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Everyone will have a different set of criteria for the land they buy to homestead on.  Some people will be like us and want to start from scratch, others will want something that has some bones to build on or maybe even a more complete picture that they can make minor adjustments too.

The one thing that almost everyone will have in common is that they will have a budget to work with.  This provides a starting point.  Additionally you may also have a geographic area that would like to live in to maintain connections to family and friends, however sometimes your budget or current location will mean you need to move away from your desired location to homestead how you would like.

Knowing what you want or might want from your homestead will help you make good choices when it comes to finding a property to rent or buy.  It really helps to write this all down and have the rest of the family write down their thoughts as well so you can see what everyone is thinking.
Don’t limit yourself to what you think is possible in 5 years but instead list all the things you think you might want to have a go at in the next 20.
While listing the physical aspects of the homestead such as soil type, land contours, existing vegetation, room to keep animals etc is important, make sure you also list how you want your life to feel, the connections you hope to create and the benefits you hope to gain.  Things such as having good relationships with neighbours, being able to enjoy the work you do on your homestead, having time to pursue you interests, harvesting your own rain water, growing nutrient dense food or linking up with like minded people are also what helps to create balance.  Once you include all of these things you will be able to develop a better picture of what you are looking for.

After developing your list each person can then divide the list further into three different categories, deal breakers, important aspects or nice to have items.  It can be helpful to do this individually so that everyone feels that they are not being persuaded to another’s point of view, then re group to discuss and see where compromises can be made and what items were agreed.

Some of the factors that influenced our decision:

Having previously lived in the middle of the suburbs, and then on a small parcel of land in the country in a old house where a lot of work was required on both the land and house to deal with problems created by previous owners, we knew that this time we wanted to start from scratch.
That move also involved relocating to a community where we knew nobody and we experienced first hand how long it takes to make friends and build up a support network, so this time we also wanted to live within 30 minutes of my parents and a cousin who I am very close to.  This would mean no other family or school friends lived nearby therefore we knew we would be building new friendships and connections which we were happy to do.
Being in our thirties when we purchased we also wanted to have access to work opportunities, schooling in case a child came along, opportunities for involvement in community activities.  We also intended on this being a long term set up which makes sense if you are going to start from scratch.
We did not intend for our land to be our sole source of income however we know that we have sufficient land to pursue a range of activities should we decide to earn a living from our land.

What we started with in New Zealand – A big vacant paddock nothing but grass

Below are a range of factors that you might want to consider when buying/choosing land to Homestead on.

Access

If you are only renting the property haw long can you have it for?  If you are not guaranteed a long term agreement this will shape the improvements you make and the financial investment involved and relocatable infrastructure may be the way to go.
If you are buying what access to you have to the property itself?  Is the access seasonal? What access do you have to utilities?  Do you want to be connected to the grid or go off grid?  Can you get cell phone coverage?  If you move from suburbia to the country you may be unaware that there are still many places that do not have cell phone coverage and fast internet access even when they don’t seem to be in a remote location.  We lived 100 km from a city of 2.2 million people with many smaller cities and towns much closer and we had no cell phone coverage.  We did have fast internet but not all of our neighbours did as there were only a limited number of fast connections available in our area.

Income

Do you need to earn a living from the land or will you work off farm?  How will you finance the setting up of your homestead?

Size

The amount of land you need to achieve your homesteading goals will be determined by those goals and you may need to do some research to help you make a decision.
If you only want to grow fruit and vegetables and perhaps have some chickens or rabbits then a large plot of land in a town or city may be all you need.  But if you want to have a sheep, goat or cow for milk or meat then you will need consider the needs of these animals as none of them are solitary creatures so will need at least one other for company.
The size of the land required to support these activities will then be determined by the quality of the land itself or the carrying capacity (how many adult animals can the land support without bringing in supplementary feed).  If you plan on having livestock do not underestimate the importance of this.  Buying in feed can be expensive and could derail your homesteading dreams unless you have very deep pockets, in which case it would be better to spend that money on better land that you have control over in the first place.

Age, Physical Strength and Stamina

At the time we purchased we were both in our thirties so we knew we had the physical strength, stamina and the time ahead of us to set up a homestead from scratch.  If you are older or have any physical limitations then you should factor this in to your decision making.

Location and Personal Connections

What is the climate like?  What sort of soil is it and what do you see growing in the area?  What has the land been used for in the past?  Our land had been farmland that had primarily been used for cropping and had therefore had synthetic fertiliser use.  We got soil tests done before buying and had this written into our contract so that if we were unhappy with the results we could pull out of the sale without penalty. How far from other people do you want to live?  It might seem romantic to live in the wilderness but be honest about the type of person you are and how much social interaction you like to have.

Aspect

If you plan on producing food on your land you need to consider the aspect, potential shading from trees on both your potential property and the neighbouring ones.

Community

Do you like to belong to sports clubs or community groups?  Where do you prefer to shop?  Do you need regular access to medical facilities or specialist services?  Are you likely to find like minded people living nearby?  Visit the towns nearby and talk to the locals.  Find out what community groups already exist and the facilities you will have access to.

Restrictions

Land is subject to council by-laws and some developments and subdivisions will have covenants dictating the types of activities that can be undertaken or what is restricted, the type of house that can be built and in some cases even the colours you can use.  Speak to the local council about the land zoning and future plans for the surrounding area.  What may currently be farmland on the outskirts of town my be destined for subdivision into housing estates, commercial or industrial use, or be ear marked as a rail or power corridor.  The time spent investigating these things could prevent your dream from being squashed or severely altered.

Finally identify anything that you know you do not want.  Sometimes this will help you go back through your list of things you do want and see if there are any clashes.  For example, if you think want to keep livestock but don’t want to give up your annual month long holiday at the beach each summer you will need to come up with a plan to manage your absence or reconsider your want to keep animals.  Not doing enough research can be costly in time, money and emotional well being so a bit of time spent before committing will always be well spent.

What other suggestions do you have for someone looking to start out homesteading?