One of the questions we are frequently asked on the blog is “How did you find land to start your homestead on?”. This is not a simple or straightforward answer. Finding the exact land we wanted to purchase for homesteading and living off the grid was the result of a lot of research, conversation and travel. In this blog post we’ll share what the journey looked like to find the perfect piece of land. Hold on for the ride, it’s a long one!
It all started with loads of conversation.
Our journey began with hours and hours of conversation one summer a couple years ago. Just dialogue, chit-chat if you will, as we drove to the mountains for a waterfall hike or down to the grocery store for necessities.
These activities kept bringing up conversation points. Whether because we were so madly in love with the hours spent close to nature or the horrid experience of trying to get a few groceries in a mad house shopping center crawling with downright nasty two faced people. You know the ones. Wave on the road and then cut you off in the parking lot. BLAH! Often the conversation revolved around our happiness and energy. Some activities seemed to recharge us, while others were just a drag.
Over time, the conversations began to shift away from observations and toward action. I’ve always felt that the only difference between complaining and not is action. Through all this conversation about what we both loved and didn’t about our lives and the world around us we sort of napkin-sketched the “ideal life”… a theory about how we thought things ought to be.
Getting from where we were to that napkin-sketch would require some small changes – about a billion of them! Entertaining such changes brought up strong emotions. Joy, smiles and laughter at the thought of building things like our new DIY hot tub deck or a platform for our RV Garage-in-a-Box. Quickly followed were feelings of fear, worry and even a little grumpiness at the thought of things like selling a perfectly good , brand-new car, living in an rv, living in less than ideal conditions for a while, letting go of our possessions, etc.
We then researched the best location to start our off grid homestead.
For us, research started over 2 years before we actually made our purchase. We didn’t start with an area first – we started with that “ideal life” and napkin sketch. The common name of the landmass didn’t matter to us much. Bahamas or Nova Scotia had equal appeal.
Through our conversations we had come up with a decent list of fundamentals. With these, we felt most of our most basic needs would be met. These were the bare minimum. Our theory also stated that where these things exist, many other things we desired would very likely also exist. “Birds of a feather flock together”, right?. If people had fought to keep the government small in their area, they might likely also feel strongly about individual responsibility, self sufficiency and a strong community. Turns out we were right….more on that later.
Our goals as they pertained to the area we wanted to settle down in were as follows:
- To live debt free
- Land had to be affordable (If we couldn’t afford to buy cash, then we wanted payment not in excess of $400/mo, easily affordable if one of us had to work, and for a term no longer than 15 years, most certainly would be paid in full within our working lifetime)
- Not have to travel far, for emergency medical needs, not need to commute to get basic necessities, nor traverse crazy roads (not needing new cars, excessive wear and tear on our automobiles)
- Relaxed or non-existent building codes
- Generate and maintain our own power and water systems AND NOT be required to use public utilities
- Dispose of waste water on our own without using public systems
- Build our own home, garage, outbuildings WITH OUR OWN HANDS and MATERIALS
- Not require expensive or extensive permits, licenses or inspections for any or all of this
- Acceptable zoning or lack of zoning regarding farming and agriculture use
- Decent farming opportunity to grow our own food
- Opportunity to raise our own livestock for food
- We wanted an owner carry contract as we wanted to buy bare land, financing is usually very difficult
- If we ended up with a payment it had to be lower than a car payment and easily paid off in 10-15 years if we actually went full term, which we didn’t intend to need.
- To have all 4 seasons, but still able to grow food with decent growing season
- To be able to use renewable resources readily available (think trees)
- To be close to outdoor adventures like hiking, camping, swimming
- To be close enough that we could reach family if needed in an emergency
- Needed to be reasonably not subject to frequent and devastating natural disasters (even though within two months of living on our land we experienced a full-blown wind carnage that almost destroyed our RV carport!)
- Needed to be far enough from large population centers that if all hell broke loose and the system crumbled we wouldn’t immediately be vulnerable to looting and chaos
- Needed to be tolerant at worst and supportive at best of home schooling children
- Needed to have voluntary vaccinations or at least vaccination exemption for philosophical reasons
- Needed to have a homestead exemption to protect our land as an asset should we encounter financial troubles
We made a list of areas which fit our criteria.
We mostly used the internet for our research including blogs, YouTube and forums. This consisted of reading, watching and many hours of note-taking. We found that many people were already on this journey with many years of experience and had much to say about different areas they call home and what they would do different if they did it again. We made a list of the VERY few areas that met most of the criteria. Over the coming months, we talked about these areas whenever the conversation went that way.
Through our conversation and research we kept coming back to Idaho. Partly, this is because I grew up in Central Idaho (McCall) and had some childhood memories of visiting our target area. No major bad memories came to mind, so that was a plus.
From our residence, it was about a 10 hour drive for a visit to the area. We’re getting good at 12-18 hour drives having been to Mammoth, CA and Boulder, CO in the past year. Initially, we were skeptical as my recollection of the area was cold and longer-than-normal winters. With a family camping trip in Summer of 2014, about 4 hours in that direction, we thought since we’ll already be 1/3 of the way, why not plan to extend the trip and make the trek? So we did!
We started wandering in search of “the place” to begin our land hunt.
This trip wasn’t a vacation…or much of one. We’d probably describe it as a whirlwind! We did 3,000 miles in just 10 days! This was partly because we wanted to cover a lot of ground to exclude or include as many areas as possible from our search. After our family camping trip, we drove about 6 hours and camped for the night on the Columbia River. The next morning we were on the road for Idaho!
We had a loose agenda, but had approximate destinations and goals to achieve each day. First, we scheduled to meet with a Realtor who seemed to understand our “mission” and not just our needs. We met her by the middle of the following day. She handed us a mountain of brochures, maps, folders. magazines of and about the area. She even gave us a few listings to look into.
Our goal that day was simply to find our way around and get to know the area so that when she called with a new listing, we’d have half an idea where it was. We did a whirlwind tour of the greater area. That day, we fell in love with one area in particular. We may have fell in love with the area we did because there was a sign posted at the intersection of two gravel roads which said “LOST PONY, Got Spooked, Jumped Fence, Ran Away”.
After the tour, we checked back in with the Realtor and gave her our thoughts and wishes. We had tried valiantly to locate a property near the LOST PONY sign, but failed for fear of trespassing. (We’d eventually find that property the next spring on completely different visit with the help of a different Realtor AND the help of the county records.) That night we headed south for a place to camp with much needed showers!
Lucky for us, we arrived a knick before several other carloads of would be campers. We secured the last spot. Just as we got all tucked in and ready to rest, a van load of city folk, clearly wound tight, rolled into the adjacent spot and once the doors opened, the mayhem begun. The infant daughter only seemed to know how to scream, and only scream one thing, “I don’t want to!”. The father upon exiting the van ran straight down to the dock on the lake, in the dark of night (11PM), and jumped, not quietly in the least, into the lake in what sounded like the proverbial cannonball formation and made a splash to be heard throughout the campground! Under our breath we threatened to rise early and bang pots as revenge. Alas, they beat us to it! That’s a night I won’t soon remember. Gladly it didn’t hamper our enthusiasm.
The next day we were back in our dream area, checking out listings. We even wandered up to the Canadian border for fun. We had dinner and crashed at a free camping site on a secluded mountain lake. As the sun set we laid together on a rock beside the lake. We were home.
After just a day and a half flying up and down dirt roads looking at potential places to call home, we decided we knew enough about the area to get good and lost. So off we went south to visit some other areas. We ended up LOST that night, driving around trying to find a place to stay without reservations. Desperate, we finally set up camp on the side of the highway. It wasn’t a good night of rest. I remember waking up yelling “Drugs! Drugs!” I was dreaming the cops were after someone in a high speed chase and they had drugs. Thus why you shouldn’t sleep next to a highway! (In hindsight there we SO many places we could have stayed, but that’s the reality when you don’t know an area at all!)
We ended our journey in my old hometown at a hot springs. We did a few laps up and down the highways and through town as quick as we could so I could relive some childhood memories. We enjoyed a skillet breakfast on the beach and enjoyed a cup of coffee while working indoors during a freak hail storm. We also took a short nap on a public dock in the summer sun – a dock I used to jump off as a kid. It was a much-needed trip back home. Plus, it gave Alyssa a lot more context about me as a person. Finally we realized we couldn’t really do any more with our trip so we cut it a day short in favor of getting back home to do more work. We had a trip just a few days later to Mammoth, CA for Alyssa’s family trip so we’d be on the road again for another 1,200 miles and a week away.
I shared this story in a fair bit of detail as this was our experience starting to take action. While we weren’t miserable, it meant over 10 days of car camping. Minimal working space, time or energy. We mastered organizing our car so that we could have the car set up for sleep in just 10 minutes. We had plenty of water, cooked fresh meals every morning and night and even veggies from our first gardening attempt the spring before. Our entire 10 day drip including fuel, food, cat sitting and the few camping fees we paid was around $700.
The property search for our off grid homestead continued with highs and lows.
Over the next 8 months we would make 3 more trips to the area. We wanted to come during the dead of winter to see how things looked and felt. We also came later in the spring to revisit the listings when they weren’t covered in snow. We also wanted to find more listings to investigate and spend more time getting to know the area.
During our winter visit, Alyssa had found listings from a different agent whom we deferred to as he was raised in the area and knew it AND the people very well. Our previous agent never kept in touch. We’d just get an automated email from time to time with listings which didn’t reflect our wishes. We looked over many listings on that cold visit but just weren’t feeling home. We shared with our new agent contact what we really wanted. The real “Here’s what we’re looking for…”
As it was he knew a man who had a property with pretty much all of what we wanted. He sent us out to take a look and we fell in love! It was just right! Had an adorable little cabin and everything! We headed to town, got some warm soup and headed to the Realtor’s office to discuss the details. We learned that the asking price was considerably higher than our budget, but the Realtor suggested we make him an offer and see where it went. We drafted up terms that we liked and sent it over. We didn’t have time to hang around the area till we had an answer so we headed home. The offer was accepted! We had some contingencies though. We wanted to see the property in more detail when not in snow so we arranged to inspect the property within 45 days.
Our next visit was the beginning of spring. We brought my dad with us which was hard to finagle as his work isn’t flexible, but we got the family involved and made it work! He loved the visit to the area he had fallen in love with as a young man. We went straight to the property to give it a look over and upon arriving it didn’t feel the same. The snow was gone. The property didn’t quite make sense. The cabin wasn’t as buttoned up as we had hoped. It didn’t feel right. That night we stayed the night at the property and something happened that put the nail in the coffin. I slept very poorly because it was a cold night. Near freezing. The train across the valley some 5 miles away could be heard as though it was right in my sleeping bag! The highway perhaps 1/4 mile away was also loud enough I couldn’t get good sleep. That was all I needed to call off the deal.
The owner met us at the property the next morning which was very friendly. He’s a great person. The property just didn’t make sense for us. So we ended up back at the “LOST PONY” property that we couldn’t find before. Remember? Well we finally found it. It too was just not going to work. Once we got accurate details the actual dimensions were so wacko it wasn’t usable for much besides an airplane runway.
That evening we again spent the night at the secluded mountain lake. The conversation that evening was one of disappointment and sadness. It wasn’t mean to be. Due to my dads work restrictions we decided just that quick to head back for home so as not to risk him being gone too long. We effectively drove for two days to spend just over a day in the area. This trip too, wasn’t a vacation. At best, it was a grind.
Back home we put our minds off this disappointment and focused on work. Our business was going strong at the time and we needed to get some work done. We sort of had to deal with the starting over feeling.
After some health issues and some hard, long days working for a couple months we were exhausted and burnt out. In short, we decided we didn’t know where we were going. The house rehab project we were working on was going to come to an end in just a few months. We didn’t want to stay where we were. It was starting to feel like crunch time.
We, out of lack of doing anything else, ended up spending several days which turned into a few weeks just doing day trips in our area. We found a nice secluded swimming hole that was warm. We found a beautiful river area we hadn’t been to before and made a video with all the fun we had. It was much needed R&R.
During our drives and rest we kept talking about what we needed to do, but we never could come to a finite action plan. Why? Because we didn’t know where we were going. In the end we decided that we needed to know where we were going before we could decide how to get there.
We needed to get back to Idaho, if for no other reason than to exclude this from our options. It was still plan A, but we had been discussing plans B and C if it didn’t work out. It was a Saturday, July 4th. We made the executive decision to leave the following Tuesday.
sBefore leaving Alyssa had found a new listing. Finding land was hard for us, there just weren’t many listings, and even fewer in our price range and with the terms we needed. The images from the listing looked great, but we didn’t have high hopes after the last adventure. Upon arriving we met with our agent first thing and he handed us a least a dozen listings on every side of the valley. We headed out to look at the one Alyssa had found first and it spoke to us. We spent quite some time there. Walking around. Talking. Enjoying.
We decided on this trip that we would spend as long as we needed in the area to feel comfortable with the decision to pursue Idaho or walk away until another time. We decided we would look at some of the other listings presented to us and use them as a barometer. We camped here and there all over the area taking in restaurants, the lakes, various campgrounds, beaches and rivers. We took a day trip to British Columbia to visit a regional hot springs, enjoyed the longest free ferry ride in the world across a stunning Rocky Mountain lake fed by glaciers.
We didn’t know if we would buy land this time, but what we knew in our hearts was that this was home. After looking over many properties and not getting good vibes from any of them we kept coming back to the first piece Alyssa had found. It spoke to us. We wrote up an offer and headed to the lake to camp for a few days waiting for the answer.
Purchasing 5 acres of land for living off the grid & homesteading.
Making this happen takes some creativity. No matter where you are buying, trying to buy bare land isn’t easy. Going to your local bank won’t yield much aside from an outrageous interest rate. The bank wants a dwelling to place a lien against. Bare land has nothing really to incentivize repayment of the loan. Defaults are high. They also want to run credit reports, see years of employment history and in some cases want more co-signers. It’s a nightmare. This is something we wanted to avoid for obvious reasons. This is why one of our criteria was an owner-carry.
We had already done much number-crunching to come up with terms that were favorable to us. This basically was a down payment, target term and monthly payment. We used these numbers to come up with an interest rate and a sales price. These were drafted into an offer to the seller which is pretty rad because unlike a bank who dictates the terms, really the seller is open to whatever so long as they get a decent down payment and the monthly payments are worth their time. Keeping the term short and interest rate high[er] helps here. We’re paying twice the average APR on our note, but we didn’t have to deal with a bank. Comment below if this subject is confusing for you and perhaps we can do an in depth discussing about it if it’s a needed write-up.
We run our payments through an escrow company who takes our money and distributes it to the seller. This third party in the middle protects us both and ensures accuracy. We get our land, they get payments and a substantial down payment. Everyone is happy.
Owner carry is when the owner of property carries the note. This means there is no bank involved. It’s a very simple transaction without endless line item fees, origination fees, closing fees, lending fees and so on. The title company drafts all the documents and both parties complete them. It’s a few signatures and it’s done. You should expect to have about 20% cash to put down. This is the security to the seller that you’re good for the note. If you default, they keep your down payment and get the land back. It sounds harsh, but owner carried notes are by far the easiest way to secure financing. Beside they are usually fairly flexible with terms and will negotiate on things like term, interest rate and down payment.
Deciding on the perfect location to start your homestead, and then finding the perfect property, is challenging to say the least! But we have some tips and tricks to make it easier!
Purchasing landing like this is challenging, even overwhelming. There are innumerable things to consider and just as many which can be easily overlooked. We’ll provide you with a full checklist of things to consider when buying a property for homesteading down the road.
However, we did come up with a simple 13-Point Starting a Homestead Action Map that you can start using today, to help YOU find YOUR perfect location, perfect property, and even help you make the first step!
13-Point Starting a Homestead Action Map
Learn the twelve things you can do today to get a jump-start on your homesteading journey and finding the perfect property!
- Get a journal or app to carry around with you (We like Evernote): Each day document your wants and dreams as they come to you, in conversation etc.
- Audit your life as it is today: Decide what it is that’s keeping you from achieving the goals you have for yourself and your family. Be honest!
- Make a “living plan” that lists things you can do right away to start living as if you were already there: Some things you might include here are “get involved in a community garden”, “learn to live with less”, things like that. While you may not be able to start your homestead tomorrow, there are things you can do today to develop necessary skills and start the transition.
- Start the conversation with immediately family, then extended family, look for supportive partners: It’s not a bad idea to share your aspirations with people that are close to you, or even people that aren’t. It’s great to keep family in on the loop and also to find people that can support you and people you can bounce ideas off of.
- Do initial research on places you might want to settle down: We did endless searches using the internet, forums, Facebook, blogs, and tried to find any clues that would lead us to our “perfect area”.
- Getting your life and affairs in order so you can take action on research and findings: A lot needs to happen to be able to take action on buying land and moving to start your homestead. While you may not have property yet, or a location in mind, you can start getting your affairs in order and lifting up your roots so that when the time is right, you can go. We started getting our affairs in order 2 years before our move!
- Actively challenge yourself to live with less: Start practicing minimalism now and living with less now. If you want to do something similar to what we are doing, less is often more. We couldn’t have many luxuries we were used to while persuring a new lifestyle (like a new car that was sitting in the driveway with a lot of money wrapped up in it).
- Reduce overhead to a bare minimum: Whatever you think is a reasonable overhead, try to go less than that! Cut needless expenses. Do you really need all of your vehicles? Internet? Television? Spotify? A gym membership? etc.
- Shift income from dollars-for-hours to passive income: If you want to actively pursue homesteading, it can be a full-time job, especially in the early stages as we are in! Our biggest achievement is shifting our income to passive income, that pays us whether or not we work. It’s a lot of work to make it happen but when our bills are paid despite “working”, that’s a huge help. Here are 6 ways we make money online while homesteading to give you some income examples.
- Location dependent to location agnostic: We’re not saying you need to leave wherever you are now necessarily. However, if you do want the option to go anywhere, you need to not be tied down to a location with say a J-O-B. We had a business that was our ball and chain to Medford which we worked hard to sell.
- Create a contingency plan: If things don’t work out as you wish, be sure to have a contingency plan or two. Maybe you can live in an apartment for a while, or maybe you can live with family to save up some money. These can be transitions, or just a back up plan if you initial move to your land is too difficult.
- Make a list of things you’ll need to start acquiring to make your move: We have bought A LOT of stuff in preparation for this move, and even in the first three months of our adventure! Think of what homesteading tools you will need such as an RV, pickup truck, portable generator, work boots, quality tools, etc.
- Setup saved searches on Craigslist for these items, be ready to take action immediately when they pop up: Be on the lookout for things you will need like tools, materials, etc.
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