Looking for recommendations for primers on everything you need to know before buying land (internet articles, books, personal experiences, all welcome). Mainly all the legal ramifications, permitting, property taxes, etc. (in the US). But also like how to know if your well water is potable, how to not get swindled… At this point in time, I’m not necessarily seeking land to support a full blown community, just want somewhere my partner and I can stay and not be beholden to other people or get harassed by cops (we live in a bus). Thanks!
I’ve been researching this stuff for a while now and it seems like it may be too random to reliably nail down in a thread. Different jurisdictions have their own sets of constantly changing codes, which they enforce differently for different areas and for different people.
There are a few basic principles that seem to apply though.
The not getting ripped off stuff is the scariest part for me. At least half of the “good deals” I’ve found were shady. Companies buying land at tax auctions(look into these!) for $500 and selling it for $1k down and $100/mo for 5 years, selling properties with no legal access, selling physically inaccessible mountain tops, not mentioning the smelly pig farm that makes the property inhabitable whenever the wind’s coming from the wrong direction, saying rv’s are OK, not mentioning the drunk, senile, violent old hoarder with the shotgun that guards the gate to “HIS” ranch turned junkyard that the property is smack in the middle of, selling properties to people knowing that a huge corporation would be kicking the buyers off to exercise their mineral rights, companies selling land that they don’t even own, crazy old ladies that make caretaking/land trade deals and renege on them once you’ve done tons of work, etc.
The only process for buying land that I’ll be comfortable with would be to go see the land in person, meeting the owner there. I’ll ask the owner to introduce me to the adjacent neighbors because people seem to be the problem far more often than anything else. Then I’ll go to the county clerk’s office or website and verify that the person that I’m dealing with actually owns the land free and clear. I’m never one to recommend banking but ownership is all about a provable paper trail so once I decided to buy, I’d open a bank account, deposit the funds, and get a cashier’s check. Then I’d meet the owner at the clerk’s office, exchange the funds, and record the deed/title transfer. Dealing remotely in any way just opens up a lot of opportunities for problems to arise.
Once you have the deed, the land patent option may be something interesting to look into. I’m still far away from owning land and not sure it this is mumbo jumbo or not but the case citations all make sense. The legalese is a bit beyond me but it seems like a real way to truly “own” your land in the eyes of the law. Once you do this, playing the taxes and permits game becomes voluntary.
Here’s a page talking about it (no affiliation-don’t give them $ on my account): http://www.teamlaw.org/LandPatents.htm
People have explained other schemes like putting the land in trusts and assigning a llc as the trustee to keep it safe. In this situation, if you do something non permitted on the land and get in trouble, the county can mount fines against you personally but can’t take the land from the trust/corporation as collateral/punishment for non payment of them. The state can contact the representative of the llc and inform them that there is someone trespassing on the land and building things that aren’t up to code but that’s all they can do. I am not a lawyer so please take this as general stuff to look into, not legal advice. It’s also been a few years so I’m a little blurry on some of it for sure.
Another idea that interested me was incorporating as a film/media production company and starting a “project” to film a reality show about a budding off grid community, could turn the land and whatever you decide to build into a “set”, and amenities that would otherwise need to be permitted into “props”.
Another way to get around the stupid “no camping on your own land” laws would be to buy a few really cheap properties in close vicinity to one another and moving between them as you get hassled. This is what I want to do here in AZ. By going between nodes and public lands, no camping/residency laws would ever technically be violated.
Living in a bus is tricky. There aren’t many counties that are cool with it but some don’t have the funds to enforce the codes so as long as the neighbors don’t start complaining, you can fly under the radar. One would think that on a property out in the middle of nowhere, no one would care, but it’s cliquey out in the country. The simplest little things can set the neighbors onto the gossip path. Even if your neighbors are all miles away, you really have to interact within the community and pretend to be just like them, otherwise, the gossip will start rolling and you’ll overhear people at the hardware store talking about those satan worshiping hippies that live in the bus mutilating Leroy’s goat. There’s a balance though. If you’re too nice, they’ll try to take over your life and indoctrinate you into their cult(all country folk are in cults it seems). You have to be pleasant and helpful but somewhat standoffish at the same time. It’s hard to describe. It sucks but it’s part of country life.
I’ve been on the search for land on and off for a long time and have traveled around a bit. So far, I’ve only found a few areas where people are genuinely live and let live types and the county is lax with tiny home/earthship/bus/van dwellers. Apache/Navajo/Mohave counties in AZ are good spots. The mesa outside of Taos, NM is pretty free. Then there’s Slab City. Some friends had good luck living in a yurt outside of Pagosa Springs, CO, and the Crestone area used to be pretty decent but I heard that they started cracking down on it recently. Snowflake and Ash Fork AZ seem to be really hit or miss areas for cheap land that actually has trees. The NW also seems to have some good little hideouts if you’re into being so close to or a part of the weed thing.
There are people living in trailers and buses everywhere but the stories of people getting kicked off their land are pretty frequent too. I think it all comes down to the community thing though. If you make yourself indispensable to the community, you could probably get away with living in a bus in downtown San Diego but if no one knows who you are, even out in the boonies, inevitably, someone with a negative/paranoid mindset will fill in the blanks and start spreading rumors and causing problems.
Sorry if I rambled a little there!
I agree with a lot of what Ernesto said. Absolutely don’t buy something without seeing it, and if you aren’t good at recognizing swampland in any season, bring somebody who does. About the neighbors not liking you, I have just one story that won’t quite fit. A Zen center bought land in rural Minnesota for a some-day monastery. The neighbors were worried. One of the things was making a donation in lieu of taxes (or voluntarily paying them even though we didn’t have to) because in a small community that loss of income is noticed. However, people generally agreed that what mostly made us welcome was Greg hanging out a lot in the local bar. Made us seem normal. And then time - we were weird - shaved heads, robes, chanting, sitting and looking at a wall - but we weren’t disruptive. But none of our ordinary behavior caused them problems. No drugs, no trash heaps, etc. So us being good neighbors helped. By the time I arrived things were pretty good. We got mean behavior from the electrical inspector, but sometimes that happens.
Minnesota is pretty tight on zoning. Wisconsin not so much, and the Viroqua area is great, but I wouldn’t want to live in Wisconsin politics. Indiana has the “log cabin rule” which means if you build your own house for your own self to live in, they’re not supposed to apply zoning rules. However, people who try it wind up in court… depends who your friends are.
Sounds like you want south anyway. I’m still up on Minnesota as a place with relatively honest government (so far) and lots of good things.
I meant to respond to this ages ago, but have had sporadic internet access and every time I tried the forums were down for some reason…
Anyway, thanks so much for your reply, I really appreciate your thoroughness. You have given me much food for thought.
Best of luck in finding the right place! Or better yet, figuring out how to make every place the right place.