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Calling all landowners and permaculture designers: what to look for when purchasing land?  RSS feed

 
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Hey All-

Incredible forum here, I've been learning from it here and there for months now. I'd like to draw on the well of knowledge here to learn more about the most pressing issue at my stage of homestead development: buying land. I live in Northern California, where I'll soon be scouring the most rural parts for the right property to begin a sustainable homestead. I have a few qualities in mind that I'll be looking for, but no doubt those of you who are currently living off the land have discovered less obvious aspects of your land that are critical, or perhaps should be avoided. Here I'll list what I'm consciously looking for, and would love to have others add to the list!

1) Water access has got to be the most critical thing. I plan to raise a small herd of goats, as well as chickens, rabbits, and perhaps a pig or two. Not to mention an irrigated garden and orchards (perhaps I can choose the right species to dry farm, but at any rate I'll need plenty of water). Ideally this would be a year round running stream, though a good well drawing from a reasonably well protected aquifer would do as well. On the North Coast, rainfall is currently plentiful, and in some areas perhaps good catchment systems would provide me with enough water year round.

2) Low Property Taxes: I've never bought anything significant in my life, so these are uncharted waters for me. From what I understand, the amount of money I'll have to come up with every year will be a function of the initial sale price, and the particular laws of the county I'm living in? At any rate, I hope this will be one of my few fixed payments to make each year.

3) Weather: Seems a no brainer. I've got to be able to grow what I want to grow, and the animals I want to raise ought to survive in the climate I'm buying in. Most coastal parts of NorCal are awfully mild in the winter (rarely below freezing at night), and get good long, warm summers. I'll want to check out average sunlight hours in the area. Before considering buying in an alpine climate, I'd have to learn more about what crops thrive there.

4) Water/Mineral Rights: From what I understand, some properties are sold while the rights to water, minerals, etc. belong to someone else. This can mean some folks showing up to your homestead years later with the legal right to mine the hell out of your property.

5) Check out the Neighbors Ideally, I think I'm looking for a property bordered by BLM land. These federal lands seem to be fairly untouched for a long time now, as good a bet as any land to remain undeveloped. A wealthy, city-dwelling neighbor who is currently constructing a 50,000 square ft mansion next door would not be such a great sign. In a perfect world, the neighbors are permaculture-loving hippies who are growing all the crops I love but don't have time to grow.

6) Test the Soil Find out the basic composition of the soil, pH, etc. Check out what plants are natively growing on the property. Is the soil currently suitable for the crops you want to grow, or will it need to be remedied?

7) Existing woodland: I'll definitely be looking to construct dwellings on the property from local materials. This will almost certainly require local timber, so some trees on the property is a big plus. Not to mention the wildlife habitat they provide.

Wildlife: In a rural place, a lack of wildlife would be a red flag for me. If I'm looking to tweak an existing ecosystem to serve my needs, there needs to be an already strong, healthy ecosystem in the first place. If there aren't plenty of critters already patrolling the place in the spring and summer, I'd shy away from that given property.

9) Local Building Codes: As a future owner builder, the local laws will affect me greatly, so I'll need to know them before settling in anywhere. So far, it seems like Mendocino County has by far the most liberal laws on building. If you live on the property you own for more than 5 years, you are free to construct any "natural" dwelling, meaning made primarily from materials harvested from local lands, without ever applying for a building permit. Yep that's right, no need to even tell anyone you're building, and it's legal. This law was passed with homesteading hippies in mind. Other counties would be varying degrees of less lenient when it comes to alternative building methods.

10) Local Livestock Slaughter Laws: I've heard that some counties do not allow home processing of livestock? This would be an automatic disqualifier for me, as I'll insist on killing and processing my animals, they won't be sent off property to be handled by anyone else.

11) Potential for Energy Production: Does the site offer renewable energy that could be harnessed? This is partly why I want a year round stream, though I'm open to solar panels and/or a wind turbine, provided there is consistent sunshine and/or winds.

Well, that's my list so far. Before I really begin the land search, I'd like to get a more comprehensive list together of things to consider. If anyone has been living on a property for a couple of decades regretting that little thing they overlooked at purchase time, fire away. Or if there's that little thing you did consider, and you're thrilled about it, let's hear it. Or if you're just setting out like me, and have got some bright ideas I've missed, have at it. I hope this one catches on!
 
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Howdy Gaston, welcome to permies.
Looks like a pretty good list. I think geoff lawton has a video that covers some of his thoughts. Should be able to get to it here.

http://www.geofflawton.com/sq/25498-5-acre-abundance-on-a-budget

Geoff also shows how to swale and pond up lots of water so a parcel without water can become one with water.

If you find a piece of land and want to see the tax and ownership records you can go the the online county assessors page. They usually have an interactive map that will show you all of that.

Your comment about mineral rights is a good one but be aware that being next to BLM land is no sign that the BLM mineral rights will not be sold at some point and you could have a neighbor you do not want next door on BLM land.

Be sure you have deeded access to the property also.
 
Gaston Guibert
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Hey Mike, thanks for the additions. Deeded access to the property is HUGE, great call. Loved Geoff Lawton's video, I hadn't considered the possibility of creating waterways on the property, that really opens up the board, making more properties homesteadable. In the past couple of days since watching his video, I've been looking at most hillsides totally differently, trying to find the ridges and gullies. If only there were some urban planners with permaculture experience, my city could be full of productive swales! I like your warnings re: BLM land as well, I suppose the ideal neighbor would be a private owner with similar values and no intent to sell to developers then?
 
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Location: Virginia
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How important is deeded access to the property? I'm considering a piece of property that doesn't have a written easement guaranteeing access to the land, but the realtor swears that the easement would hold in court despite the lack of a written agreement. This has held up others who have wished to purchase the property through the bank, 'cause the bank has refused to grant a mortgage to a piece of land that doesn't have a written easement allowing access. The problem, in this case, is that the old codger (a.k.a. kind gentleman ...) who owns the access to the land doesn't believe in written access guarantees, but is willing to verbally promise it.

Any thoughts?

Thanks!
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
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I have heard of court cases where the judge ruled in favor of existing roads and even trails that didn't have an official recorded easement. But can you afford going to court?
I think it may also depend on where the land is. In western states I have heard that the BLM has to give you access if your land is surrounded by theirs.
I think I would still want to look at past cases and see what kind of rulings had been made .
Dan, what happens when the old guy crosses over and the new owner puts up a fence?
 
Dan Cruickshank
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Location: Virginia
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Miles,

Good points. Admittedly, I am very naive on these topics.

Can I afford going to court? Perhaps this must be budgeted and added into the total cost of ownership for the property. I really like the property, though, it seems to have everything I want at a very reasonable and affordable price.

Dan
 
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Location: Missoula, Montana
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"How important is deeded access to the property?"

You MUST have legal deeded access on paper, to the satisfaction of a good attorney, and title insurance people. We have 20 acres in a remote subdivided ranch in MT and the local experts advised us to get hard copies of the records, dating back to the subdivision of the ranch. These days there are so many out-of-state immigrants desiring to live free and privately that they block roads/easements through their property. One evening last winter a local fellow on a snowmobile killed himself running at high speed into a cable across an easement road. Serious business. Also we naively bought our property 10+ years ago with an unknown party owning half the mineral rights, which according to the realtor is common practice. It never stops bugging me. Realtors just want the sale. So far no minerals out there, but IMO we should sell.

Regards
Kathy J.
 
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I would also add wild edibles to that list. I hadn't considered it when I bought my property, but I have come to really enjoy my effortless blackberries, acorns, walnuts, pine nuts, plums, figs, and mint!

Additionally, I would also add proximity to civilization. While I prefer not to be too close to civilization, I believe that there are many benefits to being within a 15 to 30 minute drive (medical attention, shopping, markets to sell at...).

 
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