So, you think you want to give homesteading or some variation of it a go? Your next step is to find the right location for your goals.
Where your homestead is will make or break your dreams so you need to be sure to choose wisely. A good indication of where would be a good location for your homestead is examining where you are now and what you do and do not like about it. I came from the suburbs and hated having to deal with neighbors so close. I wanted solitude and you just can't get that when you walk out to your ¼ of an acre backyard to relax and see your 80-year-old neighbor 30 feet away from you sunbathing with his shirt off. Because of this, I knew I wanted space and privacy. However, I was also less than a 5-minute drive from literally everything I could want or need including grocery stores, countless restaurants, a movie theater, you name it I could basically walk to it. I recognized the convenience of being close to a town so grocery trips weren't a weekend excursion. Think about what you like and what you hate about your current living situation and what things you're truly indifferent too.
As with most things, size does matter. There are plenty of blogs and books out there detailing how to homestead on crazy small pieces of land and perhaps this is the route you want to take but let me caution you a bit. When it comes to homesteading everything is an investment. If you do a ton of research and build the ultimate dream chicken coop, you might not be able to pack it up and take it with you when you outgrow your land. The same goes for your garden and especially for any fruit trees or berry bushes you plant. A homestead should be a forever project and choosing a tiny piece of land because it is cheap or you feel it's less intimidating may very well come back to haunt you. Some of you may be leaning in the other direction, "how big can I go"? I was a victim of this as well. When I set out 5+ years ago to find my little slice of heaven I told my realtor I wanted no less than 5 acres, the house could be a dump as long as it was livable, and I didn't really care how far "out in the country" I was. Well, you can find some relatively cheap pieces of land 1-2 hours away from where you want to be but is it worth it? To me, it ended up not being a good idea. Luckily, my relator had a good head on his shoulders and talked to me extensively about location and resale value, also to consider the hours I would be wasting daily on my commute that I could use working on my land. I opted for a limitation of staying in a certain county. Agreeing to stay in the county also meant compromising on my 5-acre minimum. There was just no way to buy 5 acres of land with a house that was livable that I could afford. I ultimately opted for 2 acres and looking back it was a great decision. Not that I wouldn't love 5 acres but the other proprieties I looked at were mainly wooded. I understand now that I would have had little use for 4+ acres of woods joined to essentially a big yard. My 2 acres is completely open and has 3 mature fruit trees and a mature blueberry bush. The take away of this point is to consider what exactly you want the land for. If you are really looking for space and privacy maybe having several wooded acres is exactly what you're after.
Cost of Living
Now let's get into the nitty-gritty of homestead selection, how costly is it to live in that particular house. You will find that most affordable homestead contenders come with houses that are less than ideal. This was certainly the case with mine. The house I bought was livable but barely. Since I was only 26 and didn't have much money or a ton of credit, I had to buy something that would pass the standard appraisal/inspections by the bank or I couldn't get a loan. Quickly after closing on my house, I realized that my initial plan of working on my homestead was going to take a back seat to remodeling the house. There was simply no point in putting "band-aid" type fixes all over the house when I truly needed to gut it down to the studs and start over, and that's just what we did. Even if you are okay with living in a dump of a house while you build gardens and coops, it's not a smart move. If god forbid, you fall on hard times and need to sell your homestead, other buyers will be most concerned with your home's condition and all that hard work and money you put into the land will be for nothing. We've now finished our remodel and while I would be heartbroken if we had to leave, we are in a great financial position with the home value and would make a nice profit if we had to sell. This would allow up to restart our lives somewhere else if necessary. Along with the house's quality, you need to consider how much it will cost you to live there. Water is insanely important and depending on where you are located it can be quite the roadblock to homesteading. We were lucky that we have a good well with good quality water. Our water is quite hard but we hope to invest in a water softener at some point to help with that. Don't be afraid to do some research regarding water quality and availability in your area. If neighbors have issues with their well's running dry it's best to not get yourself involved with that heartache. Next up is heating. I'm in northeast Ohio and we typically have below freezing temperatures November through April meaning how we heat our home is important. When I purchased my home I was told it was an "oil" heated home but there was an option to connect to natural gas. I had no idea what a life-saver that would be. As the bank was completing the closing paperwork I spoke to the home sellers and was shocked when they dropped the bomb on me that it costs anywhere from $300-$500 a month to heat the house and that's on the all-year budget plan! My heart sank, how would I ever afford that. Thankfully, I was able to convert the house to natural gas via the gas line that was run to the house and never used, live-saver is an understatement. It now costs anywhere from $70-$150 during the coldest months to heat the house. We also have an option to put in a wood stove which we hope to do in the next year that could help a bit. Out in the country, some homes have access to natural gas but I wouldn't say it's the norm. Most homes are heated by electric baseboards, propane, broilers, or woodstoves (side note, a friend of mine heats her home with propane and her heating bills top $700 in the cold month to heat a 1,200 sq ft ranch). PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do extensive research on how much these options cost. I know people who have had to leave their dream homes because they can't afford to heat them. Last but certainly not least is the septic system. I hate this subject because I know this will be a huge pain for us to deal with at some point. Septic systems are rather simple for the most part. Don't flush anything you're not supposed to and get it pumped out regularly. That part is easy, the hard part is the replacement. A new septic can go for $20k+ and installing it can destroy a lard part of your land depending on where it is placed. Our septic is behind the house meaning large equipment will need to cross my front acre horizontally and then drive around our house to access it. Right now everything is fine but our septic system is nearing 50 years old so it's only a matter of time. If you are considering a home with a septic system do not buy it unless it is inspected. If it fails inspection you need to negotiate the seller covering some or all of the costs to replace it. Trust me, no one else will buy the home without asking the same from the seller.
I saved the most important point for last. I set out to do this on my own but didn't want to. Several years ago, I was in a less than ideal relationship with a man who sold me on the homesteading idea. On our first date he took me out on a hike of his 70-acre property (turns out he didn't own dick and it belonged to someone else but that's a story for another time). Anyway, as the relationship progressed and eventually died, I realized that one way or another I wanted this self-sufficient lifestyle. At 23, I embarked on my journey to pay off student loan debt so I could buy some land. A few months before my 25th birthday I met a great guy and we started a relationship. He had a lot of similar interests to mine, but we took it very slowly, being careful not to make any long term plans together to quickly. I don't know why but it never occurred to me after my past relationship that I'd find anyone else who'd want the same things. Little by little, we incorporated our lives together and I found that he hated the term "homesteading" but that's exactly what he wanted to do. Cut to nearly 6 years later and we are building our homestead together. I'd like to think I could have done this on my own but it would not have been nearly as successful and I probably would have doubted my choices about 1,000 times. Had I embarked on my homesteading journey with my past companion it would have ended in disaster. We wouldn't have accomplished anything close to what I have now and ultimately, I would have had to walk away and leave all of it behind. My point is, don't get too far down the rabbit hole in your homesteader's dream unless you are certain you are game to do it alone or know that your partner wants it as much as you do. Homesteading is tiring, expensive, and just plain hard at times. This can't be a situation in which you both live there but you do all of the chores because it's your hobby. At some point you will be sick or need to leave town for a few days and you need that reliable person who can handle things. Also, half the fun of accomplishing something on a homestead is having that other smiling face looking back at you, enjoying the success as much as you are. Make sure to have a frank conversation with your partner about what you want and make sure to listen carefully to how they respond. If they are unsure there are several homesteader-type conventions you can bring your partner to if you feel they need some more insight into your dream. But be aware, ultimately if they say there's no way they'd want to live that lifestyle you need to hear that