Often real estate professionals don’t grasp your needs so you must go in with a clear view of what you need. The right land is as important, if not more so, than the home itself on the land. Consider your resources and skills honestly. If you’re looking at two different properties that are comparable, one has a barn and one doesn’t, $5,000 difference between them and you don’t have building skills or enough money to hire someone to build you’ll be money ahead to get the property with the barn, even if it’s one that needs adapted.
Consider honestly what you want to do. Are you looking to do a market garden? Raising your own food and selling extras? Maybe have a couple of horses and raise a pig or two for meat.
Write these down and be crystal clear about what you need. If you’re looking to keep a horse, a couple cows, raise a few pigs, some chickens, a garden – this can be done on five acres in most areas, with purchase of feed. However there’s some key points to consider.
Do not believe real estate professionals that say “oh yes livestock is fine” – LOOK. I’ve had several trying to sell 5 acre spots in subdivisions that said it was fine for livestock – but in the fine print at the bottom expressly forbid pigs and/or poultry. If you’re raising your food supply and buying the land to have those that’ll leave you high and dry and without recourse. The minute you put up a 16×32 pen for a few pigs on that 5 acres, you’re in violation of restrictions, whether you saw it or not. Look closely.
Observe the property. Certain types of grasses indicate water near the surface while bare patches without a reason are suspect. Take note of trees. Black walnut trees can be a big asset – a source of walnuts for the homestead! But if the trees set in the area you want to make a horse paddock it will mean choosing between horses or the trees. Equally cherry trees shouldn’t be near pens for most livestock nor some maple trees. These are all good trees to have on a homestead – but away from the animals.
If your interest is growing gardens, herbs or other food have a soil test run – this tells you the true condition of the soil and what you need to do to get the maximum crop.
Consider fencing – a property fenced in woven wire fence is worth a bit more than one fenced in barbed wire, and fences in good repair are worth more than those with missing sections.
Walk out on the land….in all areas of the land. Visit it a couple times – go when it’s raining, visit it first thing in the morning. With this you can see if there’s areas the water drains to – if that area is where you want your garden that could be good or not good depending on the amount of rain. An area that’s clear with plenty of sunlight will help crops grow. If you’re looking at wanting to be strictly organic look closely at neighboring properties. The neighbor with the perfect weed free yard is likely using chemicals, and without the regulations farmers do – if water carries it from that property to yours, yours may not be as organic as you think it is.
Be sure to make note of any possible abandoned wells, underground mines and other issues that can drastically change a rural experience. A sad story of a horse stolen from the pasture became almost worse when it was found he wasn’t stolen – he’d fallen into an old well and broken his neck. For people and animals these can be very dangerous. Have a clear idea about what you want to do and how to fit that onto the land you’re looking at. You might find you can be efficient enough to use a half acre as a mini orchard you didn’t think you’d have room for! Water, soil fertility and lay of the land take on different importance when you’re raising your own food. Losing half the crop due to standing water in the garden means you have half as much to eat…which stresses the importance of doing your homework!
Don’t count on experts to tell you these things – or to volunteer it. If you’re looking at a compost area – plan it to be discreet but plan it in! Knowing what you want, doing some research, asking questions and looking at it as if it’s a farm (which it will be) can mean the difference between a wonderful house and a useless property and a passable house with plenty of real food to eat and a lifestyle many only dream of.