Rural California Dreaming.
April 19, 2007 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Northern California Dreaming -- What steps should I take to explore my dream of buying land in Mendocino or Humboldt County, creating a small energy efficient home (perhaps one of the tiny, prefab ones), all while building/finding community.

My dream is to collectively (with other like-minded people) or individually secure land in rural Northern California (Mendocino or Humboldt), and create an energy efficient, cost efficient, community-based home. (My particular interest is in small prefab homes, ala those found here --

I have no idea how to start or if this is even feasible. I'm not rich -- I rent in San Francisco, have a decent to good salary as a professional. I have a retirement fund that is now over $100,000 but less than $150,000, and I'm pretty sure I can take out a loan of $50,000 secured by that fund for a downpayment. I have excellent credit.

I have a few friends in San Francisco with some interest, and I have created a yahoo listserv. But so far this hasn't gone too far.

I would like to achieve economies of scale with other others, e.g. buy one piece of land for three homes and have a TIC (tenancy in common) agreement with all participants, share a single well and driveway, etc. But I have also heard that some towns in Mendocino and Humboldt would not allow these projects because their zoning bars more than one structure on each plot of land.

I imagine that prices will only go up, so if there is a way for me to buy land now I should probably do so. But I don't know whether I would be able to swing it. I would certainly try if it was even close to do-able.

If I were ever to achieve this, maybe in the next 5 to 8 years, I have enough contacts in my field that I could probably telecommute and earn a decent portion of my current salary, which would presumably go farther in a rural setting.

So ...

How do I/we find a realtor that would cater to this kind of project or would at least give me the information?

Is it feasible for a middle-income person to buy land in Northern California or is the land now as sky high as everything else in California?

How do I find other people who share this dream?

How do I ensure or try to ensure that I will find community? Do I try to bring people along with me as part of the project? Do I try to find a location that already has a cool community?

Am I underestimating the transition from city life to rural life?
posted by ClaudiaCenter to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've seen Craigslist ads looking for people with visions much like yours. Start advertising. Get involved with the Solar Living Institute in Mendo county to help connect with others interested in energy-efficient sustainable living. SolFest, for instance, would be a prime opportunity to network.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:03 AM on April 19, 2007

First, I would start researching "intentional community," which is what you are talking about. There are a lot of easily researched resources on this topic. I think you very much need to find actual people engaged in intentional community projects and talk to them. You might find something existing that fits your goals, which would obviously be the most likely path to success.

Failing that, I think that you are going to have to do a lot more legwork on the feasibility question to get others engaged in this project. If I were interested in this kind of transition, frankly I would read your description, think "nice dreams, but where's the reality." You are going to need to seek out real land deals in California, figure out how to find developable land, how to determine its water resources, how to estimate costs for installing infrastructure, water, sewage, roads. How to negotiate the legal and zoning requirements.

I hope some people with pieces of the relevant experience come here and help you out with some specifics but honestly, I think you're mostly going to have to do those obvious searches ("buy land california humboldt", "humboldt zoning legal") and sorting through the links looking for the real information. Making telephone calls. Asking specific questions to people likely to have the real answers.

If you can put together some realistic numbers on sample projects, backed by some legitimate research showing an understanding and ability to negotiate legal and technical issues, and make a website out of that, I think you might be able to attract some interest.

Lastly, as someone who grew up rural and lives urban, if you have never lived rural then yes, you are underestimating the transition.
posted by nanojath at 10:20 AM on April 19, 2007

Best answer: I only know coastal Mendo north of 128 well, (I lived there about a year), with some knowledge of inland Mendo, and no knowledge of Humboldt. Land prices on the Mendo coast (Mendo, Fort Bragg) are already sky high. Set back east a bit toward Comptche and Boonville, it gets slightly better. Also consider Willits.

There are a lot of community-minded people living in those towns already. Do you really want to live an hour from town, or could you live in already-developed places? You might consider just moving there and integrating yourself into the community, or finding people who want to live outside of town, rather than moving up with a group. I feel like compared to SF, it was easier to find people and feel part of the community there. It's not like SF where there are thousands and thousands of smart, hip young people. There are, oh, 45 or 120 or something, so new people are generally welcome. And the ways people meet each other are more obvious (there being ~two coffee shops, you can quickly figure out which one is your crowd). And if this is the life you want, why not start now? There are a lot of late-20s-early-30s people currently trying to figure out how to own property and set themselves up. You could hook up with them now, rather than trying to do it all yourself.

I don't know if you're underestimating the transition, but there is a real difference in some ways, in other ways not. Re: telecommuting, it's going to be hard to get high speed internet in some places. Cell coverage is minimal outside of Fort Bragg (or was a year ago). For me, the biggest differences were social. My guess is that since everyone will find out everything you do, and since you'll be stuck bumping into the same people for decades, people behave slightly differently. Also, young people sometimes seemed restless with the limited options of people to meet. It also seemed to me that people more often made their own fun and were more self-reliant -- costume parties instead of movies, more people did something creative like building or art or playing music or intensive gardening, made money by piecing together a few small jobs or owned their own business -- less about moving up a professional ladder and more about developing marketable skills yourself. (All these are wide generalizations, so I'm going to stop now.)

Feel free to follow up by email.
posted by salvia at 10:34 AM on April 19, 2007

Best answer: Re: logistics, Mendo county zoning is online. So, if you're perusing property (outside of incorporated cities), it should say what the zoning is. P-D zoning is one not to miss, but I bet you could build multiple structures in more standard residential zoning districts. But again, there are people currently working to figure out how to do this in an affordable way for young people, so why not go get involved?
posted by salvia at 10:43 AM on April 19, 2007

Apart from searching "intentional communities" you can also search "co-housing" to find other people who are doing what you want and books on the history of it. Forget the realtor, I think. I have looked into these kinds of projects and there are a lot of resources out there, but it's not a realtor that does the work for you. The people in the group get educated and make it happen. It's not institutionalized yet to the point where financial institutions and agencies are out there to do it for you. My impression.
posted by Listener at 10:46 AM on April 19, 2007

It's often spelled "cohousing" (no hyphen).

this page has some interesting-looking articles about creating cohousing.

I'm interested in doing something like this in North Carolina (around Chapel Hill / Durham / Apex / RTP), but I haven't even begun to begin, so will be following this thread with interest.
posted by amtho at 11:12 AM on April 19, 2007

I'm interested in doing something like this in North Carolina (around Chapel Hill / Durham / Apex / RTP), but I haven't even begun to begin, so will be following this thread with interest.

Whoa, me too, amtho. Email me off list if you're interested in exchanging information.
posted by malaprohibita at 11:57 AM on April 19, 2007

Best answer: Talk to the Cohousing Partners in Berkeley. They have lots of connections with assorted intentional communities around here.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:09 PM on April 19, 2007

Best answer: You may already know this, but Jay Shafer (the Tumbleweed Houses proprietor) is based in Sebastopol (Sonoma County) and holds open houses once a month. My wife and I went up there several months ago and spent a good while getting the tour and shooting the breeze. Jay's a friendly guy and would probably be a good source of information for you.
posted by harmfulray at 1:47 PM on April 19, 2007

cohousing directory for california some places completed, some forming.
posted by Listener at 5:01 PM on April 19, 2007

Response by poster: I grew up in the country, FWIW, and my entire family lives in rural areas (the freezing cold New England variety). I was thinking about the transition as an adult, and what I might want to consider.

Thanks so much for all assistance, especially specific referrals. I hope that more NoCal people post (perhaps their internet is down :)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:30 PM on April 19, 2007

Response by poster: PS I'm not really looking for "intentional community" or "co-housing," at least not in usual way that those terms are used. But I agree that the people who do intentional community/co-housing are people who are likely to have useful information, especially about land and development.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:29 PM on April 19, 2007

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