Seven must-haves for first-time retreat buyers

By Ol’ Tennessee Ridgerunner

This is the second in a series about the vital “must-haves” for individuals with a preparedness mindset who are considering an off grid retreat lifestyle.  These articles are written as a primer for would-be homesteaders contemplating their first rural property purchase.   They can also serve as a refresher for long-time retreat owners who, due to age-related or medical issues, are developing their documentation and inventory of features in order to showcase their off grid property for sale.  We began by discussing the Ostrich effect which can impact both buyers and sellers, and cause paralysis when people are faced with certain danger.

High mountain cabin.jpg

Let’s talk briefly about planning for unforeseen events and its importance in defeating the Ostrich effect. It’s a darn shame that having a contingency plan or a “Plan B” is no longer innately part of American culture.  With three generations behind us, America’s population has become comfortably numb to the potential realities of an epic fail.  Sadly when you say Plan B today, it’s more likely that someone will assume you’re talking about a “morning after” pill.  Say what? 

As noted in my Ostrich effect piece, being prepared with an alternative action plan in case of emergencies is not an inherent characteristic for the majority of US inhabitants.  The “being prepared” section of the old Boy Scout motto has become an oddity; a lifestyle that people joke about over a spinach smoothie at their suburban health club bar.  A few cable networks have attempted to marginalize some self-sufficiency-minded individuals with disgraceful reality shows such as “Doomsday Preppers.”  Of course, everyone wants to be like those survivalist nutjobs, right?  The real crux of it is that having a legitimate contingency plan is something that people only consider for a fleeting moment when the TV news reports on some tragic devastation in another state or halfway around the world.  The calamity is quickly forgotten.  That can’t happen here, right?  That’s probably what most folks in Houston thought before Hurricane Harvey or in New Orleans before Katrina.  

The clueless majority

Most of us have no idea what a real crisis is.   We don’t know and don’t care about the past economic impacts of the Black Monday stock market crash in 1987, 25% mortgage interest rates, the Dot Com bubble collapse of 2000, and the real estate and mortgage meltdown of 2008.  Many Americans barely have a clue of what these past crises entailed.  We may be slightly stunned by it when we watch recounts in film or read about it in books, but it’s still stuff of the imagination; it’s not tangible.  We have no grasp of just how raw and violent life can quickly become when the power goes off for good and the banks close. Most people are like infants playing mindlessly in a pit of vipers.  So many folks that we know and love are like frogs blissfully enjoying the slowing boiling water.    

However, you are part of the population that seeks to understand what the rest of the public ignores.  You embrace the real inevitability of a disaster, and use your insight to visualize its oncoming potential where others can or will not.  Finding a secure location where you can relocate your family before a catastrophe and ride out the uncertain aftermath is your objective.  As a self-sufficiency enthusiast, you are prepared to forego many modern comforts and sacrifice much to the process of learning or re-learning the manual skills and crafts that our great grandparents found so useful in everyday life three generations ago.  

Your contingency plan

The primary benefit of adopting a self-reliant lifestyle is straightforward:  you have a Plan B.  Self-reliance, independence, sustainability, security, and redundancy in systems; it’s all in a day’s work for the people who take personal responsibility and family security seriously.  One thing sits heavily on the minds of most prepared folks - that is the retreat location where they will shelter during darker days.  Call it a redoubt, call it a cabin in the woods, call it whatever, but every self-reliant individual has to have that place set aside that provides the utmost advantage to his family while facing natural disasters and disruptions in the social order - calamities that end very badly for most people.

There are some very important “must-haves” when considering a retreat property. Overlooking any of these basic requirements can place you and your family at a distinct disadvantage in the event of a disaster.  Choosing a retreat can be simple or it can blow your lid off depending on how you approach it.  Here’s lesson number one. When you look for a safe location to retreat to in a collapse scenario, the last place you want is a massive “hey-look-at-me” log condo with an unobstructed view of the local resort amenities.  You must think practically.  You want an attractive multi-story vacation cabin – that’s fine - get one. Just don’t plan on using it as your survival retreat because so will everyone else for miles around.

What follows are seven basic criteria that you would do well to consider before purchasing a retreat property.

No 1:  Property Location
Of course, you’ve heard the unwavering real estate maxim: location, location, location.   Property location should be your number one concern regardless of whether you’re searching for a rural vacation cabin or a discreet homestead property outfitted for the worst disasters.  Location is always been the number one rule of real estate acquisition or sales, and it’s doubly critical when considering a retreat property purchase.  Make no mistake; location is everything for buyers and it’s everything for sellers.  Think it through.  Location is critical when you buy exactly the property you dreamed of on which to build your safehouse.  It’s just as critical when it’s sadly time to showcase the attributes of that same off grid retreat property to attract discriminating buyers.

We recognize that selling your secure retreat is the last thing on your mind when you’re walking across your dream property and standing in the doorway of your “perfect” off grid cabin.  You literally can’t wait to get to the closing table and start work on improvements to your new homestead. But life is a harsh taskmaster.  Ask your grandparents, if you’re lucky enough to have them.  Ask them how life’s twists and turns can change your outlook on life and change your direction in the blink of an eye.   Father time marches on and you should never expect to win the battle with aging. That’s why it’s important to seriously consider, as you approach the purchase of any retreat property, how you will tackle the eventual sale of that property.

Ask yourself some questions. Will your children retain their youthful exuberance for your homestead lifestyle once they are grown and have families of their own?  Could future physical injuries or age-related limitations cut short your off grid living arrangements? Is your redoubt location one that only you can appreciate or is it a site that has potential advantages for other younger, preparedness-minded individuals?   Be practical.  Think it through. Have an exit strategy in mind from the get-go and you’ll not be sorry.

Some specifics

Let’s look real hard at the location.  What are the strengths and weaknesses in the region or state you are considering?  Your list of positives had better far outweigh any negatives. What is the disposition of the government and law enforcement in the county where you aim to buy?  What’s the labor market like and local per capita income?  Can you and family members find a work if needed?  What kind of environment (social and economic) would you be locating to?  Are the local schools of high quality or would you home school your kids? How about property and sales taxation rates?  Does the location offer access to emergency services, like an air ambulance?  Is this location more than 75 miles away from, or downwind of, an active nuclear plant?  Is it at least 75 miles away from a major metro area?  What natural geographic obstructions (mountains, rivers, canyons, etc.) are there between your site and major population centers?


The characteristics of the land itself are critically important.  The ideal retreat location is a combination of rugged terrain and remote topography that is just accessible enough, and in proximity to like-minded neighbors who you can count on in an emergency situation.  Look at the location in terms of what a looter, a criminal, or a hungry refugee might see. Is it attractive or easy to wander into?  Can someone drive right off the road to your front door, or do they really have to work at it (unimproved two-track trail) before they reach you?  How far away is it from a major highway? How many routes in and out does it have?  Is it in a valley where people would naturally drift into for security?  Is it flat with little cover and concealment, or is it nestled in the midst of hills and crevices which can be used strategically? 

Will your property provide food production?  Various crops can be grown, using appropriate methods, in most areas with just about any climate.  However, the growing season may be short so consider the site’s climate variations very carefully.  What’s the value of the timber in the wooded sections of the property?  Can you obtain full mineral rights with the land?  Is there central station electricity available or will you require various technologies (solar, wind, small hydro) to produce your own electricity?  How about central water service?   Water can be collected, drilled for and preserved in various ways.   What types of buildings are already on site?  Are they functional or firewood? 

Keep in mind that structures can be built economically from materials that are already abundant at your site.  However, if you don’t have the carpentry and other skills to build a retreat yourself, you had better research the local skilled labor market.  Having carpenters, plumbers and electricians coming from the next county can really blow your budget.  Once you commit to a particular environment and terrain type, you’ll have to live with it, so think practically.

For much more detail on what to look for in a retreat location, read: “Stuff you really ought to know before buying a retreat property, Parts 1, 2 and 3” on this Blog at   

In the next post, we’ll examine how you go about protecting and preserving your retreat property once you’ve acquired it.