By Ol’ Tennessee Ridgerunner
Most young homesteaders and preparedness-minded individuals initially adopt a mindset that they’ll have to buy raw rural property and build a family retreat from scratch if they intend to have a safe, secure location where they can relocate in the event of a major national emergency. This remains the most popular approach for most, but there are more options now than ever before to find a mostly ready-made retreat property. Here are some tips to help you do it.
First off, you have to be prepared to do a lot of research. I mean the kind of research you need after you’ve already identified which top-rated state, county, region and even the community that you want to settle in.
What you are searching for is a property that’s completely or mostly developed with survival retreat characteristics. The owners of these type of properties will likely be older individuals who have become disabled or are of an age that they can no longer keep up the off grid rural lifestyle that they love. The elderly homesteaders you seek will usually have no heirs who have any interest in the hard work they have done over the years to develop and stock a working off grid survival property. These are property owners who grudgingly may give up their retreats to serious individuals that they believe can appreciate and perpetuate the off grid lifestyle that they have pioneered on their property.
By now, you realize this undertaking will take some time and is fraught with challenges. However, your perseverance can provide you and your family with a very cost-efficient off grid property. First and foremost, you must understand that there are a limited number of mostly-completed retreat properties in the area where you plan to relocate to. I say mostly completed because rarely will you find a property that has fully developed its capabilities or meets all the criteria that you, the buyer, has in mind for your ideal family retreat. Make your mind up in advance about any compromises you can accept in a retreat property. Be prepared to identify and act decisively on a “diamond in the rough” when it is located. These “semi-retreat” properties can be quite suitable, once the asking price negotiations are completed, and can meet the primary requirements of most self sufficiency-minded families.
What exactly are your requirements? What are the features in a secure off grid homestead that are on your “must-have” list.
For starters, you want a secure rural property with concealment from any primary and secondary roads. Concealment means trees, altitude, hilly terrain or all of the above. Concealment of your structures, livestock and crops are beneficiaries of proper site selection. The more isolated your retreat, the more you may need security features on your residence. Whether it’s a trusted neighbor to look in frequently on your retreat (assuming you don’t live their full-time) or steel window and door frames and shutters, you need to consider the possibility of a break-in and loss of your supplies.
Multiple sources of potable water, such as a gravity-fed spring, a pipe well, rainwater collection, a lake or other significant water storage is a prerequisite. Water pumping requires backup power sources such as solar as well as manual pumping to be sure you can access your water in a prolonged emergency.
Redundant power sources are likewise required. Solar, wind power, low-head hydro plus a backup generator fueled by propane, diesel or gasoline with adequate fuel supplies should be ample to keep your battery bank charged. All these power sources can be used in combination, based on conditions, to operate your batteries and inverter system providing your retreat with power daily. Consider the number of electrically-powered items that you’ll need to add to the retreat when evaluating any existing power system and battery banks.
Space and water heating should be another uppermost consideration. A wood stove is usually the most reliable heating source along with propane and solar electric. When properly installed and plumbed, the addition of a heat exchanging thermo-coil on the stove can generate hot water for your family. Instant-on hot water systems powered by propane are another reliable option as is solar water heating.
The physical retreat structure should have a shelter or the potential for a basement level safe room, preferably below ground level. A concealed basement room or other subterranean shelter, such as an under-garage room or “root cellar”, with a backdoor escape route can safeguard your family and your stockpile of supplies from security threats that you choose to avoid confronting.
Beyond the physical requirements, your research should help you determine if OPSEC has been compromised by the property owners in marketing their property for sale. How did you find this location? Was it by word of mouth? A unique website? A secure site catering to retreat properties? If the site is listed on the MLS or other national Realtor property listing site, it’s likely that the actual location of the property has been compromised. Retreat property experts, such as these, recognize the intrinsic value of a secure location which is only revealed to a very limited number of qualified buyers who are allowed an on-site visitation. Avoid properties offered by sellers who don’t value privacy and are way too enthusiastic about selling.
And finally, you should consider the situation that the sellers you are seeking are currently in. They may be under some degree of distress (whether they show it or not) caused by their actual or potential medical conditions, physical or mental disabilities, or frustration due to a disinterested family to pass down their retreat property to. They feel a need to sell their beloved retreat which they vowed would never be sold when they built it. They probably never considered resale value. You, on the other hand, would be wise to consider the resale value of the retreat before you buy it. There are intangible values to a well-maintained off grid retreat property that command a premium price - up to about 30% more than a conventional residence. These “values” can be revealed by the property owner only to the serious buyer – and commercial appraisers have no idea how to place an actual value on these attributes even if they were known.
Understand that buying a developed retreat is unlike any real estate transaction you’ve ever been a party to. Retreat sellers have a very personal relationship with every brick, board and shingle as well as most every square foot of their acreage. Your purchase process will likely be elongated, and require that you spend a considerable amount of time with the sellers once an agreement has been struck. This is an important relationship-building exercise because they know everything about the operation of the retreat and you know relatively nothing. It is likely that you and the sellers could become fast friends if conditions of the sale are mutually favorable. Don’t underestimate the value of the seller’s anecdotal knowledge base on the retreat property you’re buying.
The wise and patient buyer will glean a wealth of wisdom, experience and hands-on savvy from the seller if you persevere and don’t rush the process. Unless your sellers are counseled by experts, there will be no “operator’s manual” for the existing retreat and it’s off grid systems. Even if you are an off grid expert, you need to know what the sellers know about the land, its structures and systems. The more you learn from the sellers, the more time, money and trial and error can be avoided as you move in and update your “new” retreat. You should plan on being an information sponge. It’s well worth your effort.
If you do your own research, focus on your “must-haves” and persevere, you can be successful at finding a finished off grid retreat, or a nearly-developed self-sustaining cabin, that can meet the needs of your family in an emergency.