How to Buy Land: A Checklist for Buying a Rural Property

Are you thinking about buying a house, cabin, ranch or farm in the rural country?

Buying a country home — whether it be a cabin in the woods, a farmhouse, a ranch, or just a vacant lot of land — comes with a great deal of responsibility. Here are your top considerations for buying a rural property. Think of this as checklist of factors to consider before you make your real estate purchase. This guide is useful for more urban or suburban people looking to live a more rural lifestyle for the first time and want a cheatsheet on how to make it happen successfully.

Does it have running water?

Water is the building block of all life. Water makes things happen. Water hydrates us, water cleans us, water feeds our farms, water is essential to the cooking process and water also calms us and helps create beautiful scenery. So when buying your home, especially if you’re interested in off-grid living, consider what kind of water flow the property has, even a small stream can be made into a small pond or stored to create pressure that can divert water to other parts of your property. Having this in due time will be very useful for a great range of activities.

How close to town is it?

A rookie mistake in buying rural land is to go so extremely rural that getting basic necessities of life becomes a massive chore. An hour drive to Home Depot or Wallmart is no fun and becomes old fast. The reality is we live in a modern world and no matter how off-grid you go, you’ll still rely on a larger community of people to make life function. Key factors in your decision to buy land must be: How far is the nearest grocery store? How far is the nearest gas station? What community events like farmers markets are nearby? What is the character of the closest nearby town? Proximity to these things matters.

How much sun do you get it?

Sun, like water, is essential to life and this is sometimes overlooked when buying land or a new home. The sun gives you power. Power to grow your garden. Power to make electricity. Power to keep your house warmer. Power to heat water. Power to do almost everything.

So why is the sun often overlooked in real estate purchases? People often assume everywhere gets sun. It’s the sun after all, equally there in the sky for us all. However, so many factors can disrupt sunlight on your homestead and make for a shadowy existence. Geography, elevation, surrounding natural and artificial structures, can all disrupt sunlight. Factor this into your decision and watch how the sun moves and falls on the property before you buy it. If the property you’re looking at doesn’t have a lot of direct sunlight, it’s not the end of the world; they make chainsaws and tractors. Clearing land is a lot of work, so factor that into your negotiating price. 

Where do the solar panels go?

Likewise all homesteads aren’t created equal when it comes to getting solar power installed on them. Be sure then to research before you buy how and where the solar plant will go. Solar is so critical because should there be an extended loss of power, your solar system will provide enough power for you to charge your electric tools, keep your freezers working and the pump to your well producing fresh groundwater. During calmer times, it makes sense to be making your payments going toward your own power plant rather than making your payments to the power company that could potentially leave you without electricity for an extended period of time. 

Do I have enough land?

We recommend at least five acres. This leaves you room for your chicken coop, greenhouse, solar panels, and storage sheds. However, if you’re very new to green living, a great deal of acreage can be overwhelming so bigger is not always better. Sometimes one solid acre positioned well and with ample sunlight can do the trick, and make your life a lot easier. Bigger is not always better when it comes to land ownership.

Does it have high speed internet?

That rural land has access to high-speed internet is not always a given. The digital divide, AKA the socio-economic division between those with fast internet and those with slower speeds, is real and often the more rural or away from main streets you get, the higher the chance you won’t have high speed web. Before you buy, run an internet test or if it’s a vacant lot make calls to ensure that it can be serviced by a reputable provider.

How much are the property taxes?

This tip is relevant to all first time home buyers whether you’re buying in the city or the country, make sure you understand how much your property taxes are. This is annual fee that you must pay and budget for not just when you buy your home but for the rest of your life. These taxes vary by region but in some areas can make buying a home out of your budget.

How much will my heating cost?

For most homes in the United States, and particularly here in upstate New York where Clearing Farm is located, heating is critical infrastructure during the winter season. Like your property taxes, heating bills can sometimes make or break a budget so be sure to prepare for them. Wood stoves in the basement are a great option for off-grid living because they can provide free heating by using energy that came right from your property(trees). Fossil-fuel heat (like propane) can become prohibitively expensive at the drop of a hat and so can electrical heating. Take the time early on in your project to make sure you have an efficient heating system and proper insulation.

How much time do you have?

It’s gonna take some time to get these projects done. Be realistic about this part. If you plan on doing most of the work yourself, there’s gonna be a lot of planning, tools, equipment, extra labor, and cost. It’s not impossible, but it’s not gonna be fast or easy. Time equals money. Do your planning by spending money on things that are going to save you lots of time so you can get on with the rest of your tasks that need to be completed for your new pandemic-proof home.

Who is going help you?

It’s important to realize early in the game that doing everything yourself is not feasible. You’ll need some help to accomplish the majority of your home goals. Try to identity your team and your own strengths and limits early in the game. Figure out what friends will provide support and where you’ll need to hire out.

How solid is the foundation?

It’s tempting the think you could live in a tent or geodome and buy a piece of property with water and live off-grid, but let’s be real. That’s just silly — after about a week (or even just a weekend) living that way, it gets rather tiresome and you need something more substantial. The top priority is that your new homestead has a solid foundation. If it has a basement, that’s even better. Root cellars, sprouting seeds for your new farm, placement of your wood stove, and many other benefits come from having a basement. 

Are you ready to take the first step?

Thinking and doing are two very different things. The voyage of a million miles begins with a single step. Start looking, don’t settle, do your planning, plan your work…and then work your plan.