Weekly Survival Real Estate Market Update

Thanks to all of you for your patience as I dealt with some important family issues, several visiting SurvivalBlog real estate clients, and the opening of Idaho’s Deer and Elk season, all in the past two weeks. Sometimes there is no such thing as the slower-paced life at a higher altitude!

Well the financial news these days just keeps getting darker and for those of you who are actively searching for your retreat, just press on, you’ll make it. As we get back into reviewing actual retreat locales (next week) it’s important to have a solid standard operating procedure (SOP). to identify, review and finally purchase your retreat. Although JWR does an outstanding job outlining characteristics and tactics to find and purchase your retreat in his book Rawles on Retreats and Relocation, I want to bring another perspective from an agent ‘on scene’ and allow you to benefit from my experience watching clients from all over the nation go through what at times may be a physically and mentally exhausting experience.

First and foremost, the best advice for those of you that dream of being at your retreat in the hinterboonies one day is that the locale and property you have chosen to focus on after searching the web for countless hours is never what your mind has made it out to be. The second tidbit of advice I can pass along is that the one property that looks like a shack in the middle of a swamp will actually turn out to be the one you buy. It never fails, a client contacts me regarding the ‘ultimate retreat’ they saw on a web site and once I go visit the property for them it fails inspection miserably against the clients’ criteria.

Keep your expectations as low as possible and focus on the acronym W.A.L.L.S., which stands for: Water, Access, Location, Light and Security. Focus on building strong W.A.L.L.S. around you as you search your prospective locales. Obviously, you’ll need a never ending source of water, preferably gravity fed from a spring or shallow well. The access to the property must be manageable year round, remember, what you see in July will not be the road conditions in December! This is a mistake that is easy to make if you get tunnel vision during your search or have your dream property goggles on, be careful! The location of the locale and property should be well within your defined limits of travel time to whatever major metropolitan area you may have to work in until either you retire or TSHTF, as not all of us can quite our jobs and pack it into the hills! Be realistic about your views of the locale before you arrive for your first visit and be prepared to make radical changes to your shopping list as the days go by. You’ll need plenty of light, Sunlight that is, and Southern exposure in order to keep your garden happy. Last and actually least would be the security of the locale and the property. Why last? Well, if you lack any of the aforementioned, then what’s the point of a retreat? I’d rather live out a socioeconomic storm in a retreat that had less than desirable defensibility than to be on the North face of a tall ridge where I could not grow my garden, with a 400 foot well and snowmobile access only in the winter. Trust me, almost any property can be defended, it just might take more personnel and logistics to do so. Now that you understand the W.A.L.L.S. theory we can jump back to the basics of finding your retreat.

As most of you know my family and I fled the People’s Republic of Kalifornia about a year ago and after spending the past year with many clients on their search for Heaven on earth (it does not exist in case anyone wants to know). One of the first mistakes that most people do is fly right in and want to see a bunch approved retreat properties with the properties spread out over a 200 mile radius. Stop. This is a waste of your time and everyone else’s time. The correct process would be to do the reverse of the standard learning curve and run, walk, and then crawl around your retreat locale. Let me explain: First, go to the local book store and pick up a huge folding non laminated paper map of the locale your are interested in relocating to (in CONUS that would typically be a particular State or region) and simply mark your route on the map and allow yourself three full days (not including travel time to and from) to simply drive the entire region. Stop in each town for a look see, breath the fresh air and talk to the local farmer at the general store, that person is usually a wealth of knowledge.

On a side note, please dress appropriately! If you’re coming from a major population center and going into the boonies, do not wear what you think is casual, since “out there” it will be over dressed and the locals will not talk to you. If you take the time to really dress down, you’ll be respected and even though you’re from “down there”, you’ll have a good chance to gain allot of critical Intel from the local population. Do not show up to see property in shorts, tennis shoes or high heels. I’ve actually had several clients come to town on their search and even after I told them to wear long pants and bring hiking boots to be prepared to walk in thick brush and varied terrain, someone shows up in a skirt and tennis shoes, great for looking at condominiums while carrying your toy poodle, but not realistic for retreat shopping. The next thing you know your spouse is pouting in the car while you and your agent are out seeing the property and the trip just goes downhill from there. Pack accordingly for the climate and the general terrain of your locale!

Back on track. If, for instance, you were thinking of moving to the Libby, Montana region you’ll want to drive from Kalispell all the way through Northern Idaho to Spokane, Washington (200 miles) just to give yourself a good working knowledge of the terrain and climate of the region as well as familiarizing yourself with any large metropolitan cities that may be a threat someday. This would be the run phase of your operational SOPs.

Next, once you have the ‘big picture’ you’ll need to identify your main retreat locale, if the one you picked while surfing the web was deemed unworthy, and three alternative retreat locales. Then go to the walk phase. During this phase you may need to take an entire week of vacation so you can actually stay in each locale, walk the towns, talk to everyone you can meet and really seek that warm fuzzy feeling you will have when you have finally found your retreat. Take your tools (such as the Rawles on Retreats and Relocation book) and make checklists of the characteristics that are important to you outside of your retreats W.A.L.L.S. and once you spend an entire day or two in each locale you’ll be ready for phase three.

Finally, in the crawl phase you’ll be ready to actually spend considerable time viewing properties in your main and backup retreat locales. Remember that sometimes you’ll find the best property in locale # 2.. If so, by all means buy it, since you’ll be spending more time at your property than out in the general vicinity anyway. And a short drive is nice out here in the country!

To recap, you’ll need to take a minimum of three trips to your retreat region and locale before attempting to purchase. First, make a large overview and narrow your region into several locales. Then take another trip to narrow the locales into two actual towns that meet your characteristics and then and only then come back with your checkbook in hand. The amount of time spent should be anywhere from 10 to 14 days of actual ‘ground time’, not including your travel days. So you’ll need to plan on saving up your vacation time and using the weekends (or your days off) to your advantage.
God Bless, – T.S. in Idaho

JWR Adds:
If possible, schedule one of your retreat scouting trips for the dead of winter. This is particularly important if you are looking for a retreat anywhere at higher elevations or in more northern latitudes. Elevation and solar exposure make a huge difference in comfortable living. There are also some localized climate variations to consider. (The “snow belt” factor.) Asking a seller or agent about how much snow to expect in January is one thing, but seeing it for yourself is another. Odds are that after your mid-winter trip you will revise your retreat shopping plans to concentrate on lower elevation properties, southern exposure, and ready winter access via regularly plowed roads. (OBTW, I have found that any property that is on a School Bus Route is a good thing, even if you home school your kids, since typically those are the roads that get the highest priority for snow plowing in winter.)