Do you dream of one day owning a homestead of your own, a place where you can raise animals and gardens to provide good, wholesome food for your family? No more city councils deciding if you can raise chickens or not. No more neighbors complaining about some animal or other of yours. The dream of owning your homestead need not remain a dream; it can become your reality.
There is a difference between owning a homestead and living a homestead life. People can buy a farm but that does not make them farmers. Your dream homestead also may not look anything like your dream when you first find it. I believe that being a homesteader means living the experience of creating that homestead. You get to design, build, fix, move, and adjust the homestead so that it works best for you. In doing so, you will become a part of that homestead and not just a property owner. The fulfillment of homesteading will come in the testimonies you give about overcoming the obstacles you faced and the home and life you created.
You can take all the great ideas you have been reading and talking about and put them to use on your very own homestead, once you finally have it. You don’t need to wait for some magical day to appear, or the perfect opportunity to fall into your lap. You can place yourself upon the path of homesteading opportunity now. You may have changed your perspective, shed some biases and possibly have the vision to see that diamond in the rough.
During the current economic downturn, affordable housing has not necessarily remained affordable for many. Job losses numbering in the hundreds of thousands each month give us cause to wonder if we can hold onto what we now have, much less wait long enough for that magical homestead. In harder times it is not uncommon to feel a greater desire for self-sufficiency as well as increased fear of the unknown. I believe that there is no better time to find that affordable homestead than the present.
Banks and lenders are fearful of foreclosing on high-risk loans already made. Property values in many areas continue to fall. Homeowners are unable to sell homes and new buyers are unable to get the loans they need. Thus the foreclosure cycle spins faster and faster.
By turning these negatives into advantages you can own your homestead now. Many rural areas that would suit a homestead well are littered with abandoned, run down or unkept mobile homes with land that would work perfectly well as a homestead for someone who can see the diamond in the rough.
I realize that a rundown “trailer” is not the object of your desire. Look past that mobile home and look at the land. What do you see? Is there room for the pasture you need? Is there room for gardens, crops, animals, a barn, a pond etc? As you gaze through the three-foot tall grass growing in and around the appliances that always seem to be left in the front yard, run through the list of characteristics you have dreamed your land would include. Chances are if you look for them, this forgotten and abused land has the potential for you to create them. Forget about the trailer for a moment and just picture your homestead sculpted into this land.
Now open your eyes and look at the ugly mobile home again. Chances are it is an old single-wide that looks terrible but looks can be deceiving. That old home probably has all the infrastructure in place that you need to start your homestead but previously could not afford to install yourself. That home probably has its own well, septic and electric already set up. You don’t have to keep the mobile home on that land. You can either have it moved or demolished (some areas do not allow old mobile homes to be moved). Once that home is gone, you can build or install the type of housing you prefer. If your newer home is more modern it might need an upgrade to the electric service but maybe not. So many articles and books are written today teaching how to use less power or how to create power that an upgrade may be totally unnecessary. Even if you go so far as to live totally off the grid, the available power during the construction of your homestead can make things much easier. Remember, you are carving your dream out of this clay and it will take work.
By discovering the potential for your homestead among the overgrown, forgotten land under that mobile home you have begun to polish that diamond. You are beginning to see the potential value but the owners and sellers of these properties only see an old, abandoned “trailer” on some forsaken land. This is your negotiating position of strength. Many of these properties have been foreclosed by banks and are now problem, non-performing assets known as Real Estate Owned (R.E.O’s) that the banks want, and need, to get off of their books. Potential sellers may own the property free and clear of any debt but have no idea on how to sell the property. They can’t find buyers with banks that are willing to finance this type of property. These owners will often consider about any suggestion to get rid of the property so that they can be free of paying the taxes.
If the property is free and clear of loans and liens then this seller may very well consider owner-financing the sale. They might consider a rent-to-own proposal or contract for deed. In many cases this type of arrangement might not require much, if any, cash up front since you are taking a property in such disrepair. Just be sure to set the purchase price and terms based upon the condition of the property as it now stands and not after you have done all the work improving it.
If you are buying the property from a bank that has completed the foreclosure then you will likely be making a bid or offer through a real estate agent. Not all agents like these types of properties so keep asking around until you find a good buyer’s agent (not the standard seller’s agent). You won’t be offering much and that means very little in sales commission for the agent but I have found that a good agent can learn a great deal from how we buy the property and what we do with it. This may even open up a new market niche for the agent. Don’t let any agent talk you into offering more money. Remember that this property is a bad asset as far as the bank is concerned. They don’t have any emotional attachment to the property and most likely have never even seen a picture of it. You need not be afraid of insulting a bank or your agent with a low offer.
It has been my experience that in many cases you can buy this property for less than the cost of installing the well, septic systems and electrical service. This means that if your offer is accepted, you will be receiving the land and home for free!
Offer as low as you like and see how the bank reacts. If they take your first offer, great, but I can tell you from experience, you will be kicking yourself for not having offered even less. If they counter your offer then up your offer a bit more but not too much. Stay within your budget. If you hardly have any budget at all then you won’t be overpaying! Keep your goals in mind and make that offer low. You can always walk away. You don’t have to buy but the banks and these types of owners need to sell.
Your offer should be contingent upon your inspection of the home and property no matter who is selling the property. Never take a seller’s word about a property. Do your own homework and bring along people you trust who know more than you to help you make certain this property can become the homestead you desire.
This due diligence homework cannot be stressed enough. You want to have a title search conducted and have a professional title agent or closing attorney conduct the closing. Title insurance is typically based upon the purchase price and since you won’t be paying very much for the property the one time insurance fee won’t cost you much either. Just make sure you have a title search conducted and the title insured.
Go to the local county website and in many cases you can look up this property using their Geographic Information System which will allow you to view the property lines from a bird’s eye view. You can get a general idea of the property lines (but even the G.I.S. will remind you that these are not to be used in lieu of a survey), print this map and walk the property yourself. This will also aid you in deciding where best to place your plans for you homestead. You might, for instance, find that the barn would be better someplace else, or that a stream runs through part of the property but was so overgrown you missed it originally.
This will also give you an idea on the type of housing you can place on this property. You will want to check and see what is allowed not only by the zoning but also by the private deed covenants and restrictions. From there you can decide upon the housing that bests suits you and the property. Maybe it’s a log cabin, stick-built home, yurt, shack, tent or even that mobile home (fixed up) or a newer model.
Why not recycle your housing like you try and do everything else? In most aspects of simple living, homesteading and self-sufficiency, we seek to recycle the old to provide a new use. I would recommend that you consider repairing that used mobile home or at least consider replacing it with a more modern, used or repossessed mobile home.
Back in the 1990’s I discovered that owners of mobile homes were often abandoning homes in parks. Much like the stick-built owners of today, these mobile-home owners could not find buyers with bank financing to purchase their homes. This meant that they either had to walk away from their homes or sell for whatever cash people did have. I was able to buy 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 14 feet by 70 feet, singlewide mobile homes for $500 to no more than $3,000 cash. In many cases I was given the homes for free so that seller could move and not be responsible for paying lot rent to the park. These homes did need work but if you are buying a three bedroom, two-bath home for $500 you have a lot of room in the budget for repairs. I found out that there were people all over this country making a business out of buying these cheap singlewides in parks. My area was not some unique, cheap mobile home utopia.
Mobile homes are considered personal property unless some legal work is done to “attach” the home to the real estate. Typically this involves “retiring the title” of the mobile home. In most states, mobile homes are bought and sold using titles exactly like the one used to buy and sell cars. The registration was done at the Division of Motor Vehicles (or whatever similarly named agency your state has) just like the purchase of a car. Liens on mobile homes appear on the title just as they do on car titles. Some states vary a bit or only require titles for later model homes but the concept is the same as buying and borrowing against a car.
The cheapest alternative will, most likely, be to simply repair the mobile home that is already on the land. I have found you can repair and rehab most any old mobile home into a dollhouse. I believe these homes are much easier and far less expensive to work on than a stick-built home and since you are doing the work it can be done to standards that suit you. Trust me, if I can learn to fix these homes, anyone can.
If you choose not to repair the old trailer that is currently on the land, you might consider buying a used or repossessed mobile home a moving it to this land. Moving a mobile home is not necessarily cheap and will vary greatly by location. I live in the mountains of North Carolina with narrow, winding roads, which makes moving mobile homes a bit frightening, even to watch. The cost to move a singlewide runs about $1,500 with the mover leveling the home, setting up the home on blocks (to satisfy our local code) and strapping it with tie downs. Moving doublewides tends to cost a little more than twice the cost of a moving a singlewide because the movers have to not only move two sections of the home but also break apart the halves and put them back together again.
Once you move the home to your land you now have a home complete with doors, windows, furnace, plumbing and electrical. You may want to install skirting or a block foundation along with a deck or steps to complete the home. If you choose to remain off the grid then you are pretty much done with the home and are now ready to make your own modifications for solar, wind or whatever alternative power you may choose.
In most states that I am aware of you will find that the mobile home can remain “personal property” for tax purposes, which can dramatically lower your annual tax bill, making this option even more affordable in the long run. So not only are we purchasing a nice-sized home for less than we might pay for a used car, we are paying taxes on it as if it were a used car. Every expense and tax we save money on further frees us from our financial handcuffs.
For those of us who can’t wait to begin homesteading, the shedding of the “trailer” bias or the removal of a mobile home from the land may be the catalyst to making our homesteading dreams a reality sooner rather than later. Even if you choose not to live in a mobile home on that land permanently, it may offer you the starter house or at the very least, truly affordable land and infrastructure that will become the diamond homestead of your dreams. By doing the work yourself instead of waiting a lifetime to buy someone else’s creation, you will have the testimony of experience to carry you through the obstacles and allow you to share these skills to help others create their homesteads. Now you will be able to invite them out to your homestead and show them just how you did it.
Read Part Two: How to Transform That Crummy Trailer into A Dream Home