Stuff you really ought to know before buying a “retreat” property – Part 3

This is the third and final segment of a “you better know” list I developed to help 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.  This is an updated list that I prepared several years ago when I was researching rural properties to buy 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.   It can serve as a basic starting place for those with modest experience buying rural land or off grid homestead properties.  Let’s wrap up with some key considerations from this revised list.


Here are some final points you should think over.

  • Do you or your family need professional medical services? Occasionally, you may need medical treatment from a metro center, e.g. special health care). You might not want to live too far away from a city, but beyond the reach of an evacuating mob. We like a 50 mile minimum, but further (75 miles or more) is much better. What about local ambulance service? Is Air EVAC available in the region?
  • What is the general cost of living in the area? Median income & education levels?  
  • How expensive are the property taxes? Can you get a “green belt” exemption for your property? What’s the local regulatory climate?  Visit the county tax assessors office to research exactly who owns the property you are looking at, if back taxes are owed, what the specific address is, what the assessed value is and what the property is zoned for.  It's handy if you can look up the property's parcel number on the county's website, but not required. This can save you a lot of heartache.   Always do this research before you sign any documents of any kind.
  • What are the State and Local taxes? Is there a state income tax? 
  • What about educational opportunity for school-age children? How far away are the schools?
  • What religious affiliations are prominent in the area? Where are the churches?
  • What’s the attitude of local law enforcement? How about the local elected Sheriff? The local Road Commissioner is also good to check out.
  • Have you thoroughly researched the county vital statistics online? Pay close attention to population makeup, education levels, unemployment and age figures.
  • What are the crime statistics for the county your property is in?  Review the local newspaper and consider prevalent arrest statistics.  Look for drug arrests and robberies in your chosen area.  Is their number inordinately high?  Keep in mind you don't want to buy a property that was owned by a drug dealer for a meth lab.  Once you've researched through county records on specific ownership, possible tenants, etc.  check the local online newspapers and with the local Sheriff's office for information about any possible illegal activities on the property.
  • Who are your neighbors and might they be like minded? Stop and visit them prior to any purchase. Make a good first impression, your life may depend on your neighbor’s good will at some point. 
  • Learn as much as you can about the current/previous owners of your selected property and how they did/or didn’t interact in the local community.  Pickup as much scuttlebutt as you can.  You won’t want to unknowingly re-open any “old wounds” with neighbors.
  • Historic hunting and fishing rights can be an issue in some rural areas that are rich with game.  Find out whose great grand pappy and their subsequent kin have been hunting on or near the land you are buying before hunting season begins.
  • What is the political climate of the state and in the nearest town that you are considering? Will you be able to tolerate it?  
  • What will it cost to insure your property for fire loss and weather-related damage?
  • Are you surrounded by other private property owners or do you have some natural boundaries or Government, National/State Forest or BLM boundaries?  This could be advantageous…or not, as some Western ranchers have recently discovered.
  • How far from the nearest small town? (You will need to occasionally replenish your supplies)
  • What utility rights-of-way, if any, are located on your selected property?  Are there any easements which have been granted ( and recorded properly)
  • How far from the nearest mid-sized town? (They will have special services that your family may require from time to time, like refilling your buried propane tanks)
  • Would it bother you much if a high percentage of county residents were illiterate? What other characteristics of a local population should you be concerned about?  
  • What sources are available locally for mechanical services, such as electricians, plumbers, earth movers, vehicle repairs?  If these are scare, how far would providers have to come to help you, and at what cost? 
  • Once you have decided on a specific property, be sure you know exactly what you are buying before you hit the closing table.  Don’t settle for a digitized or aerial survey of the property if you have the slightest concern about the accuracy of what is presented.  Digitized survey results can be changed afterwards to modify the boundaries of a land parcel.  A metes and bounds survey is more expensive, but it’s the best legal type of property description, particularly with irregular shaped property.  With metes and bounds, surveyors actually have to walk the property.  The land boundaries are run out by courses and distances, and monuments are manually fixed at the corners or angles.  Once this is accomplished for you, walk the entire property personally to ensure that the corner and other boundary markers are in place.  Another good source of ownership info are title insurance agencies.  Title agencies search country real estate records to determine the legal ownership of the property. They find mortgages, liens, or unpaid taxes that must be settled before a property can be sold, and they search for any legal restrictions, easements or leases that may exist on the property   Again, you need to know exactly what you are buying.
  • Can you learn to handle property maintenance work and minor medical crises yourself?  
  • THIS IS IMPORTANT TO ANSWER HONESTLY: Are you physically able to handle manual labor and DYI projects common in a remote off grid setting?  In a grid-down situation, nearly every task will be a manual task.  At an off grid homestead, it’s all manual labor, even with the assistance of some livestock.  

This last question may not seem very important now, but I suspect it will become much more important to you in 20 or more years.   Think this item over very carefully.   This is your “gut check” question, and it’s the first step toward developing your exit strategy.   By exit strategy, I mean your final valuation and disposition of your beloved retreat, either through an outright sale, by gifting to family, or by otherwise transferring title and assets on the property to your children or other relatives.  

Granted, a number of people do not believe this consideration is a necessary part of the property purchase.  However, well-prepared individuals are generally geared up for as many eventualities as they can imagine.  This is just another one of those many things that you need to consider before buying a retreat.  How long can you and your family maintain your retreat?  You will give that some thought, right?

Good luck in your property search.  It’s a very important undertaking with very serious ramifications for you and your family’s future security. Choose wisely.