteading up there? Bet others would enjoy that thread as well.

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Re: 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.

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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).

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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 50x45 barn loft into 2 story living space so other sustainable people can rent it and grow food along with us.

EGP

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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.

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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 - www.pathtofreedom.com/ and other urban homesteaders.

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

tocoadog,

I would recommend you check out the 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?

Coop

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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

- Nickbert

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

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

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

"...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!

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Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land
PlicketyCat wrote:

 

 For instance, you couldn't pay me to live in Arkansas... it's too hot, too buggy and has too many tornadoes

Plickety,

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.

Ken

 

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Gungnir
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 2 2009
Posts: 643
Re: Tips & Pitfalls of Buying Raw/Farm Land

Yeah there are Skeeters Ken, but they eat you, not your house

 

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