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Selecting Land

 
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Right now I have my eyes on a few parcels that are available. The first is a nearly complete small off grid cabin on only a half acre mostly cleared for a garden but surrounded by woodlands, surrounded by farmland with the potential of buying several acres in the future, it is a bit less than a mile from conservation land where I can hunt, fish and forage, also about a mile from a small townI can afford this parcel outright. Second is five acres with what the owner calls a cabin, it has a basic wood frame, one room, board walls and no insulation, (basically a shed with a door and window) the parcel is all woodland with only a small clearing with the hunting cabin, they are offering it on a land contract. Third there is five acres of woodland, on a land contract and the owner has not been reliable with getting back to me. The last two are about a half hour from the same town as the first property.
On one hand I want to just say who cares what society thinks and rough it on one of the land contract properties for a while. But whose to say the owner wont back out or have a loop hole where I loose the land and any improvements that I make? With the cabin, I'd have a place to live, garden and hunt and could gradually pay off more land to keep livestock on. But it is fairly close to town, which at this point I'm not sure if it's a good thing.
 
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I find it takes quite a while to build or fully renovate on a new piece of land.  Depending greatly on your level of perfectionism and style.  I'd lean towards the finished cabin but I'd worry about the small lot.  

Do you have plans for critters?  Do you have to go to town for work?  Those could further point towards one or away from another.
 
master pollinator
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The first one sounds lovely.  You can do a lot with half an acre.
 
Gail Jardin
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I feel like I should add that I have a skoolie that I would park at either location. It is a school bus converted to be an RV with a propane water heater and kitchen stove, a wood stove, and a water pump that just runs off of the regular battery. The bus has typical RV hook ups but not solar. So if I were to end up on the larger properties, the camping and roughing it would not be too rough. I would eventually set up my cabin to be very similar to the bus but bigger, it's a bit of a blueprint, lol.
I have taken workshops in both cordwood building and strawbale houses. I am confident in my abilities to make a basic space, but my skoolie has taught me that I do not know enough about electric to wire a home with confidence. I am hoping that as I learn more about solar for my bus, I will eventually have the understanding needed to do it on my own.
My biggest concern is debt and owing someone for the land. I have heard horror stories regarding land contracts, how the deed or title holder can back out at any time and reclaim their land. I have also heard of people being a day late on a payment and loosing their land. I would not want to invest time and energy into building up a homestead to have someone take it from under me. I have heard less stories about them working out successfully.
I currently work online and barely have enough money to invest into my bus and savings after paying bills etc. I do not need to be close to town, as my toad gets 40-45 mpg so making it to the farmers market each week should be doable either way. I am currently working on starting up a sprouts and microgreens booth at the local farmers market. Not really intending it to be much of an income but more of a stepping stone in teaching myself business and management skills etc. and maybe if I'm lucky enough income to stop working as a transcriptionist.
 
Mike Jay
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Sounds like you are all set then.  I'd second Tyler's vote for the cabin and small lot with potential to buy more.  Unless you know you want to have large animals.  It's already cleared for a garden, you don't need to spend time building a cabin, it's close to town and close to your foraging space.  Easy peasy!
 
master steward
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When we were looking for land one of my biggest concerns was that it had water and electricity as those are big ticket items.  It is no big deal if you want to be off grid.

Also having a cabin is a plus even if it is only used for storage.

If a property is listed as a land contract, it can bought by getting conventional financing.  I know that owner financing for some is a plus though as you described, not always a good thing.  If the owner objects to conventional financing, that might be a red flag.
 
Gail Jardin
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So I went to the cabin today and checked it out! The electric was much more finished than I had thought. The cabin is fully wired but does not have the circuit pannel hooked up. There are basically lights and sockets throughout the place! There is also an outdoor outlet right at the power box that my bus could plug into. Plumbing is non existent and the owner does not think rural water goes there. I don't think I can afford to have a well dug any time soon. Maybe using my bus as a shuttle to bring water to the lot and filling an even larger water tank might work? There is a truck stop about a mile from the cabin ( the truck stop is about five miles out of town).
The cabin is no where near finished and it is still a big project, but I don't think it's anything I can't handle. The interior has insulation and wiring, there are posts but no walls inside. It is six hundred square feet and has an area that one porch i soff of that would easily make a kitchen with a woodstove, and there is another area that could easily be set up to be two small bedrooms. There is not really an area that could be made into a bathroom, unless a corner of the living room or kitchen was done to be one. I picture having a large water tote with a pump outdoors (but how could I heat it?) and having greywater from that and using a composting toilet so we don't have blackwater iissues.
A neighbor stopped and chatted while we were there and said the cabin is on a flood plane, there is a small stream a bit down hill from the cabin and on the other side there is woodlands. That is a huge red flag for me, except the cabin is on two foot blocks and has a deck and stairs leading up to it. The owner says it gets marsh but doesn't actually flood. I know it gets 'bad' here every few springs but I'm not sure if it's something to worry about. I know the conservation land near my apartment  flooded underwater for a couple weeks two years ago. There are plenty of morels, watercress, nettles, raspberries, etc growing now, but would that type of thing destroy perennial herbs that are non native? As long as were lucky enough for it to not flood and get marshy the first couple years I can imagine starting a few fruit tree dyads on the cleared area.
 
Mike Jay
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I'm guessing some government (county, state, country) knows where the flood plains are and how high the 100 year flood mark is.  That would be nice to compare to the top of the cinder blocks the cabin sits on.  If you're in need of homeowner's insurance, the flood plain status could become important...
 
Anne Miller
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This is a link to the Fema Flood Map Service:

https://msc.fema.gov/portal/search

It is always good to check prospective properties to see if they are in a flood plain

Whether you are in a high risk zone or not, you may need flood insurance because most homeowners insurance doesn't cover flood damage. If you live in an area with low or moderate flood risk, you are 5 times more likely to experience flood than a fire in your home over the next 30 years. For many, a National Flood Insurance Program's flood insurance policy could cost less than $400 per year. Call your insurance agent today and protect what you've built.



On our previous place, one insurance company told me they would not insure the home because it was in a flood plain.  I checked the map and it was not so I figure they did not want my business and purchased the insurance somewhere else.  In any case flood insurance is always wise.
 
Tyler Ludens
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What would happen to your bus if the land floods?  Part of our land is in a flood plain and every few years is under two feet of rushing water.  "In a flood plain" doesn't tell you much about what might actually happen during a flood.
 
Gail Jardin
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I'm checking out the FEMA site and will call county offices to see about the flood plane and if there is any data on the height of water when it floods. I guess this property may be too good to be true! The neighbor seemed to have no alternative motive about telling me the property floods. But the owner has a lot to gain by selling the property. I'm torn about putting myself in a land contract if I can't buy something out right, but am tired of treading water and not pursuing my permaculture dreams. Another option would be to just live on the bus and find farm jobs to keep saving up, but then the cost of maintaining my bus would probably eat up a fair share of the savings.
 
Gail Jardin
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Okay, according to the FEMA map the house is in an 'area of minimal flooding' the road goes right over the creek and has a small culvert. I am looking forward to finding out more from the county. I hope the neighbor meant it floods, like as in the road gets washed out and cars can't cross it. Is there a way to search for people online by location? The friendly neighbor was not the one right next door, would it be too weird to call the two neighboring houses? If I lived closer I would just knock on doors and am regretting not doing so when I was there.
 
Mike Jay
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Some people's idea of "flooding" is different from others.  4" of standing water on a wet spring is modestly different from 3' of flowing water.  Hopefully yours is just the inconvenient, wet shoes sort of flooding.

There's a way to find out their names, not sure if phone numbers will be as easy.  Search for your county's online GIS mapping service.  It's awesome for homestead hunting anyway.  It is how they map properties for tax purposes.   Once you're in the GIS system, zoom in to find your property and the ones around it.  I'm not sure if all GIS systems are the same so my directions may not work for you.  At the top there's a place to change the cursor over to "Identify".  Then when you click on a piece of land it will give a pop up window with the tax info for it.  This tells you the assessed value and the taxes they pay.  It also says who the owner is.  If there are multiple properties under the same ownership it will highlight them together.  It might have their mailing address if they don't live at the property.  It probably won't have their phone number.

On my system you can also change the "Base layer" to an aerial photo.  Then the property lines show up against what looks like a satellite view.  In my area, they do the photos every 5 years.  I think that's how they figure out if you got a permit for that new structure

So it's a nifty way to see the property lines, snoop around the neighborhood and see what tax assessments are.  Have fun!
 
Gail Jardin
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So I need to decide by Saturday because someone else says they are buying the cabin next Monday if it's still available. I have found out that no one else has knowledge of this supposed flood plain it is on, the conservation area is in a flood plane, (is it plane or plain?) There is no rural water that goes to the location, wells are about 250 too 300 feet in that general area (much more than I can afford if I buy outright). I am going to research digging my own well and using IBC totes for water storage. I feel so intimidated by spending all my tax refund on a house! On one hand it appraises for way more than they are asking, on the other hand Murphy's law is bound to apply to me. Advise, prayers and encouragement are needed!
 
pollinator
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Local library with newspapers for that area? Or the librarian may be an even better source... Or visit the closest newspaper or the office of the guy putting it out. It doesn't hurt to review what people are "talking" about in the area.

There should be some actual history about flooding to be found somewhere. Any marks on trees, fences, etc? Local folks at the diner? What has been the weather etc in the last couple years? Lots of places are "changing" and experiencing more extreme weather. Other stuff: New highways? Corporate farms? Fracking?

Are the roads and access good for your bus? Or would you sell the bus?

If the cabin is important to the value of the deal, do you yourself understand enough to know if the building is good (for you)? Maybe talking with the county inspector would provide interesting info.

Didn't see any mention of legal stuff. Given the "alternative" nature of the possible deal, do you have a way to get the title verified? It'd be a bummer to find you have  "partner" you didn't expect.


Regards,
Rufus
 
pollinator
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Gail Jardin wrote:So I went to the cabin today and checked it out! The electric was much more finished than I had thought. The cabin is fully wired but does not have the circuit pannel hooked up. There are basically lights and sockets throughout the place! There is also an outdoor outlet right at the power box that my bus could plug into. Plumbing is non existent and the owner does not think rural water goes there. I don't think I can afford to have a well dug any time soon. Maybe using my bus as a shuttle to bring water to the lot and filling an even larger water tank might work? There is a truck stop about a mile from the cabin ( the truck stop is about five miles out of town).
The cabin is no where near finished and it is still a big project, but I don't think it's anything I can't handle. The interior has insulation and wiring, there are posts but no walls inside. It is six hundred square feet and has an area that one porch i soff of that would easily make a kitchen with a woodstove, and there is another area that could easily be set up to be two small bedrooms. There is not really an area that could be made into a bathroom, unless a corner of the living room or kitchen was done to be one. I picture having a large water tote with a pump outdoors (but how could I heat it?) and having greywater from that and using a composting toilet so we don't have blackwater iissues.
A neighbor stopped and chatted while we were there and said the cabin is on a flood plane, there is a small stream a bit down hill from the cabin and on the other side there is woodlands. That is a huge red flag for me, except the cabin is on two foot blocks and has a deck and stairs leading up to it. The owner says it gets marsh but doesn't actually flood. I know it gets 'bad' here every few springs but I'm not sure if it's something to worries y about. I know the conservation land near my apartment  flooded underwater for a couple weeks two years ago. There are plenty of morels, watercress, nettles, raspberries, etc growing now, but would that type of thing destroy perennial herbs that are non native? As long as were lucky enough for it to not flood and get marshy the first couple years I can imagine starting a few fruit tree dyads on the cleared area.



It sounds interesting. BUT, I have experience in houses and flood plains. If the owner says it gets “marshy” but a neighbor stopped by and warned you it is on a flood plain, I personally would view that as a big red flag. 2 foot concrete blocks might not be enough.

You may want to research how deep the water has gotten there, historically, before you invest? Talk to neighbors?

It sounds to me like the owner is trying to rush you. Is the owner telling you he has another buyer? Have you verified this person is the actual owner? Who is going to do the title work?
 
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I would not buy the property without observing at least one Spring with high rainfall.  Our creek floods several times/spring to the level the county claims is the "100-year mark."  That's because of new construction and higher rainfall.
 
Gail Jardin
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I just sent the guy a message apparently a lot of what he claimed was not true. I'm not sure if it was malicious to try to make money off the place, or if he just didn't know.
Hi, So I paid to have someone research the property and they got back to me last night. The parcel is only 0.25 acres and does not include the trees or the concrete slab next to the cabin. The appraised value is $2750 due to the location in a flood zone. The little stream there does flood every few years.  Due to this contracting someone to drill a well would almost be impossible and from the first water table the quality of the water would be low whenever it does rain. The water table is so low there that it would not produce safe water to drink. The parcel is too small to have a lagoon or sewer and does not have public water and sewage access at that location. I'm terribly sorry but given these details I do not think I can invest in the property, unless you are willing to sell it for only the $2750 it is worth. As it can not be used as a full time residence regardless of the time or money spent finishing it. It can be used as a recreational cabin without a water source or sewage solution. Perhaps someone from a city would be looking for a place to call base camp while hunting or fishing in the conservation area. I'm sorry for taking up your time and I hope you share these details with the other potential buyers (especially the folks taking out a loan).
 
Gail Jardin
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Wow, they replied fast. Thank you for the information. Please be aware appraised value that's not necessary indicate the true value of the property just as the house I live here in town has the appraisal value but that does not indicate the true sayland property value but thank you for the information
Hmm, I thought the appraised value was the approximate market value of a property, including land and improvements. I do not like the way they are making me feel bad about not buying the quater acre with a partial cabin on it when it was advertised as something else. Especially since when we walked the property he pointed out how the windbreak trees on one side were his property and the RV slab would be perfect for my bus etc.
 
Rufus Laggren
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Gail

There's always a lot of room for misunderstanding initially when we deal with a person we don't know at all about something large and complex like a property deal. Add in your needing to deal with several people you don't know (neighbors, your investigator, the seller...) about things you probably have not ever done before, then even under the very best circumstances with good effort and honest will on all sides, there _will_ be some confusion, mistakes, doubt, etc. Double check before acting and when possible be compassionate. That looked like a pretty good response you gave the seller.

That's why people generally try to go slowly and double check everything and "follow the rules", due diligence, etc when doing complex important deals. Even if the "rules" are often redundant, stupid (at times), almost always a pain and sometimes pricey. There does not need to be chicanery - things can be difficult all on there own.

However, you were spot on to get somebody to look at the land and check details. Assuming your investigator and you are on the same page (eg. double check the identifying  details of the land - lot number, gps data, landmarks, titled owner, etc) it looks like you saved yourself some serious grief. Good, good, good. <g>

Don't angst much about people's behavior, their attitude, what they say and generally all that stuff. We run into all types out there and many of them will just never make sense to us. You have a "job to do" and you deal on that basis, hopefully from a calm, practical, courteous place. Our behavior is constrained by our responsibilities (our "job"); play fair and do what is necessary. You go home at the end of the day more or less where you started out - doing your "job" decently. Taking on other people's behavior and lives to worry about and emote over is not something we have a right or the resources to do, generally speaking. Sometimes one does do it - that's why marriage is such a big deal! <g> But I don't think this is one of those cases.

And stay safe and proper. That IS your responsibility, IMO, personally and business-wise. Life is unpredictable and we all have grown up with our own ways to cope and do right. Stick to _your_ ways and do your best not to cut corners and slouch or be otherwise less than your best. We all know what that means for ourselves. To the extent possible, do not play "their" game - play YOUR game. To my best knowledge that is just about the _only_ way to come out ahead like we all need to. That doesn't equate to cut throat behavior. It means holding up your end of the dealings and doing your best.

Ok. 'Nuff.  Looks like you're charging down the "right" path, already. <g>


Cheers,
Rufus
 
Myrth Gardener
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Gail Jardin wrote:Wow, they replied fast. Thank you for the information. Please be aware appraised value that's not necessary indicate the true value of the property just as the house I live here in town has the appraisal value but that does not indicate the true sayland property value but thank you for the information
Hmm, I thought the appraised value was the approximate market value of a property, including land and improvements. I do not like the way they are making me feel bad about not buying the quater acre with a partial cabin on it when it was advertised as something else. Especially since when we walked the property he pointed out how the windbreak trees on one side were his property and the RV slab would be perfect for my bus etc.



I suppose it varies across the nation. But here, where I live,  assessed value (taxed value) is 1/3 the sales value. That’s because people here hate real estate taxes. That is different from a market appraisal, which is a professional’s attempt to determine market value.

But 1/4 acre vs 1/2 acre is the real kicker here. You could do some things on 1/4 acre. You could raise the cabin out of the flood plain on piers. You could do rainwater catchment for your water, composting toilet instead of septic, etc. But permaculture on 1/4 acre is going to be, well, 1/2 the permaculture you thought you could do.
 
Rufus Laggren
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> "appraised value..."

Where I come from appraised value _is_ market value. _Assessed_ value is the imaginary funny figure the tax assessor plays with.


Rufus
 
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Gail Jardin wrote:
A neighbor stopped and chatted while we were there and said the cabin is on a flood plane, there is a small stream a bit down hill from the cabin and on the other side there is woodlands. That is a huge red flag for me, except the cabin is on two foot blocks and has a deck and stairs leading up to it. The owner says it gets marsh but doesn't actually flood.



The fact that you heard about the fllod plain from a neighbor and not the owner is a big red flag.  Have you seen some of the flooding that is going on around the country in the past few years.  How many times in the past year have you seen headlines about 500 year storm events.  The flood plains are for 100 years storms.

We moved out of Houston just before the big floods hit.  I used to own houses in flood plains as investments, but I would not touch a property in a flood plain now.  Take it for what its worth but I would frankly find a property that is no where near a flood plain.  Find something on high ground with a nice view.  We moved to the Ozarks at 1400 feet above sea level.
 
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I'm one of the few people who would advocate for more, rather than less, land depending on what your goals are. Are you trying to grow food just for yourself, your family (if so, how many?), community, etc? Around here it took 5 acres during the early 20th century to grow enough food and wood for a family of four, approximately. But those 5 acres were managed carefully and often produced all or most of the family's animal feed. That sounds crazy to some, but when you look at growing your own starch, oils, animal feed, etc the footprint grows significantly. Not that most people, even permaculturists, take on all that, but still, it's something to keep in mind.

I was told that the nearly seven acres I'm on would be more than enough. Well, it isn't. I'm always finding new trees (fruit, nut, medicinal, native, good for pollinators, etc) that I want to plant in order to preserve the genetics for the local area and the bigger ecosystem. I will probably run out of space in the next year or so. I'd originally thought to leave half the field for cows, but later decided it was more valuable as food forest.

I'm just saying, if you buy more land the worst case scenario is that you'll end up leaving a chunk of it as zone 5. You could also plant it into things like standard fruit and nut trees that could be for wildlife, and if times get hard the food could be sold, traded, or given away.
 
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James Landreth wrote:I'm one of the few people who would advocate for more, rather than less, land...



You're not the only one. What many don't realize is that 5 acres, 20 acres, 80 acres and 160 acres can all cost pretty much the same because the smaller the acreage the higher the cost per acre. When I realized that, I bought 117 acres instead of 20 or 40.

The joy of living on really large acreages is that you can plant whatever you want.  After finding out in a thread here that peaches were the original invasive species in north-east America, I decided to start planting peach pits wherever little trees pop up just at the drip lines of established trees.

Will they be true to their origins? Probably not, but I don't care. They're basically free and I've read in the forums here that trees planted in the soil rather than transplanted are stronger, healthier. If they grow peaches I will use them. If they're not sweet enough, I'll can them or bake pies or freeze them for pies all winter or make jams and jellies.

I have a theory I want to test. What if we acquired mixed wild edibles seeds and plant them in random locations. See what grows in each area and let the wild plants take over that area. Free survival food for many AND you can tell how the soil in that area is (ph, deficiencies) based on what grows and doesn't grow.

If you want livestock of any kind, you need a lot of land for pasture. Or, like others have found, they eliminate livestock because food forests are more valuable on small acreages. You can still have chickens, ducks, goats, rabbits - but not cattle, bison, horses, etc.

 
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