Acquiring and Improving Land on the Sly

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GuerrillaCapitalist's picture
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Acquiring and Improving Land on the Sly

I was asked in another, thread if I would put together some of my ideas and experiences concerning rural property.

A few years ago, my wife and I began looking for 5 acres or so of country property. The idea was to continue to live in the city, maintain the cash flow and work to clear and make improvements on the land as time allowed.

We found a nice piece of land that suits our needs then negotiated a contract for deed sale. This is an attractive way to buy and sell rural real estate in tough times. Also, it's great for buyers in inflationary times.  As long as you get a title search and title insurance, you should be able to muddle through just fine without paying the fees of a realtor. There's plenty of information available.  The folks at the courthouse will help you if you ask nicely.

We are unbelievably fortunate to live in a county that has no building codes. We've been able to build in stages from a permanent camp site to cabin to fully featured house. You will probably have to deal with building codes, but they still allow a certain leeway. Also, depending on your local laws and regs, small buildings usually 10'x15' are exempt from code. I've known folks to artfully design several small structures and join them in such a way as to beat the code. I don't advocate building sub-standard or unsafe housing. I over-build and get a tad carried away with safety issues. I just don't like the government dictating how I'll spend my resources.

If this is a subject that strikes a chord, please chime in below. I encourage questions and will share oodles of resources I've collected over the past 40 years.

Edited by admin on 11/08/2014 - 06:06
HonorAndObey's picture
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How to locate farmland with a water source

I am in the market for 5 to 10 acres of farmland, preferably with a water source to utilize.  But how do you go about searching for such property?  There are tons of housing search engines out there, but not much in the way of farm property searches.  Oh... and some good sources to begin studying up on basic farming skills.

GuerrillaCapitalist's picture
Joined: 06/14/2011
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Finding Land Leads

Narrowing the search is probably the hardest part of the whole piece. We chased wild geese all over 4 counties, but this was during the feeding frenzy in real estate. Perseverance pays off.

If you're in the local area get as connected to the farmers and folks doing what you're doing or planning to do. Find the farmer's market and search out the leaders, chances are good they'll be plugged into the broader marketplace. Also look for community gardens. This is a good place to get hands on experience and great advice.

The local classified ads, craigslist, etc., are a source for land. Think of solving someone's problem: They have land and need cash or something else and you need land and have cash and other things to offer (think outside accepted boundaries here). Keep an eye out for farmland rental. These folks may have a small portion of a field that they'll consider selling. Their ad indicates they no longer farm and need cash.  Drop by the farm related businesses and check the bulletin boards. Tell everyone you know what you're looking for.

I have never found an online search engine that's worth a tinker's dam while land searching, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't use all I found.

I'll dig up some links and information on beginning gardening, I'll add more later.

I hope some of this helps. I'd be honored to answer questions and provide lots of links or related material

SSSilverSSSilver's picture
Joined: 06/21/2011
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Two resources I keep an eye

Two resources I keep an eye on are and

Good Luck

aether's picture
Joined: 07/22/2011
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we have been looking into

we have been looking into this as well. i would like 40+ acres as to make it harder for people to see/snoop around on your property.

make sure you have a source for good clean water, because without it, you are at the mercy of others for the most important resource on the planet.

once you have some land, you could start with a small 14x14 cabin with a sleeping loft.
there are plans on this website: for a small cabin that could be built in a week (or a few weekends). imo, it would be a prefect size cabin to start out with while working on other things on the land.

Chris P. Bacon
Chris P. Bacon's picture
Joined: 07/08/2011
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Is Big Bro Watching?

We have a chunk of land off-off-off the grid. I mean we are a 20 mile drive on dirt roads off of interstate at a point that is 20 miles from the nearest settlement, through several gates and down primitive two track roads in mountainous terrain and literally drive miles past the end of the power grid to get there. You'll understand why I stress the remoteness in a moment. We do have building codes and scheduling inspections can be a pain if both you and the inspector both have to schedule to travel to the property to meet.

Here's the Big Bro part. Even as remote as we are, our county assessor utilizes satellite imaging to monitor rural, in fact all, properties and they are amazingly good at finding buildings, etc. not permitted even in wooded areas. In addition they fly drones around out there looking for things not captured by the sat. imagery as they only pay for that to be updated every 'some number of years'. I know all of this as this imagery is available to the public on the assessors web site. Where if you look up your property you can zoom in and see things to about 3-5' resolution. They outline any buildings they find on the image.

The point being if you think you are going to 'go primitive', build on the sly without permits, where required, and escape big brother's gaze, do some investigation and confirm that before you go for it. Permits + Penalties + Pissed off Inspectors is not a recipe for tranquility.

My $.02, adjusted for inflation.

P.S. You should be able to utilize Google or the Yellow Pages to locate a Realtor in your area that specializes in rural properties. They will be tuned into what is available and can save you boat loads of search time.

GuerrillaCapitalist's picture
Joined: 06/14/2011
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Big Bro IS Watching and Taking Notes


Thanks for taking the time to remind us of the technology in use by county officials in even the most remote areas. 

You make excellent points about not skirting rules so as to keep the code officials happy. There have been many instances of pissed off officials condemning out of code, but perfectly safe structures and forcing folks to tear them down.

I've always found being cooperative and friendly with the local officials goes a long way. They are our neighbors after all.  With all that said, I'm also very skilled at running right up to the line. For example I have a twenty foot tall "fence" at our city property to ward off a criminally pesky neighbor. I built a series of trellises with a foot between them the length of the property.  Before I built, I checked the code and I built accordingly.

I don't advocate playing fast and loose with the rules, the consequences are just too dire. I do advocate self education and self advocacy as a way to seize control of one's life.

Tecumseh's picture
Joined: 07/26/2011
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. . .  has proved to be a great website, depending on where you are looking.  It lists well over 1000 properties in most states and dozens in most provinces.  It also is very easy to narrow your search on, by price, acreage, or type/use.  For example, go to the site, click on "North Carolina," click on "Hunting Land," click on "less than $100,000."  This will get you all properties listed under those criteria.

. . .  have located DOZENS of nearly perfect opportunities over the last three years or so, but have not once convinced my wife or kids that there is a need. 

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