Debt-Free Living in Your Dream Home

Achieve debt-free living by following these readers’ advice on acquiring or building a home without a mortgage. Your dream home is within your reach if you pair patience with resourcefulness.

| June/July 2014

To read more about the debt-free homes in this article, and to peruse many other reports about mortgage-free living, go to Debt Free Home Reports

Many of us hope to someday own a home that’s perfectly suited to our penchants, but are wary of falling into debt for decades. The reports that follow illustrate the crafty and creative ways that MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers have acquired or built their own homes while avoiding a mortgage. These debt-free homes are diverse — from a geodesic kit home in California to a spacious log cabin in South Africa — but their owners’ counsel is consistent: With innovation, patience and a willingness to learn, you can do it, too.

Plan Your Plot

Do you intend to construct a house by yourself, or hire out some of the labor? Will you build your shelter from scratch, or find a fixer-upper? Decide how large you want your home to be — the smaller you build, the less you’ll pay out of pocket. Also consider whether you’ll need to set up temporary housing, such as an RV or a trailer, as you build. After you’ve moved in, you can sell your temporary housing and invest that money into your home. Starting with a clean slate may feel overwhelming, but by adhering to the following advice from readers, as well as studying the recommended resources later in this article for guidance and inspiration, you’ll embark on your course to a debt-free dwelling with confidence.

Learn the law of your land. After you’ve decided where to build, check with your county or city to find out whether you’ll have to comply with any building codes or inspection requirements. If you’re in a rural area, you may need only an electrical or sewage inspection. Other areas may demand a wide range of inspections and permits. See Essential Advice for Owner-Builders for information you’ll need to know about building codes before you raise your roof.

Revive a residence. Refurbishing an abandoned structure is one route to substantial savings. Julie Pfister and her husband, Tom, were living with their son in Sidney, Neb., near a 400-square-foot, WWII-era kit home that had succumbed to a fire and been condemned. Julie and Tom were able to see beyond its blackened walls, however, and purchased it from the owner for $5,000. They soon learned they would need a city engineer to sign off on their construction plan, and would have to undergo city inspections after each renovation step. They also needed insurance before they could work and live in the unfinished home. Undeterred, they hauled out the structure’s damaged innards bucket by bucket, and the bungalow gradually morphed into a small, energy-efficient home. After a little less than a year, they had moved in. The Pfisters did all the labor themselves, and say they’d do it all again. “You don’t have to start new. You can start with what’s available and make it perfect with a little work and some common sense,” Julie says.

Do it yourself. Before you lament a lack of know-how to undertake such a project, ask yourself whether you’re willing to learn. A readiness to study new skills will be the most important tool you can wield — along with plenty of patience. Roy Trembath is a do-it-yourselfer in South Africa, and his advice is to do your homework. Roy studied every action he took while building his house, and discovered that his DIY mindset frequently led to frugality. Roy harvested the timber he used, bought a secondhand saw to cut his own floorboards, and built his own furniture. His 3,600-square-foot home cost about $25,000 — less than the down payment he would have dished out for a conventional mortgage on a home of the same size.

5/11/2014 5:32:36 AM

Another option is to downsize and sell most of your "stuff" and buy an RV. You get a debt free home and you get to see the world. I just read several great posts by recent retirees on the site Retirement And Good Living about their adventures RVing in the US and in New Zealand.

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