Finding and Buying Your Homestead
Finding land — it’s the biggest challenge facing many would be homesteaders. Especially today. We could not be more thankful to have our farm, which in many ways is the perfect homestead for us and has inspired us in ways beyond what we’d imagined. But getting here wasn’t easy, required a few strokes of luck, and a few lessons learned.
Here is some of what I’ve learned through the process of finding and buying our farm, and watching many others on their land-owning journeys.
Timing is everything. We bought our farm in the fall of 2015. Today the same property in the same condition would easily be twice the price, probably three or four times more expensive. Timing is a matter of luck, especially when unpredictable variables like coronavirus come into play. We could not have known the timing was right in 2015, beyond that it felt right to us. I can say, it doesn’t feel right now and my recommendation is to continue waiting unless you see the perfect place pop up. At the very least, do your due diligence in market research and don’t overpay for a property if you can help it.
Be willing to get creative with financing. Our farm was purchased through some very creative financing methods, let’s be honest. Some of the purchase price was owner financed with a monthly payment directly to the owner and an agreement that the remainder would be paid immediately upon the sale of our previous home, or within two years. The majority was financed through a bank, but via a construction loan. A home without electricity or running water is not eligible for a traditional mortgage. The construction loan had to be either paid off in three years, or transitioned into a traditional mortgage (which would only be possible if we completed the house). These conditions, both selling our old home and finishing the new one, were big risks we took. We *had* to get those two things done within their timeframes. Thankfully, we did.
Know your limits. We would not have taken risks like having to finish the home within three years if we hadn’t known or at least believed we could do it. We also would not have bought a home without electricity or running water without some kind of a plan, and confidence in our ability to rough it. Showering outside and using an outhouse didn’t daunt us. Construction was a skillset my husband had practiced before. If, for example, we had small children, a home without basic amenities would not be considered. If we had never built anything before or weren’t handy in general, we would have looked for a home in need of less of a major overhaul. Yes, you can learn new skills, you can push yourself to your limits — but be realistic, there are limits to that, and limits to what you actually want to do. Don’t push yourself so far out of your comfort zone that you have a bad time.
A property that needs a lot of work…needs a lot of work. Restoring the property has taken time, money, and various pieces of equipment. It had required constant chipping away: every summer, mowing the fields 3-4 times a year with a brush hog until they came back to fields instead of scrub. Animals working in overgrown areas and fences being rotated every few days. It’s not like we rebuilt the house and that was it, everything had required work and rebuilding, and most of it requires maintenance. I’ve known more than one person to purchase a property with a beautiful, big old barn in the hopes of restoring it. A few years go by and the restoration job becomes more daunting. A decade goes by and the barn will fall in. If you are buying a property that needs a lot of work, it’s important to have a plan (even if it’s a ten or fifteen year plan) on how you’re going to get the essentials of that work done.
Be patient, but don’t be a perfectionist. When it comes to the property search, be patient and wait for the right place, but don’t hold out on almost-right places thinking the next one may be better. Compromise or be forever searching. We love our farm. I adore it. But it’s on a public road, which is a bit contrary to one of our first priority when searching: we wanted privacy. We have a home on a public road and neighbors who stop by every few days. But we also have 100 acres, so while our home may not be that private we can find corners that are. A privacy was a worthwhile sacrifice for workable fields and a beautiful barn.
Be patient AFTER you purchase. Yes, you need to get the work that needs to be done, done. Yes, you need a plan. But things take time. Make your plan, and let it be a 5 or 10 or 15 year plan and don’t burn out all at once. Most importantly for a farmer: watch your land. Don’t buy and turn your land into what you want. Buy, arrive, and watch. After a few seasons, know where the water sits and where the high spots are. Understand what spots never see sun, what thrives naturally in the soil. And work according to what the land is telling you to do.
Research or know your area. We didn’t actually use a real estate agent in our farm search until we were ready to buy. We are both lifelong Mainers who know our state well, and knew what we were looking for. We knew we had to stay within a 1-2 hour drive from where my husband’s children went to school. The moment Patrick told me he had found a property in Liberty for us to check out, I knew several things about what that meant, having grown up three towns over. While there is some culture shock moving to a rural location, many things were understood by us before we got here. If you don’t have that kind of local knowledge of where you’re considering buying — ask. Ask as many people as you can. Understand what kind of a place you’re moving into, who your neighbors are, what your town will be like.
If you are looking for land, good luck! Feel free to direct message or email me if you have questions about our process. I’m trying to be as transparent as possible that luck and fortune played their part in our landing at this farm, but with a little bit of patience, hard work, and research hopefully luck can be on your side as well!