Buying and Selling Rural Land: Considering The Basics

Much of my work as a consultant revolves around selecting retreat properties. For more than 15 years I have assisted my clients in their quest for the most suitable and practical properties available, to assure their families the best possible chance of surviving anything from a short-term localized disaster to a long-term societal collapse. Over the past 10 years of editing SurvivalBlog, I have included many insights about the retreat property selection process, interspersed in articles and replies to letters on related topics. But in this article, I’d like to distill a lot of that experience into just one concise description.

Keep in mind that most of my experience has been with properties in the inland western United States, so your circumstances and constraints may vary, in other regions.

Due Diligence

Purchasing property in a rural area in many ways requires much deeper due diligence than that for buying a house on a city lot.  This is not just because of the larger scale of country properties, but also because country properties are typically more independent of utilities, namely:

  1. Your water system is usually spring or well water, rather than from a civic supply (commonly called “City water”).
  2. Your septic system is probably independent of city sewer systems. Typically this consists of a septic tank and a perforated pipe leach field.
  3. Your power system may be independent (aka “off grid”).  Typically this employs either a photovoltaic (solar), micro-hydro, or wind power system with a battery bank and inverter, supplemented by a backup generator that is fueled with diesel, propane, or gasoline.
  4. Your Internet service and possibly also your phone service might be independent of both phone lines and cellular connectivity. Living beyond pavement can mean living beyond phone lines. (The most remote homes can be served only by satellite services, such as dishNet, Hughesnet, and WildBlue.)

There are also many other considerations for buying a rural property. Just a few of these include:

  • Climate zone
  • Work commute distances
  • Distance to nearest commercial airport
  • Distance to the nearest hospital
  • Annual property taxes
  • State laws vis-à-vis firearms, income tax, homeshooling, home birth, vaccination, et cetera
  • Available solar exposure
  • Prevailing winds
  • Precipitation
  • Snow depth in a typical winter
  • County road maintenance and snow plowing
  • Livestock fences and fence corners (type and condition)
  • Survey records
  • Locating property corners
  • Soil type and quality
  • Water rights
  • Mineral rights
  • Timber rights
  • Mix of tree varieties in your woodlot
  • Forest age and health
  • Pasture grass varieties
  • Invasive weeds
  • Presence of deer ticks, chiggers, fire ants, etc.
  • Cattle grazing leases
  • Easements
  • Rights-of-way
  • Livestock fencing/gates type and condition
  • Hay storage
  • Hunting and fishing potential and applicable local laws
  • Local wild edibles
  • Firewood storage
  • Zoning and building permits
  • Homeowners Associations and relevant CC&Rs
  • Defendable ground
  • Water sources.
  • Water quality tests
  • Water well draw-down tests
  • School bus routes or availability of local homeschool groups
  • Shared road maintenance expenses.
  • Local established churches or home churches
  • Condition and suitability of house and outbuildings
  • Insurability and likelihood of approval for a mortgage
  • Condition and suitability of wood or coal-fired stoves
  • Condition and suitability of any machinery included with property sale
  • Local crime rates and drug culture
  • Regional radon risk
  • Local wildfire risk (proximity to trees or other fuel loads.)
  • Regional existential threats (such as: earthquake risk, dams, prisons, high-traffic railroads, proximity to population centers, national borders, nuclear plants, et cetera)
  • Diversity and resiliency of the local economy
  • Terrain and your visibility from natural lines of drift
  • Depth of water table
  • Ambient soil temperature at basement depth.

Again, that was not a complete list. With those in mind, you can see that there are a lot of things that require thorough study to avoid the many pitfalls. In this article I’m just emphasizing two of them, for particular consideration:

Water

A plentiful supply of domestic and agricultural water is crucial and deserves special mention. Finding a property with gravity-fed spring water is ideal. But a shallow well in conjunction with an independent power system can still be viable to carry you through a protracted disaster.

The All-Important Aspect: The Neighbors 

Another aspect of selecting a rural property deserves special mention: The residents of contiguous and nearby properties. A wise rural property buyer will spend as much time talking with the owners of the neighboring properties as he does in examining the house and land, before he buys. Having trustworthy neighbors is very important. Not only will you need to keep an eye on each other’s properties, but you will also have to depend on each other for things like availability for jumpstarts, extra drivers for vehicle shuttling, swapping the use of heavy equipment, and combined shopping trips. (When the nearest store is 40 miles away, even non-preppers see the wisdom of buying in quantity.)

Where to Find a Suitable Retreat

My standing recommendations for good retreat regions can be found in this SurvivalBlog static page: Recommended Retreat Areas. Repeating any of that in this article would be redundant. Please take the time to read through that static page.

Back in 2007, when SurvivalBlog was less than two years old, my #1 Son launched a spin-off website devoted to bringing together the sellers and buyers of retreat-worthy rural properties. It is called SurvivalRealty.com. I may be biased, but I highly recommend it. Very detailed ads with copious illustrations are available for just $25 per month, and no sales commissions are charged. Be sure to check out the more than 250 currently featured properties. (Most of them are in the United States.) Presently, the listings range from western waterfront ranches to a converted missile silo and a property with a 220-foot long horizontal gold mine tunnel.

For greater detail on evaluating rural land and houses, I recommend the book How to Find Your Ideal Country Home: A Comprehensive Guide, by Gene GeRue.

In closing, I recommend that you complete the purchase of any rural property only after you’ve done your homework and after some fervent prayer. Trust in God to lead you to the right piece of land! – JWR

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