If you’ve always dreamed of living off the land and lowering your carbon footprint to do your part to save the planet, buying a homestead instead of a typical suburban plot with giant house but a tiny plot of land could be your ticket to bliss. With the right land and your own little house, you can begin to grow your own food and raise the livestock you’ve always dreamed of the minute you sign the papers.
Sound exciting? It is! But you also have to know what you’re doing. As the real estate agents everywhere will tell you, location is everything. Here’s what to keep in mind as you look for the perfect homestead to call your own.
Know the Lay of the Land
Whether you’re looking for a great plot of land to build on or for a homestead that comes complete with a farmhouse, understanding the exact property boundaries and any rights of way for access are crucial. You’ll need the rights to a road to haul feed, animals and any other supplies — and you’ll need it in writing. Checking the title and legal surveys of the land will give you peace of mind for years to come.
Check Your Water and Sewer Access
Just as you need to have access to a road, you also need to retain water rights on your property. Don’t assume that the pretty little creek bordering your land is yours to use however you like — as always, get it in writing. It’s also worthwhile to test the water quality of any existing wells and to ask about the state of septic and sewer lines. If you don’t have them, you’ll need extra funds to add them.
Understand the Weather
Make sure to dig into the local micro-climate by talking to experienced homesteading neighbors in the area. You might have a general sense of what to expect, but keep in mind that wide open fields are likely to experience stronger winds and more extreme temperatures than more sheltered areas. You’ll also need to know the growing zone to plan for the best types of crops to thrive in your new fields and gardens.
Consider Livestock Carefully
One of the most exciting things about buying a homestead with a lot of space is the opportunity to raise animals — and not just a few chickens. It’s important not to rush off to auction to bring home cattle right away. You’ll first need to consider where you’ll put them to pasture, what kind of equipment you’ll need to transport and support them, and how you’ll shelter them. Consider your cattle-raising goals, and find a mentor for hands-on help during your first season.
Make Sure to Have Cash Reserves
Lots of people feel “house poor” as they adjust to their mortgage payment and some of the new expenses of homeownership, but a homesteader can’t afford to be strapped for cash. There’s too much that can go wrong — and living things depending on your quick response for survival. To be ready to buy a homestead, you’ll need to have additional cash reserves of at least $10,000 for things like buying equipment, making repairs, caring for sick animals.
Understand the Tax Benefits of Homesteading
Many states offer a “homesteader’s exemption” that can be a big boon come tax time. If you have the opportunity to declare your property an official homestead, you might be able to avoid paying taxes on a portion of your property’s value. You might also be afforded other legal protections as well, such as shelter from forced sale of the property to cover any debts. Consult a legal expert to make sure you fully understand your rights and responsibilities as an official homesteader.
Start With a Solid Plan
To get the most out of your homestead, make sure you plan exactly how you want to use each section of your land. Consider not only a plot plan for plants and animals, but also in what order you wish to make improvements. It makes sense to invest in long-term projects like an orchard early on, while a rudimentary garden plot can be expanded in the future if you save space for it. Don’t forget to include the house in your plans, and be honest with yourself about how long you’ll be able to live in it without improvements and upgrades. A five-year plan gives you a framework for both your budget and your time.
With this advice in mind, you’re ready to shop for the perfect homestead for your family. It’s not something to be rushed into. Do your due diligence about all legal aspects of the acreage you’re considering. A little legwork now will ensure that you choose a homestead you can live and grow with for decades to come.