Grit Blogs > Our Homestead at the End of the Dirt Road

Buying Land

Cynthia Brownell watercolorThis blog is a first in a series of articles about setting up your homestead. When we first started, I read as much information about moving off-grid and living a simpler lifestyle. Some articles and YouTube videos were very helpful, and others were just out there. So this blog is for the person or family who is considering the big move from suburbia or urban living to the country homestead

Our land

#1 The Land

Where do you plan on buying your land? Do you already have land in the family? Are you planning on driving across the country and buying the first wooded lot you see? The following list are key decisions that you may want to consider before buying or relocating. Trust me — some of these decisions are based on our own previous naiveté and mistakes.

1. Try not to buy land sight-unseen. My husband worked as a land surveyor for several years. He would come home with stories of people who had purchased land before they saw it and later learned it was a swamp. Or they purchased land without walking the property lines, only to find out the parcel was land-locked. (Land-locked is a term surveyors used to describe a piece of land that has no legal right of way or road access.) Also, you will want to have a survey and abstract completed to make sure everything is legal and free of prior liens. Be wary of owner financing and land contracts. If you feel it is a good deal and you know or trust the owner, please hire a lawyer to draw up the paperwork to protect your interests. It is worth the extra money.

2. Make sure the land has a water source. We know of a town in the area that closed their dump in the early 1980s. The dump isn’t the issue; it is the ground water. Because of what was dumped, the houses within that area can no longer use their well water. They have water, but it is contaminated. Do your research. Was there a chemical dumping area close by? What about any fracking? What about possible buried fuel or oil tanks? This may sound a little dramatic, but a little research may save you a huge headache down the road.

3. Building codes. Before you get ready to build that five-story straw house, you might want to make sure the local codes officer will give you a building permit. I grew up in the Adirondack Mountains, a huge state park north of Albany. The park has several residents who must abide by strict building codes and zoning laws. Make sure you understand the laws and regulations before you buy your land. Fines and frustrations can add up.

4. Access to power and phone lines. One of the main reasons it took us a while to move onto our property was the idea that our road probably will not have public power lines for a long time to come. On top of that, the property is a half-mile off the dirt road. Therefore, paying for the power lines and poles is something we are not considering. It was a lifestyle change, moving off-grid — scary when you are used to having electrical service your entire life. We have now lived out on this property for almost two years, and we still do not miss the electric bill. When we cancelled our account at our rental, the operator wanted to know where our new service was going to be. When my husband told her we wouldn’t need to set up an account with them at the new location, the operator started arguing with my husband. She couldn’t fathom that we were moving to an address in New York without power. As for the phone, we have cell service, so we didn’t need the phone line.

5. School! If you have children that will go to public school, this decision is probably going to be your toughest. What is the area school like? Is it a small school? Large school? What is your education philosophy? Where are the lines for the school district? Where I grew up, our school system was centralized. Our house was one of the last houses in the district. My bus ride lasted an hour. It made for an early day and an even later night if I rode the after-school sports bus. Sometimes that bus ride was up to two hours. Take the time and visit the school. Find out if it is a good fit for you and your family.

Driveway in the winter

Overall, doing your homework before you purchase your land will save you a few headaches. We had to learn the hard way. When we first moved to the property, we just assumed we could find someone with a snow plow who could remove the snow in the winter. Most of the contractors looked at our driveway and said no way! Our road is so narrow, and we did not plan for room to store the extra snow. Trust me; we live near the Tug Hill Plateau and “lake effect snow” is a common occurrence. Now we have decided to save our money and purchase a tractor with a snow blowing attachment. This winter we had to snowshoe in and out of our property. This may sound romantic and fun, but it isn’t when you have a sled full of groceries and a blizzard whirling around your head. Suddenly the romance is gone! New-used tractor is on its way!