Your options are endless… One acre. Five. Fifty. And anything in between, or more. As I mentioned before, ideally you should buy as many acres as you can, paying cash. Why?
First, you don’t know what the future may bring, and you can do a lot with some extra acreage: build additional cabins for family or to rent for income; sell off some timber for cash; expand your operation; or even just have some extra elbow room. It’s a lot easier to buy now than to try to expand later.
Most people, too, don’t realize the size of one acre—it’s 43,560 square feet. That sounds like a lot, but it’s about 209 feet by 209 feet. If you grew up in the city, one acre might seem like a lot—if you grew up on a farm, like I did, even our 35 acres seems small.
Why cash? It’s a thousand times easier, if you can do it. Less paperwork, less time—our closing required two signatures each and about ten minutes. And then it’s yours. No worries about a mortgage or foreclosure, you only have to pay your annual property taxes. Most people, of course, must finance—bank, owner, or lease-to-own. Get the best terms you can—that’s my only advice; I’m not a financial planner. Friends of ours recently bought 80 acres, owner-financed, from an elderly gentleman. I’m not sure what happens when he passes away, but I assume they covered that; they do have some restrictions, though. As a prepper, I’m not a fan of anyone telling me what I can and cannot do with my own property.
Now I’m going to completely contradict myself on two points:
No, I’m not a financial planner, but you must start planning your homestead and getting your finances in order—we all know the best rates are given to those who have the highest credit score and the lowest debt to income ratio. Work on that. Spend a few years reducing your debt, cleaning up your credit—it takes time, no matter what certain companies promise you—and socking away as much cash as you can.
The second point? No, you can’t just wake up one morning and decide to go homestead. Yes, that’s a contradiction—I’ve done many things in my life in just that manner, and while it CAN be done, it’s a lot harder.
While you’re cleaning financial house—as well as your actual house, downsizing for the big move—you need to decide what you’re going to do with your homestead. This will determine the type of land you’re looking for, the layout you need, and of course, you need to decide on approximate location.
Do you want livestock? Five or six goats can be run on an acre—but horses require three acres each; cows need almost as many as horses. Not only that, but livestock require a lot of care and feed. You can get by with fewer acres, of course, but your feed and hay cost will go up. Fencing and shelter are additional requirements, as well as vet care; some of that you can do yourself, but sometimes you’ll need to call a professional.
Are you going to have a garden? How big? How many people are you trying to feed? There are many, many ways to garden and no shortage of people to give you advice. Myself, I prefer the old-fashioned row garden, but that takes up more space perhaps than raised beds, for example. However, my opinion is that those who recommend raised beds are more urban farmers than homesteaders; it’s much easier to dump and spread manure over the entire garden, using a tractor, than it is to shovel it into raised beds. I grow roughly a dozen different varieties in my garden, enough to feed two people for a year—that takes some space, no matter how you arrange things.
You also need space for your cabin or house, somewhere to park your truck, a place to store tools, and many other things.
Also, infrastructure. This is important. Unless you plan to use all hand tools to construct your homestead, you’ll need power. Yes, you can use a generator for some things, but if there are power lines on your property or even at the county road out front, you’re in better shape than if you have to wait for that power company to get around to extending their lines. You might be planning to go off-grid, which is great, but it’ll take some work first to get there, and that’s why you need power.
The other thing, and I can’t stress this enough, you must have water. Hauling large containers is inconvenient and maybe not very sterile or safe. You must have a well—and it will cost you $5-$10K. If you have no water, you will, of course die. And so will your garden and your livestock. Spend the money upfront, or find property with a well already in place.
Decide what state you’re moving to, and then decide which part of that state. Do research. Visit and talk to residents. We were living in St. Louis and wanted to stay in Missouri. We also didn’t want to move any further north, so we took a state map and drew a big circle around the southeast quarter of the state. That’s where we searched. The place we found was actually right on the edge of that circle.
When the time came to find our property, we spent almost every weekend taking different roads south and west to look at places either we or our agent had found. Some of them had almost everything we wanted, some were ruled out immediately, and some we couldn’t even find—don’t believe them when they tell you there’s a sign on the property; may have been once upon a time, but it’s either gone or down. We even made a couple offers, but someone always offered more.
We wanted woods, and some pasture/cleared area, without a county road running through it and without those giant power lines inside the boundaries. We wanted a small house or building site near the middle of the property. A water feature, pond or creek, was important but not a deal-breaker. All these things added up to our dual-purposes: safety/seclusion and self-sufficiency.
The number of acres wasn’t as important as these other things, and neither was a house. We could have bought a beautiful home on just a few acres, but the house itself wasn’t our priority; maybe it shouldn’t be yours, either.
In our situation, the house—built or existing—needed to be large enough for two people to eat, cook, sleep, shower, and relax indoors. I didn’t want to spend my time cleaning it, and with homestead work and building up our farm, we were outside most of the time anyway. Seeing as how we wanted to be fairly remote, the kids or our friends likely wouldn’t visit in the winter, and they could camp during the rest of the year. We didn’t need a basement or a walk-in closet or a fancy bathroom; certainly not more than one bedroom.
And then we saw it online, the almost-perfect homestead. Thirty-five acres, a pond, a wet-weather creek, a 40X60 shop, well, and electric. And a house, 900 square feet, which was actually a bit larger than we’d planned to build. The middle of the property was mostly cleared, around the house and down the drive. The price was right, so we made an offer before we even drove down to look at it.
We started looking in the fall of 2014, found the property six months later, and closed in the spring of 2015. We spent 3-4 days, almost every week, driving three hours one way to work on the place, and moved there a year later when the house remodel was almost finished. Total, we put in more than 3,600 hours of labor that included clean-up, remodeling, and some perimeter fencing. And that was just prior to our move—because we still had a son in high school, we elected to stay put until he graduated, plus we had to get our current home ready for and on the market. You may have to sell before purchasing, stay with your job for a while, have young children at home, or delay your big move for whatever reason, and that’s okay. You can use the time to plan, or to search for your own land.
As my friend Mary said, you first have to start. Next time, we’ll talk about what to do first, once you have your homestead.