What to consider when buying an acreage?

Because I was raised on a farm, I related mostly to farming and larger sections of land and didn’t consider smaller holdings. Then I acquired a copy of “Living off the Land – A handbook for survival” by John H. Tobe and his words lit a fire in me. 

I live in a small rural town, but have been searching for acreage since I moved to the region.  

There was a property several years ago. It was in a hilled area with property access off one entry point via a driveway from a secondary highway. The property was situated on a bit of a curve and not readily seen from the highway. The driveway was suitable for a gate and cattle guard to discourage intrusion. 

The home was positioned on land that dropped off to a deep gully on one side. This made access from that side extremely difficult and the property more defensible.

The price was right, but I didn’t buy it for one reason: the driveway was shared with another house. The layout was a bit too close for comfort. The person or persons in the other house could have been great neighbours and an ally in a crisis, but what if they sold their home or passed away?

I’ve learned from my current community that when houses change hands, the community changes and not always for the best.

Today, when I thought about that property, I realized that lately, I have been chasing price in the acreage hunt and not paying attention to other criteria.

I also believe that if one has clarity and detail about a goal, it is more achievable. I don’t want to make the wrong choice either from a prepping or personal standpoint.

I questioned if my criteria needed to change or be revised. It’s been awhile since I laid out what I wanted. So, for those looking for property, I ask what is your criteria for acreage selection? If we take price out of the equation, what are you looking for in an acreage? And for those who have acreage, may I ask how did you know it was the right property?


  • Comments (29)

    • 8

      I hope you don’t mind that I changed the title of this topic. Hopefully this expanded title will draw more people in. 

      • 5

        Oh gosh, no problem Gideon. Your title is way better. Thank you so much.

        I plead frost brain – it was -52 celsius with the wind chill when I wrote that.

    • 5

      I live on acreage on a hill in a forest on a private road ~ 1 km to state road.

      My selection criteria was: 1.  read estate taxes were low, 2.  availability of regularly-priced insurance contracts such as flood insurance, 3. able to evacuate by 4X4 vehicle to state road.

      At the time this was the right property for me to build on. Now, with aging process, not that easy to maintain (read: much neglected). A current ice storm is here and a falling tree branch with ice could weigh ~ half a metric ton. 

      This shack on my acreage still exceeds my requirements accepting my planned-for tax increases. Even my neglected Japanese style bridges over creeks and lagoon nicer than metro Washington, D.C. 

      If ice storm causes all Hades to break out here, will just go outside and make a wood fire concurrent with cleaning up the grounds … and fire is safe now.

      Meanwhile, this aging process ……… !

      • 5

        Hi Bob, Thank you for raising really good points about taxes, insurance and evacuation route.

        A property that allows independence and self-sufficiency can mean different things for different people.

        Maintenance is a big issue as you mentioned. It is one reason that I want a one storey house. The maintenance would be easier and safer than trying to maintain a taller structure as in roof repair in an emergency.

        Ice storms are so difficult to deal with. We get them here too, mostly in Ontario and Quebec. It really knocks out the power in those provinces.

        Thank you for raising the point about aging (100+ is considered “getting up there” in our family). I want a place that will work not just as I age but also if illness or accident occurred.

        I really want a place where I can age in place and not be warehoused in a facility.


    • 9

      There is a wise saying, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good.  Point being, I wouldn’t let any one issue be a deal breaker… look at the whole package.

      About 15 years ago, we decided we wanted some acreage, mainly because we had horses that were being boarded and wanted to live with them.  Also the kids had moved out, so there was no issue of dealing with their needs.  We knew we wanted at  least 15 acres, knowing each horse needed around 2-3 acres each of pasture.  Long story short, we found 20 acres a good bit farther out than we really wanted but it was in a nice secluded area.  It didn’t have a pond and the woods on it were a bit too dense.  Being farther out, the price was better though.  The property was about a mile off a rural highway, down a narrow paved lane with around 10 homes on it.  The front of the property was up on top of a hill, with most of the acreage down the hill & flattening out to a nice pasture at the bottom.  The front of the property was rather narrow & it widened out below the hill.  There was a home to one side of the front property on about 2 acres.  Our front property, that you could see from the lane was around 3 acres.  The only building site that we really liked, at the crest of the hill so that we could look down to the lower acreage, would put our house rather close to the neighbors.  That was not ideal but we figured it would be OK.

      Point being, there were several issues that could have kept us from buying & building.  But there were many more things we loved about the location & the property.  Besides the one neighbor up close, we were surrounded by woods & large tracts of farmland & hayfields.  Turns out, I was glad to have neighbors up close.  It forced us to be friendly and we both watch out for each other.  From the lane, our property looks small… just like the neighbor’s.  No one can see what we have past the house.  One of our neighbors on the lane does dirt work so I hired him to take down a few acres of trees & to build our pond.  So we ended up with acreage perfectly suited for our needs.

      From a prepping standpoint, having one close in neighbor is not a negative as I store thousands of pounds of long term food stores.  In a crisis, I will provide them food so that they will be an asset… not a threat.  Thru the years I added more food & seed stores for all the homes on our lane.  In a severe crisis, I hope the homes on our rural lane will become a community.

      I too realize that our close in neighbor could sell to others & that is certainly a possible concern.  However my experience has been pretty much anyone wanting to live such a rural life will be good folks.  Everyone we have met down here have been kind & helpful.  So I don’t lose sleep thinking about that possibility.  I choose not to let the quest for perfection be the enemy of good.

      • 3

        I don’t know where to begin to thank you, Redneck.

        “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good.” I think that is one of the wisest sayings I have ever heard.

        Your answer helped me to see something that I have been doing and that is engaging in “all or nothing” thinking. That type of thinking was based on some of the issues I saw in the town where I currently live and not how people generally behave on farms and more rural settings. I lost perspective.

        I will reconsider some areas that were once on my list.

        I am very grateful. Sometimes we need a different perspective to see what we are missing and your response will greatly help me reformulate my criteria and search.

      • 4

        You are welcome.  Good luck on your search. 

        Don’t forget my other saying.  A desperate, hungry neighbor will be your most dangerous threat.

      • 3

        I will remember that. 

    • 7

      Depending on your location, one thing to consider is wildfires.  I live in the inland northwest, a longtime popular haven for preppers.  But the forest fires of the past few years have made it clear that this region is not nearly as safe as everyone had previously imagined.  Instead of sitting back and watching the world burn around us, the world is watching our area burn one hillside at a time.  Be very cognisant of the potential for natural disasters to hit – climate change is making areas historically safe no longer so.

      • 7

        Hi Matthew, 

        A very good point about wildfires. I lived in British Columbia in the Okanagan and was there for the fires in 2003. I was in Kelowna and at one point it was like everything was burning around us. The trees exploded and shot coals for miles.

        In Manitoba, there are areas prone to flooding that one has to be wary of.

        Climate change is a game changer for many areas now. 

        Thank you for bringing up a very good point. 


      • 6

        So true Matthew.  It’s the same on the Atlantic side of thre fruited plain. Besides the climate change, building permits were handed out like free samples. We’re over-populated and overbuilt.

        After retiring to my BOP here, we had to add an additional evac scenario.  Besides the developed plans with a safe haven west of the Shendandoah Valley (about 200 miles from coast), we will probably seek safety by a water evac near offshore the Chesapeake Bay. Forest fires can close the roads and lungs.

      • 6

        The probability of future development is another good point to consider. I have seen that happen in other communities here. It’s amazing how fast an area can be developed and the population increase dramatically. Thank you Bob for reminding me of that.

    • 8

      My original criteria was to buy a house nowhere near the shops,malls, pubs, gas station, schools etc and not on the route to anything other than other housing.   To avoid people ” passing by” as they bug in / out / riot/ march / flee or search for places to raid.  IE off the main roads.

      No vehicles out the front

      Hedge or fence and gate to front,  not open plan 2 meter fencing along side and rear

      All firewood, gas tanks / oil tanks round the back out of sight

      At least 30 ft above the highest recorded flood levels, at least 100 yards away from trees (falling ,burning etc)  200 yards if Coniferous or Eucalypts

      Local water source GRAVITY fed not pumped

      Sewage gravity drained not pumped

      South to south West facing BACK garden for veg plots and PV panels

      Brick built outhouse / shed not wood.

      Clear field of view from the house.

      I’ll try and find my original house buying guide for preppers ( aimed at UK)

      • 8

        My current home is about 3 hours from Winnipeg and I think in SHTF conditions that may not be far enough.

        As it stands now, we get people travelling to our region from other communities, usually armed and committing crimes. Criminals are far more willing to travel than I anticipated.

        The meth problem has migrated from the cities and invaded so many communities in our rural areas. The associated crime, especially violent crime has become a problem. There are areas that I would have previously considered that are now off my list.

        These were very nice areas, to my mind perfect for my purposes, however, the areas nearest have been decimated by meth. That poison has changed so many communities.

        Your original house buying guide would be interesting to see. Thank you, Bill.

      • 8

        The travelling druggie crime wave is here in the UK as well. Of the last 4 arrests for theft, burglary here in recent times only one suspect was local. Tis why I’m slowly fortifying my home.

      • 6

        Some time ago, I started bracing the doors with 2x4s. Fortunately, my husband trusts my instincts.

        About 1 week after I began doing this, the news broke that a couple in another community were settled in their living room for a quiet evening.

        Armed druggies took their door out before they could react. They survived, but it was a violent invasion.

        These criminals are so out of it, you would think they couldn’t load a firearm, but meth doesn’t seem to affect that part of their brains.

        Our laws afford us the ability to use equal force particularly if attacked in our homes. There is a different consideration if I am attacked on my property, but not inside my home. Finally, the law views it differently if I am not on my property.

        To further muddy the water, the force I use to defend myself or protect my husband is ultimately judged by whatever judge presides over the case. 

        This means if attacked inside my home, I can apply the full force of my training. The problem is the weapons being used by some of these criminals are either sophisticated (semi-auto) or crude (sawed-off shot guns with a nasty spread).

        The ability to deploy a “metal fist” response is on my agenda, however, even with that, sometimes it is impossible to react fast enough.

        My Dad refused hunters access to our land for deer hunting. He and I were wide open without cover. We were shot at and the only thing we had time to do was hit the dirt and hope for the best. 

        It looks like this type of meth driven crime is not stopping any time soon, so fortification is another important consideration of property selection.

      • 5

        Within 5 sq miles of our house over the last couple of years there has been FOUR very violent home intrusions, They usually involve three men armed with crowbars and big hammers. They burst in and brutally beat ALL residents male or female young or old, kids and adults with the tools, They then rob the house and usually steal the family vehicle as well.  Its believe they are from the gypsey community because of their odd accents.  So I replaced the UPVC doors with Secure by Design Composite doors, properly fitted with rawl BOLTS not screws they will even withstand an attack from a police slide hammer used to breach drug dens.    SA Laminating film on the windows ensures it takes anyone MINUTES not seconds to get into the house, more than enough time for me to react VERY nastily.

      • 4


        Absolute cowards who do that to people. They won’t step into a ring one on one, but throw them a nasty weapon and they will gladly beat someone with it. They are the lowest of the low.

        Most people don’t use the proper frame or bolts to secure their doors. My doors are prioritized in the budget for removal and replacement. I have the laminating film which also acts to keep prying eyes out.

        When I floored my kitchen and back entry area, I deliberately left squeaky boards in place instead of fixing them. It’s another way someone might announce themselves.

        The small details can add up to extra warning time.

    • 8

      My criteria when I bought my acreage (40 acres) was water, water and water. Water is life, especially when you want to grow your own food. Secondary criteria were enough land to grow food to sustain my family if required, no near neighbours, avenues of escape if overrun, and price. I got everything I wanted. The only negative was several miles of private road to access my property, that passes through several other properties. I have guaranteed legal access, but trying to get the other parties to contribute to road maintenance can be difficult. 


      • 5

        I remember one Aussie prepper telling me that the most important bit of kit he had was a Grader to repair the unmetaled roads where he lived, I think he got fed up with breaking spings on his Ute. ( It was tonge in cheek cos driving the grader was also his job )

      • 6


        Your property looks well situated and I see how you have water positioned. The slope of the surrounding hills would keep water flowing toward that area.

        I have seen some of the water conservation used in Australia on TV shows. One house had external water tanks wrapped around it to capture and store rain water. It was an amazing system and looked like it worked well.

        Maintenance of any joint resources – roads, wells, fences, etc, can be a headache. I try to avoid it if possible – one time, for a fence, was enough.)

    • 8

      Great question, Ubique. I’m a fan of diversification. For me that means a small one-story home in a small town in an established neighborhood with postage-stamp sized lots and neighbors a bit too close for comfort, as well as a place with a few acres a few miles out of town. 

      The place out of town has an old home and a shallow well and septic system, whereas the place in town has city water and city sewer service. The place out of town has a natural spring that flows all winter and attracts deer and other animals. The land is poor for farming and the trees are too close to the house from a firefighting standpoint, however.

      I’m at an age where I’m not going to do more than have a small garden. I build relationships with local farmers for food instead. I know which neighbors would like to hunt on the land, and I would grant hunting rights in exchange for some food. I realize all this presupposes that there is still a functioning society where agreements between neighbors are possible.

      With my aging process in the front of my mind, the out of town place is fairly close to the in-town place. It’s not feasible to think that I’ll travel hundreds of miles if conditions are poor in town. 

      During my working life, I often saw lots of people competing for the “best” of something, the “best,” most talented person, the “best,” most desirable workplace. Long-term success seemed to come to the “B” level matches instead of the “A” level matches. So I’m OK with a less than ideal place in town and a less than ideal place outside town. They’re less likely to be targeted and yet they provide me with options and with resources with which I can barter.

      I’m going to have to barter since I’m not strong enough or defended enough or skilled enough to handle things on my own. My strength, defenses, and skills are different but will serve me well enough.

      • 6

        Hi Seasons4. I really like your idea of diversification.

        The idea of keeping my current house and living on a acreage had crossed my mind, however, I didn’t want to rent my house out. 

        Thanks to your thoughtful post, I can see that it would be possible to keep my house and not have to rent it to anyone. (I don’t know why I was stuck on that point). It could definitely be another option.

        My husband has glaucoma and that could mean a rapid end to acreage living if I wasn’t there and he lost his vision. 

        Retaining the house could serve as a fall back if something happened and he was unable to remain on the acreage alone. He wouldn’t have the stress of trying to find another house.

        Your idea of bartering with hunters for hunting rights highlights is an example of another way to use resources. It is also illustrates how it is possible to adapt to life as it unfolds. 

        You could probably set up a similar arrangement with folks from town who might want to garden a larger plot in exchange for produce.

        Your insight and philosophy prove something one of my instructors taught me a long time ago: “Your biggest weapon is your brain.”

        Thank you very much for sharing your very wise and balanced perspective.

      • 6

        When a young teenager in Dallas in the early 50’s, Dad bought 80 acres north of town for a weekend retreat, and although the term wasn’t in use then, a possible BOL if the Cold War heated up.  We enjoyed fishing in a small pond, hunting rabbits and just enjoying the scenery.

        Eventually with advanced age, Dad decided to relinquish the property, offering it to each of us kids, who were no longer in the area and could not use it.  He sold it eventually at a tidy profit.

        Just get something that appeals and enjoy it while you can.

      • 5

        Hi Hikermor, Thank you for relating how your family enjoyed the retreat that your Dad so wisely and lovingly provided. Your time there provided a lifetime of happy memories.

        When I read “just get something that appeals,”  I had a mental flash of my family farm: the bush and treed land, hazelnut groves, wild berry bushes, cow-slips, tiger lilies and other wild flowers among the tall prairie grass where red-winged blackbirds perched on the thin blades and sang as they swayed in the summer breeze.

        I focus so much on the “to do” lists and practical side of preparedness, that I forget to consider the part that feeds my soul.

         I will remember to include that in my property search and thank you for reminding me of that.

    • 7

      I think some of it is knowing what you can do or want to do. For many people, chickens are part of their prep. They are not my thing. I hunt and trap instead. (And maintain a good relationship with the chicken-keeping neighbor so that I have eggs.)

      I like having access to land without having to own it so my property is adjacent to conservation land, town forest, and state forest. I can access their lands for hunting and gathering without having to pay the taxes on it. That allows me to own much less. We have (only!) 5 acres for our home, garden, ice shed, woodshed, outhouse, and butcher station. This is what I need – I need an ice shed and an outhouse. Your needs and wants are probably different. 

      I like having streams on the property and/or a river nearby but downhill (no floods for me!) The river gives me a good source of ice, makes for easier hunting, gives me great trapping space for furbearers, and I can fish it. I can use it as an emergency water source. Since heat is important to me, I have good timber lands. The timber is habitat, building supplies, syrup, and the best craft supplies. I also have excellent wild food sources, like mushrooms, cattails, berries, crabapple, and ferns.

      What I could use more of on my property is sun. Years ago I saw a one-acre farming plan and it is my general model – compact and strategic. I’m clearing some trees to open up more of the land for growing food. I hope to have a half-acre of good sunny stuff in the back this Spring, which will allow me to grow what I need to feed my small family. (We have 1/4 acre clear now and grew almost everything last year.)

      This is what works for me. You should think about what you want, how you want to live, as part of your land evaluation.

      • 7

        Phiguru – Your homestead is an inspiration. Very well organized and resource rich. I liked reading about how it has evolved.

        I like the idea of living adjacent to conservation land, town forest and state forest and am including that in my search criteria. 

        “Living off the Land – A handbook for survival” written by John H Tobe speaks to the type of acreage you are describing. He described how it was possible to live off 5 acres of land, though he personally preferred 10 acres for “extras” that he wanted to grow. Mr Tobe was born in the 1930’s and the book was written in the 1960’s or thereabouts. It’s a wonderful resource book.

        Friends from long ago did a similar homestead on a river. Built their own saw mill. All log buildings. Ice house. They raised 7 very happy children there. I remember he told me that all it cost them was $7.00 a year for the bit of propane he needed.

        Cattails pollen can be used like a flour and made into pancakes from what I remember?

        Mindfulness of need and want is a big part of how I live my life. I try to keep things simple.

        I am grateful for your response. It has helped me to better formulate my criteria.

    • 4

      We bugged out in the early oughts from CA to take advantage of the real estate craziness, avoid the crash and hunker. I’m self-employed, work from anywhere there is a connection (when there’s an economy that is). We could go anywhere so our criteria from broad to narrow was:

      1, Around the 200 day growing season line, East of the tree line

      2, far from large cities, far from interstates, not on a highway, small town close by, neighbors not so much

      3, Mostly level and flexible: crops, pasture, woodlot, live water a plus, a stock pond a plus

      4, cool old farmhouse, serviceable well/septic, PV potential

      We were lucky to find all that in SW MO, 40ac for $150k. Big 100 y/o 2 storey house in mostly original form, new 40×40 steel shop, half dozen outbuildings in various states, about 7ac tillable, 25 pasture, the balance barnyard, pond, some woods. 5 miles to the post office, 30 to big boxes, hospitals, etc

      It was very cool. That was 20 years ago and even then 40ac places with old houses were rare, nowadays you can’t find anything like that. Not for any kind of a bargain, maybe not at all.

      Obviously it all depends on your goals. I grew up on a small ranch so was familiar with many aspects of doing things. I wanted the peace of the country to work and the flexibility to do as much or as little as the world required me to do, if that makes sense. IOW, be fully sufficient or just look out the window at the calves while working the computer. We sold and did some other things the last 5 years, I’ll be looking for another remote place in another couple.

      A couple of tripping points I found:

      Pre-existing “infrastructure” or new?
      Our place had lots and lots of pole barns, loafing and machinery sheds, garages, corrals and one awesome newer shop. I really fretted over these, on the one hand I knew I’d never be able to afford to build as much as was there, on the other I would be stuck with the layout.
      In retrospect I think having so much built was actually a hinderance. I spent lots of time trying to shoehorn my ideas into the built space and I still wound up building: greenhouse, working chute, fences, etc.
      Ditto the “cool old house”. We are old house fixers from way back, flipping old houses is what we’ve been doing these last few years. But I spent sooo much time working on the house, along with the existing outbuildings I didn’t have much time or money for other things.

      Which brings me to: What is it for?
      This is important. Especially if you are planning to do more than just bunker and hunker. If you are old and retired, vs if you are hoping for some self-reliance and income. At the same time I think it is important to have a flexible piece, it is important to have a good idea of where you’re headed. Our place could have sustained a good size family in a different world, one shall we say, more primitive and hardscrabble than ours. But sustainability is hard, a full time job, with overtime. Even dabbling in that lifestyle is expensive because there are few opportunities for cash income in a world of commodity pricing. We raised replacement heifers, sold sprouts in the spring, some wholesale and roadside produce, did some outside work when the computer work stalled.

      I could go on and on… looks like I did!

      • 11

        Pops, thank you for a nicely detailed journey through how you arrived at your areage.

        I especially appreciate your note on tripping points. I had not considered the impact of structures against the layout that I might want. It is a very good point to consider.

        Employment demands are not an issue. This is more about finding the right space for a barn in case I decide to venture into livestock, a chicken coop, a workshop to work on projects, greenhouse, garden, room to roam and walk in peace, in a natural environment conducive to photography and writing.

        A plain one storey house fine. I already have plans to fortify and close off areas as needed for security purposes. A wood stove for baking and heating. A summer kitchen for canning.

        Space for a guest home for a long term and dear friend who is alone and like a brother to me. I promised he always has a home with us, but he values his privacy, so he would have his own home and privacy, yet I would be close enough to care for him and socialize as he cares to.

        Thank you again for taking the time to draft the important details of your criteria. I will be drafting new criteria for myself this week. Every response has helped so much, and yours has got me a little further along with my plans.