How We Found Our Northern Minnesota Homestead

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
A composite picture of the Cuddys, one of their goats, and the land comprising their Northern Minnesota homestead.

Is the money you’ve been saving for a place in the country
burning a hole in your bankbook because you can’t seem to
find a farm that you can afford? Maybe you should
take a look at northern Minnesota, where good land
still sells for under $50 an acre. That how we found the property that became our Minnesota homestead.

My wife and I started our search for acreage in Oregon and
northern California, but soon discovered that prices there
were sky-high on everything but the largest tracts. So we
sent away for the Strout and United real estate catalogs
and—after reading them carefully—decided there
were only four areas of the United States where land fell
within our reach: the Deep South, Appalachia, northern
New England, and the upper Midwest.

After hashing over the pro’s and con’s of homesteading in
each region, we agreed to take a closer look at Minnesota
and Wisconsin and once again turned to the
experts by writing United and requesting a survey of the
farms available there. Since we were planning to visit
relatives in Minnesota anyway, we asked that the
information be mailed to that address.

When we arrived at our relatives’ place, we found a stack
of folders waiting for us. Of the 200 or so properties
described, about 20 seemed especially appealing and the
majority of those interesting tracts were in northern
Minnesota. We were soon back in the car and heading north.

We talked to several realtors in Bimidji and thought we
were asking a lot when we told them we wanted an old farm
of about 100 acres, fairly isolated and available for a
down payment of less than $1,500. To our happy surprise,
several of the agents had something to offer!

The first place we looked at was really nice: 120 acres,
mostly wooded, with a small cabin and a shallow well for
$4,900 ($1,500 down). The second farm we were shown was
even more beautiful: 159 acres, six-room house, two sheds,
a deep well and mostly open land for $5,900 ($1,500 down).
We were ready to buy but resolved to look further to see if
there were any better deals around. There were — and
still are!

We checked with real estate agents all over northern
Minnesota and in just one week found eight old
farms of from 80 to 160 acres. Each place had at least some
useable buildings and ranged in price from $6,000 down
to a low of $3,500! Terms of sale were usually one-fourth
down with five years to pay the balance. And, as an added
and unexpected extra, most of the realtors we dealt with
were very upfront and helpful.

While we were in the market for a farm we looked into tax forfeited land sales and found even better prices
on unimproved land. County tax assessors in Minnesota
generally have two lists of tax-due property. One describes
acreage which will be offered in the coming auction and for
which you must bid, in person, at the sale. The other (and
you may have to ask for this one) catalogs land not sold
at previous auctions and which you can purchase at any
time.

Each parcel of back-tax land is listed by range, township,
and section. With this information (and a little help from
the assessor) you can locate the property on the county map
or in the more-detailed plat book. Ask if aerial
photographs are available. They sometimes are and can
give you a very specific idea of the topography of the area
in which a parcel lies.

The list of tax land also gives the exact acreage of each
property and the appraised value of its land, timber, and
any buildings left by former owners. This appraised
value—land plus timber plus buildings—is the
minimum price you may pay for any parcel. If you buy at
auction you may have to spend more for a choice tract but
if you find something on the “old” list that you like, you
can get a real bargain.

At least my wife and I did! An old farm—120 acres
unused for ten years—with a seven room house, ten
stall barn, separate hay barn, chicken coop, old
schoolhouse, deep well, 45 acres of open fields and 75 of
woodland. We paid $2,000 down and hold a six-year contract
on the remaining $3,000. That figures out to around $42 an
acre… with all the buildings thrown in free.

Sound good? Believe me, it is! So don’t just sit there. Some beautiful old farm may be just waiting up here in
Minnesota for you to come and claim it.