I have been reading SurvivalBlog for a few years now, and have noticed that many folks think outside the box on a variety of issues, but when it comes to building or modifying a structure for a retreat – or even a full-time place – they lapse into conventional thinking. So many times I have come across the words “house”, “cabin”, “home” or even “residence”. I guess the idea is that we have to “reside” somewhere, and the rest of the world may as well know where that is. Allow me a chance to share some of my thinking on this issue, and you may decide to avoid anything “residential”.
With just my wife and myself to plan for, we have decided that for the next decade at least, we’d like to keep as low a profile as possible. We are also building new, but if modifying an older structure, we would use the same techniques. Our first goal, already met, was to purchase the land for cash. This was not as big an expense as it sounds, as very rural undeveloped land can often be found quite cheaply.
We bought this land in a state that allows purchase by land trust. This is important for some of you to think about, especially if you have any problems from the past that may resurface. We did not name it the “The XYZ Family Trust” as many attorneys just automatically do; we used a name of a fictional agricultural facility. Anyone looking for property that we own will not find us there. No GPS coordinates will mark our property, and no bureaucratic thugs will be smashing down our doors at 3 a.m. Even traditional incorporation or LLC would not provide this degree of anonymity. And buying for cash leaves no mortgage trail.
I say this quite sincerely: I would rather live in a 5th wheel or a tow-behind trailer, on a piece of land that I own outright, than in a fine “house” with a mortgage on it. Many are still employed right now, but what if they lose the job? What if the dollar becomes worthless? What if there is a bank holiday, and funds are not available? How will they make the payments? We all need to think this through very carefully. We maintain that not having to make “payments” for the roof over our heads is of the highest priority.
We also needed to keep building costs very low. In most parts of the country, building a “home” means dealing with all sorts of bothersome building codes. Granted that many of them are for safety, but stop and think about this: banks make more interest on loans if the building costs more to put up; insurance companies get larger premiums if the value of the building is higher; and tax collectors pull in more revenue on expensive structures. Think about all those greedy hands held out, grasping at your hard-earned cash! We did, and decided that there had to be a better way!
We settled on the idea of building a “barn” and an “agricultural building”. Neither one of these will officially be a “residence”. This allows us to by-pass all sorts of nonsense. As a team, my wife and I know how to build stick-frame, as well as post-and-beam. If we could hire some local unskilled labor for part of the work, the “structures” would be up in a jiffy. If any building inspection is required, this is the point where it would be done. Once the inspector signs off, the owners are free to secretly finish the inside as they see fit. In our case, we intend to finish off the interiors as very comfortable homes.
What is the point of all this, you may wonder? By owning the property as a land trust for say, some sort of agricultural institute, it won’t appear on any municipal or county lists of “residences”. In this day and age of computerization, you need to be careful what types of lists your property and your name show up on. Disappearing from the face of the earth might not be such a bad thing! Any utilities used would be in the name of the trust, not your name. You’d never be visited by the Census (for those of you not comfortable with that issue) as no one would “live” there. If the Golden Horde came out your way, they wouldn’t find any house. The NAIS people would not be registering your premises (and no, the NAIS scheme is not yet dead. [JWR Adds: Yes, indeed it is “on the back burner” under different names.] If the government sent troops door-to-door, they’d pass you by. Owning “residential” property sets you up for all sorts of interference. You can probably imagine a hundred other scenarios you’d “miss”, so I won’t go on.
Do take some care not to look like a business. In this age of tax revenue shortfalls, everybody from the local fire marshal to town hall busybodies have been deputized to spot potential “businesses” for extra tax revenue. You need to be totally non-profit. If questioned, people are on the property only as volunteer workers. They don’t live there.
In order to live in a non-residence, there are a few items you’ll need to attend to. First, you’ll likely have some neighbors, somewhere. Our advice is to be friendly, neighborly, and helpful, invite them over if you wish, but say nothing. Another big item is making sure that from the outside, your non-residence does not end up looking like a residence. In our case, our backdrop is woods, woods, and more woods. We intend to paint the place in natural, earth tone colors: brown, forest green, dark tan – you get the picture. There will be no white window or doorframes, no shutters, no pretty garden paths leading to the doorstep. In fact, you’ll need to look closely to even find the doorstep. We intend to keep the window area on the sidewalls minimal, with skylights in the roof for natural lighting. There will be nothing to catch the curious eye. We’d like to blend into the woods.
The next item is the address. The property should not have any marked address, and certainly no roadside mailbox stuck out in plain sight, with a number on it! Nobody lives there, remember? Just some folks who volunteer to work there. I can’t think of a better way to advertise “residence” than a mailbox! Any mail going to the land trust (say, for utility bills), would go to the trustee, not to the property. Any mail addressed to you in your own name, is another issue entirely. Let me count the ways…post office box, re-mailing service, local RV campground that will accept your mail for a small fee, relatives, whatever you can think of, as long as it’s reliable. There will be issues with registering your vehicles (which can also be owned by a trust), buying insurance, dealing with your bank, etc, but all that can be worked out with a bit of thought. I’m just trying to lay a foundation for you here, to consider.
I find the idea of living this way to be sort of a thrill! If the same idea turns you totally cold, consider this: for probably the next 10 to 15 years, we are likely to be living in dangerous times. If you have a spouse, young kids, older parents, and others that you care about, you should consider doing whatever it takes to ensure their safety. There are those in government that, as you read this, are hatching new and sneaky schemes to invade your privacy. There are those in the tax-collection system looking for nefarious ways to snatch more of your income. There are low-lifes out there just waiting to prey upon you and yours. There are snoops expecting you to just live in the conventional manner.
The idea of hiding in plain sight – and living comfortably while doing so – has a lot of appeal. By not living in a “residence”, you exempt yourself from a lot of expense and bureaucracy. Perhaps, in another 15 to 20 years, after whatever is going to happen has happened, when the country is rebuilding, when it is safe for civilized folks to come out in the open again, then you can paint that agricultural building white, put up blue shutters, add a bay window, plant some pretty flowers along the walkway, fly Old Glory, and put up a mailbox. Life will go on, after all. Better times will be coming, and I hope to meet some of you on the other side!
[JWR Adds: Some friends of our family in the Inland Northwest live in a well-insulated pole frame steel shop building. They call it their “Shouse.” (Shop-House.) From a distance it looks a lot more like a shop building or a barn than it does a house. Their original plan was to temporarily live in the shop until they built their dream house. But the years went by and they got more and more comfortable in the shouse, as they added interior amenities. In the end they’ve settled into the shop very comfortably, and instead of being burdened by a mortgage, they live debt free.]