The number of people who are contemplating relocating to rural areas so they can live “off-grid” is increasing. I have received enough phone calls from people searching for off-grid properties in the past few months to prompt me to look into what these buyers are searching for. This article highlights some of the characteristics that are appealing to off-grid land buyers.
Before you read the list below, please allow me to say that prospective buyers for off-grid properties are often unfairly stereotyped as being anti-government, alarmists, militia members, and conspiracists. There is certainly an assemblage of people living off-grid that fit that description, but there are also a number of families that want to “get back to the land” and lead a more sustainable, environmentally-conscious lifestyle. One of our agents sold an 80 acre parcel that joined the Talladega National Forest to a man that wanted to build a yurt and farm and hunt his land. I mention the motivations of some of these buyers so that land agents and brokers do not dismiss a buyer because of a pre-conceived notion about a prospective customer.
1. Distance from a big city. Many of these buyers like the idea of being far enough away from big cities to prevent people from easily walking to their land, but also want to be close enough to enjoy some of the amenities the big city offers like shopping, restaurants, and quality medical care. There is a train of thought that reasons if there is a mass exodus from the larger cities, then you should own land that is not easily accessible by throngs of people looking for food and shelter.
Marion, Alabama, where I live, is 25 miles to the closest Super Wal-Mart, so I am already in the small number (10%) of Americans that are over 15 miles from a Wal-Mart. I appreciate the sentiment that a little geography is a better buffer between neighbors than a 6-foot privacy fence. Rural areas that are 60 to 100 miles from a larger city are going to be appealing to off-grid buyers.
2. Water source. To be off-grid, land needs to have access to a reliable source of fresh water. Alabama is blessed with numerous rivers, streams, creeks, lakes, aquifers, and ponds. This type property requires the ability to drill a private well or utilize an existing spring or creek to bring water to the home.
Additionally, the land will need to pass a percolation test and be permitted by the County Health Department to ensure that the soils allow for the septic system to function properly and remain sanitary.
3. Agriculture/Gardening. Off-grid buyers are often interested in growing their own livestock, keeping a garden, planting an orchard, raising poultry and farming fish on their land. Locating a property with fertile soils and a long growing cycle are important for increasing the prospect that a farm can be more self-sufficient.
4. Joining National Forest or Wildlife Areas. I personally believe, that “Good Forests Make Good Neighbors”. Owning land that borders large tracts of government or privately-owned is desirable because it limits who will be moving in next door. Many of these forests are open to public hunting and use, so finding a property that joins an out-of-the-way corner of the forest helps limit the number of hunters you will see and increases the amount of usable land you’ll have.
5. Minimal Building and Zoning Restrictions. Buyers are looking for areas where they can build energy-efficient or unconventional dwellings and use atypical materials if they desire. I mentioned earlier a man that wanted to construct a yurt, and there are some people in Hale County, Alabama that have used old blue jeans and earth to fashion a home. In addition to exotic home construction, it is also appealing to be able to erect a HAM radio tower, have a wind turbine, water wheel, or other structures that are limited in urban areas.
6. Energy Sources. One primary consideration would obviously include energy-generating potential from solar, wind, mini-hydro, and geothermal opportunities. In order to be off-grid and self-sustaining a property must afford the owners a reliable and efficient method of creating power that can be harnessed to supply whatever appliances they must use.
Other considerations for off-grid property would be the availability of satellite internet and telephone, rural land prices, annual property taxes, hunting restrictions, firearm freedoms, road maintenance (if heavy snows restrict use), and other features that allow owners to be self-sustaining.
It appears that the market for off-grid rural land is going to continue growing over the next few years, and is a segment that rural land brokerages and agents should probably pay attention to.