Saturday, 2 September 2017

So you want to start an acreage homestead?

I applaud and admire people who want to produce more of their own needs. Producing more of our own needs is one of the reasons why my husband and I wanted acreage. I was heavily influenced by John Seymour when I found his book in a second hand book shop in Brisbane many years ago. 

Of course if you live in the suburbs there is nothing to stop you pursuing the homestead dream right now. Many people have built wonderful homesteads on a quarter acre or less. Homesteading is more about independence than it is about size of your land.

Wide open spaces can be an attraction for those seeking a rural escape.

Many people though dream of moving out of the suburbs into less crowded areas. They dream of owning more land where they feel they have more scope. Often when people mention to their friends they want to buy acreage they are hit with a barrage of "good" advice.  It is worth listening to the naysayers.  Make a list of the advice you have been given about why you shouldn't buy acreage and then find solutions to those issues raised. This way you are entering into this new stage of your life's journey with your eyes open.  For some people this will be enough to stop them from pursuing the idea of moving to acreage. That's fine, life is about pursuing what matters to you most. If you realise that living the acreage dream is going to prevent you from spending your free time doing other activities you love more than working on your property, then now is probably not the time for you go ahead and start an acreage homestead.

If you go ahead there are many things to consider, and some of these won't be mentioned by your suburbanite and city dwelling friends because it will have never occurred to them. I am going to write about some of the things we have encountered since buying our acreage a few years ago, and some of the things we could have done better had we had the benefit of hindsight.  These are just some ideas for you to think about, this is in no way financial or property advice, which I am in no way eligible to provide.

A leap of faith. Being fairly conservative it took us a while to gather up the courage to finally decide to move forward and buy acreage. We had been talking about doing this for about 8 years before we finally took the plunge.

Look around.   Well, as you can infer from the paragraph above, we are generally not the type of people who rush in to things. We looked at a lot of properties. I didn't find the real estate agents particularly helpful because in the end after looking at a lot of properties I found the one we eventually bought by searching on the internet. I think it is something to keep in mind that in order for an estate agent to show you properties you need to be able to communicate to them just what it is you are after. Sometimes it is really hard to define what this is until you see it. So for us searching the internet and contacting the listed agent worked better than going directly to an agent first.

We wanted to be near fishing spots for Don. 

Don't rush to buy. In our case it is more of a case that my husband is not one to be rushed. That sometimes works out well for me. We ummed and ahhed about a couple of properties including the one we eventually bought. One property we did miss out on due to taking weeks to decide. The place we did end up buying went on and off the market twice, (yes, meaning it had been under contract subject to finance twice), between our first visit and our second visit.

Remember the old property adage - 'You don't make money when you sell but when you buy a property',  Meaning don't be sucked in and pay too much for a property.  'What?' I hear you say. 'What if the seller won't drop their price?' Well then be prepared to walk away. We did from two properties when our offers were rejected. Look, I hope those sellers who rejected our offer later got the amount they were after. But we weren't prepared to pay their price because I believe we had a better chance of success from the get go by buying a property  below the market price. OK that may mean waiting until it is a buyers' market rather than a sellers' market, but for us it was worth it.  Even in this current market I still see houses listed for really good prices.  Needless to say we did get our property for what we consider was a good price. 

So we had visited the bank to find out how much we would be able to borrow. It turns out the bank was willing to offer us way more than we wanted to borrow. I mean I am grateful that we live in a society where we can access mortgage loans but I did not want to be working 'for the bank' forever, paying off a large mortgage.  Thank goodness we did not borrow up to our limit because the month after our mortgage payments began interest rates went up and continued to go up every month for several months. We became a bit concerned after a few months of increasing interest rates and signed up to a fixed rate for three years. In hindsight two years would have been better because it was around then that interest rates began to fall.  It was very tight for us financially in those first couple of years, and it was a hard slog. There was so much we needed and little to no money to work with.

Acreage living means there is always a long list of work waiting
to be done.

Start-up costs.  Yeah, there are a lot of things needed straight off that you may not own before you buy acreage. We started off with a push mower but quickly bought a ride on mower. However with five acres to mow my husband advised me that we would be needing to buy a tractor and slasher otherwise our ride on mower would quickly become knackered. So here we were with little to no discretionary funds and we needed to buy a tractor and slasher. We did buy the tractor within the first 12 months and by that time my husband had decided a finishing mower would produce a better result than a slasher so we bought a finishing mower instead. 

Lots and lots of hard work.  It is no joke. Maintaining acreage property is lots of hard work from the get go. If you are not prepared for that, perhaps acreage living is not for you. It is sad to see acreage properties that are not well maintained and that are full of rat's tail grass or other weeds; or those properties that are part old style garbage dump with rusting car hulks and equipment lying about on display. Yuck.

Our property had  originally been part of a cattle property (the whole district was originally timber country before it was opened up to selectors in the 1870's).  Later the cattle property had been subdivided and many of the new owners were hobby farmers. During this time our property became a protea hobby farm. However by the time we bought the property all but one of the proteas were dead, so there was a huge job of pulling out the dead proteas in order to improve the appearance of the property. My husband did this by putting a chain around the protea bush and attaching the chain to the recovery hook on the front of our Nissan Patrol and reversing the Patrol to pull the dead plant out of the ground.

Yay, all the ugly dead plants were gone after many, many hours of non-stop labour on the part of my husband. Once he starts a job he goes at it full tilt with hardly any rest breaks until the job is done. What we were then left with was half a dozen long planting beds of about 70 metres in length that had become grassed over. My husband became very tired over mowing up and over these raised beds. Out of the blue one day our neighbour drove up on one of his big machines and knocked out all the raised garden beds and smoothed the whole area out. Hooray!

Water is always a hot topic of conversation in the country

Maintenance costs.  There are always pluses and minuses with any property you consider buying. One plus with our property was the many irrigation lines running from the back of the property to the front. Bonus! One of the drawbacks was the state of the property's fences and the lack of a front fence. Fencing costs a lot of money. We only put our front fence in during 2015 and our side fence was rebuilt in 2016. Then too, there is the cost of running equipment. It is going to cost a lot more in both time and money to mow and edge trim an acreage property than a suburban yard. Again more costs are incurred with the purchase and maintenance of equipment, such as chain saws, welding equipment, generators tec.

Lifestyle costs. Everyone's situation is different. When we bought our rural acreage property we kept our suburban house in town for many years too. We had two lots of yard work, housework and house maintenance. Sometimes when I woke in the middle of the night I couldn’t remember whether I was in town or in the country. A strange feeling I can tell you.  Maintaining both properties was the right decision for us at the time, but it was still an extra complication.

Travel costs. Moving to an acreage property usually involves a much longer commute to work. You will be paying a higher price time wise, fuel wise and vehicle maintenance wise.

New infrastructure costs.  Many of us buy acreage because we want to create something. Whether a large garden or a certain lifestyle or something else. Consider the likely infrastructure costs. We want to put in an extra dam on the property as well as extra water tanks. This all costs money.

Internet connection.  Lack of decent internet connection in rural areas is insane. We can end up paying more money for slower download speeds - if we can manage to get a connection at all. 

All that said, we love our homestead. We love working on it, and living on it and being a part of it - becoming excited by rain, watching the plants grow, developing knowledge and skills, and seeing the wildlife. It has been very challenging but it has been a wonderful, worthwhile journey.


  1. Hard won Wisdom here, for others, wishing to do similar. !!!!!

    As I said, in last comment on your old blog, we have always been into "enough." Rather than "more,more, more." More so, than our contemporaries. So I didn't have to be seduced by the "new" simplicity movement. I love it. To be as self-sustaining is a wonderful idea, to me. But being 80, we can't start now. :-) you are being so wise, to do so, when you can!

    My husband's grandfather had a saying: "Buy land. They will always make more people. But no one will make more land." I think that, will ring true, with you.

    Oh and my father had a saying: "Pay as you go, or don't go." :-)))) So we had good advice, from both sides.

    Over the years, of course, we did use the Bank, for our business. But, wisely. Not unwisely.

    Best of luck!!!!

    Luna Crone

    1. I don't know anyone who is happy because of all of the material trappings they have. Looking back over my life it seems happy times are connected to experiences rather than things.

      I agree with you that being able to recognise 'enough' is all you need is the way to go.

  2. Sherri, it is a lot of hard work as you say so it is important to take one's age into consideration as well. We have 1/2 acre which my husband used to maintain as he has done a lot of planting here over the years but now he is too tired to keep it weeded etc. and sometimes I wish it was like next doors property as it is all lawn and someone comes in and mows it every few weeks using a rider mower :-)

    1. It is lots of hard work, no doubt about it. And it needs to be the sort of thing you enjoy otherwise it would be just drudgery. My husband actually enjoys mowing (go figure!) and also likes doing lots of the small jobs around the property. But of course there are other jobs - that he doesn't enjoy. Just like me of course. Age and health are important considerations when taking this or any other major life decision. I would point out though that if one is able to manage the associated tasks age may be less of a limiting factor that many may suppose. After all our federal government is wanting to raise the pension age to 70. Many men and women are working in physically demanding jobs in their 50's and 60's. My husband worked to close to his 69th birthday in a job that was as physical as anything he does on the property.

      When we were selling our house in town many buyers were put off by the size of the yard, saying it was too big and our block was under 950sqm. I am sure your husband enjoyed planting and growing all those plants though. No doubt there will come a time when my husband and I will need to move to smaller property. We have already discussed this - when the time comes he would like to move to the local village for its fishing and I would like to move to the township to be in walking distance to everything :-)

  3. Lovely reading this part of your journey Sherri, I can relate to much of what you have said.


  4. Everything you said is so true. I feel overwhelmed at this time, there is so much to do and only myself to do it. As much as I like living on acreage, I really would like to down size a little. Luckily for me the fences are fine for now, it is the house itself that needs a little tender care.

  5. Dear Deb, if I were in your shoes right now I would feel overwhelmed too. Its only natural. I hope things become easier for you soon.

  6. All very true accounts, Sherri! For all the downsides of acreage though (increased costs, workloads, infrastructure, etc) I just have to spend a day in town, to know why we live where we do. ;)

    I remember when I use to live in town, and you couldn't escape the noise. But I was use to it, then. Now I realise how much noise I was filtering out, and as such, not being fully present in my day. A half day in town, will reduce me to a deer staring into headlights, look, I always get. I can't make decisions, or think.

    So for us, it's about choosing the environment we're most likely to be conscious of, and engaged in. Even if it means we have to work harder, as we age. Or it takes longer to get all our infrastructure set up. Either location has it assets and liabilities. But it's good to share with those thinking about this lifestyle, what they can expect to encounter. Because it's not so easy to change your mind, and get out again.

    Rural prices are always lower, than what you'll pay for in town. Even though we have a 10 year old, brick house on five acres, we can expect to get less than a house of similar size and vintage, on a smaller block in town. You'll also get less buyers, shopping around. It all pushes the prices down. So try not to overcapitalize, if you can. :)

  7. There are so many things that make it worth it for me. Most of them have to do with having a closer connection to nature.