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Finding Suitable Land in Oregon

 
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I have had my heart set in finding land in Oregon to build a self sustainable homestead . I am planning a trip to Oregon to look around and get to know the area. I was told that Oregon has very strict building codes. Is anybody here familiar with Oregon ? I was also told that in many places in Oregon, I would not have water rights. I guess that mean I can't collect the water that falls on my property and/ or can't use the water in my property as I want. What the heck! Where could I go in Oregon to have a few acres where I can build an off the grid home ,be allowed to have farm animals and keep water rights? I would appreciate any information you guys could give me. I will be flying to Jackson county next month to look around. But we are really waiting on my husband to sell his business so we can afford land.
 
Posts: 41
Location: Cascadia!! Sebastopol
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You can go off grid and have water rights if the govt has your building and rights permitted. If you wanna do it under the radar, They engage in satelite and fly over surveillance to look for un permitted buildings. Youll have to disguise your home majorly or go thru the permitting process. Oregon does not have riparian water rights so make sure you can hide your water usage or just buy land with the rights... im in the same boat..
 
pollinator
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Howdy Ana, welcome to permies!

I don't know how strict they are in Oregon, but I was looking at property in Jackson county at the Landwatch website and it looks like there are some really nice properties there.

You might have to talk to some local farmers when you get there and get the inside scoop.
 
pollinator
Posts: 190
Location: Washington State near lake tapps
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I know there was a big thing with water in the Klamath basin where there are farms. A drought and wildlife die off caused alot of water issue. Rain water catchment is outlawed alot of places. Like here in the Seattle area you can't collect more than 3000 gallons. So check local codes and laws, city, county, and state. A permit may be required for you to even camp on you own property. Most places require power, water, sewer, heat plus a inspection to make a house habitable. Failure could be fining up to condemning the building.

Check check v and check again

Thank you
 
pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: North Idaho
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I am myself from Oregon...    I have lived in Idaho most of my adult life though..

Water rights in Oregon, in Oregon as with actually something like 28 other states, all water belongs to the state.  To use water requires the purchase of a water right or depending on what you are doing it could be several water rights needed.  Water rights will often transfer with property ownership, something to always check into in Oregon.

It has been many years since I lived in Oregon but back when I was 18 and living on my last foster parents ranch "Willow Creek Ranch, at forests edge" outside of Monument Oregon my foster dad went to check into getting legal with water rights.  We had built many years earlier a spring box to catch water from one of five springs on the property and plumbed that feed to the house and livestock pens.  We also built a 15 acre pond with a 40 foot dam in a ravine below the house so that he could pump water from it onto a hay field and raise hay rather than buy it.

When Cliff went in to check into the cost of water rights they wanted him to buy like six water rights for a total of something like $6,000 or $7,000 dollars, in all fairness at that time we had 4 houses on the property using the water as well as the original house, though he was no longer using the pond to water hay anymore.  This was what, 29 years ago now, so things will have changed as far as price and what not, but still maybe helps one to understand the situation of water rights.

Another thing to watch in Oregon is the property tax, Oregon schools are operated from the property tax and the tax rates can be pretty high, don't just check what the current tax price is on a property, also check the history of tax rates and the increases, and the tax rates of other properties in the area and get a good idea of what the future holds for you tax wise.

From personal experience, if you find a property that takes your interest, do yourself a favor and go the local weed inspector and find if there are any known noxious weeds on the property or on surrounding properties.  If you get the county weed inspector to go out and look at the place even better,  if there are noxious weed problems you want to be aware of that before buying and calculate that into your purchase cost, can also be used to affect sale price of the land.  I bought 200 acres of land without being aware that the 150 acres of wheat land on it was infested with goat weed, the neighbors let me go the first year without mentioning anything and then came over said I could either lease them the 150 acres and they would control the weeds or they could turn me in to the county and the county would hire a contractor to come out and remove it all for around 20 grand and then charge that to my land taxes.  I went with allowing my neigbors to rape me for six years on land lease.  Live and learn....

Another thing to be aware of is that people in Oregon and in Idaho in the smaller rural communities tend to view newcomers as outsiders and it can take 10 years or more before they will accept you as a part of the community.  If you find a property, spend some time in the area getting to know the people and the community and get a feel of the people.  The last place I bought was a real hornets nest, I paid the full 201 k asking price, all the neighbors wanted the place but they only felt it was worth 150k and so were unwilling to buy it, figured they would wait it out until the price dropped.  They were furious when I bought it, and wasted no time in coming in person to tell me to my face that I had no business being there and that I needed to lease them out the land and not come back.....  period....  And the ten year battle began.....

Not trying to scare you, just warn about a few things so that hopefully you can avoid the experience..  

As for land, well, Central and Eastern Oregon have some pretty decent land prices and gorgeous areas to live in, it is a bit dry, high desert generally sees some decent cold and a reasonable amount of snow.  It can be a bit tougher gardening with the dryer desert climate and the late start to growing, at my last foster parents it was not uncommon to have snow on the 4th of July.

There are other ways to get land in Oregon as well as buying, one can lease land in many areas with a much lower overhead getting into it and the ability to get out of the land without a huge hassle.  One can also look for mining claims for sale, you can get into hundreds or even thousands of acres of land for a few tens of thousands buying old mining claims. If the mining claim idea interest you at all, do a search of the Pacific Northwest Mining Claims for sale and look through, you would be amazed at what is out there.

The further west you go in Oregon the higher the land prices go and the more people you have to compete with.  

If you like Oregon you may consider broadening your search to include north central Idaho and north Idaho as well, very similar climate but a bit wetter, better land tax rates, better timber tx rates ( 100% defferred tax until harvest if one chooses). I live in Latah county myself, it is like heaven here, IMO.   In Idaho one has the legal right to build a house with no inspections or codes as long as it is not for resale.

Good luck on your property search, I hope you find your dream somewhere out here....
 
gardener
Posts: 516
Location: Beavercreek, OR
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Oregon water rights are explained in a handy publication :http://www.oregon.gov/owrd/PUBS/docs/aquabook2013.pdf

Notably, you can collect rain water from impervious surfaces (paving, roofs). Curiously, its one permit to have a pond and another permit to use the water in the pond (unless you're watering livestock, hatching salmon or putting out fires).

Regulations for land use vary significantly between counties.  A current issue in many counties is preserving "the agricultural/forestry standards" - thus there are limits on converting existing timber lands into pretty much anything else, especially if you plan to build a house.  There are exceptions such as the Oregon Farm Use (http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/215.203), which in at least the counties where I am, classifies most farming as allowable in designated timber zones.  So you'll need to look carefully at county zoning codes.    And if you plan to seek a house-building exception, plan to sign a statement to the effect of "I understand I'm building a house in an agricultural production area.  Its TOTALLY my fault if I get run over by a timber truck while getting groceries, and I promise not to complain about the noise/smoke/smell generated by agricultural activities".

Also, there's a wine-boom going on in the McMinnville area.  If you might possibly some-day be able to grow grapes, its at least $15k an acre.  In the greater Portland area, extending down the Interstate 5 column through the Willamette valley all the way to Eugene, expect at least $5k an acre and far more if someone thinks its a spot for the next McMansion to be built.  But there's some amazing (and far less expensive) country in the far East near Idaho....
 
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Hi there,

I've recently become very interested in heading out to Oregon within the next couple years in order to start a homestead, and become as self sufficient as possible.  I read your reply to the person from several years back, and found it very helpful for myself as well.  I especially trust your opinion given the fact that you say you were originally from oregon.  However, what you said at the end of your reply has really gotten me to reconsider and start thinking of idaho.  Is it true that in the north/northwest idaho you are not under the thimb of the government when it comes to zoning and building codes as long as you aren't reselling?

Thanks
Brandon
 
gardener
Posts: 3615
Location: Southern Illinois
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Hi B,

Take what I am about to say with a grain of salt.  I don't live in the West, but I did a fair amount of research on irrigation for my master's research.  I can't comment about any housing codes in Idaho, but an issue throughout the west is getting access to water.  I am not certain where you are from right now, but east of the Rockies most people have what are called riparian rights.  Essentially, if a river or stream is flowing on your property, you can take a small amount and divert it to your house or garden so long as you don't stop or impair (and this is ambiguous) the stream and as long as the water is allowed to flow back into the stream.  Basically this works in areas with relatively high humidity and rainfall.

In the West, rainfall is low, evaporation is frightfully high and water is truly precious and the water rights are different.  There, one has the "right of first appropriation."  This dates back to the days that the Mormons first settled near present-day Salt Lake City.  Those early Mormon settlers dammed up streams and small rivers and moved the waterflow over mountain ranges completely outside the normal watershed of the dammed stream.  This made Salt Lake City green and lush and the surrounding fields and pastures were verdant.  Initially, there was enough water flow left over that the original streams continued mostly unhindered.  Later settlers saw these marvels of engineering, moved right upstream and made their own dams, depriving the Mormons of the resource they were first to utilize.  Understandably the Mormons cried foul and sued and the long-overdue court decision ended by declaring that he who tapped the water first had first access to it and could take as much a he needed.  The second person could take what was left over.  The third what was left from that.  And so on.

Today, in the arid West, all water rights are already owned.  Even if you buy a patch of ground that has a beautiful stream or even a river running through or alongside, you cannot touch that water without having first purchased the water rights which sometimes are a separate negotiation from the land right.  Strange as it may seem, without the water right, you can't even dip a 5-gallon bucket in the river or stick in a garden hose and pump out that tiny amount.  And it gets stranger.  If your water right is "low," meaning that your number is something like #1 or #2 etc., then you can basically pump water from the river till it runs dry.  But if you are last on the list, the moment the river starts to run low, you have to stop pumping.

Water is a big deal in the West in a way that is underappreciated in the East.  You may not technically have any building restrictions, but you will still have some sort of water restriction.  Maybe you will be in an area with well water that is exempt from the right of first appropriation.  But a LOT of people in the West chronically live with water storage and water conservation challenges.

B, I am not saying that you can't build in Idaho.  Obviously people do so and if this is where your heart is set then by all means go for it.  The thrust of this post is to demonstrate that the main issue might well be the water access and not building codes that block access.  Hopefully though this is something that you can overcome without great difficulty.

Good Luck!

Eric
 
pollinator
Posts: 1022
Location: Southern Oregon
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To a certain extent that is also true here in Oregon or at least in my county. Code enforcement is complaint driven within reason. If you are looking for a loan or to sell, anything unpermitted is ignored or discounted. Now, if you were to buy a property and start to heavily develop, like build apartments and rent them out, the authorities will be on you rapidly, but I doubt that's your intent. There is a lot of room to work around restrictions, and even if you get a complaint the authorities try to work with you to rectify the situation.

As far as water, you are allowed to irrigate with well water up to an acre for personal use, whether that means a lawn or a vegetable garden or whatever. If you are looking to sell produce, you cannot use well water. Animals fall into a different category as others have mentioned. We don't have irrigation rights on our property, but I don't expect it to be much of a problem. I water from the well the areas around the houses, they produce food as well as keep things green, good for fire safety. The plan is to only get animals that will do well with our land and plants. I have no intention of irrigating pasture for livestock.

Most people who don't have irrigation rights but want to grow more go one of two routes: rainwater collection or water trucks. Buying water in trucks is surprising reasonable if you are growing a profitable crop. If our solar is down, buying water is cheaper than running the generator to pump water from our well.
 
Eric Hanson
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Posts: 3615
Location: Southern Illinois
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Stacey,

Thanks for the feedback.  My information was intellectual and from research.  It is good to match this with the experiential knowledge you have from living in the arid environment.  Specifically, it is great to know that you can at least tap your own well water, even though there are still some restrictions.

So it sounds like you can build and if you have ground water, you can utilize that within reason.

Great information to know!

Eric
 
Stacy Witscher
pollinator
Posts: 1022
Location: Southern Oregon
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Just to add, I have found that purchasing land with at least some kind of house and/or infrastructure will likely be less hassle and often cheaper than raw land. The biggest thing that they fixate on is a septic system. You can buy a property with a marginal septic and just work around it, but if you have nothing, they will have questions. In many areas of Oregon, you can find bank owned properties with manufactured houses and septics for only a little more than raw land. But I would steer clear of anything in city limits.
 
gardener
Posts: 1907
Location: Cascades of Oregon
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I live in Deschutes County. Bend is a magnet right now the median home price for December was 500,000.00  Water right in western states is problematic, you can use well water for livestock and a household garden. Purchasing or leasing water rights can be prohibitive cost wise. Rain water harvesting is allowed but again for household/garden use. Greywater usage for subsurface irrigation is allowed. I live in the southern part of the county zone 3 northern part of the county is zone 5. I think taxes are high here, more affordable in adjacent Klamath or Lake Counties. Environment varies wildly prairie to the east,  high desert, PNW rain forest, so knowing what your looking for might give us a better idea of suggestions and current property prices.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1745
Location: RRV of da Nort
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For what it may be worth, some data (a bit outdated unfortunately) on net migration patterns for counties in the U.S., including the region under discussion (below).  It does include the mentioned explosion in the Bend area of Oregon.  Although gardening may be a bit of a challenge in the eastern part of Oregon (along a line from Hermiston to Ontario), the map predicts lower density in those areas.  Can't speak to water availability or cost of living in those counties, but they sure are pretty.  You may also wish to look up USGS data on ground water and water tables, although I don't know the laws on access to below ground water in western states.  Migration map from here>>>  https://netmigration.wisc.edu/
CountyMigrationMap.JPG
[Thumbnail for CountyMigrationMap.JPG]
 
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I haven't looked at all the codes, but the high plateau areas of Klamath County are stunningly beautiful and very remote. Hardly anyone living up there to poke around in your business.
 
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