Stuff you really ought to know before buying a “retreat” property – Part 1

I’m a recovering Realtor.  That means I’m not involved in licensed real estate sales any longer because the business has changed quite a bit over the last 20 years.  I don’t find it to be satisfying any longer.   What is satisfying for me now is helping property owners organize and market the unique attributes of their existing retreat properties when they make a decision to sell it to the next generation of prepared individuals.  That’s why I created this list.


By Ol’ Tennessee Ridgerunner

I help individuals to literally collect their thoughts about what practical features they might require when looking to buy a rural homestead.  I boil needs, wants and dreams down to the stuff you probably need to know if you are seriously considering purchase of sustainable rural properties that offer security for your family and the ability to be self-contained.

An acquaintance who knew we had a remote wooded property with an off-grid cabin asked me for advice on what to look for in buying a retreat property.  I already knew he wasn’t a “tire-kicker” and that his financial worthiness was unquestionable.  I also knew I had the old list that I’d prepared several years ago when I was researching rural properties to buy for myself. 

The original list and accompanying article were published on Survivalblog  in August 2016.  The old list was worthwhile, but in order to be more up-to-date, it needed, and received, necessary revisions based on additional lessons that I learned the hard way.   Of course, no list is perfect because it can’t possibly include every circumstance encountered and all unique requirements of every buyer.   However, this revised list can serve as a pretty good starting place for those with modest experience buying rural land or off grid homestead properties.

Here are the main points to consider:


  • Make your own list of absolutely must-haves; features that would be really useful to have, and items that would be over-the-top great to make your new location a paradise.  Once you have the “Cadillac” list, you can pare it down to the real requirements as the realities of your actual search set in.
  • How defensible is your site – is there high ground to control access and maintain security?
  • Mountainous, rocky terrain limits access, but is it also suitable for planting a garden, digging a root cellar or building a tornado shelter?
  • What are the prevailing area weather patterns? Average rainfall? Average snowfall? Length of seasons?  Temperature extremes? Is the property located in or near tornado alley?  Is there a flood threat from nearby rivers or wet-weather streams?  Is the property seasonably susceptible to fires from lightning strikes?  Average wind velocity for potential wind power?
  • Is your site near a known earthquake zone or susceptible to liquid earth or mudslides?
  • Will any structures be visible from the nearest county road?  ls there year-round cover or is your property visible through winter months?  Are your structures visible from low orbiting satellites?
  • Is there high ground from which to overlook and control your access points or build an LPOP?  Are their multiple (opposing) high ground positions that overlook your property access points?
  • Is there more than one ingress or egress point? Is it a private entrance or a county-maintained roadway? Does it require 4WD to access?  Is your access road(s) susceptible to seasonal washing out?  What would it take to prevent all motorized access on the entrance(s)?  Who is responsible for maintaining your access roads?
  • Does the property entrance look inviting to solicitors, spooners, hunters or other uninvited individuals?  A county road sign (ie: Shady Cove Ln) is an invitation to wanderers.  You do not want “curb appeal” at your retreat.  Not only are unwanted “visitors” a nuisance at all hours of the day and night, but the trash they may leave behind can be more than an eyesore…it’s another invitation to like-minded noisy rascals. 
  • ls there year-round fresh drinking water? Wells, streams, springs, rainwater collection, lakes or ponds?  Look for multiple water sources independent from conventional city water services. What will it cost to develop or remediate these off-grid water sources?  What’s required (spring house, piping, filtration, etc.) to make the local water potable? Is your body of water aerated and large enough to be stocked with fish?  Is there a dam and does it represent a flood liability for neighbors downstream?
  • Will the soil need to be amended for agriculture or is it adequate for growing crops now?  Which crops are commonly grown in your selected location?  What’s the local market for crops, timber, hay sales or pasture leasing?
  • What is the year round climate and will you be able to tolerate it (for yourself and for your garden and livestock)? 
  • What is your hands-on experience level with animal husbandry?  What type of animals have you personally raised?  Horses, cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits?  Does your property provide barns, sheds or other cover for livestock?  How about water sources?  
  • Do you or your family members have allergies to any environmental (natural or otherwise) elements that could be aggravated at your selected location?  How does your family handle seasonal pollen, humidity and common insects? Is anyone allergic to insect stings?
  • What would be your reaction to a neighbor building a commercial chicken house or hog house on nearby acreage?
  • Is there plentiful wild game?  Rural areas are home to many insects, rodents and other indigenous critters that you may not be familiar with.
  • What are the natural predators in the area?  Feral hogs and coyotes are a growing nuisance in the South. Learn what to look for so you’ll not be surprised at what already lives on your selected property.

Do these questions include some of the rural retreat features you’ve been thinking of?  There are many more considerations that should be mulled over before you begin to seriously examine rural properties and talk with property owners. 

We’ll cover many more of these important factors in Parts 2 and 3… starting with how you plan to get to your retreat, assuming you won’t live there full-time. Stay tuned.