Lessons in buying real estate online

…Or how we ended up moving cross-country to start a fresh life out of the city

When searching for our new off grid home, one thing was certain: a long growing season is a must if you’re going to be able to provide your own sustenance, therefore an agricultural zone above 7a was desirable. While I have no doubt that low tunnels can solve the problem of growing year round in colder climates effectively, I’ve had enough of struggling against nature and to me, hot and humid climate sounded pretty perfect! My search for our new home was a broader than normal, given that we were not limited to any area for work/family/etc.

Therefore, anywhere ranging from western North Carolina (hello, Asheville!) into the panhandle region of Florida. The only criteria? Over an acre of usable land, some sort of a livable house structure already built, water well or municipal water supply and safe (in both human and natural disasters senses), affordable (as in, no mortgage so it had to be under 55,000 $USD) and well, it had to be sort of attractive to look at!

Back in February 2015, swimming in Hawaiian waters, relocation by the end of the year seemed like a far-fetched option. I mean, i’d only barely begun searching. By mid-March, I’d noticed the inventory increase and so did my efforts. I’d contacted a few real estate agents in each state, but none had the kind of broad vision I was looking for, so in the end it was up to me to find our dream home. I’d shortlisted six candidates in four different states, but we both knew it was “the one” when we woke up the next day knowing we had to call the Georgia one! In fact, Georgia was my least desired state. Higher taxes and land value, presence of nuclear power plants, plenty of military bases and a number of heavily contaminated surface water bodies definitely made me look towards North Carolina instead.

However, once I’d researched Northwest Georgia, its proximity to a few of the cleanest lakes in the state, many fishing opportunities, many campgrounds, beginning of the Appalachian trail and the Blue Ridge parkway, I knew I was onto something. By April 15th, we’d made an offer on our home in full asking price and it was accepted. Now, there was a small matter of qutting my job, finishing renovations on our current home, putting it on the market (before it crashed, once again!), packing up 15 years worth of posessions and moving across country lines with a cat in tow. By May 20th, the house was officially ours and on July 4th, 2015, we’d arrived at our home (the moving company arrived 2 weeks later, which is its own story).

Full disclosure: as you can see from our timeline, there was no time for us to fly down and view each property, not to mention the significant expense that would incur. So the house was bought via internet search only, with no house inspection (one was prvided by the seller later on, once the papers were signed). Would I recommend you do the same? Perhaps yes, if the deal is truly worth it, as in it’s severely underpriced and you’re paying for land value alone. In other cases, if you’re spending over 50K, I’d strongly suggest to hire a local contractor (not a real estate agent!) who can check out the property, give you an unbiased opinion whether it’s worth the asking price, what the community looks like, what the roads leading up to the property are like, if there are any major industries nearby or any reported environmental concerns.

For future homesteaders, the same person can submit a soil sample for an extensive soil test right away (before you make an offer!) as well as a potability water test, if the property comes with its own water well. All these are important factors to consider if you’re going to commit to partial or off grid living.
In hindsight, I wish we’d bought land alone and put a semi-permanent structure on it, which would’ve given us more flexibility in terms of how to plan our permaculture gardens and make an organic ecosystem out of it,but it also would’ve been challenging, as we’d have to pay for storage for most of our things, clear some of the land, build platforms for the structures to go on, have a well installed and properly developed, which is costly…

There are benefits and drawbacks to each scenario, with either one being challenging and requiring the most work and money in the first couple of years, so you have to be realistic in a sense of not spending your last dollar on the property purchase itself and leave at least 15-20% of its value on developing your new homestead.

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