Building a Sustainable Homestead for Little Money

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


| April/May 1998



167-038-imain

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.

rjriley
8/23/2017 7:40:29 PM

"supply power to four 6V batteries wired in series to produce 12V " Four 6 volt batteries in series would be 24 volts, so what you have is a four battery series-parallel. I am a retired electrical engineer, and I built my own place over 30 years ago. Sweat equity is a great thing.


carlehull456
8/23/2017 6:06:21 PM

I HAVE HAD A SIMILAR DREAM FOR YEARS NOW, BEFORE I REALIZED IT I AM 54, AND I THANK GOD FOR EACH AND EVERY DAY. I WAS IN A RELATIONSHIP FOR 30 YEARS BEFORE MY HUSBAND DECIDED HE NEEDED MORE THAN ME IN HIS LIFE. BEING GAY AND ADOTIN A CHILD BE IN MISSISSIPPI WAS HARD BUT HERE I AM TODAY SURVIVING ALONG WITH MY DAUGHTER. THANK GOD FOR YOUR INSPIRING STORY AND AFTER READING IT IT GIVE ME A NEW DRIVE YO MAKE THIS DREAM COME TRUE. AS I START TO FOCUS I N THIS DREAM WITH ONLY 100 CASH I KNOW IT WILL BE HARD BUT I AM DETERMINE. FINALLY THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR WORDS OF WHAT DETERMANITION AND HARD WORK. I WISH YOU CONTINUED SUCCESS. C.HULL


meg1d4d
8/23/2017 10:13:34 AM

Lived in Bisbee years ago, thought it the greatest place and wanted to build my own home. At the time I had small children and needed to work to keep us afloat, but I have always envisioned my dream cottage and now that I am in my 70's it is still there that dream of mine. It's so exciting to see how people work so hard for their dreams. I loved this story and believe it would make a great book if you haven't already done that. Many people would like to have this inforamtion even in 2017. Wonder if there is still land available between Bisbee and Sierra Vista left ?? Thanks for the trip i went with you all the way step by step building your dream. Melody Glass


52travelertobe
8/23/2017 9:58:35 AM

The article may be 20 + years old.But it just shows with determination it can be done.Sometime I plan on doing the same.


bdixon
8/23/2017 9:47:23 AM

An amazing and resourceful lady. Sounds somewhat like my wife. Congratulations on your success in achieving your 'dreams'. And, as for the person that is 'disappointed' with her statement about a 'prince' I say I have sympathy for you for not feeling the need for the fulfillment of God's plan for us to not be alone. Also, she did not say she 'needs' a prince. She said it was the only thing missing. In today's sordid world, I am encouraged by people that can still desire a bond with someone. And, although it would be nice to hear an 'update' it is quite amazing as presented.


greenietina
8/23/2017 8:37:23 AM

Love this article! The fact that this resourceful woman accomplished what she she set out to do with the help of good people, and now wants to share it with someone special does not make her disappointing.....it makes her human.


dreifler
8/23/2017 8:19:22 AM

Such a shame that this competent and independent woman STILL feels she needs a "prince" to have a complete life! Disappointed at the last sentence!


bjwyatt0421
8/23/2017 7:20:45 AM

This article is 20 years old! Badly in need of updating.






mother earth news fair

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Oct. 21-22, 2017
Topeka, KS.

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!

LEARN MORE