When Mike and I first started talking about homesteading in March last year (2011), we realized that we could live completely sustainably (and really very abundantly) on five acres of land. Masanobu Fukuoka suggested (in 1978) that, contrary to common opinion and government policy, every Japanese family could be sustained on Japan’s land mass: “There is just a quarter-acre of arable land for each person in Japan. If each person were given one quarter-acre, that is 1¼ acres to a family of five, that would be more than enough to support the family for the whole year” (One-Straw Revolution, p. 109). We knew that five acres would be more than enough for us, and perhaps it was a number we subconsciously selected from suggestions like Maurice Kain’s Five Acres and Independence.
Around that time, I had “Stumbled Upon” one family’s “Low Impact Woodland Home,” a project that resonated with us philosophically and illustrated in concrete terms how living this kind of life is viable and beautiful. Simon and Jasmine were committed to being “full-time parents” (a “full time mum and part time dad”), which required averting the constrictions imposed by the obligation to pay off a mortgage during those full-time parenting years. (And with a family income of about $10,000/year [£5,000 annually], a mortgage wasn’t really an option.) The woodland home cost them about $6,000 to build (£3,000).
Figuring out how to get there has been a learning experience as we have gathered information from a hodgepodge of sources. We recognized pretty quickly that U.S. building/zoning codes and regulations were a very real and immediate obstacle. Fortunately, I received a tip early on from a KU Professor, Paul Atchley, who did some natural building in a neighboring area of Kansas; he explained that we should look specifically for rural land, where the restrictions would be less cumbersome.
|We searched for rural land primarily on www.landwatch.com and Craigslist, although we ultimately found our acreage due to the thoughtfulness of Kaye Gann, a realtor we highly recommend in the Knob Noster/Warrensburg area.|
Doubly fortunately, we haven’t had to expend too much energy on this aspect of the process because we live in a relatively locally-regulated state (Missouri), where codes and zoning are ultimately in the hands of cities and counties. So we chose the path of least resistance and have primarily searched for property in Johnson County (MO), where there are no building/zoning restrictions in unincorporated areas of the county (this is a contrast to Jackson County, where we currently live, and surrounding counties, like Cass, Ray, and Platte—all of which we attempted to research and concluded that the process would be a bit more complex).
We also quickly recognized that finding this small of a parcel of land—five acres—at a reasonable price in an unincorporated or restriction-free area was searching for a needle in a haystack. Okay, correction: we’ve been limited geographically as we’ve searched in a radius that would keep us within a one-hour drive to the Kansas City Metro, since we anticipate a regular commute to our nano-brewery. That condition has affected our search perhaps more than any other single factor, and it certainly would have been easier if our location didn’t matter and we worked solely on price and the friendliness of local codes and regulations. But that’s the rule of real estate, isn’t it?
Describing the trade-off between location and price, George Nash suggests finding affordable land that will allow you not to go into debt may require that you look at least 50 miles away from the nearest WalMart (Homesteading in the 21st Century, p. 25). Our choice to live closer to the Metro area precluded this possibility, but we discovered that, with our geographic limitation, purchasing just five acres ultimately didn’t make sense. Sure, we don’t need more than five acres, and I felt resistant about furthering the consumerist, bigger-is-better mindset that we are trying to eschew. But we could see that the price point between a 5-acre parcel and a larger plat was absurd: $2,000 or less/acre for 30+ acres vs. $5-8,000/acre for 5 acres. Additionally, most (maybe all?) of the 5-acre parcels we found were in rural subdivisions or city limits, whose restrictions classified those listings as non-options for us.
So, as much as we would have preferred not to, we ultimately decided to purchase a larger parcel of land and take out a loan to cover the cost. However, we have already paid a substantial amount with our fairly sizable down payment (35%, as is fairly standard on land loans), and we are hoping to pay off the rest in three years. Furthermore, the sellers were willing to settle on a price well below appraisal, so we already have equity in the property. At the end of the day (yesterday!), we feel comfortable with the decision and approach, especially with a situation that is not as looming as a standard mortgage.
Buying rural land, especially in order to build naturally/unconventionally, is a unique process, and there seems to be a dearth of centralized information and resources, at least in the searches I did. Feel free to send me a message/e-mail if it is something you are interested in, and I will be happy to share more about our experience and considerations.