Dream vs reality

miscindy(5 SW MI)February 10, 2009

Here's my dream: Purchase 10-20 acres, wooded, maybe part cleared. Have a new home built-1 story, finished basement and some special features built in such as place off the garage for a generator for emergencies, safe room etc . . . The house will be modern in terms of electricity, well water, propane tank, satellite tv etc . . . I will plant a medium-large garden and have berry bushes and a few fruit trees. Someday, when all is settled, I'd like to get a few chickens.

We're thinking about building the house in about 5 years. At that point I will have about 12 years left of teaching until retirement and a pension. My husband will work full time as well. Our children attend public school.

The area we are looking at is very rural and about 30 minutes from the city where I work.

I've never lived in a rural setting like this, so I'd like some information from people who live in a way similar to what I've described. What's different about living in the country with cows as neighbors, having well vs. city water, propane tank vs. natural gas? What adjustments might be difficult or unexpected for a suburban woman?

My husband and I have been dreaming of this move for about 5 years, and now are getting closer to actually doing it. I've become obsessed lately--can't concentrate on anything at home or work other than looking at property, reading about homesteading, learning how to make things homemade, crocheting, canning, gardening etc . . . Help bring me down to reality!! I still need to live in my suburban, working-mom life for a few more years!

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That area that is now 30 minutes from town may only be 15 minutes from town in 5 years.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 2:48PM
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islandmanmitch(z 8/9 FL)

I don't want to start listing the negative aspects of living 30 minutes out of town unless I am sure that is what you are asking?

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 6:55PM
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joel_bc(z6 BC)

You're getting responses from the guys!... I doubt we can speak very well for the viewpoint of women. But...

There is very much that is positive and nourishing about living in the country, especailly for "nature-lover" type people and for people who enjoy doing and making a variety of things. In all sorts of ways. Homesteading is often quite physical, and that doesn't mean you need to be an athlete or weight lifter, but you need to be in reasonable fitness and comfortable with turning your attention to physical things when the need arises.

People, of course, need a social life, and while some few people feel fine about that simply being among the people who live under the same roof, many others want a larger circle amongst neighbors and community. If you make friends easily, this will help a great deal. You are educated, so are you comfortable with both people who are and who are not as much? You may be able to find plenty of educated people in the rural area you're contemplating, but I'd have no idea of that. For me, a person's decency, kindness, and interest in others are of prime importance, and education level is secondary.

A half hour to drive for work (plus to get materials for projects, buy clothes, foodstuff's you can't produce, etc) is not bad. I've known many people who commute to town or city an hour, five days a week, though a lot of them probably often wish it was only a half hour.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2009 at 2:40PM
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miscindy(5 SW MI)

Thanks Joel. That's along the lines of what I'm wanting to know. I also need to know "obvious" things--for instance I recently learned that when a person has well water and the electricity goes out, there's no water without a back up power source! Is there anything special to know about having a septic field regarding cleaners, garbage disposals, etc? What's it like to have a propane tank? Do all rural homes have mice at some point? Things that are daily and normal to rural families are not to me! Can neighbors shoot guns on their own land whenever they want? My husband lived a bit rural as a child, so he has a better idea than I do.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2009 at 7:10PM
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joel_bc(z6 BC)

Septic tanks/fields are pretty easy, if they were properly constructed and have been maintained. Garbage dispose-all is probably okay into the septic, but over-use of chemical cleaners might be a problem (occasional would probably be okay).

I used propane as kitchen fuel for a number of years, but that was a long time ago - tanks in good shape, with stove or other equipment also in good condition - plus connections well tightened together and looked after - generally make the situation very safe. Just check it every so often, and never overlook the smell of propane if you notice it in the house or other confined space. Common sense does the trick with propane. Cooking with it is very much like natural gas, if you're used to that.

We've had mice, but not often. A housecat will take care of them, usually. There are also effective traps, of course, from old-fashioned to more modern and humane. Not a big problem, in my estimation.

I have a well as my back-up water source, and a mountain creek system as my main one. If you have only a well, it's good to keep a tank of water (say a 50 or hundred-gallon one) on-hand for when power goes out. You can make it drinkable by boiling it, plus you can cook and clean with it in a minimal sort of way, till the power comes back.

Where I live, some shoot guns from time to time, but most everyone is very aware never to shoot in the direction of someone else's home. You get used to the sound of a gunshot 500 or more yards away - no big deal. I've been 27 years on my current property and there have been no dangerous situations from neighbors shooting guns. Honest.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2009 at 11:07PM
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First make sure you septic tank is well don hill from your well and at LEAST 250 FEET AWAY FROM YOUR WELL !
Life is not quite "Gilligan's island " there are droughts , diseases, predators : six legged , 4 legged . and even 2 legged (including humans ) that can deplete your stores , livestock and crops .Hawks, coyotes ,skunks, stray dogs, rats,weasels can wipe out your poultry and rabbits , wolves and larger predators can kill : sheep goats cattle and horses. moths can wipe out your wool goods so look for a cedar chest .There are storms and hurricanes possibly floods mud slides .You can use goats to clear brush and pigs to remove stumps be prepare to have someone plow the land it is to time consuming to do by shovel or rototiller
turkeys make pretty good rototillers by the way and help remove grubs. you may wish to raise bees but remember skunks will eat them . so everything you own MUST BE PROTECTED .Not to discourage you just to prepare you . good luck .

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 12:12PM
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islandmanmitch(z 8/9 FL)

One comment about septic systems. Never pour grease or cooking oil down the drain. Even a little here and there will accumulate over time. It will clog your drain field. Consider using two septic systems. One for gray water and one for blackwater.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 5:41PM
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miscindy(5 SW MI)

Thanks for the reality. I'm starting to realize that rural living is not all "Little House on the Prairie"--at least it wouldn't be for me. I'd have to leave at 6 am on snowy, unpaved (and probably unplowed) roads to go to work each day. Would I have enough energy after getting up so early, working all day and then the long drive home to enjoy/work in the yard? Pizza, milk and gas are not just around the corner--though I certainly could stop on way home from work. I'm realizing the life style isn't all the way I read in books, especially since I still have to go to work.

Yesterday dh had me meet him on some land he found during his lunch "hour." He really liked it. I have to admit it was very nice land and very secluded. From the property I could see 1 house--that's all! I could picture how beautiful everything would be in the spring, but had never actually stood on land with nothing around but land! It's not the same as driving by in the car. I actually felt a bit uncomfortable and exposed by the acres of prarie grasses across the road and along the property--the front half is all cleared and grassy.

Dh and I discovered that we had different definitions of "county" and I had really never experienced his version and wasn't really certain about it.

I've got some thinking to do. I also want to spend some more time out "there" and get a better feel for it. Yesterday it was very cold, windy and muddy--hard to appreciate the land when I really wanted to get back in the warm car!

    Bookmark   February 13, 2009 at 4:32PM
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islandmanmitch(z 8/9 FL)

If you don't have first-aid training take a good course. Get a "real" first-aid kit. Medical help is not 5 minutes away. If you require an ambulance remember they have to drive out to you and then drive all the way back in. Could take some time.
Find out what the law enforcement response time is in the area. Get true times, not the PR times.
How do you feel about firearms in your home?

    Bookmark   February 13, 2009 at 8:47PM
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miscindy(5 SW MI)

Well, it turns out the land "out in the middle of nowhere" is really only 10 minutes away from a small town. (The route the GPS system took me was really rambling.) That makes me a lot more comfortable. That town does have fire and ambulance service. We're going to drive out there again tomorrow--on paved roads most of the way and through actual towns. It's kind of neat that it feels like nowhere, but is really not too far from a small grocery, gas stations and a few restaurants.

We do actually have firearms in the house now, though they are never out. I am not at all comfortable handling one, but I guess I could start with the bb gun and then work my way to the shotgun and hand gun. (DH was training for FBI at one point, hence the hand gun.)

    Bookmark   February 13, 2009 at 9:18PM
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islandmanmitch(z 8/9 FL)

Firearms are like first-aid. You must be proficient to be able to do any good.

It sounds like things are working in your favor. Now you must be back to day dreaming about the country life?

    Bookmark   February 13, 2009 at 10:24PM
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miscindy(5 SW MI)

We visited the property again and decided to gather more info from the township and then prepare to make an offer. We sat down and dh (a commercial banker)figured the down payment, loan amount and monthly payment. It all worked into our budget with just minor adjustments. We knew we'd still have to add in the taxes, but didn't figure they'd be too much on vacant land on an unpaved road.

We were wrong. The SEV of the land is near the price we planned to offer, meaning it's "market value" (in some other economy I assume) is nearly twice what we'd pay. That's part of the reason the taxes would add about $180/month to the loan payment! We could still do it, but we're trying to also pay off a debt right now by making large monthly payments for the next 6 months. This tax money would really eat into that paydown plan.

Obviously the most financially responsible thing to do is to wait 6 months until the debt is paid off, then purchase land. However, we've been casually looking at land for a while now and haven't seen much other than parcels of farm fields--we're looking for partially wooded, rolling hills . . . This piece of land is really the ideal piece. If we wait 6 months it might be gone!

Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2009 at 4:58PM
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Hi -
Life here in north central texas is certainly different from where you all are from.

We're 35 miles north east of Dallas, but in what many would consider country. We've used propane for cooking and heating for 24 years, had both convential and anaerobic septic systems, the neighbor has chickens (and roosters that crow at all hours), coyotoes howl in the evenings, and we've had stray possums and skunks getting fat from the cat food in the garage.

We drive 30 minutes to church, my husband drives 45 minutes to work, and the kids and I drive 1 hour to our homeschool co-op, one day per week. It all seems normal and natural to us.

Some costs to consider as you think about purchasing raw, unimproved land. Cost to bring in electric? Cost to set a propane tank and fill it? Cost to run a water line or drill a well? ($5k and up down here to drill a well). Do your cell phones work out there or will you need to bring in telephone? What choices do you have for tv/internet? How many feet of road (of some sort) will you need to put in, and what does it cost? Finally, what about restrictions on the land. Sometimes property is restricted by the deed, sometimes by the county or city. Restrictions can be fantastically picky (approval needed for your garage design) or just common sense (no rendering plants.)

I believe the term here is "due diligence"

You'lll never miss the congestion and traffic jams...


    Bookmark   February 18, 2009 at 2:24AM
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joel_bc(z6 BC)

Gee, Betsy - I'm not sure what you think is all that different in your situation. True, every locale or region is unique in some ways, but you seem to be referring to a lifestyle that is probably pretty similar. Haven't we each traded increased self-reliance (which includes the need for skills) for self-determination, nature & space, and peace?

You're right about "due dilligence"... you need that to live this way.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2009 at 10:29AM
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miscindy(5 SW MI)

Well, unless we get some wonderful benefit from the stimulus package, it's not likely we'll be able to purchase the land right now. Of course, now I'm daydreaming about it!! Hopefully it will still be available in 6 months--it's been for sale since Sept.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2009 at 8:41PM
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Would you ever consider using alternative power? Once you have your house, all you have to do is make some set-ups, and your monthly utilities will be very low if any. Charlie Steward set his home up like this with no experience, and now they energy companies have offered to pay him for his use, since his meter gets run backwards! Its called "off-the-grid" living. His website is alternativepowervideo.com Read up on what he did. His videos also seem mostly reasonable priced. ~Karen

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 9:15AM
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miscindy(5 SW MI)


DH did actually mention looking into solar panels on the roof. (Our inability to purchase the land now is because we don't plan to build for about 3 years and the taxes on non-homestead property are out of the budgeted range.)

We like the idea of being somewhat self-sufficient. We both work full time outside the home, so don't have the time to do everything the natural, homemade way (though I'm at least learning how to and practicing a little, so I can if I need to). Call us a little bit paranoid, but dh says if the economy totally collapses and anarchy reigns, or we have terrorists stalking our state, or there's a major storm that wipes out power and services, we want to be safe and comfortable in our own home for a while. DH is even looking into impact resistant glass for the windows or metal shutters that lock over the glass--both are designed to help homes weather storms and debris.

I'm considering looking for a bit of extra work to help pay off the debt faster, so we can purchase that land--I really want it!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 11:43AM
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Sounds good! One question...what is DH? I'm thinking maybe "da Husband"? Not up much on internet speak...LOL

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 11:03AM
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littledog(z7 OK)


A month? I realize that MI is not OK, but $2160.00 a year in property taxes for completely unimproved land?

Are you sure the property is zoned agricultural?

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 1:55PM
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miscindy(5 SW MI)

The taxes are just over $2,000/year. It's considered non-homesteaded until a home goes in so it's taxed at a higher rate. We thought that was ridiculous also. We even contacted the county about having the SEV lowered, but they said they aren't considering any requests for lowered taxes. They need the money too I guess.

We did end up bidding on the land. We offered $8,000 more than the last offer they turned down. They turned us down too and said they wouldn't take more than $10,000 than our offer.

As I said before we'll be in a better position financially to purchase in about 5 months--at that point they may appreciate our offer more if they still haven't sold. DH's bank says property values haven't hit rock bottom yet here. Maybe we can offer less in 5 months-who knows!?

(DH=dear husband)

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 4:45PM
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OH, thank you for the clear up on the abbreviation! *Smiles* HAHA

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 12:25PM
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miscindy(5 SW MI)

Wow! This whole idea of buying land for a future homestead has been a whirlwind of emotions! Excitement, hesitation, excitement, disappointment(offer not excepted), hope (try again in 6 months), and now disappointment coupled with relief and a bit of hope!

It's a good thing our offer wasn't accepted. We've had some unforeseen circumstances arrive in our financial state (mainly cc interest rate increases and delay of income tax refund due to error) that would have really put us in a bind if we had to have that 20% down payment this month.

We were hopeful to offer again in the fall, but now that seems unlikely as well. We've got to pay off the credit card and then start saving again for a down payment. Looks like it's going to be awhile to save the 20% down. Used to be you could get a loan with 5-10% down, but I guess that's partially what got this country into the economic state it's in now!

I guess I need to put my energies into gardening in my current little yard for this year and saving money!

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 12:16PM
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I can offer you up a couple of viewpoints.

I grew up on a farm and I was prepared for what life about 30 minutes outside the city would be like. I was prepared for the idea of NOT being prepared for everything because I've lived hard, but I never owned a home before this one.

My wife, complete city girl AND total apron-string nutcase with her mother, says she loves it but over time has proved otherwise.

My step-mother, now in her 80's, also moved from the city down to the farm where I grew up. In her words, "I hated it for the first two or three years, but now I couldn't imagine going back to the city. I'd just die."

Things my wife hates:

- getting up extra early in case of inclement weather, accounting for that additional driving time. More often than not she stays with her parents in the city if bad weather is coming, with the result that I end up left alone, sometimes for weeks at a time in winter, and I hate this. On the other hand life in the city is poor planning AND would eventually kill my soul, so I hope for the best here.

- She hates all our neighbors/friends being generally so far away.

- She hates that we can't just jump up and go out to a movie without planning, or to a particular restaurant.

- She hates the grocery being off a ways, but I chalk this up to poor planning and her inability to just make stops on the way home from work.

- We live by a cornfield, and we have a HUGE mouse problem. On the other hand I'm learning how to get rid of the mice, but it's taking time and planning. Still, it's a pain to deal with initially.

- Septic system: If you're building, then take pains to make sure you have a good system AND that you MAINTAIN it regularly to ensure long life. The former owners said they did (they SAID lots of things), but a few months into our life here the toilet didn't flush very well. Fortunately a few doses of Rid-X did the trick, and I apply regularly now.

- Learning how to deal with a well. I grew up with well water, but we had a LOT of top quality water. Many wells do NOT have great water, and digging a well can be dauntingly expensive. If you plan on digging a well, make CERTAIN it's not near your septic. Also, while you may lose water in the event of a power failure, there is an alternative: Since you're digging the well anyway, have a hand-pump installed outside, for emergency use. It's not that much more expensive, and if another Hurricane Ike comes through, you'll be glad you did. Power is one thing, water is quite another.

- Propane: You will obviously want to insulate your house as well as possible. Propane is NOT cheap if you use it to heat. I HIGHLY recommend having a fireplace insert installed for home heating, and I recommend researching a model which can act as a practical fireplace in the event of power loss (after all, what drives that circulating fan?) so you can still heat. As for cooking, it's great with propane or natural gas, BUT keep one thing in mind: If you lose power, you lose your oven UNLESS you get a dial-controlled oven you can light rather than an electronically-controlled oven you cannot use during a power outage.

- Using your land: I have ten million ideas for what I WANT my homestead to look like, and I have tons of know-how. I lack, however, some of the simplest pieces of equipment to do the jobs I want, such as a tractor. Finding neighbors to do jobs for me isn't as easy as I'd hoped originally, so don't COUNT on it. Bearing that in mind, getting started is much, much harder than you might think (especially if you're like me and have to do it all alone). Another thing which lacks sometimes is TIME, since you have the commute. It's one thing to tell yourself you'll be diligently in the yard nightly after work, another thing to arrive home tired, need to prepare supper AND get outside to take care of projects. Great on paper, difficult in application.

- Costs of commuting as gas prices rise. Commutes aren't just gas, they're also time and effort.

- Childcare if you have that issue. If you have to leave work to pick up your child, is he home and local, so you have a 30-minute drive BACK to him/her, then BACK to the city for a doctor, all because someone local babysits at a feasible price? Or do you opt for in-city childcare at outrageous prices? I shell out nearly $800 per month for my son's daycare. That may not be a concern for you at all, if you're not far from retirement, but it's definitely something to consider IF you plan to pass the homestead on to your kids.

- Also, as pointed out, your 30 minute from the city may be a mere 15 or even 10 minutes in just a few years, and you may be IN the city by the time you're old and pass the land on to your kids. I've only had this place 1.5 years and already, farms nearby are selling and subdividing. It won't be long before 10 acres will be a LOT of land, and that's sad.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 11:49AM
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miscindy(5 SW MI)

Urban- Thanks for sharing lots of good information!

We have an approved 2nd offer on the property and are set to close April 28! We did some re-budgeting and will have that credit card with the increased rate paid off next month and have come up with the down payment without borrowing. (Whew! That took some sacrifice, but feels so good!)

We won't be able to build for about 3 years, but have a lot to do in the meantime. There's a polebarn that needs to be gutted and repaired. We want to plant some trees along the property lines. There is some barbed wire we need to remove right away--we have kids and a dog! I guess that and cleaning up debris such as fallen branches etc . . . should take us most of this summer.

There's a creek down around the corner "where the old bridge used to be" my boys can't wait to wade in. Our family is very excited and anxious to get out there! Since we still have 2 weeks until closing, we've been studying house plans, researching garden tractors, etc . . .

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 2:55PM
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