Prepper House Hunting – Part 2, by Mrs. AK

(This installment concludes the article.)

We do have towns here in Vermont that lack any zoning. While some might consider this good, it can get ugly when people turn their properties into junkyards or want to start noxious commercial operations in a residential area. I’d like some protection from that sort of thing, while not living in a place that controls every aspect of your life.

I want to avoid large commercial dairy operations and their associated spreading of liquid manure. The odors, traffic, dust and noise can be unbearable and has really caused a diminished quality of life for areas impacted by this; here dairy farms are sacred so good luck getting anyone in authority to help with this. The same goes for large pig farms etc. There’s a pig farm here that has a constant problem with escaped pigs which cause immense damage to the neighbor’s gardens and land. In some states this would also be an issue for large poultry operations which can be pretty nasty.

A piece of land that has significant open sunny area for gardening plus some woods would be ideal. Unless I’d get a large enough piece of land I don’t anticipate being able to cut enough wood on my own land to provide for entire winters of wood stove use(although that would be ideal), but at least some would be helpful.

House Criteria

The house itself should not be too big but not too small, ideally between 800-to-1,200 square feet. I’d like at least an extra bedroom for my son to use when he wants to or for friends to stay over. In tough times the extra bedroom or two would likely be occupied full-time by my son and others. A basement, if dry, would be useful for storage of root crops, etc. A wood stove in good condition is a plus. A porch would be ideal as I like porches for sitting on and relaxing or socializing plus they are a fine place to spend time outside yet out of direct sun in hot weather. Cooking on a propane camp stove is also doable on a porch even in the rain while safely venting the gases to the outside.

A garage would be super, both to store a car, especially in winter, and also for storage of garden tools, wheelbarrows, etc. Outbuildings, in good shape,would also be a plus. A small barn or shed would mean one less building I had to construct. My son is a beginning blacksmith so a place he can set up a workshop/forge would definitely be ideal as well.

Water Supply

I’d like to have a private water supply and septic system; no town water or sewer. A gravity feed spring like I had on my farm would be optimal but also not too likely. If it’s a drilled well then I’d like a place with a nearby river/stream/pond that I can access for water should the power be out for an extended period. The well (or spring) should supply adequate amounts of good potable water. I’m trying to avoid septic systems that are mound systems which the state unfortunately has been favoring in recent years. Most of these require pumping of the effluent which won’t work during power outages.

I’d prefer a metal roof in good condition as they last a long time and are ideal for providing an emergency water supply if you install gutters that have downspouts going to rain barrels or a cistern.

A pantry or room that can be used for a pantry/food storage would be nice although I can always build this if the house lacks one.

I’m pretty much agnostic about the power supply. I lived with an off-grid system for a long time so I’m well versed in their care and operation, pros and cons. If the grid went down for an extended period it would be handy to have. Given enough money I could also install a small system to use in an emergency. Lacking an off-grid system, in an extended power outage I’d want to be able to at least have a way to cook, heat the house in winter, and obtain water.

Avoiding Hazards

A property not located in a flood zone is a must. We are mostly spared tornadoes, hurricanes, large earthquakes, wildfires etc here but floods have become a major concern. Even some properties not located in a flood zone have flooded so I’d want to carefully eyeball any potential home and assess how likely I think flooding would be a concern. This is difficult however as sometimes culverts get clogged or are undersized and this has taken out roads or even huge pieces of land in a severe storm. We’ve had places flood that have been around for hundreds of years and have never had a problem, until recently.

Given the more frequent and severe downpours we have been experiencing lately, I’d also try to avoid steep hills that may likely see the road washed out in a severe rainstorm as well as steep driveways that also stand an excellent chance of being damaged by heavy rain. Climate change predictions all point to this problem worsening so if possible I’d rather avoid buying a home where I’m more likely to experience the road or driveway washing out. In ordinary times one can always call someone to fix the driveway and the town will fix the road but in a crisis situation this may not be possible and one would have to contend with a washed out impassable road or driveway. There are roads here even now that washed out months ago and are still closed due to the significant amount of damage.

A place with a cell signal is also a plus for current times. It would be nice to have decent high speed internet service but that’s pretty spotty here in rural Vermont. Some locales have good DSL so that may be the best I can hope for. Again, this is pretty much only a concern during “normal” times but as I’m trying to find a property that will both work for me now and at least meet some of my important needs if TSHTF, this is a consideration.

I’m also looking for a place that’s either already well insulated or will allow me to do that or get it done by a contractor. I’m trying to avoid homes that have old vermiculite insulation as due to much of that containing asbestos, contractors have real issues here working on those homes. Log homes may look quaint but they can be a nightmare to maintain plus are difficult to weatherize for this climate so I’m avoiding them. I also don’t want a mobile(manufactured) home as they aren’t easy to heat, lose their value rapidly, and to me, are aesthetically displeasing. That said, they work for some people in terms of providing cheap housing. Given that I’m trying to find a place to live in whether or not things ever get seriously bad, I’d just as soon as find a home that I like and that will be more likely to appreciate in value and be easier to maintain in good condition and heat in the winter.

So that’s the basics of what I’m seeking in a property. I know full well that I’m unlikely to find one I can afford that has it all. That said, there are items on my “wish list” that I’ll be willing to compromise on and others that are “must-haves”. Some are just more important to me than others. Some are really unchangeable such as location in a particular town, road, solar aspect, flood zone and topography. Add to that the acreage and access to a nearby stream or river.

I’m more open to compromising on the style of house be it ranch, cape, farmhouse, date of construction and that sort of thing. I want a house I can move into upon acquisition so it needs to be “livable”. It can be “dated” and require lots of paint, flooring, et cetera as those are all things I can do over time, while living there. I’m trying hard to keep my strong desire for a place to call my own again in check so that I realistically assess the properties I see and don’t just grab one out of desperation.

Some Disappointments

I’ve been looking at properties for the past few months and have made offers on three of them. There’s sadly a real lack of good properties in my price range. There is a lot of junk on the market as it’s a seller’s market here and sellers are putting stuff up for sale they have been unable to sell for years. The market is so hot here that buyers are agreeing to forgo inspections in order to nab the house; lost out on one house to a deal like that.

I’ve seen properties that are “camps” (vacation homes) with the water supply from the pond and a septic system that is only permitted for seasonal use. One nice house with a contaminated water supply (even with a drilled deep well). One that really had no land area to garden despite being on two acres as most of it was wooded terrain maybe only accessible to a mountain goat. Another had the interstate in it’s “backyard”. One was surrounded on all sides by crumbling houses with yards full of junk and the residents out drinking on their front steps. Some needed so much work that the cost for necessary repairs was prohibitive and the owners were evidently in la-la land as to the true value of their home.

This hasn’t been a lot of fun for me. I truly don’t like shopping for most anything other than at a garden center or at a Farmers’ Market! Dealing with realtors, many of whom just want to make a quick sale, feels akin to buying a used car. I’ve worked hard to distance myself from bullying realtors or those who truly don’t understand what I’m looking for. Buying a home is a big deal. It is, for many of us, the most significant purchase we will ever make and where we will have the bulk of our assets. For those of us who look upon a home as not just a residence but also a place to provide for our family’s security in tough times, finding one that meets our needs is critical.




26 Comments

  1. Too bad you aren’t looking down near Claremont, NH. Our neighbors just put their house up for sale. Two nice acres, outbuildings, etc. Rental apartment would help with the mortgage, too. I would like to see a like-minded person or family move in there. But we are an hour or more from the Northeast Kingdom.

  2. Nothing worthwhile is easy. If it was, there would be a lot more “of it” going on. Keep swinging till you hit something. I know we talk about thinking outside of the box, but so few do it. Try a “Wanted” ad on Craigslist, talk with other “like minded” individuals, Pastors, farmers-ranchers, Farm Supply stores, local lawyers (estate sale) tractor dealers or even utility workers who have a better feel for the rural areas in general. My wife’s uncle was a water commissioner in Colorado and his job was to check remote reservoir water levels. He was also the best hunting and fishing guide around! Good hunting!

  3. As we found out, Rural doesn’t always mean like-minded. Instead of looking for property in rural areas, we started looking for churches to attend in areas we were interested in. We would attend services in an area we were interested in and introduce ourselves as fellow Christians looking for a new place to call home.. Many were very helpful.. We ended up buying a very nice place from a gentleman who did not even have his property on the market. My brother also bought a very nice horse ranch in Montana this way from a Widow who refused to sell to anyone who she thought wouldnt blend well with her longtime neighbors..

    It is a bit of a slow process But it gave us a path to where we wanted to be.

    1. Staying Gray, great moniker. Your approach is so insightful and simple.

      I admire Mrs AK for her clarity and attention to detail. Perhaps you have added the element of spiritual guidance. Spiritual guidance is seldom recognized in the present, though is obvious in hindsight.

      Carry on

  4. Mrs. AK,

    Seems like we both had the same journey, hope your’s works out well for you. Just don’t be in a rush. We looked at probably 10 places (physically) and hundreds on line.

    Interesting thing about building codes is that here in Pennsylvania they were forced upon the citizens by the state, so that the state could comply with the Federal Hazard Mitigation Act of 2000. Even so, when I went do to get my building permits they flat out said here would be no inspections, hint, wink wink, nod. My builder planned on building to code but I talked to him and told him what they said. I saved about $1K by not insulating the basement.

    Good luck

    1. To 3AD Scout – I had a similar experience when I bought a house that was part of an HOA. Per the ‘rules’, I was supposed to submit a written request to build a storage shed in my back yard. The response I received back was ‘interesting, you’re the first person to ever do this. No one ever follows those rules’. Just like you’re wink wink, nod, when you went to get your building permit.

  5. There are some very helpful ideas here. Please consider the following along with them. Don’t even think of just ½ acre, even 2 acres may not provide you the necessary space to grow your sustainable food crops. Here’s the main reason, shade & roots from trees on adjacent property. I’ve owned both size tracts & I know what I’m talking about. When I first moved to each tract, the trees on the adjacent property were small & not a problem, but as years went by, I noticed that I was plowing up roots – more each year. Then on a particularly dry year, I noticed the crops within 50 ft. of these trees were withering & in subsequent years failed to produce due to shading early in the day. I lost one third of my garden area. There’s nothing you can do about this and your garden/orchard is permanently ruined through no fault of your own.
    Adjacent trees caused another problem that I did not have on my 2-acre tract. I relocated my solar panels to my second one-half acre, but could not get a full-day sun. Since I had sized the system to operate on full exposure, the system failed to operate efficiently, thus greatly reducing my power output & shortening the storage battery life.
    Also, there’s no privacy on these size tracts. Eventually, your neighbors are going to know what you do, what you’ve got & where you try to hide your stuff. Better to buy more land & fewer improvements. You can build these out as you go along. In the last 2 years, I’ve moved to rectify each of the problems I’ve outlined. There were a lot more reasons to consider in making my choice & all of them as important as those I’ve outlined above.
    And finally, to those of you who think you’ll just grab your bug-out provisions & go camp at some remote site; let me give you some caution. I’ve known the area where I am now located for over 70 years. Properties are 30 – 200 acres in size with just a moderate number of owner residences (read that to be lots of absent owners). That said, people around here keep check on what’s going on (any unusual noises, vehicles moving at night, smoke where it shouldn’t be, etc.); you get the picture. In short, I can’t think of a place where I could secretly & safely camp out for even a few days without someone “checking” me out. Yes, I ‘m familiar with the state wildlife management areas & the BLM lands in the West. In my opinion, you will just be joining up with another group who may be just as dangerous as the ones you’re fleeing from.

  6. Mrs AK ,,please stay where your at ,,,,,i know I would NOT want you for a neighbor ,,yes some folks are tacky and even crude. ,but they for the most part tend to be good people , as for having big ag close by ,people need to eat ,the smell is not as bad as going to the city ,guess it’s all in what your use to ,not trying to be snarky ,just is what is ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,some folks fit in ,and some don’t and try to change things ,,,,, I suspect you are in for a very hard time please stay where you are at ,yes I farm
    Shalom

    1. I have lived(and farmed) in rural Vermont for a long time. I have also experienced what huge dairy farms have done to my former community. I’m not at all anti-farm but I know what I don’t want to live around either. I wrote about what I was taking into consideration while looking for a new place to live. You don’t have to agree in the least.

      I don’t think you understand that it’s not that I’m a city person trying to move to a rural area. I’m quite familiar with how our rural areas operate having lived here in one for a long time. It’s one of the reasons I decided to remain in VT instead of leaving for a place with less winter. I have had no problems fitting in. Obviously you are quite bothered by something I wrote.

      1. May I suggest you look at LandAndFarm.com for property. Their search function allows you to customize your search by state, area, price, acreage, and type of property. You will find far more properties than you would have imagined.

        I moved to the American Redoubt all by myself, didn’t know a soul up here, and couldn’t be happier. There are so many wonderful people up here that it has been easy to settle in and feel safe. Good luck on your search!

  7. Good article. 20 years ago upon settling in western PA, we focused on a specific area to purchase a rural home. Our broker was useless, & decided we would simply start driving the area. We got to know the area better, & collect info by noting realtors shingles & then looking up the details on-line. After 6 months, we found a nice location with the best neighbors. We would encourage you to keep looking, & continue to pray for His will to be done!

  8. It took us almost 2 years to find the perfect property and boy was it worth the wait! We ended up building a house on it. You could find a nice piece of property and then bring in a modular home for quick move in (not a mobile home, a factory stick built home)

  9. Have you tried looking through Zillow.com and/or Realtor.com? I just did a brief search, looking at the whole state of Vermont. I found all kinds of properties with fairly reasonable prices. You can also narrow your search by county, maximum price, minimum land size, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, etc. You do the search, find something close to what you want, near where you want, look at one house, if you don’t like it, fine, then tell the realtor what is wrong with the house you see, then let them do the search for you.

    If you can get to the GIS information for whatever counties you are looking at, you should find the the FEMA flood areas, property line overlay, and other relative information on each property you look at. Every state is different on how the GIS information is presented, and in some you may have to pay a little to access the info.

    I’m in the same boat you are, looking for what I call my “forever home”. I have found properties with great houses with almost no usable land. I have found properties with no forest at all or with a house that needs to come down. Just be forewarned, no property is perfect, there is always something wrong. When I look, if I find something that appears to be close, I ask myself “How do I make this one work?”. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I would have to do to make it work for me and my wife. It will just take time.

    One other thing, realtors just don’t know how to present the properties they are trying to sell. I find bad pictures or not enough pictures of the inside of the houses and outbuildings. I find a lot of realtors who just got access to their shiny new drone, lots of aerial photos of the property with no reference to what exactly I’m looking at. You are in for a rough ride, sorry.

    Start with Zillow or Realtor.com. Do a search for a map that shows the names of the counties and print it our. Don’t limit yourself to just one county or you may be very disappointed. Get the GIS information, usually through the county web site. Have fun.

  10. AK, like you I prefer being a homeowner. However your comment on it being a sellers market made me think that we could be in the first stage of another housing bubble. It might be prudent to hold off on purchasing at this time. Rather than paying top dollar for a place less desirable than your last piece of property, it might be wise to rent temporarily until after the bubble bursts. Just a thought…

    1. Look at Martin Armstrong’s blog site. He has recently said that within two years or so, the monetary situation will be so chaotic and destabilized that banks will not be willing to give mortgages at all, because even ten or fifteen year mortgages will be too risky.

      His track record over decades being what it is, I would pay attention.

    1. Yes, there are properties, especially in the NEK that are “affordable”. The biggest problem with these is that I’m looking for a place that will function now, where I will have reasonable access to family and friends plus employment, as well as later if things went really bad. There are indeed places, especially in the furthest reaches of the NEK up by Canada, where you can still buy a fairly remote place if what you’re looking for is a “retreat”. As I’m looking for something that will have to do double-duty, I’m trying to avoid those that are that far out. I know the area and the roads and the prospects of driving long distances in the winter and/or mud season to employment is not pleasant. But thanks for doing a search; sweet that you were trying to be so helpful. I have spent a lot of time on Zillow the past few months……

  11. AK good plans you’ve put out. I escaped 17 yrs ago to move to northern Maine. Wished we had done it years ago. Found a decent place,began fixing it up and plan on staying right here when the SHTF. Lots of like minded people, low taxes,what you do on your land is your business. Plenty of affordable houses. Good luck to you in your search.

  12. Thank you AK for a pair of well reasoned ‘wants’ for your homestead. In ‘hail’ country, large hail can dent the roof panels deep enough to where they will begin to hold water instead of it running off. Over time, these dents will rust, then corrode through to make holes. Ths damage is often NOT covered by many insurance companies – ask your agent before you switch or have it installed.

    Otherwise, a lot of thought was put into your layout. I hope you find it soon.

  13. Good points in the article. We had what we considered a perfect location in the redoubt. The two most challenging situations were an easement through the property to a neighbors home and a neighbor that was friendly at first but then used the easement as leverage to gain access to our land and expand it beyond it’s original scope of use. This made for some severe arguments and confrontations. I’d add “No easements, ever!” to my list of wants. Even if your neighbors with easement rights are super nice people, there is no guarantee disrespectful people won’t move in if the property is sold.

    1. Amen!!! My new neighbor, who lives further down a shared driveway that goes through my land, has taken to calling the police and reporting me for trespassing when I try to access another parcel of mine that I have to cross her property, on our shared driveway, to reach.

      My lawyer says she had no case, but she has lots of money, and cheerfully spends it on pointless legal attacks. The driveway is also a trail that has been in use for almost a century.

  14. My criteria: NO zoning, no code enforcement, no building codes, no building permits, no building inspectors. No property taxes would be nice, too.

    Either you own your property, or you don’t. If the government can control what you do on your land, or evict you if you don’t pay the “rent,” then you don’t own your property, and we don’t have a free country.

    While you may not want neighbors to have junkyards, the fact is, the only way you are free is if everyone is free. It would help to have a large lot, think in terms of acres. The demand for these laws often comes when people are living too close together on small lots. Don’t forget, also, good fences make good neighbors.

    And, for those who believe the government school propaganda that zoning will prevent someone from building a steel mill in your neighborhood, no it won’t. A moneyed interest like that need only bribe – I mean, give campaign contributions to, the politicians, who will change the zoning. If they are really lucky, maybe they can get the local government to take your property through eminent domain and give it to the developer. Hey, the Supreme Court said it was OK.

  15. The Progress Hybrid soapstone woodstove from Woodstock Stoves will easily heat a 2,000 square foot house with less that two loadings a day, and also is designed to be cooked on.

    It is also beautiful, meets all the emissions standards easily and is not targeted by governments agencies as a result, and is very efficient.

    If your house is smaller, the Fireview is even more stunning, but you will have to buy extra soapstone tiles to reduce the heat for lower temperature cooking. Not really a problem.

    I’m not sure why I haven’t seen others comment on the Woodstock Soapstone stoves, but they are excellent, and vastly better than cast iron wood stoves.

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