This article is a response to Suburban’s May 31st article “Thinking About Buying Rural Land for Your Bug Out Location”. A good article certainly. I too have been looking into the possibility of buying some undeveloped (“raw” as Suburban puts it) land, both as a BOL and simply a second get-a-way home for the family. I am also close with people who have bought land and built a house in a rural area so I have some close-secondhand knowledge and experience with the issue.
Suburban made several good points in his article as well as a few I will, with respect, take note or exception with. So rather than post a long reply comment this article serve as both. It is my hope (and Suburban’s too I’m sure) that the further discussion and even disagreement on the topic will draw in other ideas and opportunities not previously considered.
With that, here I go. For ease of reading I will make it as bullet pointed as possible
Size and Location
- A small parcel of land, say 3-4 acres, sounds quaint. But I think you need at a minimum need 10 acres (more would be better) if you’re main purpose is a BOL. That much land gives you options for where to place structures on the land, distance from roads and neighbors, land for growing or raising some animals (if so zoned), and land for hunting or trapping without encroaching on neighbors or state lands.
- Undeveloped land is often covered with trees. Good for privacy and game, bad for building. The cost to clear a spot for a house (or even just a driveway and a spot for a trailer) can be huge! One company I read charges as much as $100 per tree. That can translate into thousands to clear an area for a structure.
- On site fresh water is essential! However, there are risks. You need to determine the source for the water if it’s running water and who owns/controls that source. That owner may reduce or even turn off the source! You also need to test the water for contamination. Nitrates, phosphates, bacteria, lead, etc all have to be tested for. You still should filter or purify the water somehow anyway but more as a precaution and not a necessity.
- “Fracking” – a process for drilling for natural gas – is a growing industry, especially in the North East. But the process of fracking can contaminate local ground water. You should find out if gas drilling is being done in the area around your land, or, if it is allowed (your neighbors may choose to lease their land for fracking later and impact your water).
- Be aware of the power of state DECs (Department of Environmental Conservation) and DEPs (Department of Environmental Protection)!. In many states, especially in CA and in the Central Atlantic and North East states, the DEC has been undergoing a “land grab” for 20 years at least. And it’s been accelerating of late. They don’t actually take your land; Rather, they “reclassify” the land so as to make it unusable. The most common way is to reclassify your land as a “wet land” and therefore protected. Suddenly largeswaths of your property are protected from development, hunting, or pretty much any use.Example: A friend and his son bought 15 acres in upstate NY. It had a stream running through it, good game and farming, etc. They planned to one day build a house on it. Then out of the blue last year they received a notice from the NYS DEC that 14 out of their 15 acres (remember, privately owned!) had been reclassified a “wet land” due to the stream. As such they couldn’t do anything with it. They contacted a lawyer and were advised while they could fight it the chances of winning are next to nil. So they ended up selling the property for literally pennies on the dollar compared to what they paid!
- Location, location, location – If your main goal is BOL then it must be close to where you live now. At most 3, 4, 5 hours maximum way (and that presumes good traffic conditions).
- It does no good to have a BOL 10-12 hours or more away in the event of an emergency.On a certain other preppers’ blog (he lives near DC) he says his family has a farm that he would try to get to with his family in the event of a disaster. But the farm is in Montana! He admits that if the SHTF is that bad the chances of getting there, much less safely, are slim.
- There are also practical reasons: You’re going to have to travel there a lot to work on the property, to maintain any home or structures on the property (and trust me there is always something to be worked on!), check for squatters or vandals, check for damage from animals or weather etc. It’s impractical to have to drive 12 hours, especially given fuel and travel costs these days. And take into account access during winter.
- Similarly, the location should have more than one access route. You shouldn’t be forced into one way in/out. There should be a main route and at least one back-roads access in case the main roads are blocked.
Buildings and Structures
- To buy land with a house or cabin already on it or undeveloped land to put your own building on it has pros and cons. Certainly buying land with a structure on it saves time and in this market may be cheaper (more on that later). But building your own lets you be more customized to your needs (though more customization is expensive).
- Adding a trailer or mobile home instead or to start is an option. But be sure the land is zoned for such. Even rural land has zoning rules that have to be obeyed before the SHTF. May as well also check zoning for size and types of buildings allowed on residential land.
- Pre-fabricated homes, modular or log cabin style, are sometimes cheaper than full blown construction and some very nice homes! But check the pricing (more later). And customization is often expensive and difficult (if at all possible).
- Remember that whatever you get, land with a house on it or build your own, it’s still a home with all the problems and issues of home/property ownership. If you own a home you know what I mean. If you don’t, you won’t know until you do.
- Be sure to carefully survey the land for possible locations to add other structures like a barn or a secluded shed. Even if you don’t plan on doing it right away try to envision it for later.
- Access to municipal utilities is initially important no matter how much you want to live “off the grid” after an SHTF. You need to find land that has at least electric and telephone service on or very nearby (otherwise the utilities charge too much to add it). Municipal water and sewer is very unlikely.
- Similarly, check local zoning for the requirements to build solar or wind power. There could be restrictions on wind tower size. Or, as in one community I know, solar panels must be on a separate standing structure instead of the on the house roof.
- A dirt road sounds nostalgic but imagine trying to traverse it after a heavy rain! Or during winter snows. A paved road may not be an option in rural areas either but just be aware nature gives, nature takes. You don’t want to be trapped on your land.
- If you’re going to add a house or cabin (including a trailer) you’re going to need an in-ground septic system. Depending on the zoning and land conditions that will mean either a cesspool or a leeching field. That too has to be carefully planned so as not to contaminate your ground water (why a deep well is better).
- Potable water is essentialon the land. But chances are you will need to drill a well. It’s unlikely a reliable source of clean water will be shallow enough to dig by hand. Even if it is, it would likely better to have it dug professionally. Also keep in mind shallow sources have greater chance of becoming contaminated later.The land I know has a good well on it but its 1500 feet down! No way you could dig something like that by hand.
- Even with a good source of potable water you should consider adding a quality whole-house water filtration system. Or at least have a reverse osmosis system installed in the kitchen. They usually work without electricity (but have filters that need to be changed annually).
- Larger land is more likely to attract a population of game. But don’t expect to live off your land entirely. You can easily strip the land of game with indiscriminate hunting.
- Trees and sources of wood for construction and fuel should be available. Same problem with using too much too soon.
- Be sure to research the growing season and climate for the area. If you plan is to have much planted food you need to know the climate, soil type, and seasonal temperature swings for successful growing.
- A freshwater source with fish or capable of supporting fish (small fish farming) would be good too. A natural/native fish population would be best again subject to over harvesting.The land I know has a small stream a very short distance way that contains both clean water and decent population of native brown trout that could help supplement the diet if harvested carefully. It also contains a small pond that supports a health frog population and could likely support some carp if introduced in to it.
- Running water will help attract game. But it will also attract people looking for water. Catch-22.
- If you plan to target shoot zoning is again an issue. Even without zoning general safety needs to be observed. Remember that even a .22 can trailer over a mile! And you don’t want the neighbors calling the police when they hear shots being fired.
- Land with natural defenses is also land that usually isn’t good for building, farming, hunting etc.
- At least get the higher ground. Stay away from valley floors. But keep in mind you have to travel up (and down) to your home with supplies, vehicles etc. As previously stated, keep in mind the change of seasons. I have seen some very nice homes on secluded hill tops. But just imagine trying to get up that road in the winter! Or the deluge of water during a spring thunderstorm.
- Having good visibility to your access road is important (you need to see far enough in advance of anyone coming up the road). If it would be possible to realistically block the road if needed that’s something to consider.
- For long term survival after an SHTF event you can’t be a hermit. You’re going to need to work and mingle with other people. So your BOL has to be close enough to neighbors or a small community yet far enough to be off the obvious path of raiders and refugees. It’s a judgment call.
The people I know with the rural home are in a good location. They are accessible by major road or if need be by back roads. The land is about an hour off the major roadway, close enough to get to if needed but well far enough to be out of the range of people looking for a quick and “easy” target. There are also several small towns between them and the main road. This provides opportunity for trade, help, and community support (if you can win over the locals who usually don’t like “down-staters” coming into their communities) yet – as cruel as it may sound – provide enough of a buffer so that raiders are less likely to penetrate so far inland from the main roads. Even if they do there should be ample warning. The land surrounding this home is mostly mountainous with no formal roads or logging roads. This I believe limits the possibility of a raiding parting coming from behind. Even stragglers and refugees are unlikely to be coming over the surrounding hills (more likely to opt for the easier path through the valleys).
- Suburban is absolutely right the so called real estate crash has not impacted everywhere the same (if at all). While some inner city houses might be going for pocket change (and I have my doubts about those stories too) rural land isn’t. You really have to go waaaaaaaaay out there for find decent acreage at rock bottom prices.
- Part of that is the fact that both realtors and banks don’t want to sell property, even so called “distressed” property, at clearance prices. Why? Because that brings down the value of the surrounding land which the realtor also likely represents and the bank likely owns!
- Timing is everything. And it’s possible the time for cheap land nearer urban areas is gone.The people I know with the land paid about $2,000 per acre 10 years ago for undeveloped land. Today, plots half the size in the same area go for $8,000-$9,000 an acre! This in spite of the alleged crash in real estate.
- Luck, good fortune, etc. also place a factor. I’m sure 10 years ago these people didn’t even think of their property in terms of a BOL. But today it could be used as such. When I visit their home I make note of the houses around them that, in my opinion, aren’t nearly as well located and organized for a BOL.
- Property taxes for undeveloped land is usually low. But not always so low. And once you add a structure it will likely skyrocket!
- Keep in mind too that some states have additional taxes on personal property such as your car which you may be liable for if you own property in that state.
- There is insurance (at least liability on undeveloped land), utilities, etc. And if you’re going to keep firearms on the property when you aren’t there extra insurance is prudent (as well as a really good safe!).
- Once you do put a structure on it more land maintenance is needed. At a minimum grass has to be cut, snow removed, etc. That means you either need to own a ride own cutter and blower or pay someone.The people I know with the house spend 5-6 hours a weekend on general maintenance in the summer (a little less in the winter but still a lot). Granted, they take it to a bit of extreme (they don’t need to cut as much grass as they do) but it does make the property look nice.
- Adding a trailer or mounting a mobile home, if zoned, is cheapest but you have less options and features.
- Traditional building gives the most options and flexibility but is most costly. And there is the reality of dealing with rural contractors. Not the same as contractors closer to more urban areas. From personal experience with home remodeling contractors I assure you that you must be onsite all the time to watch what they do no matter how good they are.
- Prefabricated homes such as modular or modern log cabins are a good though not always as cheap as you may think.For example, at the top of this website one of the rotating pictures is of a log cabin home with a green roof. My wife and I saw a model for the same (looking) home. We thought it would be a very good part-time rural house. And in this economy especially would (should) be cheap. We figured it would go for around $50,000, $60,000, maybe $70,000 max. When we inquired we were shocked –$90,000! And that’s before adding any upgrades (like a metal roof) or appliances. PLUS, we had to supply either a basement or slab on the land for the house to be mounted on. That, in addition to the land itself, access road capable of delivery trucks for the cabin, and utility hook ups, brought our estimate for the whole thing to be at least $225,000. For that much you can buy land with a decent house already on it! No bargains there.
- There is also the very realistic issue of bring supplies, tools, machines and appliances to your rural location. Delivery costs to very remote areas are extremely high, if at all possible. You may need to haul your own appliances, construction wood and drywall, tools, etc. and that means you need a vehicle with capacity – either a large pick up or SUV. Or the added costs of truck rental.
- As I previously indicated, locals don’t often welcome second-home owners. Part of the reason is the natural closeness of rural communities. The other part is the surge in urban people coming into the area and buying up rural property over the last 10 years especially. Even if you have owned your second location for many years you still will be seen as an outsider.
- At the risk of using a broad brush, local businesses and contractors willtry to take advantage of “city folk”. Urban and suburban people are seen as having lots of money and pretty much have a bulls-eye on their wallets.The people I know, during the construction of their house, had a dispute with the general contractor that eventually went to court. During pre-court hearings the GC said on record in front of everyone including his own lawyer quote “You’re from the city. You can afford it.” The case was closed in the home owner’s favor almost immediately.
- If you have never been in the wild at night you can’t imagine how dark it is at night! Imagine being in your BOL without electric power. If you’ve never done camping try it first before investing in deep rural BOL property.
- Similarly, add in the cold (even in the summer rural areas can get cold at night) and it’s a culture shock.
- Isolation is always a weakness. Raiders know there is no one around, no one to hear your screams (or gun shots), no one to come to your aid (at least not quickly). You will truly be on your own.
- I think too many people see going to a BOL as a weekend camping trip. If events are really that bad it won’t be! As stated by other preppers time and again, if you’re forced to go to your BOL and be off the grid in every sense the vast majority of your time will be spent gathering/obtaining food and maintaining security.
- Paying all cash is a good approach but very hard to do. You may need some kind of mortgage. And in spite of the [alleged] economic recovery even people with stellar credit are having a tough time getting loans.
- You may be able to qualify for a property tax break as a “farm” if you keep just a few farm animals (goats are often easy to raise).
This turned out to be one of the longest articles I’ve ever written. It isn’t my intent to talk anyone out of rural property ownership for BOL or otherwise. Just pointing out property ownership isn’t a simple thing especially if BOL is the primary goal. The preppers you see making rural or BOL videos on YouTube have either been doing it slowly for decades or choose to live the rural “homestead” life style with all the ramifications of being out of the more urban and urban-like life.
Remember the old saying about land: They aren’t making any more of it!