Homestead - Critical Aspects And Important Considerations

critical aspects for a homestead

There are several critical aspects to consider when looking for the ideal Homestead location.The ideal Homestead location should be a safe place to live and have those critical aspects that are necessary for a functioning Homestead. 

Finding the ideal Homestead involves an understanding of a variety of critical aspects. These critical aspects include: Short-term and Long-term Considerations; What makes a Safe Homestead; The Political Climate; The Weather; Deciding Homestead Factors where one is looking for land.

I have read articles that rank Homestead sites by their scenic beauty, by land prices and by what appears to be the author's favorite states. I have to shake my head when reading articles like these.

It takes a lot more than scenic beauty, cheap land and a favorite state to make a successful Homestead.

These three aspects may play a role in a selection of a Homestead Site, but viewed by themselves they are a very inadequate method for choosing a successful Homestead location.

Where a truly great Homestead is located depends upon a combination of what I will call short-term and long-term considerations.

Significant Short-Term Considerations

Short-term considerations include those positive aspects that give immediate joy and happiness that lasts for the first 5-10 years of Homesteading.

The primary short-term considerations evolve around our desire to move forward in locating and establishing our Country or Homestead place.

It is not surprising that these are also the considerations that Real Estate Salespeople rely on to sell property and make the commissions they need to support themselves and their families.

Examples of short-term considerations include:

  • Low price or selling the idea that this parcel of land will rapidly increase in value.
  • Convenience to an area with amenities such as shopping, schools and medical care.
  • Aesthetic appeals such as property with a view, a location for a pond, garden, orchard or house.

The reality is that when a parcel of land is priced low there is usually a good reason it is priced low. This land usually has one or more drawbacks that become apparent upon close evaluation. Or those drawbacks become painfully apparent after the land is purchased.

The Seller may know that wells in that area tend to be very deep, (meaning expensive), and usually produce too little water to support a higher selling price or to qualify for conventional financing of the land.

Another possibility is there could be a source of contamination that pollutes the ground water aquifer, (underground water that is the source of well water), making the well water unfit for human consumption.

It may be possible to install a system that will remove enough of the contaminates so that the water is then considered safe to drink. However, these systems are not cheap and may have a fairly high monthly cost to maintain them.

  • The soil could be too poor to grow a garden without a lot of work to improve the soil by adding a lot of amendments to the soil. (Think time and money).
  • The soil may not be the type that is suitable for a septic system because it will not perc. (Pass a percolation test needed to obtain a permit for a septic system).
  • The soil may not be the type that will support the weight of a house resulting in constant problems with doors and windows not closing properly and possible cracks in the foundation.

Beware of soil that in dry weather has large cracks that can be seen in bare spots of the ground.

There is a type of soil that forms large cracks during dry weather but creeps down hill if on a slope when the weather is wet. This type of soil is not suitable for supporting a house or other buildings.

None of us can accurately predict the future. I've learned that any Real Estate Salesperson who is trying to sell me the idea that a given parcel of land will rapidly increase in value is merely selling their beliefs, there speculation and not from actual facts that can be depended upon in the future.

I can and have shown people dozens of parcels of land that's value is just now approaching the value it had in 2007/2008 before the Real Estate Market crashed.

Less than 30 minutes away from where my small homestead is located there is a development with some 16 five acre lots. (Small Homestead Lots is one way of advertising them).

Each lot is complete with a well already drilled, electricity to the lot and the streets have been paved. This development went on the market in late 2007 and yet over 10 years later the owner is still waiting for the first lot to be purchased! Real Estate prices rise and fall in most areas over a period of time.

The land values do not always keep going up!

To those who are committed to a Homesteading Life, the convenience of being near shopping, schools and medical care is not one of the top 4 or 5 considerations on their list. They understand that a Homestead is not dependent only upon the proximity to shopping, schools and medical care to be successful.

The success of a Homestead depends more on the presence of an adequate supply of good quality water free from contamination, suitable soil, the presence of a wood lot for firewood or materials for outbuildings and fences than it does on the nearness to shopping, schools and medical care.

Everyone appreciates a good view and who wouldn't. But a good view is not high on the list of "got to haves" for anyone who truly understands Homesteading.

If there is a good view on land that meets the conditions of Homestead property, that is a bonus.

But, one should always be aware of a Real Estate Agent or Seller who points to an area of land and says something like, "this would make a great place for a _________." (pond, garden, orchard, or house).

A pond requires a certain type of soil that holds water. If the soil is not that type there will be an expensive mud hole instead of a pond.

A garden needs exposure to the sun which means a southward facing parcel of land in the Northern Hemisphere or in the Southern Hemisphere a northward facing land.

It is not always possible to tell by merely looking if the soil will grow a garden or if the soil has the proper drainage to keep plants from drowning during the rainy season.

Significant Long-Term Considerations

Long-term considerations include those items often overlooked in one's desire to find land and start a Homestead.

These are considerations that can make or break a Homestead 10 to 20 years after establishing it.

Examples of Long-Term Considerations include:

  • Is the Homestead in the way of the planned long-term growth in that County?
  • Is there a projected future change in the Zoning of the Proposed Homestead Land?
  • Are there any likely Military Targets in the area of the proposed Homestead that could endanger the Homestead if there was to be a war?

You can check out the proposed long-term growth of the County by paying a visit to the County Zoning (sometimes called "Planning and Zoning") Office.

Inquire as to the proposed direction for the future County growth whether that proposed growth is commercial, industrial or residential.

What is the chance of that growth changing the current zoning of the proposed Homestead area? The usual best zoning for a Homestead area is residential/agricultural.

If the zoning was to be changed in the future, would an established Homestead be grandfathered in and still be allowed under a zoning change?

Are there any present or planned future developments in the area that could become military targets in wartime?

Likely targets could include important natural resources such as oil or natural gas wells, industrial or future industrial areas and military bases.

If a Homestead is near any of these areas the Homestead could become collateral damage in the event of a war.

When the Homestead location is in mountainous or northern climates where there is a lot of snow in winter, and you are from a southern or warmer climate,it is best to see that area in winter before purchasing land.

This is a situation where it could be best to rent in the area for a year before purchasing.

These long-term considerations raise questions that should be considered and answered before purchasing land for a Homestead.

The Safe Homestead

A Safe Homestead is a slightly different concept than Homestead Safety. Homestead Safety involves knowing how to properly and safely use the necessary implements and equipment needed on a Homestead to prevent personal injury.

A Safe Homestead is the concept of locating the Homestead in an area where there is as little chance as possible of natural events or man made events that would damage or disrupt the Homesteads functions.

One of these concepts was mentioned in Significant Long-tern Considerations, locating the Homestead away from any likely Military Targets in the event of a war.

Other factors to consider in the location of a Safe Homestead include locating the Homestead far enough away from large population areas to avoid being caught up in potential future civil disturbances such as riots and demonstrations.

In some instances this could mean locating the Homestead away from any large public Colleges or Universities.

Another Safe Homestead factor is to not locate the Homestead in portions America that are prone to Natural Disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and a history or good future probability of flooding.

Wildfires are a reality in the American West and occasionally occur in sporadic locations in the American East. There are specific actions that can be taken to markedly reduce the chances of wildfire destruction of a Homestead.

Properly done these specific actions protect a Homestead to a much greater extent than actions to mitigate a hurricane, earthquake, tornado or flood.

What Is The Political Climate?

What is the Political Climate is not a question of whether it is better to Homestead in a Red State (Republican) or a Blue State (Democratic).

This question deals with the history of the area in respect to farms and farming, agriculture and homesteading.

When a State has a history of agricultural development there is an increased chance that State will have policies and regulations favorable to farming and homesteading.

This fact can be a plus when looking for a place to relocate and homestead. However, that does not mean some State policies and regulations won't change.

Take the State of Washington for example where there are a sizeable number of Homesteaders located.

The State of Washington has several areas of good soil for growing crops and also for supporting the weight of houses and outbuildings.

The Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington has as much or more rainfall than any other place in the lower 48 States.

Eastern Washington has lakes, rivers and streams as well as beautiful scenery and climate supportive for growing many different types of fruits and vegetables.

But, Washington is undergoing some changes that may not bode well for Homesteaders in the not so distant future. One of these changes is particularly ominous.

The State of Washington has begun putting meters on wells located on private property. It will not be very long before private property owners there will be charged by the State for the use of water that comes from underneath their own land!

If you have a homestead, being charged for water that comes from beneath your land could be both expensive and disheartening.

Arizona is another western State where water is a problem. It is a State where the population has probably surpassed the State's water availability.

For several years there have been areas in Arizona where it was next to impossible to get a permit to drill a well on your own property. In some cases it is virtually impossible to extend the depth of an existing well when the well's output decreases.

California is another case in point. Due to a prolonged drought and policies that, in retrospect were flawed, there are large formerly productive areas of that State that have become essentially useless as areas in which to Homestead or even to have a backyard garden.

mountain snowWhat Is The Weather Like?

The American West as a whole has many arid and semi-arid areas that average less rainfall than the American East.

In portions of the American West there is a major dependence on the winter snow pack in the mountains to supply water. The two major factors that determine how much water is available next year from wells and springs are the amount of rainfall and snow pack this year.

Both rainfall and melting snow works it's way down through the soil to replenish the underground aquifers that supply water for wells and springs. When the rainfall and/or snow pack is below normal there is less supply of ground water the next year.

A critical point is reached when the demand for water exceeds the available supply. When this occurs in the American West, you can expect the State with the water problem to institute policies or regulations that have the effect of rationing the water available.

The rationing can be in the form of an every other day ban on watering lawns and gardens.

Another form of rationing is in the denial to permit the drilling of a new well or extending the depth of an existing well.

Rationing can come in the form of losing your water rights if you do not have your water system completed by a given date.

Another form of rationing is to meter wells and springs and charge a fee to use the water from under your own land. The theory is that by charging a fee there will be less water used.

Water Is The Deciding Homestead Factor For The American West

As a retired Attorney who teaches others how to locate, evaluate and purchase Country and Homestead Property, I cringe when I read about someone attempting to Homestead on desert land.

I live on small Homestead in the American West and understand first hand what it takes to make a successful homestead.

Even though I now live on a Homestead in the mountains of North Idaho, I lived in a desert of the American West for over four years.

I know how the desert can flourish and grow when there is water to properly irrigate a portion of it. I have seen the change in the desert after a rain and I have seen that change die as the desert dryness returns.

I have endured desert heat that felt like a blast furnace as well as cold windy desert nights that were as cold as any night I have experienced living on our Homestead about 50 miles from the Canadian border.

I have to admit to having a certain admiration for those who are determined to Homestead in the desert. Yet at the same time I can't help but wonder WHY they chose the desert?

An American Western Homestead lives and dies on the availability of water. Water is a very scarce commodity in the desert. Almost as scarce as successful desert Homesteads.

Many times when water can be found by drilling a well in the desert the water is not suitable for human consumption. (It is termed "non-potable").

Its a good idea to estimate the amount of water needed for a Homestead you are dreaming of and planning for.

Since water is the deciding factor in the American West it becomes necessary for those who want to Homestead there to do some serious research before deciding where to Homestead.

While it is understandable that family ties, favorite States and where one wants to live play a role in deciding where to homestead, it is a mistake to place any consideration above water availability unregulated by a Western State placing a meter on your source of water.

Balancing Water Availability With An Area's Population In The American West

If looking for a Homestead site in the American West, remember that there are areas where the population has stretched the available water to the limit or has exceeded that limit.

This means that if you are looking for a Homestead location in the more populous States of the American West you must locate the Homestead as far away from a populous area as possible.

Doing this can give you a better chance of finding sufficient water in the more populous American Western States.

Water Is Seldom The Deciding Factor For The American East.

To a large extent, from the States bordering the western side of the Mississippi River and eastward, the availability of water is not the deciding factor for a Homestead location as it is in the American West.

There are two primary reasons for this:

  • There is more rainfall and at more regular intervals in the American East.
  • The American East, by and large, follows the English Rule with regard to water and water rights.

I lived for years in the American East and it was rare to see someone watering their garden or fields. Sure it happened on occasion, but it was not the routine occurrence that it is in the American West.

In many years the rainfall was both enough and came frequently enough that watering gardens and fields was the exception rather than the norm.

In most of the American East, the States follow the English Rule with regard to water and water rights.

A portion of that rule is that you have the right to any water that falls from the sky and any water that is found underneath your land.

Understanding The Fundamental Differences Affecting Some Property Rights In America

Americans believe that when they purchase land they own both the surface of that land and what is below the surface.

The reality is that is not entirely true in the American West due to the original laws before the West become States and were admitted into the United States.

The American West was first territory claimed by France and Spain. These two countries, being on the European Continent, have a different form of law affecting property and property rights than the Law inherited from England and in effect in the American East.

European Continent Law has always favored the Sovereign, the King. The European Continent did not undergo the changes in Citizen's Rights that occurred in England after the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.

The System of Law the American West inherited from France and Spain favors the Sovereign, the government, whereas the System of Law inherited from England is much more favorable to the citizen.

Because the Western States were settled before becoming a part of the United States they choose to keep elements of European Continent Law instead of fully adapting English Common Law and it's view of the Rights of citizens.

This was felt necessary to avoid problems caused by changing from one form of Real Property Law to another.

This is one aspect of Real Property Law that is not always taught in the Standard Real Estate Law Classes taught in most Law Schools today.

There are two differences in European Continent Law and English Common Law that deserve mention here:

  • The first relates to ownership of land.

Under European Continent Law the Sovereign, king or government, retained ownership of the area above the land's surface and the area below the land's surface.

A property owner was only granted ownership of the land's surface.

Under English Common Law a landowner owned from the surface of his land up to the heavens and from the surface of his land down to the center of the earth.

The only exception in English Common Law was a reservation of rights to crops or timber growing on the land or a reservation of rights to minerals that lie underneath the ground.

Today, these reservations of rights are usually noted on the Deed to Real Property or the document setting out these Reservations of Rights is referenced in the Deed.

  • The second is that under European Continent Law each spouse owned an undivided 50% of the marital property.

This is know as Community Property in the American West.

Under English Common Law each spouse owns an undivided 100% of the marital property.

As it relates to the ownership of water in the American West, it is the Sovereign, (the State Government), who claims ownership of the rain that falls from the sky and the water that is under the surface of the earth.

This gives the State Government rights when the population is in danger of exceeding the water availability in the State.

In this case the State Government can, if it chooses, put a meter on wells on private property and charge the private property owners for the water they use from underneath their land.

The State Government can also tell a private landowner that they can not use the water from a spring on their land if they do not develop that spring and have it inspected by a specific time.

Lastly, in the American West, the State Government can outlaw the collection of it's rainwater falling on private land if preventing the collection of rainwater is deemed to be in the best interest  of the State.

So if planning on Homesteading in a populous Western State in America it is possible to find ones self in a position of having too little water or having to pay the State for the use of water from underneath the Homestead Land.

This is the primary reason the more populous Western States have been replaced by smaller population dense Western States as the best places recommended for Homesteading in the American West.

In the American East it is the landowner who owns the water underneath his land and the rain that falls on his land.

So the landowner, not State Government, controls the water underneath his land and the rainwater falling on his land.

Does The Land Have The Needed Exposure To Sunlight

Homestead land needs to have exposure to enough sunlight to be able to grow crops successfully. This means the land needs to be situated such that it has proper sunlight.

In the Northern Hemisphere it is best to have Homestead land facing south. The area for a garden, orchard and berry bushes should be able to receive sunlight for several hours each day.

If the land does not face south the next best direction for the Homestead land to face is southeast so it can receive the morning and midday sunlight.

It is acceptable for the Homestead land to face the southwest. This will give the garden, orchard and berry bushes exposure to sunlight but the hot afternoon sunlight is the type of sunlight most prone to damage crops.

This makes land facing southwest less desirable than land facing true south or southeast.

Homesteading Factors For The American East

The primary Homesteading factor for the American East centers around finding good soil that drains well so plants won't drown.

Other factors include finding property that will perc (pass a percolation test) and a septic permit can be obtained for that parcel of land and property that has a woodlot.

In the American East as in the American West there is the need to assure that the Homestead is located in a safe location and the need to be sure that the Homestead is not in the line of future planned development.

Wells in the American East tend to obtain good water at much less depth and the water flow tends to be more abundant than in the American West.

In some areas of the American East a good supply of well water can be found at depths of as low as 50 feet. (Meaning the wells can be much less expensive to drill).

The best Homestead Areas in the American West and the American East are areas that have these critical aspects.

Related Questions

Where is the Best Place to Buy Land For Homesteading?

The best place to buy land for homesteading is the place where all the 5 Key Factors needed for a homestead can be found. The best places in the American East, West, Mid-West and Canada have all these necessary homestead factors.

How to Buy Homestead Land?

There are several ways to buy homestead land. You can get a loan from a bank or mortgage company. If possible, you can pay cash for the land. Many people buy homestead land using owner financing.

How do I Choose Land For a Homestead?

Choosing land for a homestead is a process that works best when you start your search from home. Do not first call up a Realtor and ask to be shown land. You need to know the 5 Key Factors in choosing Homestead 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.