How to Buy Off Grid Land

How to Find Off Grid Land - Ways You Haven't Heard Of

February 20, 2020
(last update February 20, 2020 )

Daniel Mark Schwartz Profile Picture

If you are like me, you may be a little intimidated by the prospect of shopping for and buying land. Unlike traditional homes, there isn’t much help out there for people hoping to buy rural off grid land. After my two years long search for my own land, let me help you through this by sharing what I have learned through the process.

How to Find Off Grid Land, for permaculture, modern homesteading, prepping, tiny homes, RVs, or alternative lifestyles:

  1. Websites and online listings
  2. Craigslist
  3. Specialty land businesses
  4. Property record search / direct contact
  5. Tax auctions / Sheriff’s sale
  6. Real estate agents
  7. Signs on the side of the road
  8. Print listing / classifieds
  9. Word of mouth
  10. Facebook groups
  11. Shared Land or Eco-Villages

Off grid property can be full of metaphorical land mines, so take the time to at least skim through each section. Many of the hints I mention here are not commonly talked about but may cost you dearly down the road if you don’t catch them early.

Where to Find Off Grid Properties

The first step when looking for an off grid property is to see what’s out there. Since bare land is most commonly sold as an investment, an not marketed to homeowners, finding inexpensive land for you dream homestead can be a bit of a paint. Likewise, non-traditional housing such as off grid cabins, or tiny homes don’t really have a place in the traditional housing market and so take a little extra work to find what’s available.

If you don’t find anything that fits the bill in your area, that may not mean that there isn’t something out there. You just might have to do a little more leg work in the beginning. Fortunately, the best deals for low cost bare land of off grid homes are usually the ones you find yourself, that aren’t already “on the market” or listed with a real estate agent.

Websites for Off Grid Property

Here are a few of my top websites for off grid property. Be aware that many websites, such as Zillow, that operate from real estate agent input data may show incorrect or misleading information. This is simply because many agents to not specialize in bare land, and may not know the right way to do it.

Further, most bare land or off grid properties don’t have an address assigned, which makes listing and finding bare land more difficult.

Top websites to find off grid property

Finding Property on Craigslist

During my search, I found many listing on Craigslist that I did not see elsewhere on the internet. To search Craigslist, I went to my local area page, then looked under “real estate for sale”.

Searching for Off Grid Land on Craigslist

There is a filter option in the left hand column called “housing type” which I found helped narrow down the search. I generally choose “land” and “cottage/cabin” from the list then clicked “update search.”

However, Craigslist is full of potentially misleading listings, extremely overpriced properties, and some listings are not even from the correct area. I found that over specifying the search parameters didn’t help, and generally had to spend quite a bit of time scrolling through the properties to locating anything good at all. The only reason I mention Craigslist here at all as an option, is that I have found several good leads this way. Just be careful and do your due diligence before proceeding to buy a Craigslist off grid property.

Businesses that Specialize in Off Grid Land

There are some local businesses on the net that offer off grid land. These businesses typically buy properties with cash, sometimes subdividing larger tracks in to more affordable 5–20 acre lots, then make their money by offering you a land contract (aka a loan).

Going with a land company like this can be beneficial if you don’t have much cash saved up, and you will be needing to make payments. Many banks don’t offer loans for undeveloped land or off grid structures, and so you are left trying to make a deal with the current owner or raising the cash yourself. Since land companies like this specialize in selling on contract, you save time making offer after offer that the owner won’t accept without cash at close.

Off grid land companies seem to usually operate regionally, so you will probably have to search for off grid land in your particular area in order to find them. A Google search usually does the trick.

Finding Parcel Information Online

Reaching Out to Owners Directly

One good, and less commonly discussed option for buying land is to seek out the owners directly. This isn’t actually as difficult as you might think.

There are many rural properties out there going unused, owned by people that don’t really want them but haven’t gone through the hassle of trying to sell. Typically, these are people who acquired the land though inheritance or bought it as a vacation property. In some cases, they don’t even know exactly where the property is. Yet, in every case they are paying property tax on this piece of land.

Finding Unwanted Land / Absentee Owners

The best way to search out these unwanted off grid properties is using county records. Start by choosing an area that is of interest to you. Somewhere with good land, relatively undeveloped, with lots about the size that you are looking for.

(Many rural areas are only subdivided in to very large lots 20+ acres plus, so if that size is out of your budget you may have to look elsewhere. Owners often don’t want to go through the legal trouble of subdividing a property just to sell you one portion. Plus zoning in some areas won’t allow a smaller property to be of much use.)

One you have a region in mind, look up you counties property records or GIS system. (See below for more info on how to do this under “Researching Off Grid Property”) Search the county records for owners who do not live near by, or even in the same state. Individual owners with residential addresses are preferable to businesses, since individuals are more likely to want to sell.

Contacting Absentee Owners

Gather up a bunch of names and addresses, and draft yourself a polite letter that discusses your intentions with land, and asks them if they are willing to sell. Personal style letters work the best, so write as if you are writing to a friend. Likewise, hand addressed envelopes are a good idea, even though they take more time. Download my example below:

Off Grid Land Inquiry Letter Template (docx)

While it may take a bit of time and 10s (or even hundreds) of letters to get a hit this way, you can often save thousands or tens of thousands of dollars over buying already listed properties.

If money is more dear than time, this method is defiantly worth the effort.

Tax Auctions / Sheriff’s Sales

Although way to get deeply discounted properties, if you are willing to put in a little leg work, is through tax auctions, called sheriff’s sales in some areas. Properties in these sales are lots that have not had their property taxes paid and have been seized by the state.

These sales typically happen once a year, and only cover one county at a time. Lots are usually sold to the highest bidder, and often the new owner is required to pay of any back taxes in addition to the sale price.

How to buy off grid property at the tax auction.

First, contact your county assessor or county sheriff to determine when the next tax auction will be held. Some locals still use a live auction format, while others have a online bidding system, yet all will have a particular deadline for bids to come in. You will need to be ready at that time.

Listing of what properties are for sale are usually released a month or two before the sale. All properties are sold as is, which means all sales are final even if there are unexpected problems with the land. Take the time to research all the properties on the list, that you might be interested in, before the date of the auction. You must be 100% sure you want the land before you make a bid, and be aware of exactly how much you might be willing to spend.

Every land auction I’ve seen has been cash only. You may have to pay off the full amount on the same night as the auction, or you may have a certain grace period to get the payment in. Check with the agency holding the auction in advance to determine when an how you will have to pay for any land you might buy.

Real Estate Agents

The traditional way of buying and selling homes is to go through a real estate agent. Agents are professionals that work on your behalf to help you find and close on homes, property, and other real estate.

If you are looking for a property that already has a home on it, then an agent just might be the best way to go. They are able to speed up the process of finding and closing on a property.

Real Estate Agent Buying Off Grid Property

However, be aware that agents work on commission only. While it varies from state to state, usually they are paid by the seller a percentage of the sales price only when you close on the deal. Since undeveloped land tends to be much less expensive than typical residential homes, some agents may not be interested in spending their time to help you for much less than they would normally make. While they might not tell you this directly, it can impact the quality of their service.

Likewise, because buying bare land is so much rarer than buying a single family home, most agents you find are probably not knowledgeable of the process. While they may or may not have some formal education on this facet of the real estate market, for by far the majority of real estate agents, this would be the first time they’ve ever been part of this kind of a deal.

For this reason, and the fact that you will eventually be paying them a commission, even if indirectly, I don’t think that a real estate agent is a good idea for buying undeveloped land or alternative off grid housing.

Signs on the Road

For undeveloped land, there are still a surprising number of signers just hung next to highways in the vicinity. I know that once I went out looking at properties to buy, I started noticing them almost everywhere. And, in some cases, these properties may not be listed online.

It is good idea to spend some time getting to know the area(s) in which you are looking to buy. Time on the ground is invaluable.

For this reason, I would recommend planning a few weekend drives in the country, while you have a pen and paper handy, or a cell phone camera at least. Keep an eye out for interesting listing. And, if you have cell service there, you can often just give the number a call, and go take a look at the property right away.

While I personally haven’t found anything that fits me well this way, I would be surprised if there wasn’t a few gems out there waiting to be found by you dear readers.

Newspaper Classifieds

While they might seem a bit antiquated in this day and age, old-fashioned print media is still ripe for getting cheap deals on land. Here you may find older or less savvy individuals who are looking to get rid of a low priced piece of land without the help of a real estate agent.

Most towns still have local newspapers, and may have free to the reader classifieds. Check a local convince store, which I find to be the best place to pick up a print newspaper or classified periodical.

Some newspapers also have online classified listings which you can search directly in their website. Land listed here often doesn’t come up in a general Google search or on other land listing services. So, take the time to search for the newspaper’s website by name and browse what’s listed there.

In my experience the printed property listings generated by real estate companies rarely have anything of interest to the off grid enthusiast, but if your area has a lot of recreational property for sale then it might be worth the look.

Word of Mouth Properties

While you are around an area looking for land to buy, don’t hesitate to talk up the locals and let them know what you are looking for. You might be surprised to find that some there is looking to sell.

I have known a few lucky people who got great deals on land just through causal conversation. In small towns and neighborhood, people often know a lot about what their neighbors are up to, and may even know that their neighbor is interested in selling their land.

In one case, a friend of mine was talking to a local about some land they were interested in. Turns out, they know the owner of the lot next door, who inherited it from their parents and is very interested in selling. One phone call later, and my friend got the large parcel for pennies on the dollar, just because he got in touch with the right person at the right time.

While I wouldn’t pin my hopes on this method, sometimes a little luck and present conversation can net you the perfect off grid property.

Facebook Groups

Increasingly popular for buying and selling land are the many Facebook based homesteading or off grid living groups. I have seen some lots for sale on the larger groups, but to be honest, unless you live in a very popular homesteading region like Idaho or Arkansas, I would try my hand at joining a few local homesteading groups that are active for your region or state.

While I don’t really promote the use of Facebook in general, there is a petty big potential to find something out of the ordinary here. So, even if you aren’t a big Facebook user, I might try making a basically empty account, join a few local homesteading, off grid, or permaculture groups, and make a quick posting about what you are looking for. At the very least, you might get a few helpful recommendation on where to look, and at best you might have the affordable off grid property of you dreams sent right in to your inbox.

Shared Land and Eco-Villages

If you are open to a more experimental way of living, and / or are interested in joining a more social off grid experienc, then you might want to check out an ecovillage. Ecovillage is a pretty broad word that applies to many “intentional communities” of individuals and families aiming for an Earth friendly or sustainable lifestyle.

While the rules and practices of each community varies quite substantially, some of them are free, while others have some sort of buy in. Some of these even allow you to buy or lease the land that you would be living on. So, this may be an unorthodox way to acquire a pristine piece of land that you might not otherwise have access to.

You might also consider looking out for potential “land-mates” who you could go in with to buy a larger piece of property. This is great when the lots for sale are larger than you could afford. Likewise, larger lots usually are cheaper per acre than smaller ones, so you could combine budgets with a friend to buy a much larger lot for the same amount of money.

I have seen some people reaching out to make this kind of connection of Facebook and Craigslist, although you may not feel comfortable buying land with a stranger. In any case, friend or new acquaintance, I would recommend putting in place a formal contract, or incorporate an LLC together to hold the property. Formal agreements help work through potential problem and can help resolve disputes that may come up in the future.

How do you find land to live off the grid?

Look in the following places to find off grid land:

  • Online at landwatch.com, zillow.com, or others.
  • Social media: Craigslist and Facebook
  • Direct contact of owners via county records
  • Land auctions / sheriff’s sales
  • Traditional methods such as real estate agents, print classifieds, or signs

Where can I find homestead land?

Look in the following places to find homesteading land to buy:

  • Online at landwatch.com, zillow.com, or others.
  • Social media: Craigslist and Facebook
  • Direct contact of owners via county records
  • Land auctions / sheriff’s sales
  • Traditional methods such as real estate agents, print classifieds, or signs

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