homesteader help
September 4, 2006 6:27 PM   Subscribe

Is there still cheap land available?

the story: I ran out of money, left college, worked shitty job for a couple years, somehow managed to put away 33k in savings-- not a lot of money but to me it's a fortune. I'd like to use the money to buy some cheap land to build a cabin on and live as self-sufficiently as possible. (I grew up on a hippie commune/farm so I do have experience in this area) My question is-- what are the best ways to go about finding and purchasing cheap land? I dont have my heart set on any location but i would prefer to find someplace warm and rural without being removed from civilization entirely
posted by petsounds to Work & Money (24 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: forgot to add, what should i know about property taxes and other legal things? thanks in advance for any help
posted by petsounds at 6:28 PM on September 4, 2006
posted by leapingsheep at 6:31 PM on September 4, 2006

Land is cheap in the Missouri Ozarks. You may want to check out Of course, jobs are very hard to come by in that region. However, the growing season is long and the area is beautiful.
posted by Ostara at 6:33 PM on September 4, 2006

Google for tax forfeited property in the region you're looking at. Rural states with declining populations (e.g., North Dakota) are a great place to look.
posted by nathan_teske at 6:50 PM on September 4, 2006

Best answer: I'm not sure exactly which way your take on freedom swings, but it's almost easier to find someone with land to let you build/live on it than it is to buy the land itself.

That said, land up near where I live can be cheap -- Northeast Kingdom area Vermont -- with the caveat that winters are punishing and property tax isn't cheap. On the other hand, right over the border in New Hampsahire there are still local property taxes but no sate income taxes. Neither of this addresses your "warm" issue, however, though you can live in a well-built place for nine months out of twelve without freezing to death which is something. A lot of people just move or travel in the bitter winters, which is what I did when I first bought land in Vermont. A good rule of thumb is that states that are good for retirees and people on fixed incomes (at least as far as taxes are concerned) will be good for you.
posted by jessamyn at 7:00 PM on September 4, 2006

Best answer: Really cheap land is usually land that is unsuitable for agriculture (slope, lack of water supply, poor soil, or contamination), so if you want to raise food and livestock as part of your self-sufficiency, you should probably rather look for land on which agriculture has been profitably practiced, even if it is not the cheapest available. To support only yourself, with a fairly basic diet on good farmland, you may only need 5 to 6 acres, if you plant carefully, operate some greenhouses, and can buy some staples like flour and rice that would ordinarily require larger scale agriculture than truck gardening. To raise enough food and fiber to support animals for eggs, milk and meat in addition to your own food needs, you need to add acreage and water sufficient to meet their needs, which would be a minimum of 3 to 4 acres per cow, or 2 to 3 acres per sheep, or maybe an acre or two per goat, in lower temperate latitudes.

But the big problem with plannning for such small subsistence farming operations, is that it is hard to plan for bad years, droughts, and infestations. At its best, agriculture is a chancy business, and if you have to spend money to buy fuels, fertilizer, insecticides/fungicides, and water for irrigation, you need to be generating higher yeilds more regularly than Nature alone generally allows, to cover the added expenses. Basically, anything you do to hedge your bets on Nature's vicissitudes increases your expenses. That's why big farms and big capital have forced the family farm into extinction. When you start planning to make a living on land, and getting only 2 good harvests every 5 years, scale of operations is critical.

If you expect to heat with wood, you may also need a sustainable wood lot, and the size of acreage you need for this depends a lot on your location. Northern climates have both shorter growing seasons and higher heating needs, so a single family woodlot in New England might need 10 acres of hardwood forest to be self-sustaining, whereas a Georgia farmer burning pine wood can sometimes get all his wood from a couple acres of scrub pine on clay or sand river bottom.

Property taxes and related matters such as water rights are also heavily dependent on location. Until you get further along in a selection process, no specifics can be offered, but you might start by looking at the USDA's Rural Information Center: Small Farm Funding Resources site for some basic information and planning guides.
posted by paulsc at 7:02 PM on September 4, 2006 [3 favorites]

I highly advise going to Kansas without the ability to use modern equipment and amenities (a/c, heat, etc.). The land is only fertile through modern growing techniques and the climate is incredibly harsh. Summers are hot and humid and winters are cold and snowy. Get Little House on the Prairie before going to Kansas or the Ozarks.

There is a commune in the Ozarks I have only heard about, called "East Wind" you might want to visit if your heart is set on cheap midwest land.
posted by geoff. at 7:38 PM on September 4, 2006

Response by poster: I'm not sure if i will really need that many acres of fertile land. I've had success growing tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, peppers etc in raised beds as well as potatoes in stacked tires. I also know I could make some pretty good meals on a budget by buying bulk rice, spaghetti, canned corn and beans. I'm actually more worried about heating a woodstove, what to do about fresh water, etc.
posted by petsounds at 8:06 PM on September 4, 2006

My brother-in-law is a former East Winder. He liked the Ozarks; he complained more about the humidity in the summer than the winter weather. He said the farming was good, but the community depends on their nut butter business to stay afloat. I second geoff's suggestion to visit them to see farming in the hills before putting money down on land.
posted by peeedro at 8:07 PM on September 4, 2006

Keep in mind that there is a vast difference between being totally self-sustaining and living on some tiny amount of money per year. So, I know you're not necessarily looking to move up here, but my place came with a house, a well, a woodstove, a furnace, 40 acres (some of which is good farmland), and was wired and plumbed for about twice what you have in the bank. Granted it takes money to sustain some of that -- most notably property tax but also keeping the bills paid if you decide to go that way -- but you may want to think about looking for cheap housing that comes with land than starting from absolute scratch unless it's important to you emotionally/constitutionally to do it that way. Also, I don't live there now (no work, no people) so there are other constitution-type things to think about.

As far as location, a lot of the rural south will get you very inexpensive land and/or taxes but will come at the expense of closeness to a non-rural area (if you're thinking southern Alabama for example) or a community that's not suitable for farming (much of Florida) or just too hard to access (a lot of Appalachia) often the best thing to do for scouting is to look for rural-ish college towns since they have some churn in terms of population which often also means some churn in terms of property.

If you want to try before you buy you might also want to look into the Caretaker's Gazette which is how I found my previous caretaker. If you're new to a lot of the rural living set-up, it can be a good way to get your feet wet on someone else's dime and get to know an area which is hard to do if you just sort of saunter into town.
posted by jessamyn at 8:21 PM on September 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

You might want to look into an Earth Home, they're quite efficient when covered with earth, also making heating very trivial because you won't really get drafts. And the materials to build one of them are quite cheap if you do it yourself.

You might want a little power too, so you might want to build one of these Wind Generators or maybe purchase a Solar Panel. I would also suggest a decent self-powered Shortwave Radio, because personally, I don't know how well I would do with all that silence.
posted by gregschoen at 8:44 PM on September 4, 2006

Loompanics used to publish a book called How To Buy Land Cheap, which had some interesting ideas about real estate auctions, etc. I can't attest to its credibility as I've never really tried to apply its advice. Most of the really dirt-cheap land you'll find is in the absolute middle of nowhere, farther than it sounds like you'd care for from civilization — like the land a guy of my acquaintance bought on a whim off of eBay somewhere in the midwest for a couple grand, which was something like 40 miles from the nearest town, population a few hundred. Certainly in places like Montana and North and South Dakota land and even houses get very, very cheap, but these are places much more isolated than, say, Jessamyn's rural Vermont.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:59 PM on September 4, 2006

I used to be of a similiar frame of mind, guess you never stop looking... Oregon
posted by shoeman at 9:15 PM on September 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Back in 1989, my folks bought a 10 acre place in Hortense, GA for about the amount you have in the bank. The place came with a 3 bedroom frame house (heated with oil and fireplaces), a couple of wells, a small equipment shed, a small barn in bad repair, 2 working catfish ponds comprising about 1.2 acres, an old 4 cylinder Ford tractor and bush hog, and various other rural accoutrements. They lived there in retirement for about 7 years, before moving back to Florida, when my mother's health began to decline.

They planted a garden each year, and had more melons, corn and beans than they could use, and they caught catfish anytime they wanted from their ponds. For $100 a shot, they hired a local logger to drop and chop a few pine trees every couple of years for firewood, and had all the heat they wanted, as long as they didn't mind hauling wood, and carrying out ashes, or paying for heating oil in cash. But they never realized their intentions of making the catfish operation commercial, and eventually, the work the place required became more than my father could manage himself. They also wound up doing extensive repairs to the house to correct termite damage while living there, and they spent more than a year trying to sell the place, before taking a note at zero interest on it themselves to sell it, for pretty much what they'd bought it for. It was cheap living for them, and they loved living there. But they realized no appreciation on their investment, and had the risk of the thing the whole time they owned it.

Theirs is a common rural saga, on a small place. It worked for them because they had significant retirement income, and low running expenses while they lived there, but like most people in these situations, eventually they had to leave when proximity to health care and other institutions became vital to their lives. At that point, just getting rid of the place became a pressing concern. Which just confirms that buying low and selling low is not a way to security and riches in the long term. But, you knew that, right? You might consider keeping your money at interest in a bank for a few years, now that interest rates are rising, and renting a place of the type you'd like to own for a few years, as others have suggested. If you find some older folks like my parents, you might even get a pretty favorable lease-to-buy type arrangement that would let you see how you could make it on a place, before plunking down all your money.

Jessamyn's point about the difference in self-sufficiency and low cost living is valid. But as she points out, if you have to have a job in a viable urban economy, you have to live in commute range of a city, and that cuts way down on possibilities for cheap land. It would seem wise to cultivate skills valued in rural settings, for which people expect to pay money, if you want to live out in the country. Most farmers are also pretty proficient welders, mechanics, carpenters, and vet techs, for starters, but many also have commercial skills and licenses such as electrician, surveyor, or law enforcement officer, which allows them live in a country setting, yet earn a regular salary. And you find a lot long haul truckers park the big rigs outback of their hobby farms on weekends. There are ways of doing what you want to do, but you have to be a little "country cunning" to keep your options open and your risks to a minimum.
posted by paulsc at 9:35 PM on September 4, 2006

My question is-- what are the best ways to go about finding and purchasing cheap land? I dont have my heart set on any location but i would prefer to find someplace warm and rural without being removed from civilization entirely.

Can't help with the "without being removed from civilization entirely" part, but land is cheeeeap in the Great Plains. Shit, they're practically paying people to move to some of the small towns in Nebraska. The summers are hot, the winters virtually snow-free (but windy and cold), the air is incredibly clean, and the Spring and Fall go on forever. You won't see much in the way of precipitation, either--something like 3/4ths of the year are sunny days.

The unfortunate flip side to the weather issue is that the scant rain you will see might be accompanied by a tornado. And those are really, truly, no fun at all.

But man is the land cheap. A common property type that you don't tend to get on either coast but you'll find everywhere is called an acreage. It's just what it sounds like: a bunch of acres of land. Not enough to make any money off growing stuff, though the land in Nebraska is some of the most fertile in the country (there's a multi-state natural aquifier underneath the entire Great Plains). If you take a clump of dirt in your hands, you can actually see the minerals in the soil.

Here's 320 acres of land just north of Lincoln, the state capital, for $16,000. Your yearly taxes will be less than your car insurance. Here's a whole farm house, complete with 10 acres and a barn, for $55,000 (a bit higher than you'd like, but it comes with a 3-bedroom home). I could go on and on.

Just do a Google search for Nebraska Acreage.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:21 PM on September 4, 2006

Since you don't have a preference to location, why not move to a different country - like Costa Rica. I've never been there, but from what I hear it's cheap and beautiful. You could probably get some land and a few animals and live pretty self sufficiently.

Costa rica is not your only option but moving south my be much better than staying in the States. Although if you don't speak any Spanish, you may have a bit of a hard time... anyway that's my 2 cents sense.
posted by savagecorp at 10:30 PM on September 4, 2006

Uh, those 320 acres are $16,000,000 -- that's $16 million.
posted by acoutu at 10:52 PM on September 4, 2006

Aw, crap. Sorry, man. That's probably out of the poster's price range, then. You know, the thought had crossed my mind that it sure was an awful lot of land for just sixteen grand.

Anyway, the second price is still right. And there's plenty more like that—not just in Nebraska, but any state in the Great Plains (as others have mentioned here).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:05 AM on September 5, 2006

What about Yucatan, Mexico? it's fairly close to Florida if you need to come back to the USA for any reason, there's great fishing, and cheap land aplenty.
posted by miss tea at 5:17 AM on September 5, 2006

In the 90s I bought a house through the USDA rural housing program (call a local office for info). The USDA subsidizes home sales in places so rural not many can afford to live there. I think they still do.

It was first come first serve and since I was unemployed at the time I was the only local person that had the free time in the middle of the day to be the first to do the paperwork when the new listings were announced at 9AM. (you go to the USDA office everyday to see if anything is newly listed) That's how I got it.
posted by cda at 6:54 AM on September 5, 2006

I'm in Austin TX and you can still buy 5-10 acres for less than $30K within about 30 miles of here, around the town of Bastrop. There are, in fact, a lot of hippie farmers out that way. (I'm friends with one such couple, living in a yurt on some land.)

The good/bad aspect of that is that the real-estate market is likely to rise, so if you get sick of the simple life in 5 years, you'll probably be able to sell your land for a nice profit, but even if you don't get sick of it, you might be forced to sell by rising property taxes (again, for a nice profit).

I'm sure there are other cities with a similar property market just past their peripheries.
posted by adamrice at 7:03 AM on September 5, 2006

If you're anywhere near Tennessee and interested in the hippie commune thing, you may want to visit The Farm near the town of Columbia. You should be able to find gorgeous hilly land in that region for as low as $1,000/acre.
posted by naomi at 8:02 AM on September 5, 2006

What about Yucatan, Mexico? it's fairly close to Florida if you need to come back to the USA for any reason, there's great fishing, and cheap land aplenty.

Mexico has a complicated set of laws governing land ownership by foreign individuals. I think foreigners are not allowed to own land x amount of kilometers from the coastline or the border. You might want to bone up on these rules if you head south of the border.

(Thank you, Woodrow Wilson.)
posted by jason's_planet at 7:59 PM on September 5, 2006

The USDA program is now on the web, for what it's worth. Madison County, Arkansas has cheap land and is close to Fayetteville, Springdale, and Bentonville, which have lots of jobs of all sorts. There's also a lot of cheap land within an half an hour to an hour of Tulsa, but for my money, I'd rather live in Arkansas.

In either place you can get a house and enough land to mostly feed yourself and still be close enough to town for some other sort of income.
posted by wierdo at 6:39 PM on January 29, 2007

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