The first step in creating a homestead is finding the land for it. My wife and I spent quite a bit of time looking for property and deciding where our homestead would be. There are many considerations both personal and practical that will impact the final decision about where to put your homestead. I hope sharing our story will make your search for the ideal place to call home a little easier.
Understanding Our Goals
Before we began the search for property for our homestead, we had to prioritize what was most important to us. To start with, we knew our top priority was finding a place where we could enjoy some peace and serenity. We also wanted a location where we could build a homestead that was functional yet affordable.
We wanted something quite different from the daily traffic grind, neighbors on top of each other, HOA costs and restrictions, encroaching urbanization, and increasing property taxes we were experiencing in the Greater Tampa Bay area of Florida.
We wanted to have a few acres of our own and the freedom to decide what we wanted to do with it.
Topography and Taxes
Everyone has their choice of where they would prefer to live, and our dream location happened to include mountains. And changing seasons. These were my wife’s greatest desires after living at sea level in steamy Florida for 25 years. But we also wanted reasonable winters. We were definitely not interested in moving to Montana!
Initially we began investigating my home state of North Carolina. Unfortunately, however, it seems a whole lot of other people were doing the same, and land prices were higher than we wanted to consider. So we expanded our search to surrounding states.
We ultimately decided to focus our search for land in the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee. Why? Because it had everything that was most important to us: beautiful mountains, changing seasons, ample and affordable land with minimal building and zoning restrictions, and lower taxation rates than neighboring states.
Getting the Lay of the Land
We combined the business of our land search with a week-long family vacation to the Volunteer State. We rented a great little Log Cabin at Nolichucky Bluffs in Greeneville, Tennessee (we highly recommend them and, no, we do not get compensated for saying so) and made arrangements to meet with a Land Specialist to look at property for sale in the area.
We looked at several plots of land, all with different acreage and features. There were pros and cons to most, and a few with building requirements or restrictions that didn’t support our dream homestead. We had a lot to consider as we enjoyed the rest of our vacation.
But the one thing we were sure of was that we could be happy somewhere in Tennessee.
Taking the Plunge
After our return to Florida, we evaluated our options and, though it was a nerve-wracking moment, we made a decision about a particular piece of land. After signing documents and transferring a down payment, we became the proud owners of five acres of undeveloped land near Crawford, Tennessee.
Our homesteading dream had officially begun!
Steps to Finding Your Ideal Property
Settle On A Location
Whether you want one half acre or 100 acres, you’ll want to narrow down your search by region based on your personal preferences and homesteading priorities. Things to consider:
- Regional Land Prices and Availability
- Building Code Restrictions
- Zoning Restrictions
- Regional Taxation and Cost of Living Factors
Finding Land for Sale
We discovered there were unique challenges to finding and purchasing undeveloped land for sale. Traditional Realtors typically don’t handle land-only transactions, and banks won’t make a loan to help you buy property unless you are borrowing to build a house on that property.
We decided to search for property initially through internet searches and Craigslist ads for land for sale with private-owner financing. We found the first property we visited in Tennessee through Craigslist, in fact, and were excited by the listing as it was ample acreage within our budget in a desirable area. When we went to view the property, however, we discovered it was too far too steep to walk up let alone build anything on.
Be sure to use caution and perform your due diligence when considering privately-listed land for sale. It might be perfect, but it might also be anything but!
Land For Sale Companies
We were fortunate to finally find a company in Tennessee that specializes in land sales. Country Places is a solid company that as been in business for 35 years. The best part of us is that they offer 100% financing on the properties they list. The down payment and monthly payments are incredibly affordable, and they also offer a discount to military veterans.
Another great thing about Country Places is that they stand behind their sales. If for some reason you aren’t satisfied with your land purchase, you can return the property to them or trade for another. Unfortunately we can attest to their upholding this guarantee of satisfaction because that property in Crawford we initially contracted for turned out to be a nightmare rather than a dream.
I’ll share that story in a future post, but, for now, just know that companies like Country Places exist and can help you in your land search. Land and Farm is another such option, though we don’t have personal knowledge of their processes and business practices.
Research Before You Buy
It’s easy to get excited when you see a piece of property that seems absolutely perfect for your homestead. But trust us when we say you need to do your research before you sign on the dotted line and hand anyone your money. We know from personal experience that it’s a bad idea to take a parcel description from the seller at face value. In our case there was no intent to deceive, but we still faced some unpleasant surprises when it came time to start building your homestead. We want you to avoid the same fate.
Tax Collector Check
A good place to start your research is with the city or county tax collector’s office in the jurisdiction of the property. You can generally find legal information about any parcel of land online, but, if not, a phone call to the tax collector’s office should do it. You’ll want to be verifying the following information:
- The legal property boundaries
- Any easement and/or access issues
- Availability of utility services if you want them OR
- Confirmation that you can live off-grid on this parcel of land if that’s your goal
- Estimated annual property taxes
Running a title search on the property will tell you if it is free and clear of any liens or other issues. Just because a piece of land has been left undeveloped for decades doesn’t mean it can’t have a colorful and potentially troublesome history.
Availability of Utilities
Unless you are planning to live off-grid, we highly recommend that you speak with every utility department that will service your future homestead. This will confirm what services are readily available to you and any that aren’t. If you will be responsible for running any utilities to your property, the associated office should be able to provide you an estimate of the cost to do so.
In our situation, we took the Land Specialist’s documents at face value, and this proved to be a mistake. The land had been in the hands of a developer a few decades prior, and the drawings they left behind showed water lines to our property that were never actually put in. The cost to run those pipes was beyond our means and forced us to start from scratch with a new property search. We definitely don’t want this to happen to you!
Building Codes and Zoning Regulations
Most people wanting to create a homestead hope to do so with as few restrictions as possible. That’s why it’s important to research any requirements or restrictions associated with your property before you buy.
We were surprised to find that even some of the more remote pieces of land we looked at still had restrictions than ran counter to our visions. For example, we wanted to build a small cabin of less than 600 square feet but found the zoning for some parcels required a minimum of 1,000 square feet for dwellings.
Building codes and zoning regulations may also impact septic systems/sewer connections, length of driveways, utility easement, outbuildings, and commercial agricultural or livestock use.
Be sure to investigate fully for every activity to hope to engage in on your homestead. A great resource for researching codes throughout the United States is the Municode Library.
A Place To Call Home
Locating the perfect property for your homestead should be a fun and rewarding adventure. We hope you’ll follow the steps laid out in this article to avoid some of the pitfalls and frustrations we encountered during our search. And we hope you’ll let us know when you find that perfect place to call home.
Happy homestead hunting!