$5,200 for 5 acres of land. It was the best value we could find and the site of our future off-the-grid homestead, snatched up in October of 2015. Discovering the deal was the result of years worth of effort. Now we’d like to pass along the skills, tools, and tricks learned along the way – may it serve you well!
The search initially centered around our native state, Texas. Many times we nearly pulled the trigger and purchased some large tract of land, but it never panned out. The main reason is because banks typically do not offer mortgages on undeveloped land – you are required to sign up for the big ‘ole house! They say it’s because the structure can be held as collateral.
That left us with two options: pay cash or try to get a mortgage on a super cheap dwelling.
Other issues proved to be equally cumbersome. Most regulatory authorities aren’t too keen on alternative home construction or off-the-grid water harvesting techniques. Restrictions existed throughout several layers of bureaucracy, which Elisha and I were forced to decipher: federal, state, county, city, and neighborhood mostly. The rhetoric for defending these restrictions often pertained to human safety, but after explaining the structural, environmental, and health superiorities of our home it did not matter. No, these restrictions exist to line the pockets of municipalities and government contractors.
So we opened up our homestead search to the rest of the country.
Our method initially evolved around searching for good deals first, then researching restrictions later. This proved to be too time consuming as we would encounter debilitating conditions down the road. There was also significant risk to consider with ambiguous or mandatory permitting – often the legality of certain construction being left to the subjective whims of an HOA tyrant. And we could not get legal permission before we owned the property – it had to be owned to apply for permits.
States and Counties – Homestead Locations
Instead we narrowed it down by states. Regulations and laws are always in flux, so finding information that was up-to-date was challenging. Data found within government websites was often convoluted, ambiguous or outdated. Many online forums, homestead pioneers and off-the-grid bloggers helped bring clarity, though we often still found ourselves guessing. In the end we narrowed it down to:
If you like deserts there’s plenty of cheap and unrestricted land out there. Some counties that were especially promising:
Colorado was on a county-by-county basis. There are many earthships and homestead pioneers already rooted here. However, after following the local news we learned some folks were being evicted from their land for camping. At the time of our research these counties were contenders:
- Custer (Some minimalistic inspections. Septic permit)
- Delta (No permits in unincorporated areas)
- Dolores (Minor costs. Septic permit)
- Sedgwick (Minor costs. Some permits)
[edit: As of May 2016, it is now legal to harvest rainwater in Colorado]
Unfortunately there are state-wide building restrictions in New Mexico. That being said, it is also the home of The Greater World Community – Earthship ground zero – an entire off-the-grid community. State incentives and loopholes exist for strawbale home construction too. And if you’re interested, the Sustainable Development Testing Site Act gives you free reign to build whatever you want if you can get approval.
Arizona is no stranger to natural building. Straw bales, adobe, rammed earth, and cob construction techniques are all considered acceptable as long as you apply for the necessary permits. Local jurisdiction has final say, so take it on a case-by-case basis. Some appealing counties:
- La Paz
Missouri (updated 4/03/2017)
Missouri wins, hands down, no contest. There are 88 counties with zero building restrictions!
Those counties lack the legal authority to even institute building regulations. This place is the beez neez, not just by empowering us natural home builders, but in the cost and quality of land too. There is a ton of land for sale that is extremely affordable – almost Texas desert cheap – with beautiful rolling hills, plateaus, plains and lakes. This is where we decided to start our permaculture homestead. Shortly afterwards a friend of ours went and grabbed 5 acres for himself as well. It’s nuts how cheap it is. Missouri counties:
- Adair, Andrew, Atchison, Audrain, Benton, Barry, Barton, Bates, Bollinger, Boone, Buchanan, Butler, Caldwell, Callaway, Camden, Cape Girardeau, Carroll, Carter, Cass, Cedar, Chariton, Christian, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Cole, Cooper, Crawford, Dade, Dallas, Daviess, DeKalb, Dent, Douglas, Dunklin, Gasconade, Gentry, Greene, Grundy, Harrison, Henry, Hickory, Holt, Howard, Howell, Iron, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Knox, Laclede, Lafayette, Lawrence, Lewis, Linn, Livingston, Macon, Madison, Maries, Marion, McDonald, Mercer, Miller, Mississippi, Moniteau, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, New Madrid, Newton, Nodaway, Oregon, Osage, Ozark, Pemiscot, Perry, Pettis, Phelps, Pike, Platte, Polk, Pulaski, Putnam, Ralls, Randolph, Ray, Reynolds, Ripley, Saline, Schuyler, Scotland, Scott, Shannon, Shelby, St. Clair, St. Francois, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Stoddard, Stone, Sullivan, Taney, Texas, Vernon, Washington, Wayne, Webster, Worth, Wright
I cannot guarantee that any place is restriction free. Even if you’re building off-the-grid, some regions force you to tie-in regardless. To find out for sure, call every level of government you can. Call the title companies. If you’re serious about a plot, recruit a real estate agent and have them triple-check your findings. Talk to neighbors.
PLEASE HELP THE COMMUNITY by sharing any information below in the comments. Any counties, states, etc – anything you think will help! We will try to keep this list updated as often as possible. Please note that Elisha and I did not search any states north of Missouri, that’s just too damn cold for our Texas blood.
How To Search For Off-the-Grid Locations
When a real estate agent lists a home on the market, they usually enter it into the MLS. This database, or collection of databases, is legally under the jurisdiction of the National Association of Realtors. Some real-estate search websites who function as brokers have direct access to this data. When you go to their websites to search for properties, they are pulling them in directly from MLS sources. Other websites, like Zillow, have an application process where properties are listed independently of the MLS. The whole point of this paragraph is that there are different properties for sale on different websites, whereas there are the exact same properties for sale on others. Knowing what data is being served up will help you optimize your research time.
These search sites also offer you filters to help narrow down your search. You can filter by price, bedrooms, swimming pools – all sorts of stuff! However, for it to filter properly we assume that the real estate agents filled out the forms thoroughly and correctly. This is rarely the case. In my experience, avoiding filters entirely means a little more work but you get to browse the entire range of listings.
Our homestead search utilized these websites frequently:
- Jason’s House – MLS – TX only
- Zillow – Independent and MLS
- Trulia – Independent (owned by Zillow now, possibly duplicate content)
- Redfin – MLS
- Craigslist – Independent
- RealtyTrac – Foreclosures and bank-owned property
- HAR – MLS – TX only
Some other great resources are the many independent real estate agent websites. We would sometimes encounter land for sale on some random agent’s site that was not listed anywhere else on the web. Some counties have land for sale too, as well as public auctions where you might snag a good deal. With the auctions you have to pay out of pocket and cannot get a mortgage. Google is your best resource for finding these independent agent and government websites.
Most realtors® are hyperlocal and specialize in small regions. If you broaden your search to the entire country, you will be hard pressed to find a good realtor® as they are licensed per state. In denser populations you can find more realtors – but their relatively low commission (compared to a typical house sale) might not be much incentive. You’ll likely be left to your own devices to search thoroughly. If you need to find a real estate agent in a foreign location, Trulia and My Agent Finder can offer some quick options.
I hope this information helps you find the best place for your off-the-grid homestead. There is still amazing real-estate in this country for absurdly cheap. A bit of patience and diligent research and you will find it, we wish you the best of luck on your search!
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