Homesteading (as of late) has become romanticized. It conjures images of people walking through flower-filled meadows without a care, eating homegrown fruit and vegetables, and drinking from crystal clear mountain creeks—but that's not always the case. Homesteading can provide a simple life allowing you to become self-sufficient, but it may not be easy. Hard work is required for a successful homestead whether you’re on 1 acre or 100.
I moved to my homestead in the fall of 2021 amidst a crazy housing market. Properties were popping up for sale, only to be snapped up the same day by cash buyers. The housing market demanded that a buyer make an offer well above asking price, and oftentimes forfeit inspections and other due-diligence items. I wondered how the heck I could ever get a homestead, but it happened. This miracle played out because I came to the buyer's table prepared.
My desire for such a property started brewing in my mind years ago, but my true search for a homestead began in 2020. The pandemic was raging across the world, toilet paper was scarce, and things were getting weird. I felt I needed to leave the city, but I feared it was too late since everyone was already doing just that. In the beginning of 2020, the world shut down and the housing market slowed to a trickle; then a few months later, it BOOMED with no signs of slowing. I checked landwatch.com daily—all day—only to watch all the desirable chunks of land getting snapped up.
I got serious about my search by answering the top 5 questions when purchasing a homestead:
What is your budget?
What is the cost to improve and develop the property?
What area works for you?
What necessities do you need?
How much space do you need?
Once I answered these questions, I felt more prepared when scouting for the perfect homestead. I was realistic. My ultimate goal was to be entirely self-sufficient and independent of the "system," so I needed a farm aligned with that goal. A property bordering a lake with large acreage, pine trees, and a cozy little cabin was unrealistic for my needs. I needed enough acreage to one day raise a herd of cattle. I didn’t want to limit myself from the start.
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Respect your budget
To begin your journey of purchasing a homestead, understand your budget. Traditionally, buyers apply for a mortgage with a bank and the bank responds with an approval amount, based on income, debt to income ratio, credit score, and other factors. But remember: just because a bank specifies an approval amount, this DOES NOT give you the green light to "max out" the loan. Find a homestead priced below or well below the approval amount. If you desire financial freedom, get a reasonable loan. Consider your job and income streams. What if one or all of them fails? How would you make your mortgage payment? Design backup plans for yourself and NEVER dive in over your head.
Budget for property improvements
No property is perfect. It's up to you to understand what upgrades the homestead needs and where to best put resources. You can understand these issues by having an in-depth inspection with a reputable inspector.
Pro tip: avoid any inspector recommended by your realtor or friends of the realtor—they are motivated to hold back the real bad news on the property. Find someone who tells you the truth (all the problems that need fixing). Educate yourself on the good and bad features of your property and determine the cost to get it to where you want it.
So far, my homestead has cost me a lot of time cleaning up disasters like my green house and chicken coop. I've spent money on projects for landscaping, gutters, baseboard, crack repair, and more! If I had maxed out my bank-approved loan, I'd be too broke to fix these issues.
Find a geographic region desirable to YOU
Research, research, and more research! Explore different areas where you want to homestead. Be open to new areas too! Maybe Alabama seems undesirable, but then a wonderful homestead property pops up there and calls out your name. Examine weather patterns on your prospective homestead by looking up previous weather events in that area. Ask locals their thoughts on the area. Read online forums discussing the area you are considering. Facebook (even though many people hate it…) has a plethora of homesteading groups organized by region. Check them out!
DO NOT MISS THIS: Check out the zoning and county ordinances governing your property. Determine if your property has an HOA. Any of these could mess up your homestead operation. Some HOAs prohibit certain types of animals—yuck! Avoid HOAs! They can become little cartels manipulated by good ol’ boys (and girls) running the show. Next thing you know, things are staying the same but your HOA premiums are jumping up—Why?
Know exactly what you need
When honing in on your ideal homestead, know what you absolutely need and want. Can you live without carpet? Can you live without central heat? Maybe central heat with a furnace is a must. This narrows down the search. Communicate your needs to your realtor; let them know what you are flexible on. Since I was open to almost everything, finding a homestead was easier.
Decide your ideal space requirements
What do you want to do on your homestead? If you just want to garden and grow food, an acre or less will work. For livestock, you need space. Cattle need more acreage, etc.
Make a list of what you want to accomplish and think realistically. Will your garden expand to a commercial size where you sell to the public? If so, you need more acreage. More projects and acreage leads to more work, though.
I hope this list of the top five things to consider when getting a homestead helps you in your journey of purchasing your ideal homestead. Recently going through this process myself gives me great insight to help you.