18 Tips For Buying An Affordable & Usable Property For Getting Out Of Dodge
An affordable bug out location or Get Out Of Dodge (GOOD) property is a wish and a dream for many a prepper. Unfortunately, though, few of us can afford those multi-hundred-thousand dollar properties we see on TV with orchards, solar power, stocked ponds, and all the bells and whistles.
Even a moderate property out in the country is an additional expense, not only for survival or preparedness but as a place to go while the kids and grandkids are little. Time in the country makes for many happy memories. After all, you might want to get out of Dodge simply to escape from the stresses of everyday life.
If this is a dream and a goal for you, the first step is to find an affordable, usable GOOD property for your family, preferably one that is a fun weekend and summer getaway as well. Once you’ve found that dream piece of land, then it’s time to design and build your dream property, all without breaking the bank or having to drive too far (as defined by your family).
Finding your affordable bug out location
The first issue to tackle is where you want to buy property.
To narrow the search, the first decision is how far it is reasonable to go. For us, anything more than a full work day (eight hours) of driving in normal conditions was too far both for that Get Out of Dodge location and for an enjoyable family weekend/summer retreat. If everything did hit the fan, getting that far would be difficult to impossible. For family getaways, we would spend two days driving, which uses up an entire weekend and cuts down too much on a longer vacation. In addition, getting there to check on problems and make sure everything was safe is too difficult.
PREPPER TIP: Decide how far you’re able to drive, in both hours and miles, and then mark those distances on a map, going in different directions from your current home. This may lead you to the perfect area you hadn’t considered.
Living near a major city, two hours is bit too close to the potential hordes. Ultimately, we decided that a three to four hour drive from our home is comfortable for us both in terms of being far enough for a SHTF situation and close enough for summer vacations and weekend trips. However, a knowledgeable friend in our own town has a retreat ninety minute to two hours from here. His belief is that three to four hours is too far if you need to walk, and his family is able to regularly use their weekend place because it is convenient. Point being: the ideal distance is what you are comfortable with, not a static, fixed number.
Take terrain, hazards, and weather into consideration
Another consideration is the terrain you will need to travel. Given our location, a lot of potential destinations involve twisty, country roads or heavily traveled interstates. That definitely impacts our choices.
Depending on where you live, some directions may have rivers, lakes, mountains, deserts, canyons, and other geographical features that can make driving harder, or possibly easier. Seasonal features such as flood plains and roads that are routinely threatened by avalanches, mudslides, or rock slides must also be considered, although these are unlikely to be marked on anything other than, possibly, a detailed map such as a DeLorme Atlas.
Man-made potential hazards such as dams, prisons, and power plants are not marked on all maps, but should certainly be considered. (I lived near Three Mile Island when it made nuclear history.) Other considerations include having a national border (Mexico, Canada) or big city (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles) within a few hours. We have a big city about six hours north of us. Six hours is more than far enough to feel safe from it even in our home, but any property owners several hours north of us will regret being that close to a large city. Obviously that isn’t ideal in a SHTF situation, but it also tends to make property much more expensive in everyday life.
Weather is another consideration. In my case, the weather even four hours north tends to be cold enough that it would limit how much we could use the property. Similarly, buying property three to four hours east of Los Angeles would tend to make it too hot and dry to be useful. (It is a literal desert.) Some areas are also prone to natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, which can lead to significantly increased expenses for building, insurance, and repairing damage. In short, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the local weather and natural hazards in any area you are considering.
RECOMMENDED READING: I cannot recommend highly enough the classic by Joel Skousen, Strategic Relocation, for evaluating locations within every state and continent as a potential Get Out of Dodge location.
Your family may also have specific health-related concerns that will affect your GOOD location. Anywhere with too much time on twisty roads is problematic for my family because of rampant motion-sickness. Another friend has serious health issues and has to be within an hour or two of a top-notch hospital. Allergies and even phobias may also impact your choices. If someone is truly afraid of heights, a cliff-top property might be completely out of the question.
Once you look at all those factors, you should have a solid, reasonably-sized radius to look in and it’s time to narrow down the search to specific counties or towns.
Getting more specific in your search
Spend some time thinking about what your family enjoys doing and where they like to do it. Are they avid bikers, backpackers or hikers? What kind of terrain? Do you regularly canoe, kayak, sail, swim, or do other water sports? Are they better suited to the ocean, rivers, or a lake? Is the property just for you or do you plan to build with friends or family?
These may seem trivial if you have end-of-the-world scenarios in mind, but at some point, you might be LIVING in this location, so it might as well be somewhere you actually want to spend time.
How old are your kids? If they are small, what safety concerns do you have? With toddlers, a deep swimming hole could make an otherwise-perfect property a no-go. If they are bigger, do you want to make it big enough that they can join you with their own significant other and/or family? Do you have any other family members you need to consider, including your parents and in-laws? How much space do you really need both in acreage and in home space, and think ahead several years to changing family size and circumstances.
How do you plan to get there? Do you have a private plane? (If so, your search radius can be hours farther from your home – a ten hour drive might be a nice short flight!) That will clearly change what you are looking for since you will need a landing strip nearby. Will you be taking an RV or tiny house? Do you have a four wheel drive vehicle? How about a truck? Will your family or group be arriving in multiple vehicles? Not only will your form of transportation affect how far your GOOD site will be, but also the types of roads you’ll be able to navigate.
Do you want to start a survival garden? If so, what plans do you have? Your needs will be different if you want to have a mini-orchard, an herb garden, or a small greenhouse, but gardening generally needs more open (not forested) land than hunting or fishing, for example, and your needs in terms of soil, sunlight, and water will be greater. The north side of a mountain may simply never get enough sunlight for successful gardening.
RECOMMENDED READING: Develop a survival garden that blends in with the surrounding native plants, providing food but camouflaged to passers by. Rick Austin provides details in his book, Secret Garden of Survival.
Would a hunting property be regularly used, or does your family fish? Depending on what you hunt, the game might be plentiful in different areas, and you might want to adjoin (or avoid) national or state park lands. As a fisherman, you may choose to avoid certain areas if the water (and fish) are known or believed to be contaminated, or to choose other areas where they are plentiful and tasty.
In our case, my kids love kayaking, canoeing – any water sports – so my preference is property on or near water, just not the ocean. (I don’t want to deal with hurricane insurance or damage.) That means our ideal GOOD property will be either on a lake or a river. My preference is a lake because rivers tend to have large cities on them, which makes it easy for those citizens to go upstream in an emergency and our safe shelter might not be so safe any more. Rivers also frequently have power plants and factories on them, increasing the chances of pollution.
Narrowing the focus and looking at properties
Using MapQuest and Google Earth, I initially searched in a 2 hour radius from our home for rivers, larger lakes, and any other water feature that might serve, until we found an area that seemed to suit. (The DeLorme Atlases are also a great way to search.) The next step was to (virtually) check out actual real estate.
Some areas have realtors that specialize in that area, although that can be a warning sign that they are popular and possibly too populated. For other areas, Zillow or realtor.com can help you decide if the area suits. This is a great way to get a general idea of what the local style is. If you really hate log cabins, an area where most of the available property tends toward “log cabin” probably won’t be a great fit. But it might be perfect if you love log cabins!
In my own search, the first area I found to my liking is near a major natural spring, making geothermal energy a real option, but it’s also far too close for comfort to a less-than-totally-safe city. It’s also an area with lots of tourists, and this makes the prices a bit higher. Moving on, the next potential property I found didn’t appeal to my husband because it was too close to where we live now.
After talking with my husband a bit more, I realized that I was looking for locations too close to our current home. It was at this point that I went from looking a couple hours away to three or four hours away. Lesson learned: it’s important to be flexible and talk with your spouse while going through this process. As we talked through things, I realized that we were really only interested in looking south of where we currently live. That simplified things a lot!
I spent a few more hours on Google Earth and narrowed down the search area even further simply by looking at the geography. By identifying a more specific area and then looking at geographical features, we now have an area that’s a good enough fit to actually begin looking at properties.
Wanting to learn more about the area from those who have visited it first hand, I started to ask people what they thought of it. Since it’s a popular vacation spot, asking around doesn’t raise any suspicion. When I was picking my son up from school, I saw someone wearing a t-shirt for that area and asked his opinion. Since his family has been going there every year for thirty years, I think he counts as a fan! More importantly, talking to local people about it has given me a better feel for how long it really takes to get there and how hard the drive is, or isn’t. (Motion sickness is a big issue for my family.)
The area has lots of summer vacation home rentals but that isn’t realistic for us this year. Camping, on the other hand, is totally doable, so I’m going to try to wrangle the family and get them to go down for a long weekend to really see what we think of the area.
One item to keep in mind while you are looking at undeveloped land is that a well and septic can be $10-20,000 or more each, depending on size and complexity. Well prices depend in large part on depth; our well has water about 40 feet down but the well is over 200 feet deep, so don’t assume water fairly near the surface will mean the well doesn’t go deep. A $60,000 lot with a well and septic installed may be a bargain compared to an unimproved one the same size for $40,000.
Lowering the cost even more
How can the cost of a GOOD property be affordable? Consider it’s potential as a rental. In the area I’ve been looking at, because it is a popular vacation spot, there is the potential for rental income depending on how and where we build. (Local ordinances restrict some areas from short-term rentals; other areas are simply not desirable.) Honestly, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. Once we have our personal items there and at least enough food that we don’t have to go grocery shopping immediately upon arrival, I don’t know that I want strangers staying there, but I might be OK with it. I simply don’t know, and it’s far down the road, but it’s an option that could help us if we experienced a financial setback.
Sharing the property with like-minded friends and family is another way to lower the cost, especially if you have multiple buildings on one larger property. One possibility is starting with a tiny house or two — enough covered living area to provide a sturdy shelter until a larger home can be built.
Really be purposeful and realistic about what you are buying. Do you actually need one hundred acres, or would five to ten acres suffice for your needs? More land means more area to protect and develop. Living near a state or national park may decrease how much property you need, if isolation is your primary concern. Finding a property where you can generate off-grid power such as solar, geothermal, wind, or water power may also help you lower the long-term costs.
As with any big purchase, there is a lot to consider, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or outrageously expensive (for real estate). Take your time, think about your needs – not what someone else tells you is important, and what you want out of a property. Enjoy the process – and don’t rush it! It’s better to take a few more months, or even a couple of years, and end up with a property you love than to settle for something not-quite-right.