When you search for rural land you’ll find all sorts of places that look promising. But how do you know if you’ve found your dream property? Today, I’ll share what we’ve learned and cover the 23 questions you should answer before buying that rural property.
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So, Liz and I have bought rural property twice now. It’s both an exciting and exhausting time.
Before you plunk down that deposit on the first rural property that screams your name, consider this: you are planning to make a move there for life. A new life, a better life and, perhaps, not only the rest of your life but a homestead that future generations will cherish. So, yeah, it’s appropriate to take time and weigh the decision against criteria that are important to you and your family.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of 23 important questions you should ask and answer when looking for rural property. But, really, these 23 questions are more like 23 categories. As you’ll hear, each question…or category…has many sub-questions, so it’s way more than 23 questions.
So, having said that, let’s get going on our list of 23 questions to ask when looking for rural property.
1. How much land do you really need?
This gets to the issue of land lust, as we all seem to want more land and more privacy. But the question you’ll need to answer is how much land do you actually need to achieve your goals or dream?
I mean, if you simply want to have a garden and some chickens you can certainly homestead on less than an acre. Many people do.
But what if you want livestock, such as cows and horses? How about orchards? Do you want to be able to hunt on your own land…do you want a lake or pond for recreation and fishing?
The risk here is that you, like us, will say…yeah, I want all that, and more.
But of course, all that comes at a cost, both financially and in terms of upkeep.
So you have to be clear on your goals because keeping chickens and rabbits require very little land, sheep and goats require a little more and cows require, at a minimum, one or two acres of dedicated pasture each… and that is IF you are in good pasture/rainfall areas typical of the eastern United States.
In much of the western parts of the U.S. more land is usually required, often much more.
And if you are thinking about having horses, get far more rural property—10 acres per horse (in the east) in addition to your house, driveway, garden, etc.
Okay, moving on.
Question # 2. Can you COMFORTABLY afford the land?
Only you know how much you can afford for the home and land. Can you purchase your rural property and be debt-free? You’ve heard me talk about this before so you know I think this is a really important milestone to achieve.
But, if you’re not there yet, can you comfortably afford the down payment with plenty of financial reserves left over to deal with the unexpected?
And I mean plenty because there’s always a need for money out here.
For instance, how much will any improvements to the land or buildings cost?
Then there’s the cost for livestock, trees and garden beds and so on.
So make sure your purchase leaves you with financial reserves.
# 3. How is the water?
Does the land have excellent water? (I encourage you to make this a very high priority.) Does the water come from a natural spring or has a well been drilled?
If it is a spring, is it located above the elevation of the house and garden so you can use gravity for water distribution? If the water is from a well, how many gallons per minute does it produce AND what is the static water depth?
For example, on our last farm, we had two wells, each 300 feet deep that produced over 45 gallons per minute, but the static water depth is less than 40 feet.
On my current homestead, we only have one well that produces about 5 gallons per minute, but that’s plenty. Besides, we have lots of springs and small streams on this property, and we just put in a one-acre pond.
Also, have you tested the water quality? Most likely it will be hard water. I’m sure your test results will show it’s fine to drink, but you’ll be wondering why your dishes come out foggy and dusty looking.
So here’s a hint…add a small amount of citric acid along with the detergent when you run your dishwater, and your dishes will look fine.
But back to water.
If it is raw land have you received an estimate for the cost of drilling a well?
If you’re going to farm you can offset the cost of the well with an EQIP grant…I covered those in episode 22 of SSL. Otherwise it will set you back at least $5-$10K.
And if you don’t have a well but need one, check the well depths and flow rates for your closest neighbors first so you can have confidence that your well will perform as needed.
Finally, as it relates to water, if you plan on raising livestock, how will you get water to them?
#4 Is there good potential for alternative energy?
Many homesteaders share the dream of completely off-grid, but that is not possible if the land is not conducive to energy production.
If you are considering solar energy, does the land have excellent sun exposure or is it surrounded by dense woods?
If you are considering wind or hydro-power, is the land suitable for that?
Is there a woodlot so you can cut your own firewood if you plan to heat with wood? And is it the right kind of wood?
Elm and Ash burn fine but they burn fast and doesn’t put out nearly the BTU’s as oak or hickory. All wood species aren’t the same, so find out what you have.
If you don’t know, you can get the forestry department to come out and walk the land for you, for free. That’s what we did.
#5 Do you have a good understanding of the local weather?
How much rain per year does the area receive? More importantly, how frequently does the rain come?
Now, this issue of frequency is a big deal. Here’s why…on our previous property in Georgia, we averaged over 50 inches of rain per year.
Sounds nice, right? Yet we often went through the hottest parts of summer and received only one to two inches during a three-month period.
That created a lot of stress on our livestock and gardens, and our large pond would go down 2-4 feet. That made it hard to keep oxygen in the pond for fish.
So it’s not enough to know how much rain you get per year. You need to know how much you can depend on frequent rain. And it’s this reason that I prefer land in or near the mountains.
Also, what are the winters like where you are looking? And the summers? How frequently is there a drought? Of flooding?
What about the risk of tornadoes and hurricanes? Wildfires?
Just something else for you to factor into this big decision.
#6 What is the growing season and how long is it?
This is one of the reasons we moved from our prior farm because we wanted to live in a different gardening zone.
For your desired location, have you spoken with other local gardeners and/or agriculture extension offices? Do you know what crops can be grown, when they must be planted and harvested?
What kind of fruits can you grow? You might fantasize about an apple orchard but good luck if you’re looking in central Florida.
Also, what kind of pests are you likely to encounter? Do you have skills in all these areas or are you starting from scratch?
Either way, see if there’s a master gardener’s group in your new area. Or at least talk to the county extension agent first to see if they’re knowledgeable about small-scale organic food production.
#7 What is the community like where you’re moving?
Are there like-minded people in the area, whether it be for homesteading, homeschooling or what not?
Are there groups or organizations you would like to join? Can you join them BEFORE you move to see first-hand what the people are like? Nowadays, some of these groups are online, notably in Facebook groups. So you can join well before you move.
Are there gardening clubs, homeschooling support groups and so on? Because just as there are micro-climates in the weather, there are also micro-cultures.
So, did you subscribe to the local newspaper BEFORE making an offer and relocating? If so, how is the help wanted section? Skimpy or full? What does that tell you about the local economy?
What about police reports? What crime is in the community and how close is it to the property you are considering?
Are there many foreclosure listings or only a few?
# 8 How likely is it the community will drastically change?
Is the town you are considering located between major points of interest that may cause it to grow over time?
For example, I grew up in a beautiful mountain town in northern Georgia that was quaint and sparsely populated, with families who had lived in the county for generations. It’s the town where the movie Deliverance was filmed.
Lots of other movies were filmed there too, and my mom actually waited on Walt Disney and Fess Parker back in the 50s when they were filming The Great Locomotive Chase.
But that was then, when the town was remote and…well…a little backwards, I guess. Or quaint, if you prefer that word.
Today, the town is still there but “prosperity” has arrived in the form of fast-food restaurants, souvenir shops, chain coffee shops, and LOTS of traffic.
Because a major road that connects Georgia to the Smoky Mountains goes right through the valley where the town is located.
So while it was once the town I’d like to live near, today I wouldn’t want to live anywhere near it.
Moving right along.
#9 What are the immediate neighbors like?
If you are seriously considering a specific property, have you introduced yourselves to the neighbors before making an offer?
Do you share anything in common with them? Children, hobbies, political beliefs, religious views, societal views, etc?
Would you invite them over for dinner? Would you want to go to dinner at their house?
One of my neighbors about a half mile down the road has a large apple orchard, so we’re able to discuss pruning trees and growing apples.
Plus we share similar views on preparedness, which is an important consideration if you think of yourself as a prepper.
Now, there aren’t many people around with young kids, like we have.
But we’ve found that to be pretty normal when looking at rural property.
More often than not the population is gray…or bald.
Still, make an effort to talk to at least one of your neighbors. Or stop by the local store…every small town has a gas station slash candy bar store, and ask them about the area.
#10 How remote is it/how close to town?
One of the best things about homesteading can be seclusion, but, for some, it can also be the worst. This is particularly true if you’re a “people person” or love to shop at Target. You’ll find all that stuff to be far away.
So, how close do you want to be to a town? And what do you want out of the town? Simply a store or two?
Or are you interested in being close to decent restaurants, yoga studios, pubs, golf courses and the like?
There are no right answers, but be honest about what you want and find that community.
#11 What are the physical characteristics of the specific land you are considering?
Is it flat, gently sloping, or steep mountainside?
Ours is a mix of gently sloping to steep, and that’s important to us.
- the ridges give us a lot of privacy between us and neighbors, none of which can be seen from our house.
- And because an area with two small streams between two sloping hillsides created the perfect spot for a large pond, which we very much wanted.
What about your new land? Is it wide open with no trees or are there wind breaks? If you plan on raising livestock, they’ll want some shade and protection. Plus the windbreaks increase your privacy.
But what about the soil drainage? That’ super important if you plan on putting in a septic system. You’ll need to know that the land can perk.
Even if you don’t, you don’t want flat land that doesn’t drain. It’ll be hard to grow things if the ground is always flooded.
Also, if your land has pasture, what perennial forages are growing there now? Is the pasture suitable for your intended use? Are there also legumes such as clovers, vetch and so on that can help fix nitrogen to the soil?
Is it only one species of grass, such as Bermuda, or is the pasture a mix of forages? Does the forage match the animals you hope to put on it?
For example, if the pasture consists of “old” fescue that is prone to endophytes, it may not be wise to plan on raising horses.
How is the earthworm activity? Did you bring a shovel to dig a quick scoop? You should get at least one earthworm in each scoop.
Is the garden area positioned for maximum sun exposure?
Is the land fenced? Is there a perimeter fence around the entire property? Are the pastures cross-fenced for rotational grazing? If so, are the fences high-tensile, woven-wire field fence, wooden fence or what? What is their condition? How much time will it take you to maintain and mow them?
These are just a few of the questions you’ll want to ask about the physical aspects of your new property.
#12 How was the land previously used?
Regardless of whether the land is beautiful or unkempt, do you know how it was previously used?
Were chemicals used and, if so, when were they last applied? What types of fertilizers, if any, were applied? Was the land frequently disked or tilled?
Have you confirmed that you will own ALL water and mineral rights?
Most states in the eastern US follow the riparian rights concept. That means the landowner has the rights to water on, or underneath, their land. And if they own land adjacent to a river or lake they’re entitled to withdraw water from those water bodies, as long as they use the water on their property.
It’s very different in the western states that tend to receive far less rainfall. With water being more scarce each year, they follow prior appropriation water rights.
That means local irrigation districts define water rights and assign the highest priority for water during droughts to the first people to apply for a beneficial use.
Bottom line…check out your area to see if the water on your dream land actually is yours or not.
The same thing applies to surface and subsurface mineral rights, but you get the point by now.
Talk to someone knowledgeable in your area and know what is yours and what isn’t.
#13 Have you tested the soil?
You are what you eat, so you will want to know what is in the soil.
Have you had it tested or asked the current owner if they’ve had it tested? When you tested the soil, did you sample several areas of the land and pasture, or only one? What were the recommendations for soil improvement for each area? How long will it take to get the soil where it needs to be based on your planned use for it?
Granted, this is probably more important if you plan on farming the land versus homesteading, but you still may want to know.
I mean, you may dream of having a personal vineyard or planting a large orchard, but is the land suitable for that?
For example, if it’s acidic, that’s great for growing blueberries and pine trees, but not a lot else. So how much lime is required to decrease the acidity and what is the cost for purchasing and spreading the lime?
And if you’re gonna raise livestock, you’ll want to know if the soil sorely lacks nutrients that your animals need, such as selenium or manganese.
Even if you’re not gonna keep livestock, we both know the you’re gonna have a garden. I mean, what homesteader doesn’t. So what are the specific recommendations for the garden area?
Again, have you sought the free advice of the local county extension agent?
To some extent you can mitigate this with raised beds and bringing in soil or compost, but it’s better, and cheaper, if you don’t have to.
#14 Who maintains the roads?
If you’re moving from suburbia, this will be a new concept for you.
Is your new property accessible by nice, maintained roads, or is it accessible only via Class IV (unimproved) roads that you may need to maintain? Is there a driveway to your house or must you install one? Have you considered the costs for gravel, grading, plowing, etc?
Your long gravel drive may be dreamy, but guess who’ll maintain it. You will, Bucko.
That means clearing snow and grading it, which I can promise you it will need from time to time.
So check this issue out before moving and make sure you’re up for it.
#15 Does the land have potential for your plans?
Sure, you may want to start simply with a garden and a dozen chickens, but is it possible you may want to grow your farmstead into something more?
If so, will the land accommodate your dreams?
Is there room for the cows, sheep, horses, buildings, ponds or whatever visions tease you while sleeping?
This is something I look at closely when evaluating property. I visualize what I want the land to look like as much as what it does look like.
I gave you the example of the pond we put in earlier, and I talked a lot about how to improve pastures and land in my first book, The Accidental Farmers.
Again, is there a sunny spot for the garden on your new property, or is the land on a mountainside where direct sunlight is measured in minutes rather than hours?
#16 Does the land have usable outbuildings?
That’s great if it does, but what is their condition?
Can you afford any repair costs or can you do it yourself?
Can the buildings be used for future income-generating ideas that are discussed in this book, such as for classes or events?
You know I talk a fair amount about self-sufficient entrepreneurship, and if you’re interested in earning money from your farmstead, you can use these buildings to get started.
They’ll be of great value to you but little value to the current owner.
#17 Are there local hospitals and high-quality health care?
If you frequently need medical attention, are there hospitals and good doctors within a reasonable driving distance? Is there good emergency care should someone in your family suffer an injury on the farm?
Is there adequate dental care?
I don’t have much else to say on this issue, but you’ll know whether this should rank as an important consideration for you or not.
#18 Is the house (or homesite) properly placed in its environment?
A house snuggled up against the woods sounds great, right? That’s until you find the woods are loaded with copperheads or timber rattlers who take a liking to your back porch.
If the land has a house on it, is it where you want it? After all, it’ pretty hard to move it later.
Have you really visualized yourself in the home?
Is the garden area placed downslope from the house so you can use the house roof to capture rainwater for the garden? That would be nice if you could.
But if it is, where is the septic system relative to the garden area, since it too will be downslope from the house?
You don’t want to build your raised beds or plant your garden right on top of it.
#19 Does the land afford the ability to hunt and/or fish?
You may grow much of your own food, but if you enjoy meat, you can also hunt or fish it for free.
Does your land allow that?
Is there an abundance of deer, turkey, wild pigs, freshwater fish or whatever you are interested in?
Access to this can dramatically reduce the cost of food for you and your animals.
I’d hate to not have access to this. We’ll probably raise some turkeys this year since we always do, but I can’t imagine why. There are so many wild turkeys walking around, pretty much right up to our porch, that it seems crazy to raise some.
Of course there’s tons of deer and big lakes nearby, but we just put in a one acre pond so we can have a lifetime of fishing.
If these things are important to you too, make sure your property has them, or can have them.
#20 Are there neighborhood dogs?
If your new land is not securely fenced, are there neighborhood dogs that may enjoy your new chickens or rabbits? Do you know for sure?
Does anyone else in the area seem to raise goats/chickens or the like? If so, can you stop and talk to them.
Just another thing for you to ponder.
#21 Are there other potential hazards of the location you are considering?
I’ve mentioned snakes, but what about other wildlife such as bears, mountain lions and wolves?
Even wild hogs are a hazard in terms of wrecking your gardens and food plots.
Are you in a frequent tornado or hurricane risk area?
Is there poisonous vegetation that could harm you (or your animals), such as poison sumac, poison ivy, poison oak, wild cherry trees?
Those can be poisonous to livestock.
Are there pasture grasses high in prussic acid, such as sudangrass and sorghum-sudan? Grazed improperly, these can be deadly to cattle.
Even if your pastures don’t have them, if local pastures do and that’s where you’re getting your hay, you can still have problems.
And, while not necessarily a “hazard,” are there nuisances such as fire ants or seasonal gnats and/or mosquitos that could spread disease?
Man, are we glad to be away from fire ants!
Don’t forget about disease-spreading ticks. Is Lyme Disease a risk in your new area? I don’t mean to scare you, but: embracing the simplicity of self-sufficient living means embracing ALL of nature.
#22 Are there zoning restrictions?
Covenants? HOAs? Hopefully you’re moving away from that and not to it, and my recommendation is to not move anywhere that has a HOA or any covenants.
Regardless, are there local zoning restrictions?
Can you later open a bed and breakfast or offer farm dinners/classes if you want? Can you erect barns and simple farm structures without a permit (and fees), or is that required for even the most simple structure?
Believe me, you may not begin planning on any of these things, but growing the farmstead becomes addictive for many, and may for you as well.
Now, let’s jump to the final question. It’s short and sweet.
#23 Did you rent or camp in the area prior to making an offer?
If you are unfamiliar with the area, did you rent or camp in the area for an extended time first?
Are you certain this is the community for you? After all, you do not want to hate your new home!
Clearly, purchasing a rural property and leaving “normal” life behind to become more self-sufficient represents a major life decision.
It may be one of the most important decisions you ever make and, therefore, deserves careful consideration.
Still, having made that move myself over a decade ago, I highly recommend the lifestyle and would never “go back.” I don’t know anyone who would!
Now, think about these questions and feel free to add your own.
That way you’ll be fully armed with the knowledge you need to leave the rat race behind for your piece of rural paradise.
Listen into this episode as I walk you through the 23 Questions to Ask Before Buying Rural Land. So, if you’re looking for ways to tips and inspiration to become more self-sufficient, you won’t want to miss this. So grab some coffee and pull up a chair!