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And So it Began
Our search for land of our own began 7 years ago when we were living in Texas. With the exception of a 4 year stint at Fort Campbell where we bought a home, we have spent our entire married lives living in either military housing or rented homes. Deb has wanted a place of our own for years. I was always hesitant to put down roots in a place that I didn’t really like that much where I was working a job that I didn’t really care for. Finally back in 2011 we started looking at homes, land, and discussing what type of place we wanted.
One of the decisions we arrived at is that we didn’t want to live in a subdivision and we wanted no part of a HOA. Through a friend at work, I learned of a place that owner financed land with a small down payment. He also told me of a place that did owner financing, moving, and setup of repo manufactured homes. That would be a start, and it would get us out of our rental house in town. We looked at some land and it was mostly in the Trinity River bottoms. Neither of us were keen on buying land in a flood plain and we ended up continuing to look elsewhere.
Making a Move
In 2014 I had an opportunity for a job that would finally put us in the area we really wanted to retire. It would put us close to my Dad and Stepmom in their latter years, but the downside is that our kids and most of our grandkids would be down in Texas. After a lot of thought and discussion, we decided to make the leap.
Shortly after moving we began looking at property and discussing what we wanted in a home or land. One of my favorite places growing up was a beautiful lake near our hometown. We spent a lot of Saturday and Sunday afternoons swimming at the lake or just driving around the countryside. Naturally, that is the first place we began looking for property. Unfortunately, reality sometimes departs from childhood dreams. There was plenty of land available near the lake, the problem is that much of it was really rugged and challenging to build on. Many of the lots had run down homes or trailers built right next to the road and the property was pretty trashed out. A search on the web revealed a disturbing number of registered sex offenders and verified meth houses. Time to rethink!
The Decision Checklist
- Did we want to buy a cheap home or build our own?
- Type of area/activities we want to be near?
- Plans for the land?
- What kind of land did we want to buy?
- How remote and isolated did we want to be?
- What kind of lifestyle do we want?
Did We Want to Buy a Cheap Home or Build Our Own?
Searches on Zillow, Realtor.com, Mossy Oak, and local realtor sites revealed no shortage of cheap homes. Unfortunately, there is a reason they were cheap and the price would only be a starting point. Issues with eaves, roofing, flooring, and utilities end up requiring a lot of work and a sizable cash outlay. Fixing up a place that needed work would cost more than if we built from scratch! Another issue is floor plan. Nothing we saw matched what we had decided was important in a floor plan. Since this home will be our retirement home, we decided to build our own.
Done deal, we would buy a piece of land and build our own home. What type of home is a story for another day.
Type of area/activities we want to be near?
After years of living in military housing and subdivisions, we knew that we wanted a place with elbow room. My wife grew up in town and always felt that was where she would want to live. People change over time, and she finally decided that she also wanted a place with some elbow room, space, trees, and privacy.
We both love being in the outdoors and enjoy camping and hiking. Her family vacations as a child revolved around loading up the pop-up camper and going camping somewhere for a week. My family spent a lot of time driving through the Ozarks and visiting places in the Mark Twain National Forest. We both wanted to be near areas where we could get out and enjoy nature. Go for a swim, go on a float trip, go on a hike, just spend some time in a beautiful place without having to drive for hours.
Plans for the land?
Initially we thought of a property with enough space to grow a small garden and perhaps have a few chickens and rabbits. Our priorities changed as we discussed our retirement years and the type of life that really meant the most to us. Living more in tune with nature, less consumerism, sustainable living, responsible stewardship became more important. We decided that we wanted to buy a place that would have enough room for livestock if we felt so inclined. Bottom line, we didn’t want to get the bare minimum space and not have room to expand if we wanted.
As a result, we decided that something in the 3-5 acre range would be best. It would allow us to have a garden, and have a chicken coop and/or rabbit hutch that wouldn’t be right next to the house. We could start with a small garden and have the flexibility to expand. Funny thing is, we bought 5.3 acres and Deb wondered what we were going to do with all that land. As we worked on clearing trees and developing the house site, she began to wish we had MORE space. When the 5.9 acres on our north border became available, we decided to buy that too and ended up, so far, with 11.2 acres. Now, if only the 6.3 acres on our east border doesn’t sell before we get in the position to buy it too….
What kind of land did we want to buy?
Deb and I both love the rugged hills and beautiful vistas. Nothing like a piece of land with a view and a pond or stream. Deb’s left hip had been bothering her for a couple years, and it became necessary for her to have a hip replacement. In the next 3-5 years she will probably end up having her other hip replaced. Build a home and garden on rugged acreage is definitely feasible. Getting around it with a bionic hip isn’t so easy. Neither of us could imagine trying it with two bionic hips! They take care of the pain and restore lost mobility, but they just aren’t made for land best suited to billy goats.
We looked at some cleared land, but really wanted wooded acreage. We didn’t want rugged hills, but we didn’t want flat land. And we definitely didn’t want to be in a flood plain. The narrowed our focus to wooded acreage with a gentle slope that would be easy for us to navigate as we age.
How remote and isolated did we want to be?
In the early stages of our discussions, we thought about buying remote land far away from the rest of the world. Sounds romantic, and for some people it is the best place in the world. We considered things like the fact that we will be working for the next 6-7 years, getting to church, spending time with family, access to medical care. Remote wasn’t practical for us. We began searching within 20 miles of the town we wanted to be near that would meet the other criteria that were important to us.
With retirement approaching, we didn’t want to be so remote that we didn’t have fairly easy access to stores and medical facilities. We don’t need to be near a big city, but would like access to the basics without having to make a day trip.
What kind of lifestyle did we want?
Determining how we wanted to live had a huge impact on the type of land that would be suitable. We wanted land with enough space to have room between us and neighbors. We wanted enough space to have a sustainable permaculture garden. Space for a chicken coop if we decided to go that way was important. Since we really enjoy relaxing in our above ground pool, there has to be room for that! I love smoking meat and want a detached BBQ pavilion. No more having the smoker right next to the back door and bringing smoke into the house.
We wanted to have enough room to make a few trails to stroll through our woods. Building a fire pit retreat found its way to our wish list. We wanted a lot wide enough to build in a location where the house wouldn’t be easily seen from the road. Private, but not isolated. And we didn’t want to be in an area with junked up places all around us. Determining what kind of lifestyle is important is vital in picking out the right kind of land.
We’ve got LAND!
In the end, I stumbled across an add on Craigslist for owner financed wooded acreage. A local developer had bought a few hundred acres and opened it up. He ran county water lines, and had the plat accepted by the electric utility and the county. In the next year the county will be taking over road maintenance. He gave directions to get to the property, gave some details, and invited us to go check it out. There was no high pressure sales pitch. Just told us to go look at it and if we saw something we like, come to his office and we will talk. I like that approach because I detest a high pressure sales pitch and will walk away in a heartbeat.
We walked several properties and decided on the one we wanted. The properties have some deed restrictions that actually make them more appealing to us because they will (hopefully) prevent the kind of things that made other areas unappealing. Deed Restrictions is an ugly phrase to most people setting out to homestead because they want to do whatever they want on their land. Problem is, the people around you can do the same, and that could get unpleasant. We made sure that the restrictions didn’t keep us from doing any of the things we were wanting to do on the land and signed the dotted line.
Making it work
My job doesn’t leave me much free time because I work 10 days and get 4 days off. This gives us every other weekend to get out there and work. It is challenging, and at times frustrating because things take time. Of course, it also gives us time to refine our plans and hopefully waste less time.
Rather than have a dozer come in and knock everything down, we cut trees ourselves. I’ve left the bigger oaks in logs 9-14 feet long to use as posts in our cordwood home. I’ll mill hickory logs to use in making cabinets and furniture. The rest of the oak and hickory we have been cutting up to dry for firewood. Other brush was burned. Whatever doesn’t make timbers for the frame or firewood will be laid out to make hugulkulture beds in the garden. Our initial site for a drive and house changed slightly in the fall and winter when could see the land better. It really is best if you can see the land, sun, and weather in several seasons before you put down something permanent.
People who have been out to our place love it. We love to spend time there, even if most of that time we are working our tails off. Some people get it, some people think we are crazy, and that’s okay. This is our dream, our adventure to do our way. Mistakes will be made, amazing things will be learned, and great people will be met as we go along. At the end of the day, we will have built our dream our way, and it doesn’t get much better than that. Hope you get to make your dream happen too!