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Tips for driving around looking for property

 
pollinator
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I’m looking for tips on how to drive around looking for property. I imagine it’s better to have a plan than drive around aimlessly. I know narrowing down the search region is probably the first step.

One strategy I keep hearing about to find property is driving around, taking note of places that look abandoned, tracking down the owner via OnX or tax records, and making an offer.

Has anyone done this?
What do you look for?
What do you say?

Bushradical just made a video on this where he gave some tips(like if there are no tire tracks on the property, for example), but I still feel like if I did this I would be wasting my time. I think I’d either find nothing, or maybe pick some places that were actually still occupied by some meth head(although meth heads probably leave a lot of tire tracks, not the best example).


On a broader note, I’ve also seen posts on permies from people who drove around and found ‘for sale’ signs on properties that weren’t listed online. So any suggestions for that are also welcome.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe all there is to it driving around.
 
steward
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1. In the video you've posted, it sounds as if the fellow knows a fair bit about evaluating buildings and land. How much experience do you feel you have? Have you read books about practical renovation and architecture?
2. Have you considered what areas you'd like or need to live in?  Is it practical to use a bunch of gas to be driving for hours, or can you narrow down your search?
3. Do you have friends/coworkers/teammates/neighbors who you could quiz about locations or elderly relatives that need to move closer to town?
4. Can you read a topo map? Can you read a soil map? Have you researched the potential effects of weather weirding that could result in floods, windstorms, droughts etc that could turn what currently seems like a great piece of land into a lake?
5. Once you've narrowed down an area, try to identify what may have been in an area - personally, I don't want to live downwind or downslope of a feedlot or oversized chicken barn. Fracking is a big issue as it can contaminate groundwater. Any sort of old industry could be a source of contamination or noise. Some of these problems can be resolved with buffer zones or swales that redirect water flow, but in the short term, they may justify a lower price for the land,
6. Access is also critical. Quality roads can be a huge expense.

The answers to these questions may help you figure out where to start. For example, look in the paper for "open houses" and start attending as many as you can, just to look at a wide variety of houses and try to figure out what constitutes "good bones" vs "flashy consumerism".  Some things are easy for a "do it yourself" upgrade, but other problems could require expensive outside help.

Also be serious about your budget. A "cheap" piece of land with major issues that you don't have the money to upgrade, may not be as good a deal as a slightly more expense piece of land which you can make livable within your budget. If you're going to have to keep working at an off-property job, the extra money you spend getting a place closer to work will save you money and time that will balance the larger mortgage. There is no "right" answer either - but I'd want to make a budget that included these sorts of issues. My husband was transferred to our current location from out of province. We had one week to find and close a deal. Luckily, I'd done a lot of research on housing/architecture before we'd married, and my parents were always upfront about that sort of decision making. We had two children that were 5 and 2 when we moved and we chose a house that was a bit marginal, but was biking distance from all the schools, 5 km from the nearest grocery store, and the Public Library was even closer. When I look at how much time and money some families had to spend just driving kids to and from school, it made up for many of the other issues.
 
Kevin David
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Jay Angler wrote:1. In the video you've posted, it sounds as if the fellow knows a fair bit about evaluating buildings and land. How much experience do you feel you have? Have you read books about practical renovation and architecture?
2. Have you considered what areas you'd like or need to live in?  Is it practical to use a bunch of gas to be driving for hours, or can you narrow down your search?
3. Do you have friends/coworkers/teammates/neighbors who you could quiz about locations or elderly relatives that need to move closer to town?
4. Can you read a topo map? Can you read a soil map? Have you researched the potential effects of weather weirding that could result in floods, windstorms, droughts etc that could turn what currently seems like a great piece of land into a lake?
5. Once you've narrowed down an area, try to identify what may have been in an area - personally, I don't want to live downwind or downslope of a feedlot or oversized chicken barn. Fracking is a big issue as it can contaminate groundwater. Any sort of old industry could be a source of contamination or noise. Some of these problems can be resolved with buffer zones or swales that redirect water flow, but in the short term, they may justify a lower price for the land,
6. Access is also critical. Quality roads can be a huge expense.



Lots of great advice in there. Thank you for that. To be clear, my question is specifically about this method of driving around. Like signs that would indicate the owner may be willing to sell. And also, what might not be an indicator even though it might seem like it. Also, how to have that conversation. Feels awkward to me. That said, I don’t want to deter anyone from adding useful information based on what you’ve said and my responses.

I’m not looking for land with a house(edit: I’m not looking to renovate a house. I’m looking for signs a property has been abandoned, whether it’s a dilapidated house, or some other structure showing neglect, or some other indicator I can’t think of which suggests the property isn’t being used anymore). I only posted the video because the property wasn’t listed and he mentioned a bit about how to find unlisted property that the owner may wish to part with. I have read books on building, not renovating. I plan to build the simplest cordwood house that meets code…after building a decent “temporary shelter”, as the regulations call it.

The gas thing is a good point. Not just gas, also where to stay. Where I’m looking is hours from where I’m living. I have considered renting a place in the area and getting to know people who may be aware of property I could make an offer on. I got that idea from a Permaculture Voices lecture on how to find land. However, even if I drive up to look at some properties I found online, I might as well drive around a bit while I’m up there, right? Maybe I’ll talk to some locals and tell them what I’m looking for.
 
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I have never done what you are suggesting, but as a landowner I have been on the other side of things. I can tell you this, you should not feel awkward about approaching a landowner because it happens quite a bit.

I have several houses at the moment, and one was from my late-grandmother. I lived in it with my own family for a year, but chose to move back to a much bigger home, so not impossible to fix up and live in again if a person really wanted too. Either way, I have been approached four times about someone buying or renting it even though it is not up for sale, listed, or even has a for sale sign on it. They just stop in and inquire.

But I am not dumb either. I know it's worth, which is not really much. Houses have value, but land has not really gone up in price. This place, a distressed home, but with well, power, septic system on 30 acres is only worth $87,000. It comes down to liability, while there are no building codes where I live, a landowner still cannot sell a distressed house as a livable house, so it is not considered as part of the fiscal valuation.

And I think I am pretty typical. I am not offended when someone asks because then I know their motivations. When they run up to the windows and look inside, then it makes you wonder if they are looking for stuff to steal, or if they are looking for a place to squat, but to say, "oh, we were just looking for a distressed home to buy". that puts me at ease because I know the reason for the interest.
 
master steward
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Kevin said, " To be clear, my question is specifically about this method of driving around. Like signs that would indicate the owner may be willing to sell.



I don't know about signs that the owner would be willing to sell.

I have bought and sold several properties.  One year we did something similar looking for lake properties.

Some folks have a job where they are on the road all day.  This method would be great for them.

I like the advice that you were given by Jay.
 
steward
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My suggestion is to use the internet and look at google aerial maps at areas where you may want to drive around. It's possible you may see something that would be a deal breaker such as some industry that you may not want to live in proximity to, as an example. It may also result in burning less gas if you're able to omit areas that you deem unsuitable for your desires.

My wife and I searched for property on the internet when we were looking 6 years ago, and I eliminated a lot of driving by looking at aerial photos of the area. One I remember specifically was a nice looking plot of land and a pretty nice house on it, all in our budget. It looked good on the real-estate site, so I looked up the address and checked out the aerial photos to discover that nice property was next door to the county fairgrounds and adjacent to the circle dirt track. It no longer met our desires and saved us a lot of driving.

Another suggestion I'd like to offer is if you find an area or a property be it by internet or driving around, contact a local agent and ask if they know of anything not actively listed. I discovered this when my brother was looking for some rural land and I went with him one day, and the agent who had lived in the area his entire life knew of properties that were "loosely" for sale, such as inherited property from a deceased person that was sitting vacant but not actively listed.

 
pollinator
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Here in Australia I would not welcome people coming in and asking about buying.
I have never heard of it here either.
But reading this I think James had a good solution.
Possible actions
There are topics on the site that discussing creating a list of wants, needs, deal breakers and must haves.
Since I still race motorcycles and circle track next door sounds great!!

In Australia the local Hotels are a great place of welcome and chat.
I am confident if I walked in, met a few and said upfront what I was really there and looking for I may find something.
 
steward
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When we were looking, we were doing so from a different state - casually driving around was simply not an option. So, our first step was to create a few lists: deal makers, deal breakers, and preferred bonuses. We also weren't 100% sure where we wanted to go, so we also created a list of legal, climate, political, cost of living, & medical availability deal makers, breakers, and bonuses, so help us narrow down the state. The best thing about that, is the state level stuff is all available(&surprisingly accurate) online.

Once we choose our state (Missouri), and rough area (somewhere around the Lake of the Ozarks), I hit Zillow, and we found a property we felt was worth checking out. Shortly, a local realtor contacted us, and we ditched zillion like a hot potato, because this guy - unlike a national lister - really knew the area, including listings that hadn't made it to the public, yet, as well as some that the sellers had simply given up on. So, we handed the search over to him, along with our super picky lists. Two weeks later, he had a lineup for us, we came down on a Thursday, to look on Friday - putting in a ridiculous low bid late Friday evening, and went home early, on Saturday. On the way home, he called, and our first bid was accepted. Two weeks later, we closed.

We had a wide range of 'if this, then that' variables he could pull from, including 'raw land works, if', 'a crappy house works, if', 'a great house works, if', along with our total budget, including house, land, possible construction, so he was able to weigh it all out, and REALLY narrow it down, for us - and brought us in at about $100K below our max 'nuttin' but Ramen on the menu for the next decade' numbers. All that to say, don't necessarily rule out talking to the realtors - obviously, your mileage may vary...

One other tidbit of advice I'd offer: many land owners, like Steve, are cool with folks coming onto the property, if you talk to them - many others will greet you with deadly force. If gates are locked, no trespassing signs are up, guard dog warnings are posted, etc, heed them well. Drones, which I know many are now using to keep an eye on their own land, may or may not be ok, even with folks who'd otherwise happily drop everything and give you an impromptu tour. I'd not advise attempting that, without permission.
 
gardener
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Jay Angler wrote:Can you read a soil map?


No.  How do you do that?  And more importantly, where do you get one?
 
K Eilander
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An idea I've been toying with... what about taking out local want-ads?

"ISO land. Individual looking for 5-10 acres for organic farming, absolutely must have x,y,z. Send pics to some_temp_email@gmail.com"

I'm sure you'd still get some number of pushy realtors (hence using a burner email), but do you think it would uncover leads beyond the zillow search?
 
Jay Angler
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K Eilander wrote:

Jay Angler wrote:Can you read a soil map?

No.  How do you do that?  And more importantly, where do you get one?


We've owned our current land for 30 years, and I've learned a lot in that time! I learned about the "concept" of soil maps, from a friend in the construction business, and about the need to pay attention to such things as a potential land buyer from reading about some properties on the Mainland that were condemned when sufficient attention wasn't paid to the issues that soil maps could have clearly identified or at least hinted at.

They may also be called "soil surveys". This article will give you one take one it:
https://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/soil/soil-survey/importance-of-soil-survey-mb.html#

Part of the premise of permaculture is that one should be able to take "marginal" land and make it productive by giving Mother Nature a hand up. However, some soils are easier to do that with than others. A part of our land has significantly disturbed soil which is heavy in clay and compacted. A Soil Map wouldn't have helped much because "man" not "geology" did that! However, my solution has been to build 30" high "hugel raised beds" where I want to be able to grow annuals and be as generous as possible with wood chips where I can between the beds and around that area in an effort to help the land heal.

If more of us feel we don't know enough about the concept, I will try to make a note to self to start a thread on it? Are people interested?
 
pollinator
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We've had written offers to buy come in the mail several times, both here and at our last property.  In the case of my last property, the next-door neighbor had already told me he'd like to buy the place if we decided to move, so I didn't even have to look for a buyer.  I suspect these offers that I've gotten in the mail would be low-ball -- they came from some of those internet land companies that always have lists of cheap land for sale.  But you could certainly drive around, and when you see something that looks promising, go to the county offices and look up the owners, then send them a letter of interest.  Eventually you are likely to get a positive response.  I would say, know what land in your area is going for and don't try to low-ball them; that's insulting and offensive (not to say, underhanded).  You are more likely to get a positive response if you make a reasonable offer.  Our next-door neighbor has twenty-five acres, and my nephew has talked to him about possibly buying a few acres to build a small house on, with a positive response (the neighbor is in his seventies or eighties, and doesn't think his heirs will be interested in the property).  So it's quite likely to work.
 
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Everything is on the internet now my dude.  You probably want to search county and city records, if you are looking at unlisted properties on real estate types websites.
 
master pollinator
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Jay wrote: If more of us feel we don't know enough about the concept, I will try to make a note to self to start a thread on it? Are people interested?



Yes! Yes please.
 
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I’ve done this in the ‘90s. The thing is that you target neighborhoods of interest to you. We had the internet at that point but it’s become much more advanced now. If you have criteria other than neighborhoods I think Zillow is a much better tool.

Edit: Saw your clarification in the 3rd post. I think there’s a way to find property that’s behind on taxes and write a letter of offer.
 
Steve Zoma
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You can always check with the Zillow "Make Me Move" site and see what landowners are on there.

Basically landowners do not have their places actively listed, but if you really want a location or area, it tells who is approachable. Its just not going to be the cheapest option.

 
K Eilander
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Steve Zoma wrote:You can always check with the Zillow "Make Me Move" site and see what landowners are on there.



Went straight over there after reading this.  Unfortunately, it looks like they have discontinued that feature :_(
https://www.zillow.com/make-me-move/
 
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I did this in Saskatchewan 16 years ago, and the technology is better now.  I was not functioning very well, either, being in shock from needing to move.  However, FWIW, I first attended a music festival, where I met a bookseller at his booth who later provided office facilities for my search.  Then I looked up my one local friend for some general advice on provincial customs, etc.  Then I drove around rather aimlessly for a month, only avoiding areas with oil rigs.  I really should have had a GPS recorder on my camera, and drawn a line on my map each evening.  I should also have talked to a lot more people.  I found one very small house with a lake view for very cheap, but the land was very flat, and the nearest store was miles away, but over a dozen unknown neighbours were close.  It had a For Sale sign on it, easy to notice when cruising a tiny, dying town.
Then, I noticed that all the artists were in the Thickwood Hills, and having a studio tour.  I took advantage of that to see one guy's underground house, and found a kindred spirit.  I camped there for another month, looking locally and checking out his contacts.  Driving around, I made a list of six places of interest, and then the fun began.  Places that had been for sale for years suddenly sold.  There was one real gem that I dropped because the neighbour's best friend wanted it, and had not heard it had come available because his dad hid the messages.  As it turned out, none of the people I thought might join me there would have, so it would have been lonely.  
Then, through a long series of coincidences, I heard about a bargain house in a small town with stores, and decided to try it out for the coming winter, at least.  I'm still there, still looking at off-grid options, and still hearing about lots of places I'd never have found from a car.  If I were young and inclined to do it again, I'd seriously consider going by bicycle, to do a finer-grained search and meet more people.  Google maps are also a tremendous boon for finding trees and water.  
 
Kevin David
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James Freyr wrote:My suggestion is to use the internet and look at google aerial maps at areas where you may want to drive around. It's possible you may see something that would be a deal breaker such as some industry that you may not want to live in proximity to, as an example. It may also result in burning less gas if you're able to omit areas that you deem unsuitable for your.


Thank you! I have OnX. I already use it too look up properties I find online, why not use it to plan a route? I knew I was overlooking something. OnX is great because you can see who owns everything. I can see where all the state forestland is and plan a route around the edges of the forestland since I’d really like property that borders public forests.

I’ve also decided to search in one additional region which is closer and drivable for a day trip. So the gas/time management thing isn’t as big of an issue, especially since I already want to go there to check out one property.

An idea I've been toying with... what about taking out local want-ads?

"ISO land. Individual looking for 5-10 acres for organic farming, absolutely must have x,y,z. Send pics to some_temp_email@gmail.com"


Interesting idea, I’ll consider it

Saw your clarification in the 3rd post. I think there’s a way to find property that’s behind on taxes and write a letter of offer.



Yes,, I’ve heard about this method. I suppose I could make a list of places with back taxes in the region. Use OnX to narrow it down. Then do some driving. If any place still looks good, write a letter.

Lots of valuable perspectives. Thanks to all who took the time to tell their story. Oh, and Jay, I’m with the others who would like you to post more on soil maps.
 
pollinator
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I would check in social network (e.g Facebook) Marketplaces first.

People who post there want to sell fast and save a coin for real estate brokers.
Many advertisers they haven't got the cash to involve 3rd parties or the land is overgrown/unmaintained.

There are always some bargains to find.
 
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There are some good ideas here. I especially like Jay's thoughtful reply of his experience. We considered buying land in an area that we liked & then realized after permits for septic, and paying for & installing electricity, with whatever method we chose, by applying & waiting on permits to build & hire licensed electricians & plumbers to meet codes, not even to mention having to pay rent for years to complete all this, we were way ahead timewise & financially to buy what we could afford that was move-in ready for us. If we stayed where we were living, we also had the extra time & expense of travel back n forth which just didn't pay off. I hope your idea works out for you, but we just didn't want to take the time to wait & extra expense.
 
gardener
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one thing I noticed for myself is if I can "drive around" and see it, it is not for me.

I wanted land away from roads, not visible to passers by.  

I am old, so I used the colorful paper drawings they call "maps"

I would look for patches of the private land surrounded by protected land.  Then look all around the edge for a creek coming out of the mountains.
 
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Soil extension office would have soil maps and someone that can read them. This is critical to find depth of soil (before rock) for foundation plans like basement. Also, soils are critical to find if there is any grey clay in the area. Grey clay absorbs water, swells and shrinks and is killer on foundations. If there is any evidence of grey clay, the best insurance is to plan on doubling your footer. So if standards call for 18"x 24", make it 36" x 48" (I am not kidding).

Search for tax records:  search internet based on your county name and GIS. There should be a link for Parcel Viewer (ISV). This is typically a free viewer to look at tax records. You can go to the map and find the location or enter a owners last name many times names are common so you have to sort it out with the map.
 
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I find a great little house driving around just like you are and seen a door ajar open to it what looked to be at a vacant property I called the neighbor up and he knew who the owner was and I contact him and told him the door was open I in fact I’m a handyman and offered to fix it for him. He came over probably paid me for my service and I mentioned that I was looking for a house and he informed me that his mother had died in this house and he was interested in selling it as is. I wound up buying the house for $35,000 and later three years or so I sold it for 55,000 with no improvements other than occupying it cleaning up and living in it.
Keep doing just what you’re doing look for empty houses look for vacant properties unkept and ask the neighbors about the house don’t be afraid to stop and talk to the locals they can tell you who owns the house and the skinny on the house most of the time. This leaves out a realtor of any kind if you get lucky like I did and found an empty house also put the word out to your friends to keep their eyes open for properties that are coming up for sale recently to came up for sale on the road that I live on now but both are out of my price range and are much nicer house than I would like to rent to anyone so I’m not in the rental business. I am now looking for investment property only no house I intend to build a small house or a tiny house on the next piece of dirt and sell it.
 
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