When you search for rural property you’ll quickly find all sorts of places that look promising to you. Mountain views, green pastures, ponds with cattails, all idyllic landscapes that connect with that inner voice you have been hearing.
Before you plunk down that deposit on the first rural property that screams your name, consider this: you are planning to make a move there for life. A new life, a better life and, perhaps, not only the rest of your life but a homestead that future generations will cherish. So it is appropriate to take time and weigh the decision against criteria that are important to you and your family.
With this in mind, I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions when looking for a new homestead:
Questions to Answer Before Buying Rural Property
- How much land do you need? You can homestead on less than an acre if that is your goal. Many people do. However, do you want livestock? Orchards? If so, what do you want? Raising chickens and rabbits require very little land, sheep and goats require a little more and cows require, at a minimum, one or two acres of dedicated pasture each… and that is IF you are in good pasture/rainfall areas typical of the eastern United States. In much of the western United States more land is required, often much more. If you are thinking about having horses, get far more rural property—10 acres per horse (in the east) in addition to your house, driveway, garden, etc.
- Can you COMFORTABLY afford the land? Only you know how much you can afford for the home and land. Can you purchase your rural property and be debt-free? If not, can you comfortably afford the down payment with plenty of financial reserves left over to deal with the unexpected? How much will any improvements to the land or buildings cost?
- How is the water? Does the land have excellent water? (I encourage you to make this a very high priority.) Does the water come from a natural spring or has a well been drilled? If it is a spring, is it located above the elevation of the house and garden so you can use gravity for water distribution? If the water is from a well, how many gallons per minute does it produce AND what is the static water depth? For example, in our case, we have a well 300 feet deep that produces over 45 gallons per minute, but the static water depth is less than 40 feet. Have you tested the water quality? If it is raw land have you received an estimate for the cost of drilling a well? Have you ascertained the well depths and flow rates for your closest neighbors so you can have confidence that your well will perform as needed? If you plan on raising livestock, how will you get water to them?
- Is there good potential for alternative energy? Many homesteaders share the dream of completely off-grid, but that is not possible if the land is not conducive to energy production. If you are considering solar energy, does the land have excellent sun exposure or is it surrounded by dense woods? If you are considering wind or hydro-power, is the land suitable for that? Is there a woodlot so you can cut your own firewood?
- Do you have a good understanding of the local weather? How much rain per year does the area receive? More importantly, how frequently does the rain come? For example, we average over 50 inches of rain per year on our homestead, yet we often go through the hottest parts of summer and receive only one to two inches during a three-month period, creating a lot of stress on our livestock and gardens. What are the winters like where you are looking? Summers? How frequently is there drought? Flooding? Tornadoes and hurricanes? Wildfires?
- What is the growing season and how long is it? Have you spoken with other local gardeners and/or agriculture extension offices? Do you know what crops can be grown, when they must be planted and harvested? What kind of fruits can you grow? What kind of pests are you likely to encounter? Do you have skills in all these areas or are you starting from scratch?
- What is the community like? Are there like-minded people? Are there groups or organizations you would like to join? Can you join them BEFORE you move to see first-hand what the people are like? Are there gardening clubs, homeschooling support groups and so on? Just as there are micro-climates in weather, there are also micro-cultures. Did you remember to subscribe to the local newspaper BEFORE making an offer and relocating? If so, how is the help wanted section? Skimpy or full? What does that tell you about the local economy? What about police reports? What crime is in the community and how close is it to the property you are considering? Are there many foreclosure listings or only a few?
- How likely is it the community will drastically change? Is the town you are considering located between major points of interest that may cause it to grow over time? For example, I grew up in a beautiful mountain town in northern Georgia that was quaint and sparsely populated, with families who had lived in the county for generations. Today, the town is still there but “prosperity” has arrived in the form of fast-food restaurants, souvenir shops, chain coffee shops, and LOTS of traffic. Why? Because a major road that connects Georgia to the Smoky Mountains goes right through the valley where the town is located.
- What are the immediate neighbors like? If you are seriously considering a specific property, have you introduced yourselves to the neighbors before making an offer? Do you share anything in common with them? Children, hobbies, political beliefs, religious views, societal views, etc? Would you invite them over for dinner? Would you want to go to dinner at their house?Download my eBook, The Self-Sufficient Roadmap. It’s free, and you can grab it here.
- How remote is it/how close to town? One of the best things about homesteading can be seclusion, but, for some, it can also be the worst. How close do you want to be to a town? What do you want out of the town? Simply a store or two? Or are you interested in being close to decent restaurants, yoga studios, pubs, golf courses and the like? There are no right answers, but be honest about what you want and find that community.
- What are the characteristics of the specific land you are considering? Is it flat, gently sloping, or steep mountainside? Is it wide open with no trees or are there wind breaks? How is the soil drainage? If it has pasture, what perennial forages are growing? Are there also legumes (clovers, vetch, etc.) that can help fix nitrogen to the soil? How is the earthworm activity? Is it only one species of grass, such as Bermuda, or is the pasture a mix of forages? Does the forage match the animals you hope to put on it? For example, if the pasture consists of “old” fescue that is prone to endophytes, it may not be wise to plan on raising horses. What is the potential for flooding? Is the garden are positioned for maximum sun exposure? Is the land fenced? Is there a perimeter fence around the entire property? Are the pastures cross-fenced for rotational grazing? If so, are the fences high-tensile, woven-wire field fence, wooden fence or what? What is their condition? How much time will it take you to maintain and mow them?
- How was the land previously used? Regardless of whether the land is beautiful or unkempt, do you know how it was previous used? Were chemicals used and, if so, when were they last applied? What types of fertilizers, if any, were applied? Was the land frequently disked or tilled? Have you sampled a section of land for earthworm activity? Have you confirmed that you will own ALL water and mineral rights?
- Have you tested the soil? You are what you eat, so you will want to know what is in the soil. Have you had it tested? Did you sample several areas of the land and pasture, or only one? What were the recommendations for soil improvement for each area? How long will it take to get the soil where it needs to be based on your planned use for it? For example, if it is acidic, how much lime is required and what is the cost for purchasing and spreading the lime? Is the soil sorely lacking in nutrients that your animals need, such as selenium or manganese? What were the specific recommendations for the garden area? Have you sought the free advice of the local county extension agent?
- Who maintains the roads? Is your new property accessible by nice, maintained roads, or is it accessible only via Class IV (unimproved) roads that you may need to maintain? Is there a driveway to your house or must you install one? Have you considered the costs for gravel, grading, plowing, etc?
- Does the land have potential for your plans? Sure, you may want to start simply with a garden and a dozen chickens, but is it possible you may want to grow your farmstead into something more? If so, will the land accommodate your dreams? Is there room for the cows, sheep, horses, buildings, ponds or whatever visions tease you while sleeping? Is there a sunny spot for the garden or is the land on a mountainside where direct sunlight is measured in minutes rather than hours?
- Does the land have usable outbuildings? If so, what is their condition? Can you afford any repair costs or can you do it yourself? Can the buildings be used for future income-generating ideas that are discussed in this book, such as for classes or events? If so, those may present great value to you but little value to the current owner.
- Are there local hospitals and high-quality health care? If you frequently need medical attention, are there hospitals and good doctors within a reasonable driving distance? Is there good emergency care should someone in your family suffer an injury on the farm? Is there adequate dental care?
- Is the house (or homesite) properly placed in its environment? A house snuggled up against the woods sounds great until you find the woods are loaded with copperheads who take a liking to your back porch. If the land has a house on it, is it where you want it? (It is pretty hard to move it later.) Have you really visualized yourself in the home? Is the garden area placed downslope from the house so you can use the house roof to capture rainwater for the garden? If so, where is the septic system relative to the garden area, since it too will be downslope from the house?
- Does the land afford the ability to hunt and/or fish? You may grow much of your own food, but if you enjoy meat, you can also hunt or fish it for free. Does your land allow that? Is there an abundance of deer, turkey, wild pigs, freshwater fish or whatever you are interested in? Access to this can dramatically reduce the cost of food for you and your animals.
- Are there neighborhood dogs? If your new land is not securely fenced, are there neighborhood dogs that may enjoy your new chickens or rabbits? Do you know for sure?
- Are there other potential hazards of the location you are considering? I have mentioned snakes, but what about other wildlife such as bears and wolves? Are you in a frequent tornado or hurricane risk area? Is there poisonous vegetation that could harm you (or your animals), such as poison sumac, poison ivy, poison oak, wild cherry trees (can be poisonous to livestock), pasture grasses high in prussic acid (grazed improperly, this can be deadly to cattle), etc? While not necessarily a “hazard,” are there nuisances such as fire ants or seasonal gnats and/or mosquitos that could spread disease? What about disease-spreading ticks? I do not mean to alarm you, but:
- Are there zoning restrictions? Covenants? HOAs? My recommendation is to not move anywhere that has a HOA or any covenants, but that is your choice. Regardless, are there local zoning restrictions? Can you later open a bed and breakfast or offer farm dinners/classes if you want? Can you erect barns and simple farm structures without a permit (and fees), or is that required for even the most simple structure? Believe me, you may not begin planning on any of these things, but growing the farmstead becomes addictive for many, and may for you as well.
- Did you rent or camp in the area prior to making an offer? If you are unfamiliar with the area, did you rent or camp in the area for an extended time first? Are you certain this is the community for you? After all, you do not want to hate your new home!
Well, okay maybe there are more than 23 questions listed above and I am confident you will add additional questions of your own, but I encourage you to consider these questions carefully.
Clearly, purchasing a rural property and leaving “normal” life behind to become more self-sufficient represents a major life decision. It may be one of the most important decisions you ever make and, therefore, deserves careful consideration. Still, having made that move myself years ago, I highly recommend the lifestyle and would never “go back.” I do not know anyone who would!
Question: What other questions should you ask before moving to the country? You can leave a comment by clicking here.