Step by Step Guide to Buying Land for an Off-Grid Homestead or Retreat
Last year, we purchased 13.12 acres of land in a beautiful desert mountain valley for $11,800. Since then, we’ve put our tiny house on the property and we now live off the grid. This is our step-by-step process that you can follow to do the same thing.
Step 1: Know What to Look For
Ideally, you want to look for acreage that is in a rural area with loose zoning regulations. That doesn’t mean you have to buy a property that is zoned rural – the land could also be zoned agricultural or residential – but it should at least be outside of city limits if you want to avoid a lot of hassle when it comes to zoning regulations and permits.
Cities and suburbs seem to be a waste of time, unless you have tons of money to spend and an immunity to migraines. Not only will you spend more money for less land, you’ll have to go through all sorts of red tape. Everything, from your solar system to your composting toilet, will likely require a special inspection and permit – if they even allow it. Even putting up a simple fence or shed might require you to seek a permit or face fines.
That’s not to say you won’t need permits if you live in a rural area, but the rules won’t be as strict, and you’ll be granted a lot more freedom for alternative energy, water, and waste management systems.
Step 2: Know Where to Buy Land
While it never hurts to check sites like Zillow and Trulia, you’re not gonna have the best luck on these sites. There are better websites to shop for the kind of land you’re looking for…
Billy Land is a land auction website where you can buy rural land for dirt cheap prices. One of the nice things about Billy Land is that if you don’t have all the cash in hand, Billy Land will setup monthly payments for you.
Land and Farm
Land and Farm is similar to Billy Land, however, properties tend to be pricier. They seem to have a larger selection, though, and not every parcel is being auctioned, so many of the properties for sale stay on the site for long periods of time, which gives you more time to make a decision.
Yep. Believe it or not, you can actually buy land on eBay. In fact, that’s how we bought our land. The way it seems to typically work on eBay is the bid you place is your downpayment. For example, say the land is being sold for $10,000 and you place a $500 bid on it… if no one else places a higher bid on it before you contact the seller, you’ll likely secure the property. From there, you’ll negotiate how you’re going to make the rest of your payments with the seller; though, often times the seller will already have those terms written out in the property description.
Craigslist is usually a waste of time because of all the scams and phony listings, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to check.
Local Real Estate Agencies
There are a lot of mom and pop real estate companies around the country, as well as independent realtors. Find the ones in your area and see what they have listed. Sometimes you’ll come across gems you won’t find on the big real estate websites.
When all else fails, sometimes the best thing to do is to simple drive around and look for a “for sale” sign.
Step 3: Check the County Records
Now that you’ve found a piece of land you’re interested in buying, find out the parcel ID and lookup the property with the county recorder’s office. Make sure the person selling the property actually owns the land and has been truthful with you about other details pertaining to the parcel. Also make sure the property doesn’t have any liens against it or any special restrictions; like an endangered bird resides upon it and therefore you can’t build on it – that kind of stuff really happens to people who aren’t careful.
Step 4: Read the Zoning Regulations
If everything checks out okay with the county recorder, the next step is to read the zoning regulations thoroughly so you know exactly what you can and can’t do with the property.
When you lookup the property with the county recorder, you can find out the zoning code. You should also be able to get this information from the seller. From there, it’s just a matter of conducting an online search for “zoning regulations [county the property is in]”. If you can’t find them online, call the zoning and planning department for the county or whatever municipality the property is in.
The zoning regulations will tell you exactly how big or small your house can be, how many buildings you can put on your property, if RVs or other mobile homes are allowed, etc… The importance of reading these regulations thoroughly cannot be stressed enough.
Step 5: View the Property
Viewing the property in person – if you can – goes without saying, but we also strongly suggest viewing the land on Google Earth. It will literally give you a much bigger picture of the overall terrain and what’s around it. You can also use Google Earth to find out details that are hard to figure out with your naked eye…
You can scroll back in time to see what it looks like during different seasons; you can measure the slope of grades, the width of river beds, etc; and you can even see which direction the Sun is pointing at any given time, so you can easily plan out which way to face your windows or where the perfect spot for your vegetable garden will be.
If for some reason you can’t view the property in person, then you should definitely check it thoroughly on Google Earth and have the seller send you lots of pictures.
What you mainly should be concerned with is if the property is buildable. Is the land flat and level? Is it outside of a flood zone? Are there good roads leading to it; i.e., is it accessible? If all these things look good and you like the land, it’s time to make an offer!
Step 6: Haggle
It’s hard to sell vacant rural land. There’s a good chance the property you’re looking at has already been on the market for years. This gives you, the buyer, the upper hand. As a good rule of thumb, vacant rural land can be purchased for about $1K per acre. If you’re spending more than that, you might be paying too much, but that’s ultimately up to how much you value the land.
Whatever the seller is asking for – especially if it’s higher than $1K per acre – offer them slightly less. If you can make them a cash offer, you’ll have a better chance of them accepting it.
Well, thus concludes our rural land buying guide. Hopefully we’ve set you on track to finding the perfect property for your off-grid homestead or getaway. Happy hunting and best of luck!