There’s something very visceral about having your own piece of land, whether it’s a little scrap of green terrace or a vast expanse of fertile bottomland. Ownership (or rentership) of ground tugs at a series of primal instincts—to cultivate, to promote growth, to improve, and ultimately to enjoy the rewards of your efforts. Urban dwellers satisfy this drive by planting flowers in window boxes and herbs in pots on apartment ledges. Suburbanites lavish attention and money on carpet-thick lawns and sculpted terraces. Rural denizens concentrate their efforts on a particular field or specific livestock. Yet, in each case, there is always an ultimate goal, to manage the soil and land to achieve some direct benefit.
Now, this is a good thing. The discovery that good land management returns a financial and emotional reward tends to promote better management in the future, which is also a good thing! The challenge, of course, is figuring out the thing that will bring the best return, using the abilities and skills you already have, and fitting your efforts into the time you have available. Sometimes, that combination of parameters creates a daunting barrier to further action: I’ve only got a backyard lawn, and a little time on weekends; how can I possibly earn any income off of that?
Even on a small lot you can grow a variety of fruits and vegetables
To answer that, I can share my experience. When we lived in Los Angeles in a miniscule city home, our entire lot was 40 feet wide and 70 feet long. (Later, when we lived on a farm, our garden was bigger than that!) In that space, a small house, garage, concrete patio, and grassy yard all seemed too tiny to squeeze in anything that might have contributed to making an additional income, but somehow, we managed. We grew grapes up a chicken-wire lattice on the south side of the house, and planted highly productive dwarf fruit trees and harvested dozens of pounds of peaches, apples, and apricots every year. Not only was the flavor better than store-bought, by growing our own we avoiding having to spend money on fruit. We created a tiered 4’x4′ strawberry “patch” that provided luscious berries all year around. Our front chain link fence provided a trellis for chayote vines, which routinely gave over 100 pounds of “squash” yearly.
At one point, we housed over 60 breeding rabbits, stacked like apartment dwellers in homemade cages three “stories” high. Those bunnies racked up around $7200 net annually, sold to pet shops and private individuals—plus provided a significant protein complement to our diet and some of the finest fertilizer available for our garden and our friends’ gardens as well. A tall, narrow, multi-level cage housed over 100 Coturnix quail, fast reproducing and mini-egg laying wonders. We sold eggs and chicks, plus had all the “gourmet” eggs we could eat. The concrete patio provided an area for hubby Nick to teach fencing (the sword kind), and an old upright piano in the small living room provided a place for me to give piano lessons. And, of course, both Nick and I wrote and sold freelance non-fiction articles by sharing time on an IBM Selectric typewriter. We both were at home all day, so our children were home-schooled, too. Remember, this was on a lot smaller than a country garden. If we could do it, so can you!
A personalized plan
Earning a profit from your land, honestly, won’t be instantaneous and will require effort. As a quick refresher, consider this: there are only three main things that you can sell. I’m going to emphasize these, because any one or combination of these can be the basis for your own plan-for-profit off your land:
- Products: items you make, build, improve, develop, grow, or produce to provide a good that buyers need or want.
- Skills: what you can do, teach, explain, or accomplish that provides knowledge or new abilities that people need or want.
- Services: actions you can carry out to serve the needs or wants of other people. Some services are simple manual tasks that potential buyers just don’t want to do or can’t do on their own (say, cleaning windows or carpets, or locating a special part for an old sewing machine). Others require more complex skills, combining skill and service in one swoop (such as: auto repair, computer debugging, or designing a landscape).
Many skills, such as playing piano, are marketable to someone who wants to learn what you know.
Every step in the process of building your profit system can also be rewarding and satisfying in its own way. Keep in mind that each of the following planning steps takes you closer and closer to your goal.
1. Know your land. This is both simpler and more complex than it sounds. I suggest you draw a map of your available ground, even if it’s only a small patio space next to a condo. Get some graph paper or a piece of poster board. Spend several days to a week or so examining and measuring out your available space and draw out your property outlines. Include buildings, concrete areas, trees, reserved areas (kid’s play zone, for example), as it currently exists. Remember to look up as well as down; notice building heights, trellises and overhangs, and where sunlight falls. This will be your basic tool for the rest of your progress, so make this detailed enough that you can close your eyes and visualize the layout readily. Imagine where you could tuck in small cages, planters, or tools.
2. Write out your skills. Again, simpler and more complex than it appears. Those abilities you take for granted (say, changing the oil on your car, playing clarinet, training dogs, identifying garden herbs, baking bread from scratch, typing 70 words per minute, and so forth) are NOT free goods. Each skill took you time and effort to acquire, and your time and existing skills all have value. Part of earning money on your land includes accepting the reality that you are allowed to profit from what you know. Don’t stop listing your skills until you have at least 15 on your list. Most people can list over 40 skills if they think about it for a while. It helps, also, to consider how much you’d have to pay someone else to do the particular action, too. It might seem easy to replace your house’s plastic water pipes, but if you had to hire a plumber to do the same work you’d realize how valuable that skill is.
3. Write down specific benefits of your area. This step can be the trigger to developing your plan, observing and acknowledging those features of your region that promote business development. Take a walk around the area or the neighborhood, notice what kind of businesses already flourish there. Observe the income level (up-scale, moderate, downscale), and what people seem to want. If you supply something people want, you’ll be able to sell whatever you produce. Don’t try to duplicate existing businesses—create something better, cheaper, or easier to acquire. Keep in mind that some elements that might be uncomfortable in other settings, such as high population density, can be a plus: more potential customers are available.
4. Write down specific limitations of your area. Weather is often a limiting factor in developing income plans—you can’t grow fruit outdoors in a Maine winter, for example. If you live an hour’s drive from the nearest town, that will limit access from potential buyers. If you live in a gated community, it will be challenging for potential buyers to meet you spontaneously. This step helps you keep a realistic attitude about your plans.
The author’s husband taught fencing on a small, concrete patio.
5. Write down how you want to live in one year, two years, five years. Our goal was to work at home, to make the land we lived on a place of profit as well as a place to sleep—truly, a “homestead.” We wanted to raise our children in a safe environment and produce the majority of our own food. Our plan was to acquire a two story house, paid off, in a rural setting that was both productive and pretty—and that’s where we landed only four short years after we began working toward that goal. We were not interested in having a huge income, or in amassing IRAs, but you might be. Remember to factor your real (as opposed to desired) income needs in when you set up your plans.
You’ll spend a good week or longer sorting out these five steps, but this information will be the foundation for the money-making ideas in the next section.
10 ways to make $$$
The following are meant as introductory concepts, designed to get you thinking. Let each act as a brainstorm-starter—hold an idea in mind, and imagine its ramifications in your setting, on your land. Be sure to write down key points; keep a notebook handy. Don’t let a good idea get away because you forgot to write it down.
1. Teach. This can be done in city or country. Look back at your list of skills. What can you do? Play a musical instrument? Ride a horse well? Sing? Dance? Gourmet cooking? Tai chi? Make pottery? Wildcraft herbs? Weave or spin wool? Build a masonry wall? Paint? Karate? Do reflexology massage? Someone in your area wants to learn what you know. In order to teach, you need students. In order to get students, you must advertise locally: word of mouth, posters at local colleges and markets, sharp-looking business cards (make them on your computer), and perhaps a magnetic sign on the doors of your vehicle if your transportation is neat and clean. Put your ads where people likely to want your knowledge might go, such as health food stores, veterinary supply houses, or book stores. Offer a 500-word how-to article about your area of expertise (“How to grow a great tomato,” “How to find a deal on a used car”) to your hometown newspaper. Local newspapers often carry short informative pieces by local folk. People will consider you an expert after they see it.
Don’t spend much for your initial advertising—start small and let the business begin to pay its own way. Check out the prices of your competition, and underprice them just a little for your first experiences—later, as your client base increases, you can raise your price to middle range or higher. Decide in advance what a “course” will be; 4 weekly meetings for beginners? A 3-hour group meeting on one Saturday morning? Provide a clear, written description of what you teach and what the student can expect from a course. Anticipate what equipment you and your students will require; extra tools for beginners, clean-up supplies, blackboards or computer access. Keep notes on what you did and if it worked, and change how or what you teach to accommodate what you learn about students. Teach the course you wish you had been able to take. Remember, you’ll lose a percentage of students—it’s not what they expected, too much work, they find another interest—don’t take it personally. Give them more than they expect, and keep learning.
2. Raise small stock: We kept rabbits in the city and made a profit. What do people buy in your area? Is it an animal you’d like to raise? How about parakeets, finches, or cockatiels —small space requirements with potential sales to pet shops? Rats are interesting pets, smart, and breed rapidly. Exotic colors or hairless rats, which reproduce just as well as white ones, sell for higher rates. Guinea pigs and hamsters remain popular (though low-profit) pets. Dogs and cats are perennial sellers. Keeping a pair of cats or small dogs in a city or country residence requires no more effort than keeping a single one. They can produce 1-2 litters per year, of 4-6 offspring each time. Aim to produce healthy animals in desired breeds and colors. Smaller dogs cost less to feed than big ones, and sell more readily. Read extensively about dog or cat breeding. If you haven’t kept un-neutered animals before—they behave differently than fixed ones, and breeding may require specialized skills or equipment.
Acquire good quality registered breeding stock, from unrelated healthy lines. Avoid “show winners” since they are bred more for looks than for health or personality. Watch out for fad animals, though—iguanas, hedgehogs, pot-bellied pigs, emus, monkeys—they go through phases of public interest and price fluctuations that make Wall Street look tame. Remember, if you consider breeding small stock, that there will be veterinary costs, vaccinations, registration costs, feed requirements, and cages—plus cleaning, handling, walking, and daily care. Healthy, clean, vibrant animals command the highest prices, too. If you like the small stock you raise, it won’t be a chore. I would caution you not to sell to pet brokers, however, both because you can’t control how your infants are handled by the broker, and because your profit will be much smaller than selling directly to the new owners. Check out the “pets for sale” in your local newspaper for an idea of the profit potential, and what people are buying locally.
You can raise small stock to sell to individuals or markets.
3. Hospitality/retreat: If you have several acres of land and an attractive rural location (no matter how far out), consider offering a retreat or holiday getaway spot. Typically, customers for this service are upscale or middle-upper folk, who just want to get away from their usual life into a facsimile of country or wilderness living for a time. “Facsimile” is the key word here. Most often, these clients don’t want the discomforts of rural living—flies, odors, power outages, or exposure to real weather. They want to see cows and horses, perhaps pet a goat, and hold an egg minutes after it came from the chicken. They will require phone, electric, internet (wi-fi), air-conditioning, and thermostat-controlled winter heating. This customer base will pay a premium for the country experience, and $750 to $1500 per week is not unrealistic. Keep in mind that these will be high-input clients, who expect to have their whims catered to. The return may make it worthwhile for you.
Alternatively, consider appealing to the back-to-nature person, who just wants a little rough cabin on a hillside, a clean-burning oil lamp, and silence (with daily organic food deliveries to their door, of course). This individual or family may be seeking long country walks, contemplation, and inner renewal, and is generally low-input and largely self-sustaining. Rates of $300 to $500 per week would be reasonable. If you consider this option, write a very clear brochure that details all services offered, and all services NOT offered that someone might expect. Figure liability insurance into your start-up costs, and how you might respond if guests trashed your facility or accidentally set fires.
An interesting bed-and-breakfast in my region is located in a rehabilitated “mansion,” located in the middle of the city on its own stream-crossed and tree-shrouded acre. The way the grounds are laid out, guests often think they are deep in the country, and city-noises rarely filter into the rooms. A “selling feature” of the place is that there are NO telephones, TV, videos, smoking, or alcohol in the rooms—this might be considered a liability elsewhere. However, in this facility, peace and quiet are the main selling points. Rooms run $100 to $180 per night ($700 to $1260 weekly) and the place is almost always full. Advertise online to reach the largest audience (“yourname.com” websites run about $20 per month through Yahoo and other companies), and search “vacation retreats” to see the vast potential in this option.
4. Middleman: If you enjoy exploring country auctions and have a good eye for local costs versus prices for the same items in larger metro areas, you might be a natural middleman (middleperson?). When we were raising sheep, a clean shorn fleece from heirloom breeds of sheep (Cotswold, Jacobs, Lincolns, for example) were hard to sell in the country—they were too different from the plain white commercial wools that wholesalers wanted. Jacob fleece, with its white, brown, and black colors, was discounted by buyers to as low as 23 cents per pound. But, in the city, a single pound of the same Jacob wool sold for $8 to $10 at specialty shops! A middleman who was willing to pick up, say, 100 pounds of Jacob wool and pay a fair $1 per pound to the shepherd, could drive that wool a couple hundred miles and turn that $100 investment into $400-$500 (half what the retail store charges).
The secret is knowing where to find the product and where to sell it. Begin by checking out products for which you already have an interest—antiques? Oil paintings? Quilts? Old farm tools? Classic cars? Compare local prices in the newspaper with prices in various “big city” papers. You might also check ebay or other online marketplaces for “national” rates. I know a couple who sold a doll collection for a relative at a local auction. The dozens of dolls included some dolls that dated back to the Revolutionary War. The collection brought around $300, and the couple received 10% for their efforts. They thought they did pretty well, until they found that one single doll from that collection was valued at over $2000. Imagine if they had taken the time and gone through the trouble to put the whole collection, one by one, on ebay or other auctions. Would their time as middlemen have been well-spent? Remember, too, that you can middleman single items. One time, we found a Japanese antique figurine at a thrift store. Bought it immediately for an “outrageous” (for that shop) $14, walked it across the street to an antique shop and resold it for $125. A week later, we saw it featured in the shop’s front window for $300! I’ve often wondered if the original owner, who gave it away to the junk store, ever saw it and realized his or her mistake.
5. Mobile services: If you have a skill and equipment, there’s no law that says potential buyers have to come to you—you can go to them, instead. I’ve seen “computer repair on-call” vans, mobile “meat processors,” and “car repair clinics” on wheels. Each service is carried on from a home base that consists of equipment, a vehicle, and a cell phone, plus the owner’s skill, of course. Locally, we even have a genuine doctor whose “office” is his car—he makes house calls to hotels and student dorms. Payment rates include the service provider’s hourly rate plus a little extra for the house-call expense, and are generally made by check or cash. Higher-priced services might offer an estimate for a small fee (to cover the house call itself). Potential customers are rural residents who don’t want to transport their steer, computer, or broken whatzit to appropriate facilities, and are happy to pay an additional charge for the convenience of having the service come to them. The “convenience” aspect is an excellent selling point—save valuable time and personal energy, and avoid the difficulty of taking your item in for service. Each service is different, but if appearances are any indicator, their vehicles act as a primary means of advertisement: name, type of service, and contact phone number are on the vehicle’s sides and back.
Freelance writing is another way to earn a profit from your homestead.
6. Specialty services to a niche market. A niche business is one that appeals to a small group or special interest, that is, a marketing niche (pronounced nitch). For hunters, there are niche “backcountry guides” who will take a small group out to the back 80 acres during quail or deer season—for a fee, of course. In the same way, setting up a portion of your land for specialty events or hobbies may be the way to go. How about a special place for black powder fans or bow hunters to shoot at various types of targets? Or a meeting place for stock dog trainers to try out their dogs (need sheep for this, naturally). Would an indoor shooting range work on your property? Or, perhaps, an outdoor training facility of any kind?
Niche marketing can also include raising meat “by subscription,” that is, arranging in advance who will buy your rabbits, goats, lambs, chickens, turkeys, geese, sides of beef or pork, or even some exotic birds like quail or pheasant. Advertise by brochure at farmer’s markets and health food stores, provide incredibly healthy animals and tasty meat, and hand out recipes to potential customers. After we left the farm, we continued to acquire lamb by subscription. In the spring we agreed to buy two grown-out lambs in August from a small backyard flock. We put a small deposit on each lamb ($25 per head), and agreed that we would pay market price less the deposit when they were ready. Come the fall, lambs were ready for market but we were busy, so the seller was happy to haul them to the processor for an extra $25. We also paid for the processing costs so the seller received above market price for a virtually guaranteed sale, and had some start up funds to help pay for feed costs. The deposit was non-refundable, by the way. The same could be done with an assortment of vegetables, too, if your gardening efforts tend to be super-abundant. Give buyers a choice of three different plans (exotic veggies, table veggies, cooking veggies, for example), and have them pay half up front.
7. Landscaping plants: This is a bit closer to farming, but can actually be done on very small amount of space, including a well-planned suburban backyard. The goal is not to compete with nearby businesses that sell trees and the usual assortment of foundation plantings, but to sell yourself as somehow exotic, extra fancy, or “more natural” than other businesses. For instance, you could offer “edible landscaping” only—plants that provide food in some form, as well as look attractive. This might be a little higher priced than conventional landscaping, too. If you’ve already got a green thumb and some gardening sense, this could be a good parttime option, as well. Start up costs would include seeds or plant starts, potting soil, and containers. Check out websites for bulk purchases of your basic supplies or exotics you can grow. Consider setting up a “hoop house” made from PVC pipe and a piece of construction plastic as a moveable greenhouse. Keep in mind that this is very seasonal income, and remember to provide information specific to the items you are selling (how to prepare those “sand cherries” or fry day lily buds, for example).
8. Touring: Every region has its attractions. Out-of-towners who like to see what is off the beaten path may be seeking a small regional touring service, especially if it offers something special—say, a day tour of Amish country in a horse-drawn buggy? If you have that horse and wagon set up already, you may be halfway to accomplishing this business. Alternatively, a sturdy clean van might do (you’ll need a chauffeur’s license, too). The other half of starting up is knowing some interesting information about your area, preparing a tour program or set of stops, and, of course, advertising it. Local hotels and motels, gas stations, and tourist restaurants may allow you to put up flyers or set out brochures (which can be made on your home computer). Describe the tour, include some photographs of your ride, and have a few stops where passengers can get out and pick an ear of corn or shop at a roadside stand. Be prepared with a list of recommendations for realtors, restaurants, and good auto mechanics in case riders ask.
9. Pond fishing and casting pools: Even in the heart of the Ozarks, where nearly every stream and lake is saturated with catfish, an older gent runs a pond fishery that specializes in catfish. Basically, he’s got a few spring-fed ponds into which he puts catfish fingerlings every year or so. He tosses in some catfish food when he remembers. When customers come by, he offers a fishing pole rental, a container of bait (the customer is now $7 into this), and all the time the customer wishes to spend sitting under a shady tree holding that rented pole over a pond. When the customer catches a fish, the gent will weigh it (and charges 49 cents a pound for this fish), and then cleans it for an extra $2 if you want, thereby shaving off about 1/3 the “value” to toss back into the pond to feed the other fish. Anyway, that one catfish will end up costing about $12—not too bad a markup for a $1 fish! He could make a little more if he offered soda pop, cold sandwiches, chips in small bags, or other pre-packaged snacks, as well. How about adding a picnic table so the missus could rent a portable BBQ or camp stove (extra $5 or so) and cook that fish right there? This operation would be seasonal, and would have some interesting potentials for expansion (offering “fishing vacation” campsites or even training camps for using certain kinds of rods/reels or bait).
The author raised Cortunix quail, a fast producing and mini-egg laying wonder, that also produced an income.
10. Petting zoo, historical farm: If you like small animals, the petting zoo or historical “re-creation” farm might be your ideal. A petting zoo is nothing more elaborate than a collection of tame, docile, friendly animals located where people can touch them. Sadly, in our culture, the average person has very little interaction with live animals. This idea is a natural attraction for children and animal-loving adults. Basically, the animals would need to be kept in a small enclosure or yard where they could move around with some freedom. Patrons arrive at the gate (have parking available), pay their fee (say, $3 each), and enter the enclosure. Here they see the small angora goat, a pair of rabbits, a potbellied pig, several chickens and ducks, and perhaps an emu or some other unusual animal. At a rack near the front gate, you’ve got a bag of whole feed corn and a set of inexpensive edible ice cream cones. For only $1.50, children can fill their cones with corn, and feed the animals (thereby saving you a daily chore and paying for it at the same time)! You may be able to contact local schools and offer school specials: children on the field trip bus enter for only $1 each, plus you can give a little chat about the attributes of each animal (“chickens lay eggs”). You don’t have to inform anybody that everything except the emu is going to end up on your dinner table in the fall. Be sure to form an alliance with a local veterinarian to keep vaccinations and other care up to date, and keep the visible facility spotlessly clean—people sometimes misunderstand the realities of animal care.
Historical farms take a different route. If you have an interest in oldtime skills (blacksmithing, weaving, spinning, leather working, etc.), you can set up a small backyard operation that capitalizes on your abilities. Dress in period clothes, surround yourself with period goods such as candles or oil lamps, and be willing to give a demonstration of your talents. You may be able to focus your demonstration days on one or two days a week (say, Fridays and Saturdays), and include colleagues who have their own skills. Somebody here in the Ozarks did set up an arrangement like this with a few craftspeople and some hillbilly décor —they called it Silver Dollar City. It’s doing pretty well, last I heard.
Let these ideas be a starting point for your own potential business. Brainstorm, read, check the internet, and figure out your costs versus the probable returns. Assume your new business will probably not pay for itself the first year, and may just break even the second year. After that, growth! If you keep at it, the possibility of living comfortably right off your land grows, too.
A sprawling stretch of land far removed from urban or suburban life may seem like a dream come true.
Buying rural property offers more land for the buck, less crime and traffic, better air quality, and peace and beauty among the trees and fields. Reasons to buy range from a desire to leave the city permanently to buying a weekend vacation home, or securing an investment for the retirement years.
But despite stunning vistas, buying a rural property isn’t a guaranteed idyll. There are issues to consider before buying that could throw even an experienced urban real estate hound. Avoid unpleasant surprises in a new country home by doing a little extra homework before buying.
Water and power
Rural properties may rely on wells, not municipal water. Water treatment and softening can prove costly. Invest in testing the water, literally in this case, before you buy to ensure that contaminants, sediment, and dangerous chemicals are not present.
Homes in rural areas may rely on septic systems that collect sewage and wastewater. Make sure the septic system can handle the number of occupants. If you plan to expand the property’s use or develop part of the land, keep the septic system’s capacities in mind.
If power lines fail, such as with a harsh storm, rural customers may be among the last to have electrical power restored. Backups like a power generator and wood for a fireplace become lifelines. A well may need an electric pump.
The picturesque winding road that leads to a property may belong to you—and the maintenance costs, too. Or your lot might share a road with adjacent property owners. Owners become responsible for the cost of fixing potholes or plowing snow.
Snowfall or heavy rains can wreak havoc on country roads, especially with no municipal professionals to keep up with storms. You may need to budget for snow tires, plowing equipment, or four-wheel-drive vehicles that can handle tough road conditions.
City trash removal can feel almost luxurious compared with country living. You might have to deliver your trash to a dump site or carefully burn leaves and paper trash.
You won’t have to suffer through your neighbor’s music blasting through your walls, but that doesn’t mean the neighbor’s behavior won’t trouble you. In the country, land may be used for hunting, raising livestock, grazing, and agriculture. Your dream of the quiet of a rural setting could be punctuated by rifle shot, loose livestock, or machinery used to harvest fruits and vegetables. And don’t dismiss the powerful smell of a freshly fertilized field.
These challenges shouldn’t dissuade anyone from buying rural property. It just means doing a little homework in a way that’s different when buying in a more populous area. Talk to your real estate agent or home inspector about the utilities. Ask the current owners about the roads, the property owner’s responsibilities, and what it’s really like to drive in the area during a harsh season. Check with county or state officials about trash requirements and the land-use rights of the area.
And if all else fails, you can always knock on the doors of your potential neighbors. They may live far beyond shouting distance, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like company—and you might enjoy theirs.
It is said over and over. There are three things you need to know about buying real estate; 1) location, 2) location, and 3) location! But what does that really mean? In urban areas, this can mean safe neighborhoods, traffic flows, proximity to shopping malls, school quality, night life attractions, and proximity to jobs or natural features such as the ocean or a mountain range. Rural real estate includes many of the same factors but also includes quality of roads or access to your property, productivity of the soil types located in the area, utility access such as water and electricity as well as satellite internet and television access.
Look around the neighborhood. When you buy rural property, you are buying a part of a rural community, drive around the property you are interested in and see what the neighborhood looks like. Do the neighbors show pride of ownership? Much like a home in the city, good fences make good neighbors. Also, the stronger the rural neighborhood, the better chance you have for real estate appreciation and less chance for devaluation.
2. Plan Ahead
The type of property you purchase will have a large effect on the size of down payment as well as how much you have to subsidize.
It is important to be very realistic when looking for a piece of land. In 2013, the agricultural real estate market reached new highs. While these prices are expected to come down with lower commodity prices, it is not expected very quickly. This price escalation requires one of two events to occur, 1) additional capital, or down payment be made to allow the property to be self sufficient from its own cash flow, or 2) additional subsidizing from outside income.
The type of property you purchase will have a large effect on what size of down payment as well as how much you have to subsidize. The more productive land will carry more debt requiring less outside income to make work. You need to understand the more “recreational” in nature, the more you will have to invest or subsidize. Unless you have been pre-approved by a lender, always, always have language included in the contract that indicates the purchase is subject to financing.
3. Determine the Size of Property
If you are a cash buyer, then you can simply look at property with a price tag that compares with the amount of money you want to invest. If you need to finance a portion of the purchase price, it is vital that you meet with a professional in the rural lending world. Your current banker may be a great source for loaning money on your home in town, business, car or boat. But what does he or she know about rural property? A lender that understands rural property, cash flows for this industry, the cycles and current real estate values can be of great value to you not only now but for many years down the road.
They can also be a source of financing for items needed after the land investment. Before you sign a contract, a good rural lender will ask you some very tough questions that will help you decide what size of farm you can afford and what you can expect after the purchase.
4. Working with a Realtor
Unless you hire a buyer’s agent, make no mistake about it, the realtor is getting paid by the seller and is working for them. However, they bring a lot of information and will only get paid if the sale occurs. Realtors work in this industry 24/7 and can offer a vast amount of information to help you. They will set up the closing and help both the buyer and the seller meet the demands of the written contract. Real estate closings can be very complex. Realtors will be able to explain a lot of the procedures and work out who will be responsible for certain expenses of the transaction. This will include closing fees, document preparation, accruing real estate tax liabilities and recording fees.
5. Items Included with the Sale
It is extremely important that everybody, realtor, buyer, seller and anyone else involved in the sale, understands in writing what is included in the transaction. A detailed list of anything you feel you are buying needs to be a part of the contract. The list may include:
- Livestock panels
- Portable sheds
- Fence posts
- Treatment or removal of any existing farm or hunting leases
- Any miscellaneous equipment
- Anything that can be moved
6. Steps to Purchase Property
Each situation is different. However, as a starting point, you can expect a closing to occur about 30 days after you and the seller sign the contract. Overall, the process goes something like this:
a. Determine the type of property you are looking for and the general location.
b. Review properties available by using the internet, local newspaper, or visiting with realtors that cover the area.
c. Make an offer on the property and negotiate with the seller until an agreed-to price is reached. You may wish to speak with your attorney before signing a real estate purchase contract. After signing the contract, you will place earnest money on the farm to hold it until you can close.
d. Take your contract along with financial information to a local rural lender. This may include past tax returns, current pay stubs and a list of all assets and liabilities. They will work with you to make sure the property is within your financial capabilities. Meeting with a credible lender prior to even looking for a property can save you a lot of time and effort by narrowing down the price range you can pursue.
e. Upon loan approval, the lender will work with you to get the property appraised and alert you of any title issues prior to loan closing. Have an attorney review any information you do not understand or if you just want additional peace of mind.
f. Prior to the closing, you will receive a copy of the closing statement that will let you know the amount of money you will need the day of closing. Normally these funds have to be certified which means a cashier’s check.
g. If you are borrowing part of the purchase price, you will close your loan with the lender prior to the real estate closing. Then you will meet at the title company office to close the transfer. They will file the necessary deeds at the courthouse and forward them to you after the recording is complete. You will need to take a copy of the deed to the local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office so they can transfer any program payments to your name such as CRP or base acre payments. Your lender can explain these to you. You will also want to make sure the county collector gets a copy so the next year’s real estate tax bill will be sent to you for payment.
h. After the closing, you will need to drive straight to the property and determine which project to tackle starting tomorrow morning!
7. Title Insurance
When you buy a car, the first thing you do is buy insurance before you leave the lot. Why? To protect you case of an accident. Title insurance does the same thing only in terms of ownership. It ensures your ownership of the farm in the amount that you paid for it as long as all of the items listed as exceptions are corrected. This may include transferring ownership by legal deed, or the seller having a deed of trust removed. The closing agent will review any items that need to be discussed at closing. Normally, you will receive a copy of the title insurance commitment days before the closing. If you have any questions, ask an attorney to review the policy. Purchasing a title policy is the most secure way to buy property today. Title insurance will also warn you if the property has been the site of an identified hazardous waste dump site.
8. Local Resources to Know
The farther away your property is located from your home, the more important it will be to develop your own personal network of contacts for that area. A simple list, and one that you will probably add to as you spend more time enjoying your new property, should include:
a. Local Rural Lender – They will know the people in the area as well as programs that may benefit you and your property. They will have names of people that provide services such as a dozer operator, custom farming service and farm managers if needed. They are also very in tune with the local market and can give you some indication of what land is bringing in a specific area. This could save you thousands of dollars.
b. County USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Office – The FSA office administers all government programs that could have a very positive affect on your farm’s cash flow. They also administer programs to help you with conservation issues including pond construction, erosion control and wildlife enhancement.
c. Neighbors – One of the first things you need to do is stop by and meet each of your adjoining land owners and the nearest homesteads. They may end up being the person that pulls your stuck vehicle out of the ditch on a rainy day or loaning you that trusty wrench.
d. Local Farm Input Supplier – This may be the local MFA (Missouri Farmers Association) Elevator or a privately owned company. These “farm stores” will carry about everything you will need from corn seed to fence tighteners. They are a great source of information for questions surrounding agricultural production.
e. Mechanic – At some point, something is going to breakdown. This may be a tractor or your own vehicle. Having a relationship with someone local before that happens can give you a sense of security when it does.
9. Costs of Ownership
There are very few instances that allow you to buy property and then stop right there. You may have to run electricity and rural water to your property. Then there are the normal operating costs such as insurance, gravel for your entryway, and monthly utility bills. After normal operating costs, the investments needed after the purchase will depend largely on the type of property you purchase and what your reasons were for buying. The more involved you are with your property, the more additional investments you may need to make. These items may include a mower, ATV or UTV and a storage shed. Or, it may include livestock purchases for pasture. Even recreational property usually ends up with a small tractor and a mower, a four-wheeler and trailer. And these are just the larger ticket items.
Then you will get into smaller items that can still add up. These may include a chainsaw, air pumps and an additional set of tools to leave on-site. Of course once you buy all of this equipment, you will need to build a shed to store everything. And after that you may decide to build a water structure or pond to fish in or just to have a quiet picnic when you go “out to the country”. Before long you will start thinking about a small cabin or maybe even a second home. Someone once said the cheapest part of owning rural property was the initial purchase!
10. Property Boundaries
Nothing is worse than finding out you didn’t get what you paid for. Unless you want to have a survey completed, no one will ensure the number of acres you are buying; they will ensure a legal description. Normally the description will be written in either a rectangular survey or meets and bounds method. It is usually a good idea to go to the county assessor’s office and have them pull the “card” for the property you are looking to buy and see how many acres are being taxed. This doesn’t mean their figure is right, but it should compare fairly close to what you have been told by the owner or realtor. If there is a big discrepancy, you will want to complete some additional investigation. Also, if you are obtaining a loan on the property you are buying, the lender will normally complete an appraisal as well as examine the title policy to ensure they have the right amount of security for their loan and to ensure they have a legal claim based upon the deed of trust filing.
BONUS – 11. Zoning
Zoning is something fairly new to the rural area and should be investigated before you buy rural property. You will need to go to, or call, the county courthouse where the property is located. They will be able to tell you if the county has been zoned and, if so, what the zoning requirements include. If you are going through a realtor, they should also be able to help you.
The Gambel’s Quail is a desert dwelling species that can be found among the mesquite, saltbush, cat’s-claw, creosote and prickly pear. Water is an important part of their habitat, and these birds are likely found within its vicinity scratching along the valley bottoms of river transported soils and decomposed granite. Years with good rainfall will increase the population of this bird and make for an excellent hunting season.
A plump and short-necked bird, the Gambel’s Quail will be 11 inches in length and be camouflaged in intricately patterned chestnut, gray and cream colored feathers. Both sexes will have the comma shaped topknot adorning their heads, but the females will not have the strong head pattern of the males and will be grayer in color.
Coveys will be composed of multiple family groups between 20 to 40 birds. Where a central water source is located it may be possible to find hundreds of these birds nearby. The Gambel’s Quail centers its activities around ground cover, becoming most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours. However, their willingness to traverse large, exposed areas in an arc-like pattern lends an advantage to the hunter in search of their tracks.
Carrying extra water is important in the desert as is wearing boots that will endure the tough terrain and spiny vegetation. As a result, it is always a good idea to bring along pliers for removing cactus spine. Guns that have modified or full choke are ideal for this bird.
The scaled quail is found primarily in the open country of eastern Arizona, this quail too is more likely to run than hold. Both sexes of this species display white, conical crests, hence the common name of “cottontop.” The scaled appellation is appropriate, however, as the birds possess a distinctive scalloping on the breast, nape and belly. Otherwise, their overall color is tan above with a mixture of beige, grays, and whites below. A generally bigger bird than the Gambel’s quail, adult male “scalies” average about 7.3 ounces, females 6.7 ounces.
are the largest and most striking, yet also the most secretive of Arizona’s quails. Male Mearns’ quail have white and black harlequin-marked heads, capped by a russet shock of feathers that form an ill-fitting crest. These cock quail also possess handsome brown and black checkered backs interlaced with white darts, and whitespotted black flanks similar to a guinea fowl’s. Their breasts and underparts are a rich mahogany that turns to black at the rump, which terminates in a stubby, almost non-existent tail. The hens are cinnamon colored with brown, black and buff markings. In winter, the males average about 6.9 ounces, the females about 6.2 ounces. Long, scythe-shaped claws that are used for digging show that these birds are ground-dwellers, and they hold so well to a dog that this species has come to be known as Arizona’s greatest game bird.
The sexes of all Arizona quails show some differences in plumage, and all of the species form seasonal pair bonds that last through incubation and brood-raising. Clutch and brood sizes are often large, ranging up to a dozen or more chicks, and both the cock and the hen care for the young. Quail populations are dependant on seasonal rainfall and may fluctuate greatly from year to year. Gambel’s and scaled quail form fall and winter coveys that are likely to remain in the same general area where they were raised.
Each species has its own habitat preferences. The Gambel’s quail is found throughout the Sonoran and Mojave deserts upward in elevation through semidesert grassland and chaparral to the edges of pinyon-juniper woodland and pine forest. The scaled quail is a bird of semidesert grasslands and the Chihuahuan desert, preferring open plains and foothills; the Mearns’ quail prefers oak woodlands and oak savannas in the southeastern portions of the state where grass cover is abundant enough to conceal its presence.
Although all three major species of Arizona quail have formed pair bonds by March, they each have different breeding seasons. Gambel’s quail breed in spring and early summer, and breeding intensity and success are directly related to the amount of rainfall received during the previous October through March. The breeding season of scaled quail is more complex. They breed in spring after wet winters, but also during the summer months after the monsoons have started. Mearns’ quail nest only after the summer monsoon season, and often postpone breeding until after the summer solstice when the days are getting shorter. The factors determining the population levels of the various species also differ. The numbers of Gambel’s quail are related more to the success of the hatch than to carry-over from the previous year. Scaled quail numbers are determined by both the success of the hatch and the number of birds surviving from the year before. Mearns’ quail generally have good hatching success, and their highly fluctuating numbers are determined largely by how many birds survive the winter. All of the birds experience relatively high winter mortality. The scaled and Mearns’ quail are more dependent on grass cover for over-winter survival than is the Gambel’s quail, and hence are more sensitive to livestock grazing pressures than the Gambel’s.
Hunting and Trapping History
By the turn of the century, quail hunting had become a popular pastime in Arizona, and a generous season and lack of a bag limit gave the state a reputation for harboring “game-hogs.” In 1909, the territorial legislature limited quail hunting to an open season of October 16 through January 31, an arrangement that was retained in the state game code of 1912 along with a bag limit of 25 quail. In 1929 quail numbers must have been thought to be in need of improvement, as the season was shortened to November 1 through December 31, and the following year the newly appointed Arizona Game and Fish Commission reduced the bag limit to 15 quail per day. There was no season on Mearns’ or “fool quail” as this species was commonly known.
During the years that followed, quail seasons and bag limits varied in response to quail numbers and the success of the hatch. In some years, such as 1946-48, reproduction was so poor that no season was authorized. It was believed that unless the ratio of young to adult quail observed on summer surveys was more than 2.1:1 a hunt could not be justified, and even when there was a season, it might be only two days long with a five-bird bag limit. In the 1950s and early 1960s research showed that hunting mortality was compensatory to natural mortality, and a standardized season from mid-October through the end of the month, followed by another season from November 1 through the end of January, gradually became the norm, along with a 15-bird bag limit. Later, the month of November was also opened to quail hunting and the closing date delayed until mid-February. These season dates are still used today for Gambel’s and scaled quail.
In 1960 a two-day season on Mearns’ quail was authorized for a limited area in the Santa Rita Mountains. Hunting was shown to have a negligible effect on this species also, and this season too was gradually expanded. Today, the season opens in mid-November due to the bird’s late nesting habits, and continues to mid-February. The daily bag limit for Mearns’ quail is currently 8 birds.
At first glance, real estate agent Theresa Mondale’s listings don’t sound too different from those of other agents trying to sell a piece of Montana paradise: 270 acres at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains completely surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land, stands of old growth fir and cedar trees, a spring with pure water.
Only when you read on do you discover this isn’t your average vacation cabin. One listing boasts of a modified bunker with a “very secure” iron locking door on the property and a root cellar that could be turned into an alternative living situation. Another one mentions a yard with space to land a helicopter “if the need is there.”
Welcome to the world of sustainable, survivalist real estate. There’s a growing market for this kind of off-grid property. Mondale figures over the past six to eight years, sales of these survivalist properties have risen by 50 percent.
“It seems like over the past few years, there’s just this need, I don’t want to say panic or frantic, but people feeling the need to be able to have someplace to go,” Mondale says.
A lot of Mondale’s clients are worried about some pretty heavy things, and they’re looking for places that are advertised as defendable.
“Whether it’s the fiat money system finally coming down, societal collapse, global warming causing flooding,” Mondale says. She’s heard pretty much every reason, and she doesn’t question her clients. She’s just here to help them find the right fit.
Despite the remoteness of these homes, they’re not backwoods shacks with sagging metal roofs. Some of her listings sell for more than $1 million if there’s a lot of land and if water rights are included. The one with the helicopter pad is a spiffy, two-story log home with a wraparound porch. It has solar panels and inside, a backup generator, luxury bathrooms and a kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.
“Just because you’re off-grid or being sustainable doesn’t mean you have to be looking like the old hick miner,” she says, laughing, “with grass on your roof or whatever. You can do anything.”
In the 1990s, the remote Montana mountains developed a reputation as an enclave for Y2K worriers, doomsday cults and the Unabomber. The state still gets made fun of a lot. Mondale is sensitive to this. One of her current listings was previously owned by one of those doomsday cults, but, she says, what’s going on today is different. People want to be more self-sustaining, less dependent on the outside, grow their own food, that kind of thing.
“These are not crazy people,” she says.
These off-grid listings are hardly backwoods shacks with sagging metal roofs. Most are luxury homes with modern amenities powered by solar panels and backup generators.
Mondale and her husband don’t just sell this lifestyle. They live it, too. They consider themselves “preppers.” Inside one of their garages is 1,200 pounds of meat they either raised or hunted. There are canned beets from their garden, tomatoes, zucchini and garlic. They even make their own garlic powder. Tim Mondale is a general contractor who builds bunkers and secret rooms for these types of properties.
“We still work, we have normal jobs, and we save our money but we just protect ourselves differently than a lot of people that live in the big cities,” he says.
But don’t bother asking him to see one of their hidden rooms.
“Looking at somebody’s secret cache room, their bunker, their hideaway places throughout their house, people will not show you that,” he says. “I mean, close family doesn’t see that stuff until it’s time.”
The Mondales just bought an 80-acre spread of their own in the mountains northwest of Missoula. There’s a stream, plenty of space for a garden and most important, they say, the neighbors won’t even know they live there.
One of the first things many people say when looking out over a few acres is, “I wish I had a pond.” Ponds add scenic beauty to a property and provide opportunities for boating, swimming and fishing. There also are many practical uses for a pond — livestock watering, crop irrigation, fish production, wildlife habitat and as an emergency source of water for fighting fires.
In 1956, when my parents bought 15 acres in the country, the first thing they did was build a pond. Actually, Mom and Dad didn’t build it themselves; they hired a man with a bulldozer. The huge, yellow machine quickly scooped out a natural depression along an old fence row. Soil was piled thick and high at the lower end of the slope to form a modest earthen dam. When the rains came, the hole began filling with water. That was three years after legendary homesteaders Helen and Scott Nearing started enlarging a spring to build a pond at their new homestead in coastal Maine. True to form, the Nearings did most of the work themselves — by hand. For more than 25 years the Nearings continued to expand their pond, steadily deepening and enlarging it.
Ponds, like their owners, come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes. But each one is “a spot of beauty, a sparkling universe teeming with life,” Louis Bromfield wrote in his 1948 book, Malabar Farm. “For the children they are a source of inexhaustible delight. And like the fishponds of the abbeys and castles of medieval Europe and the Dark Ages, when all the world fell apart in anarchy and disorder, they provide not only food for the table but peace for the soul and an understanding of man’s relationship to the universe.”
Siting and Planning a Pond
Here are the main factors to evaluate before building your own pond.
Topography. As in real estate, there are three secrets to success with ponds — location, location, location. Water runs downhill, and a pond simply collects and stores water. It is the most basic form of a reservoir. Locate your pond where the largest storage volume can be obtained with the least amount of earth moving.
There are two basic ways to create a pond — digging a hole or building a dam. Usually, the form is implicit in the site — to dam or to dig — and the land reveals the answer, says Tim Matson, author of Earth Ponds.
The ideal site for a dammed pond is a wet hollow located between two steep adjacent banks, Matson says. “On flat terrain, where the water table is close to the surface, or where a nearby stream or well can be directed to fill it, a dugout pond works best,” he says. Deeply excavated ponds with a smaller surface area are recommended in arid areas where evaporation losses are high and rain is scarce. But often the answer is a combination of methods, a dug-and-dammed pond. Matson says this strategy is “most favored in rolling terrain, where excavation of the pond basin will yield enough earth for the embankment.