Last summer we started searching local property listings for a new homestead for our family. We decided to move for a variety of reasons and were searching for our dream property. The homestead we lived on the last four plus years was a fixer-upper. We bought it because it was affordable and we could put in a lot of sweat equity to build our homestead. It had land, fruit trees and plenty of space to expand our homestead dreams. But it wasn’t our dream house or property. I learned to love the place, but my husband was never as fond of it as I was. We decided that this time around when we buy homestead property, we would move only for our dream homestead property. I occasionally get asked for tips on how to buy homestead property so thought I would share how we were successful in buying our dream homestead property.
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Homestead Property Wish List
Before we started our homestead property search, we sat down and made a list of what we were looking for in our dream property. We did this last time we moved and it was a very helpful process to narrow down what we wanted or needed in a homestead property. Here is our homestead wish list:
- Several acres of land with fertile soil and good sun exposure for a garden and fruit trees
- Space for raising animals like chickens, a pig and maybe one day a cow
- Outbuildings for storage, animals, etc
- A root cellar to store food we can/preserve and produce we keep in cool storage
- A kitchen pantry to store the bulk food we buy
- A spacious kitchen since I spend a lot of time cooking and baking from scratch
- Irrigation for gardens and fruit trees
- A good producing water well
- Fruit trees or space to plant fruit trees
- Established berry bushes or space to plant them
- A greenhouse or hoophouse, or space to put one, to help us extend our short growing season
- An office space in the house for me to work from home on the blog and creating for our Etsy shop
- Must be located less than an hour from town since I will continue to work part time in town
- A shop for my husband to work and create for our Etsy shop
- Must be easily accessible year round (some properties we saw for sale could not be accessed by vehicle in the winter and required a snowmobile for access)
- Solar panels or south facing roof where we could install solar panels
- Fenced area for our two dogs
- Space for the kids to safely play and have their swing set
Finding Homestead Properties For Sale
After we had a list of what we were looking for in a homestead property, it made the whole process a bit easier. These days real estate listings are online with websites dedicated to being able to filter listings according to specific data you enter, like how much acreage, how many bedrooms, bathrooms, outbuildings, etc. My favorite real estate search website to use is Zillow. I checked the property specifics we were looking for in our set price range in the four counties we were open to living in. This provided a list of the properties that met our preferences. Then we looked through each property listing, noting which properties were possibilities.
We quickly realized that we were not going to find our perfect dream property in our price range. I found an amazing property that appeared to have everything we wanted and needed, but it was slightly out of our price range. After looking at our budget, we decided that we weren’t comfortable going beyond our price range which would leave us with no extra funds to cover maintenance or emergencies. We then started looking at properties that didn’t have everything on our wish list but had the potential for us to add those things within our price range. This allowed us to narrow down our options to three properties we wanted to go look at in person. We contacted our realtor and set up a day to go tour these potential new homesteads. We were glad we did all our research in advance because we knew what we wanted so we weren’t wasting our realtor’s valuable time looking at endless properties across four counties.
Checking for Covenants, HOA’s and Restrictive Rules
In our process of finding and buying a homestead, we came across some properties that were located in an area with rules that limited the amount or type of animals you could raise. It is important to find out if there are any rules or restrictions in your area before buying a homestead. Some counties have online databases the public can search for free to find out if a specific property has restrictions. The real estate listings usually noted if there were Home Owners Association fees (HOAs). We usually had to do more digging into property records to find out if there were any Covenants. If we couldn’t find it, our realtor was able to obtain the information from the listing agent. We had no HOA, Covenants or any restrictions related to homesteading at our old homestead so we were quite surprised at the restrictions we were finding attached to some properties. One Covenant had a long list of rules such as what type of dog you could/couldn’t have, how loud your vehicle could be, how many outbuildings you could have on your property, not allowing a home business etc. Several lists of Covenants had restrictions on the type and number of farm animals you could raise which can be a deal breaker for homestead property.
Putting in an Offer on Homestead Property
We looked at three properties with our realtor. The second one we looked at was the one we fell madly in love with. Actually, we may have fallen in love with it before we even set foot on the land. The lead picture in the real estate listing was a photo of a swing hanging from a large tree along a creek. As we were homestead shopping over several months, I kept coming back to that property and thinking how that was where I wanted to raise our children.
When we arrived at the property with our realtor, I immediately noticed the mature maples and box elder tree that we could tap for syrup. Then I noted a patch of what looked like oyster mushrooms growing out of a tree. We walked the property looking at the barns and outbuildings, mature trees, meadow and flower beds. Then we headed down toward the creek. As we neared the spot with the swing by the creek, I had a strong emotional reaction. My eyes filled with tears and I got goosebumps all over. I didn’t tell anyone this at first since I was so caught off guard by how my body reacted. We walked across the bridge over the creek to a grassy area bordered by a variety of trees. There was an aspen full of golden leaves (it was fall in Montana). Little A walked up to it, put her arms up and the light breeze blew the golden leaves down on her as the sun rays shown down on us “It’s so magical mama!” Then and there I knew, this was definitely it! We put in an offer, and after negotiating a price that would work with our budget, we were under contract.
Doing a Homestead Inspection
Once under contract we had the opportunity to do a more thorough home inspection. Doing a home inspection is definitely not a step to skip. Normally people hire a professional Home Inspector but since my husband is a contractor he did this himself. This is also a time to ask questions and find out whatever you want to know about the property. We had the amazing experience of meeting the elderly owner and some of her family. She and her family owned the homestead for 55 years so we felt honored to meet them and hear stories about their lives on the property. It made the whole experience so much more rich, and another aspect that made us feel like this was all meant to be.
Moving to Our New Homestead Property
After we closed at the title company and were handed the keys to our new property, we drove down to our new homestead. Our new homestead property was an hour drive from our old homestead which made moving tricky with two young children. We moved over the holidays and in the winter, the two worst times to move! An ice storm delayed our final move by one week. By the time we finally finished moving, we were exhausted and overwhelmed. I had to set unpacking goals for myself to tackle at least two boxes per day. As I write this, we’ve been living on our new homestead property for about four months. I will confess that we still have boxes to unpack, pictures to hang and sheds and barns to organize. We have settled into this new homestead and found a rhythm to our days. Both my husband and I agree that we found our dream property and hope to never move from this land. We feel honored to be the new family to live and grow on this beloved Montana homestead!
What things do you look for when buying homestead property?