Considerations when choosing land, by Jo and Bryan
One of the greatest difficulties of ownership is servicing a debt. It has a high cost on relationships and on land care. People who buy land often find that they cannot afford to invest and develop sustainably, due to having too big a mortgage. They become unable to enjoy their land in a way they imagined. Their stewardship suffers. It would be good to be part of the solution to land degradation, not part of the problem. We recommend minimizing your indebtedness when purchasing land. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you cannot get all you want in one go, take it step by step and learn along the way. It is possible to live sustainably on a small piece of land and have a good quality of life. If you cannot do it on a small piece of land, you certainly won’t manage on a big one. Group purchase of land usually reduces costs per unit area There are a range of options between sub-division and undivided shareholding.
(If you would like to be put in touch with others wishing to buy land jointly, please contct us, we may be able to put you together and help with the process - see address below).
People often ask us what to look out for when buying land. Things to consider are:
Who are you buying land for?
What are your objectives for the land?
What part of the country do you want to live in?
What price range do you have in mind?
Are you going to need a mortgage?
What is your focus- the land or the house?
Do you need to earn a living from the land?
Are there other considerations?
What resources and skills do you have which are relevant?
If you are planning to earn a living from the land it is a good idea to decide what you want to do before you choose the land, otherwise you are stuck with the limitations that you buy. For example: echinacea and avocados cannot grow well without free draining soil, cork oaks like clay, ginseng likes frost and shade. Sub-tropicals are mostly frost tender. A retreat centre needs to be in a quiet place, not be on a flight path or too near a quarry or a busy road. Proximity to markets can be a consideration. Having thought about all these questions and chosen the district in which to search, we suggest you acquire a topographical map of the area. Mark on it those places that may be of interest to you.
Will it suit your needs? Often people fall in love with a place and forget to be objective.
Is the price sensible? Check government valuation and talk to the neighbours.
Water: Is there clean water available all year round, adequate for your needs, or provision for storage?
Energy: Is the property linked to the national grid? Are the power poles in good condition or will you soon need to pay for their replacement? Will solar panels meet your needs? Is water or wind generation an option? If there is already a house, is it well insulated? If you are commuting, or getting your product to market, how much does that cost? Is it the best use of your resources? (Lower costs give you greater security). Is the house north-facing and harvesting the sun?
Aspect: North facing land is usually warmer, nicer to live on and better for crops.
Gradient: a north-facing gradient has a longer growing season, however, the steeper it is the more erosion-prone and the lower the fertility.
Wind: Protection from prevailing wind enhances vegetation growth and animal and human well being.
Access: Is there a cost of maintaining the road to the property, what are the costs of maintaining internal paths or roads, are they adequate for your needs?
Soil: Soil can always be improved, however, research the requirement of any crop you have in mind. Fertile soil gives quicker results, but costs more.
Frost frequency: remember frost rolls like treacle down gully systems off a hillside and sits in pockets when its motion is blocked.
History: This is something you can find from the present owner, the neighbours and a title search. Find out about previous land uses (e.g. mining, rubbish dumps) frequency of change of owners, chemical farming etc.
Neighbours: The neighbours can tell you about the district, about their observations of rainfall, frosts etc. and chemical or other historical uses of the land, and you can learn about your potential neighbours.
Distance form services: where is the nearest public transport, hospital, school, fire service, shop etc.
Noise: roads, planes, helicopters, quarries.
Spray drift: This has been a problem for quite a number of organic growers. Take care.
Upstream water pollution: Check for industries or other potential polluters upstream.
Views: A view can be seductive, but usually the most comfortable place for a house is where the land surrounds you. Views are often from high places where you may need pumps to supply water. (extra hidden cost and maintenance) The view may change with a change in neighbouring land use.
Security. Are there long, public road boundaries hidden from view? Did the previous owner get driven off the property by theft?
Environmental Issues: Flood, fire, earthquakes, storms, geothermal activity, might these be a problem for your future land use?
Potential Maintenance: Will it be costly to maintain the structures of the property- buildings,
Spend time going for drives/bike rides/walks and look around. Talk to people; don’t be in a hurry. Often land is not listed for sale, but locals know it is available and prices for unlisted land are frequently very reasonable. Time taken to build a relationship can make a big difference. (One friend wanted to buy some land but the owner was reluctant to sell until she learned that our friend genuinely had aspirations similar to hers for the care and use of the land. Then she was most willing to sell it to him.) Taking time allows for the development of new ideas. Talking helps test those ideas and add to them. Friends sometimes know us better than we know ourselves and can point out things, which are obvious to them, but we have missed altogether, so listening is good too. Talking to the local council about future developments can be helpful. If you decide to go ahead and look for land, here is a checklist of things to look for:
bridges, culverts, drains etc.
Does it feel right? Trust your feelings and intuition about the land. Let it speak to you. Make sure you
stay in balance with your requirements.
Similar considerations need to be taken into account when buying a house in town. Pay attention to:
sunlight hours in the winter;
living area on the north side;
outdoor living areas (need to be sheltered and dry);
drainage of the property;
Electro-magnetism (some houses are over-wired and have very high energy levels); meters outside
bedrooms can be a problem;
Access past house to rear of section (for garden supplies, firewood etc.)
Every action that I take now will have reverberations for centuries to come. It is important to be fair and efficient in the use of resources to meet our needs. We must learn to do more with less. We cannot afford to have a civilization based on products mined from the earth’s crust, or that are neither recyclable nor biodegradable. Caring for land, and access to it, is not restricted to people who “own” it. For many the idea of ownership is ridiculous. we are stewards for future generations. It is the responsibility of us all; We are totally inter-connected with each other.
Entered by Jo