Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How We Found Affordable Rural Land

When we realized the importance and eventual necessity of being able to grow our own food, we knew it was time to secure land. Where we currently live, in southeastern Massachusetts, there is precious little undeveloped land. Of the land lots that are available, they were prohibitively expensive. We had to start looking a little further away than our own backdoor.

It didn't take long to realize that the best dollar per acre values in New England were to be found in Maine. (We also liked the fact that Maine was the first state to officially refuse to participate in any national identification program.) We did several Internet searches on, got advice from friends and relatives that already live in Maine, and spoke with multiple real estate agents.

We thought we had found our perfect location in a 48 acre lot, mostly wooded, with a mountain view, a small hunting cabin, and brook running through the the property. The asking price of $48,000 was in our price range, and we could easily afford the monthly payments. We were crushed, however, when we were turned down for a mortgage. My husband had filed bankruptcy before we were married. He had kept his finances in order since then, but had not accumulated enough of a credit usage history since the bankruptcy to qualify for a mortgage. I had good credit, but did not earn enough to cover the mortgage alone.

Knowing how important securing land would be, we felt it was imperative to come up with another option. We started exploring the possibility of buying land only. Land only lots are generally less expensive than lots with a structure, but are often more difficult to finance. If we could raise enough money, we could buy a small lot outright, eliminating the need for a mortgage altogether. At the same time, we had become very worried about the stock market and the security of the funds in Eddie's 401K. When he spoke to the benefits coordinator for the company about getting his money out of the 401K, he was informed that he couldn't closed out the account as long as he was a current employee.

We came up with a solution that killed two birds with one stone. The company my husband worked for at the time did a seasonal layoff each winter. That year, when he was laid off, he closed out his 401K. Technically, he no longer worked there! We took the tax hit, but we got the money out before the stock market started it's downturn. In return, we had a sizable amount of money to buy land.

I found the Land And Farm website ( Through this site, we found a realtor that dealt with land only lots, mostly owner financed. Through owner-financing, a mortgage was back on the table. We were able to get a 22.8 acre lot with a brook, wooded acreage, and fields, on a maintained road for $27,000. After a down payment, our 10 year mortgage leaves us with a monthly obligation of $273 per month and dirt cheap yearly property taxes. We have nine years left to pay on the mortgage, but our goal is to have it paid in full in the next three years.

While this option is what worked for us, we did find other lots during our search that had plenty of potential and would fit into even the tightest of budgets. We found a three-acre lot for $4,000. For a lot of people, that's a tax return. Even for people earning minimum wage, careful budgeting and saving, plus a bit of fund raising (try eBay and Craigslist for ideas) will get you to this amount in a reasonable amount of time.

Three acres may not seem like a lot, but you can produce an amazing amount of food on three acres. The ability to produce your own food, even a small portion of your total consumption, gives you freedom. You are less dependent upon factory farming, shipping and warehousing costs, and grocery store markups. You take your money out of a system that props up large agri-business farming operations that will ultimately lead to food shortages in the long term. Plus, you can control the varieties and the integrity of your food.

I will do a short, bulleted factory-farming vs. grow-you-own/local farming post here soon. But, to get back on topic, if the reason you haven't pursued securing your own land yet is because you didn't think you could afford it, you're wrong. No more excuses! You can afford it. Maybe it won't be in your current neighborhood. Maybe you can't start out with as large of a piece of land as you'd like. Maybe you have to make some massive lifestyle changes to save up the money. But, it IS possible.

Live better, a little every day.

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