Building a Sustainable Homestead for Little Money

Learn about one woman's path to building a sustainable homestead.


| April/May 1998



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Tina Miller bought her new land, built her home, and supplied the utilities for less than the price of a family car.


PHOTO: ROBIN THOMAS

Years ago, someone told me, "If you want it bad enough, don't take 'No' for an answer. Every problem has a solution... spend your energy on the solution, not the problem." That advice has worked miracles for me.

Two years ago, coming out of a marriage that should never have been, I was determined to take care of myself. At forty-six, feeling very middle-aged and alone, my utmost desire was to have a nest of my own. My dilemma was that I had only $5,000 and no job. I wanted to live an alternative lifestyle on the land, and I had long before made a promise to myself that I would accomplish this without going into debt. The promise also included a conviction that I would never look back.

Buying Land for Modern Homesteading

Finding affordable land was a challenge. I needed something I could buy — with a small down payment and low monthly payments — that was dividable yet attractive enough that I would want to live there the rest of my life. I was also aware that I would have to find this humble property and then turn it into my Shangri-la; really gorgeous land was far beyond my pocketbook. Watching the land ads in the newspapers and contacting almost every real estate agent in a hundred-mile area in southeastern Arizona — the area I chose — was an education in itself. I stuck to my price range and did not look at more expensive properties, even though agents desperately tried to push me that way.

Once I found a few candidates, I went to the planning and zoning department of the county to find out if the land was dividable and what, if any, restrictions applied. Do not trust anyone's word on these matters. Go to planning and zoning and get their recommendations in writing . The process may well be Greek to you, but as long as you make it plain that you require the kindergarten explanation, almost everyone will be extremely helpful. Even if you are going through real estate agents to find your land, be prepared to do most of the legwork yourself. They do not make large commissions on cheap land and are not very willing to spend time, gas, and money showing it.

I found many ranchers, farmers, and large property owners selling off forty-acre parcels, generally with 20% down and monthly payments for ten to fifteen years at 10% interest. Once you find your land, go through a reputable title company and be sure to do a title search before the deal closes. The last thing in the world you want is to be unable to get a clear deed to a piece of land because of title complications.

I finally located thirty-six acres here in southeastern Arizona. The land was remote enough to provide privacy, yet close enough — about twenty miles — to a large town where decent jobs were a reasonable drive away. The land was beautiful, with 360° views of the Mule and Huachuca Mountains. The desert vegetation was wonderful : ocotillo, prickly pear cactus, mesquite trees, hackberry, black walnut trees, as well as mule deer, wild birds, and even an occasional rattlesnake.





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