Apples To Apples? Not! Searching For Off Grid Property

Our hunt for land started this week.  Our dream of off grid homesteading is moving toward a reality.  It’s been interesting, exciting, and scary!  It has also been very educational.  We have been learning about water rights, mineral rights, easements, and road access.


A couple of things have already been key in this endeavor.  For one, having a realtor that understands off grid living makes complete sense.  Sure, there may be other realtors who can show you raw land and this will probably give you more properties to consider.  You might think that this will lead you to doing more due diligence but in my opinion, you are also opening yourself up to risk with that approach.  A realtor who is not experienced with off grid properties will probably not have the knowledge or contacts with the knowledge that can help you figure things out.


And there will be a lot to figure out!  Off grid properties all come with issues and understanding those issues will help you choose a property that you can live with.  There is no such thing as a perfect property in off grid living (or even when house hunting in the city).  Some of the things that we have had to consider this week are as follows:


  • Rules for building on your land vary from county to county. Permits and building requirements can impact your bottom line for what you want to spend on a property.  For example, some counties will allow you to have an outhouse and at the point that you have a house built, use a compost toilet, too.  Other counties will require a septic system, which could be $4,000 or more to install.
  • Bigger is not always better. A bigger property may have a longer drive to get to your building site (where your home will sit).  We have seen how a six-mile dirt road will add 20 minutes to my work commute, whereas you might have assumed that the six-mile dirt road would just be six minutes.  Our Montana Benchmark Road & Recreation Atlas has been helping us to really understand the lay of the land.  We have the Idaho Benchmark Road & Recreation Atlas, too, since we are also considering Idaho for homesteading.  We love these atlases because the amount of detail on terrain and all the back roads the atlases capture.  GPS cannot compare to the detail, not to mention, when you are in such rural areas, you cannot always count on 4G to get you there.
  • Speaking of roads, when you get into rural areas you may have to deal with an easement to allow a neighbor access to their property. In our case, the potential neighbor is seasonal so that seems like a good thing, but what if the easement gets to a point where it needs repair and the seasonal neighbor does not want to chip in on the expense?  Can you handle the financial impact for the need this situation will create as there may not be a written agreement for maintenance of the shared easement?
  • A bigger property might only give you a small buildable plot, too. Sometimes that’s just the way it works out.  And is that plot going to allow you to build your home to be south-facing?  Being south-facing is very important to us since we will be living where winters are long and cold.  Not to mention, we need a good spot for solar panels and a windmill.
  • What is the financial impact of building two houses on a property? Is it even legal?  Should we consider a community-style, shared house?  This is probably worth an entire blog post on its own (maybe even a mini-series of posts).  I mean, there will be a lot of benefits to this and things we each like about this idea, but man – two families in one house? And two dogs.  And a cat!  But still – it is something we are considering.
  • How close or far should we be from town? Miles do not equate to a standard driving time when you are driving through extremely rural and mountainous areas.  We want to feel that sense of living on the edge of the world but in reality, we need resources; I want to drive into town for work; and we all want to sell goods and produce at arts and farmers markets.  And what about when the boys grow up?  If they don’t want to live on the homestead, will we be close enough to a city that will give them the choices that they will want?  This is all hard to balance when considering the right amount of distance from town.
  • Finding a property with an abundance of water from a stream or creek is on the top of our priority list. But does the property give us water rights?  Natural resources are interesting because the mere fact that the natural resource is on your property may or may not make it your resource.  Along the line of questions about water, we also need to understand how many gallons per minute does a spring produce and how does that vary throughout the year, especially when you get into the hotter months?  Is a cistern enough or will you need a well, which is maybe $7,000 more toward the bottom line you want to spend on your property?  Starry Hilder is one of my favorite homesteaders (I have a list of favorite homesteaders, though). If you’re not following her on YouTube, you need to be! She is so right when she calls water “liquid gold.”  It is the one resource that we do not want to compromise on when purchasing our land.


We have seen properties listed from less than $500 an acre to over $5,000 an acre and the quantity of acres varied greatly, too.  This really has not been an apples to apples comparison.  You would think that land hunting would be simpler than house hunting because it’s perceived as a blank canvas and you can build your homestead however you want to build it.  But this is not the case at all.  I think it’s been more complex to search for land than it ever was to house hunt.  Two days ago, we felt confident that we should go with one particular property and now we are back to considering each of the properties again and looking for additional properties to walk.  There is so much to think about and we really need to take our time but then again, in the game of realty, you can’t take too much time to think about things.


We’d love to hear about your experience in hunting for land.  Feel free to leave a comment below!



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