Choosing Homestead Property - Water, Soil, Trees, Location

Location for a homestead

As any experienced homesteader knows, there are important factors in choosing a homestead that should be considered before the Real Estate Agent's answer of "location, location, location" being the most important factor. If you make location the most important factor in choosing a homestead you will be setting yourself up for disappointment.

What are the 5 key factors in choosing Homestead Property? The 5 key factors in choosing Homestead Property are: Adequate Water of good quality; Right type of soil; Presence of sufficient trees; Legal access to the property; and Appropriate Homestead location.

If any of these 5 key factors are missing it will be much harder to have a successful homestead. Let's take a look at each of these 5 Key Factors and learn why they are Key Factors and why they are listed in this order.

Why is Water the Most Important Consideration?

Water is the most important consideration because land without an adequate source of good quality water is worth $ZERO as a place to live or homestead! If the land does not have a proven source of water that is present in an adequate amount and the water is of good quality that parcel of land has $ZERO value as a Country or Homestead Property.

There are several reasons why a proven source of good quality water in an adequate amount is the number one Key Factor in your choice of a Country or Homestead Property.

Without Water you can't live, grow crops or have stock animals. Unless you are willing or able to have water trucked in on a regular basis, year round, or can bring in sufficient water yourself, avoid property without a proven source of adequate, good quality water. Water is the life blood of Country or Homestead Property.

What is an "Adequate Source of Good Quality Water?"

There are two parts to the question, "What is an adequate source of good quality water?"; adequate source and good quality. We'll look at each in turn.

An adequate source means enough water to satisfy your long term plans for your Country or Homestead Property.

The usual distinction between Country and Homestead Property is that Country Property is typically property a little ways away from the nearest town where there is enough land for a house and a garden with berry bushes and maybe a small orchard.

A homestead is more like the old family farm. A homestead needs more land because there is the desire to raise animals in addition to a garden, berry bushes and an orchard for instance. So a homestead needs much more water than a Country Home site might need.

There is more than one definition for adequate water. For the purpose of obtaining financing for Country or Homestead Property, adequate water is a well with at least a 5 gallon per minute, (5 GPM) flow. It may be possible to finance land that has a well with less than a 5 GPM flow in some instances but don't count on it.

The preferred definition for adequate water is enough water to supply the projected needs of the country place or homestead you desire to have. To have adequate water on a homestead you need to be able to water the garden, orchard and berry bushes in the morning before the sun is shining directly on them.

Depending on the size of the garden, orchard and berry bushes you may need to have 2 or 3 different watering systems going at the same time.

A watering system could be a hose with a sprinkler, a drip system on a timer or a hose connected to one or more soaker hoses that run among the berry bushes. A simple watering system for a small orchard can be a hose that is placed at the base of each fruit tree and moved from tree to tree every few minutes.

If during the morning water period there are clothes being washed you can need 12-15 gallons or more flow from a well to handle this volume of water needs.

If more than 5 GPM water is needed or desired and the property has a year round creek or a spring or spring fed pond and you are sure you have water rights to the spring, creek or pond, that water can be used for watering stock animals and on the garden.

Good quality water means water that has been tested and shown to be potable-water suited for human consumption. It is a good idea to get well water tested before closing on the sale of land. If the test shows any problems with the safety of the water from the well, don't go through with the Purchase!

If you want an added layer of safety for your drinking water you can get a Big Berkey water filter by British Berkefeld. This is the water filter the British Special Forces use to filter water world wide.

Why Is Soil The Second Most Important Consideration?

There are two basic factors necessary to grow a garden, berry bushes and an orchard; water and soil. The soil that we will talk about here is called topsoil.

Good topsoil is 12 to 14 inches deep and is a dark color due to the humus or decaying vegetable matter it contains. Besides making the soil dark, humus is the source of the plant nutrients needed to grow good plants and crops.

Top soil should be loose enough to poke a stick into easily. If the ground is rocky and hard it lacks topsoil and will take a tremendous amount of work and time before it will produce good crops. Land that is rocky is not the best choice for homestead property.

What is the soil texture? To determine this, rub some soil between your fingers. How does it feel? Sandy soil is loose and gritty. Clay soil is heavy and compacted when dry and doughy or sticky when wet. Clay soil can have a gray or yellow tint to it's color. Loam, the preferred type of soil, will crumble in your hand and be dark in color. The best loam is black colored.

Sandy soil looses valuable nutrients after a rain and does not hold water. Sandy soil also freezes and thaws out faster and does not grow good crops.

Clay soil is very compacted, meaning it is difficult for roots to penetrate and water runs off easily. In clay soil, plants may spring up quickly, but the roots are shallow and the plants wash out easily during a hard rain. When it is hot the plants die because the roots can't reach the deep, cool, damp soil that would keep them alive.

Why Is Soil Drainage Important?

If a soil does not have good drainage, water can pool in the soil and the plant's roots actually drown because the roots can not live in soil containing more water than the roots can absorb.

You can think of soil as having three levels of drainage: Sandy soil has too much drainage so essential plant nutrients wash out of the soil quickly and this results in poor or stunted plant growth.

Clay soil has too little drainage so water pools and plants drown or the water runs off leaving insufficient water for good plant growth.

Loamy soil's drainage is just right. So plants thrive because there is moist, deep soil that holds both the right amount of water and soil nutrients.

Although not discussed in this article, soil with good drainage is necessary for a good functioning septic system for your Country or Homestead Property. If the soil does not have good drainage it will not pass a perc (percolation) test and you will not be able to get a permit for a septic tank and drainage field.

Why Are Trees Next In Importance?

I can drive about 75 minutes or so from my house and be in an area where there are fields devoid of trees for as far as the eye can see, except for around every farm house! Why? Because even in the grasslands, whether they are called palouse or prairie, trees are valuable for windbreaks and shade.

Trees are also valuable for heat. I even know people who live in the deep southern part of the U.S. who use wood to supplement their heat in colder weather. Many a Country Home or Homestead either heats with wood or supplements their heat with wood.

In mountainous or more northern climates it is advantageous to have more than one variety of trees on Country or Homestead Property. Not all varieties of trees give the same amount of heat when burned for warmth in the winter.

In areas where there are a lot of deciduous trees, trees with leaves, hardwoods such as oak, maple and ash are the preferred trees to have for firewood because they give off the most heat when burned.

In areas where the trees are mostly conifers, that have needles instead of leaves, the best trees for giving off warmth when the wood is burned are Mountain Larch also know as Tamarack and Red Fir.

Additionally, many homesteads use wood for making fences, outbuildings and raised beds for gardens. When the Country or Homestead Property contains a wood lot or forest land, that property is worth more.

To heat with wood the usual Rule of Thumb is you need a 5 acre woodlot to support heating a 1,500 square foot dwelling without running out of firewood.

In theory, a 5 acre woodlot, carefully harvested, should give an supply of fire wood that will not be used up when heating a 1500 square foot dwelling that is properly insulated and the wood stove properly placed and sized for the house.

If you use your own trees for other purposes around the homestead, you would need a larger woodlot or forest area to take trees from. Many homesteaders like living where they are surrounded by trees because in addition to the shade and wind break trees give, they also give privacy.

Everything you have or do is not out in the open where anyone driving by can see it.

What Is Meant By Access?

Most people think of access as meaning simply you can get to your property. Outside of the city or suburbia however, access has a much more important meaning. In this context, access means if the road or driveway to your property crosses private land, do you have a legal right to cross that land without the owner preventing you from doing so?

This involves the subject of easements which is an entire topic of its own. For the purpose of this article, the only easement you want to access your land when you have to cross over privately owned land is a deeded easement. A deeded easement is referred to as legal permission to cross that private property to get to your property.

There may be a legal document recorded in the County Office where Deeds are recorded that gives the right to cross over any private land needed to get to that property. In most instances, this deeded easement will be stated either on the deed to the property you are interested in purchasing or be an attachment to that deed.

Never Accept A Prescriptive Easement.

A Prescriptive Easement is merely a situation where in the past the road or driveway across private property has been used without problems. Most States have a law that says if a road that crosses private property has been used for so many years, then it can continue to be used. There is a big difference between what a law may say and what is reality in this respect!

One of the most litigated areas in Real Property Law is over the use of Prescriptive Easements. A new owner of the land you cross over to get to your land can put up a locked gate preventing you from getting to your land.

Your remedy is to hire a lawyer and sue in court for access. You will probably win, but in the process you'll pay a lot of money and spend a lot of time and heartache awaiting the outcome of the trial.

When it is all said and done you will be legally driving over a road that crosses the land of someone who is not your friend but is now your enemy. Not the best situation for Country or Homestead Living. If there is not a legal or deeded easement to access your land when you have to cross over private land, do not buy that land! Look elsewhere for land!

If you have to cross over State or Federal Government Owned Land you won't have an easement. You will need a permit allowing  you to access your land.These permits typically cost money and they may require an application process before becoming valid.

Contact the nearest office of the State or Federal Government Department that owns the land to learn what is needed for a permit. Do this before completing the purchase of Country or Homestead property.

Why Is Location The Last On The List?

The short answer to why location is the last key factor on the list is a simple one. Because if there is not adequate water, good soil, at least some trees, and legal access if you cross over private land to get to your land, the location of that land does you absolutely no good!

There is another aspect to location that needs to be addressed. There is a difference between what is meant by location as a Real Estate Agent typically uses the term and what is meant by location when talking about Country or Homestead Property.

The Real Estate Agent is typically using location to refer to the proximity of the property in question to stores, schools, recreational activities, hospitals, etc.

However, the educated and experienced purchaser of Country or Homestead Property uses location to refer to certain physical aspects of the Ideal Country or Homestead Property.

A Country or Homestead Property has a good location if, in the Northern Hemisphere, the property is located with southern exposure because it is exposed to more sunshine. Exposure to more sunshine means it is a better location for a garden, berry bushes and an orchard.

If in the Southern Hemisphere, the preferred location is on a northern slope for the same reason.

If you want to have access to solar electricity for your Country or Homestead Property, the preferred location is where there is the most sunshine just as it is for growing crops.

Another aspect of location could be where a creek or pond is in relationship to where the garden, berry bushes and orchard are or are planned to be. If the water source is above on a higher elevation, than where the crops are growing one can use gravity to water the crops instead of depending on a pump to deliver the water.

A third aspect of location for an ideal Country or Homestead Property is whether there is enough fairly level land. Fairly level land is nice for planting crops and for grazing stock animals.

Conclusion

Locating the Ideal Country or Homestead Property requires a knowledge of many more factors that need to be understood when purchasing city or suburban property. This article has discussed the 5 Key Factors In Choosing Country Or Homestead Property.

A simple way to evaluate Country or Homestead Property and to narrow down the choice of different parcels of land is to use these 5 Key Factors. If there is not a proven source of sufficient water, why consider that property further?

If a source of adequate water is found, then check out the type of soil. If the soil is poor or does not drain well, leave that property and look for another. If there is adequate water and good soil, then go on to determine if there is enough trees, etc.

If any of the 5 Key Factors are missing or not available in sufficient quantity, mark that property off the potential list of properties and look elsewhere for your Ideal Country or Homestead Property.

By using these 5 Key Factors to evaluate Country or Homestead Property you have a simple, proven method of evaluating potential parcels of land that will prevent you from making the most common mistakes made by first time purchasers of Country or Homestead Property!

Related Questions

How do I use these 5 factors to find my perfect place to live?

First be sure all 5 factors are present on any property you are considering buying. Next be sure the property is in an area where you want to live. If the current Real Estate Market is a Seller's Market consider renting in the area for a year. This can accomplish two things; 1. Let you know for sure that this is an area you want to live in and 2. The Real Estate Market might chance from a Seller's Market to a Stable or to a Buyer's Market.

How can I buy Homestead Property with little money?

Purchasing homestead property with little money is something that can be done. It requires a commitment in time to search for the right situation. It also requires an understanding of what to expect and how to make it as safe as possible for both buyer and seller.

How can I find my perfect place to live?

The best way is to not go to a Real Estate Agent first. You need to do some basic research to know what it really is you want. If you have never lived in the area you want to move to, you might want to rent there for a year to see if you could really enjoy living there. If you rent you are a local and you are in a better position to look for land.

About The Author

John Brownlee

A retired Lawyer and Health Care Provider, he teaches people how to locate, evaluate, and purchase Country and Homestead Property. He and his wife, Linda, have taught hundreds of people how to suture wounds in an emergency. He teaches both Preparedness and Health Care Classes and has been a Presenter at Sustainable Preparedness Expos. He holds a General Ham Radio Operator's License.