Living Offgrid Affordably: Getting Started- Buying land

Reader Contribution by Jeff Chaney
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 If you are still with us after all of the caveats and warnings in our previous article, Before Getting Started, we are ready to begin the homesteading odyssey.

Our journey began in 1997 with a leisurely drive through the countryside. We happened to be in an area where our ancestors had owned land over one hundred years earlier, although this story could unfold anywhere. I looked up and saw a real estate sign on land indicating it was on the market. Not knowing where the property lay exactly, I contacted the broker. The listing price was $39,900. This price seemed incredibly high, so I did not investigate further, forgot all about it, and continued down the busy road of life.

 Approximately one year later, I was in the same area and spotted another real estate sign in a slightly different location. Curious if this was the same property, I inquired as to the details. Sure enough, it was the same parcel, but now priced at $15,000. These developments warranted a closer look.

After obtaining the plat from the county planning commission, I walked the property line boundaries. What an ordeal! This parcel consisted of twelve acres, and part of the trek had to be traversed on hands and knees. I had done this before so I was well prepared, bringing with me a good pair of boots and walking stick.

Having hunted this area as a child with my dad, I learned everything I could about it, including the fact that someone else was interested and had plans to cut a driveway in a certain location. An adjoining landowner also believed he owned this location. The neighbor proceeded to have his land surveyed, which he had not done when purchased. The survey revealed that the property for sale lay differently than anyone had suspected, and he did not own what he thought he did. Always, always insist on a survey before buying land. It is very surprising the number of buyers that do not complete this step. Personally, I insist on knowing, with as much certainty as possible, exactly what I own and where it is located!

While exploring the property, I noticed there were no electricity lines anywhere along the road dissecting this parcel. The tax appraisal card stated that electricity was available. I inquired about this and was informed that, in my county, all property was considered to have electricity available. Historically, this meant power lines at the street. This made absolutely no sense to me, and still doesn’t. A few years later, this county was defined as being part of a metropolitan statistical area. It is by no means rural, only five minutes from main street.

A check with the local power provider, combined with bids from firms that could clear the power line right-of-way, revealed it would cost $15,000 to run electricity one-quarter mile to the site. After long study, I decided this would not be a “deal breaker.” A solution could be devised, especially considering the asking price.

After digesting all the new information, I expressed serious interest. The land contained one nice building site, but the surrounding area had previously been an illegal dumping site consisting of household trash. My plans were to clean up the mess to restore the natural beauty.

When I contacted the listing agent, I learned that the other interested party was prepared to make an offer. Since I had completed the “leg work” on the property, and knew a lot of its history, I did not feel I needed a buyers agent and agreed to the listing agent becoming a facilitator. The owner decided to allow both of us to make a bid, accepting the highest. Thinking that the other bidder would be a consummate businessman and would not follow my philosophy, I offered the asking price, with the condition that the owner survey the property. My bid was accepted.

The land was surveyed, which agreed with the neighbor’s survey. My neighbor and I executed a property line agreement to solidify the situation. When this information was presented to the county planning commission, they informed me this was a problem and I needed an attorney. I informed them that I had two identical surveys by different professionals, a legal property line agreement, and no problem. Without further ado, the tax map was redrawn. It seems the confusion was created by an aerial survey in 1964. The area contains a “horseshoe curve,” and apparently the aerial survey confused the upper and lower roads. Instead of having 50 feet of road frontage, there was almost 1,000 feet on both sides of the road!

The moral of the story is this: Do your own homework! Do not rely on someone else! When purchasing real estate, the one who suffers from a bad decision is you. Know what you are buying, including as much history as possible. It is your money, make it your knowledge. Caveat emptor! Do not buy land without a survey, ever! This step alone can alleviate a lot of future headaches.

Another prime example of this is, a friend of mine was looking at a lot in a subdivision. He had made an offer that had been accepted. A few days before closing on the property, he learned he could not obtain a septic permit because the adjoining property had field lines running onto his lot. For the lot to be usable, the neighbor’s existing lines would have to be dug up and relocated to his own lot. My friend discovered all this just in time to avoid a disaster. Technically this was the neighbor’s ordeal and expense, but a buyer has plenty of other details to deal with at this time.

So, after all these obstacles, we are now the proud owners of twelve wooded acres. The journey has just begun. What do we do next? The following article will have the answer. Please remember to recycle any and everything, if possible.

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Photos by: Jeff & Kathy Chaney