Reclaiming the Homestead: Our Path to Homestead Ownership
It seemed like it would never happen.
And in so many ways, I have felt like a fraud. You see, I’ve been writing on homesteading and natural living for a few years now. While living on leased or rented property. I was committed to stewardship on a piece of land that would likely never be my own. It bothered me deeply. But we were stuck in an unfortunate situation. Most lenders require 20%-50% down payment on properties deemed as “farm use” or “income producing.” Even, in a sad twist of irony, the USDA rural development home loans do not cover the purchase of farmland. How could we save up that kind of money in an area with ever-escalating property values? Could we ever achieve homestead ownership?
Folks, we have a large family with all the expenses that come with it.
Sales of previous properties owned by my husband and I before we met happened during the market dive; no profits were made.
We have a small farm.
There is no inheritance or windfall headed our way.
While my husband has a good, steady job, I am a freelance writer, herbalist, and blogger. For the purposes of a loan application, I would be better off working a minimum wage job in a fast food joint.
Clearly, the savings account wasn’t growing in a meaningful, say, 30% down payment kind of way.
Our path to homestead ownership was bleak. Super bleak.
But nothing stopped us from looking and wishing, painfully torturous though it might seem. On my birthday this year, we drove by a bank owned property that had just come on the market. Twenty acres, four bedroom, 1930 home, for a steal of an asking price considering relative properties. But, it was a hard NO. The thistles and blackberries were already head high by mid-April, the house dilapidated to the point of squalor, the barn siding and all the wiring in the house and outbuilding long since stolen. And yet, I couldn’t get the place off my mind, and after a couple weeks told my husband so. He felt similarly. We teamed up with a real estate agent and viewed the place properly. Putting the proverbial cart before the horse – something I do best. The house, although stinky, wasn’t “that” bad – in fact, the structure of the house was in good shape. A near complete gut job to the studs, but a salvageable structure, no less. But the house was really only half of the reason we were considering the place.
It was the land – half pasture, half forest — that intrigued us. Observing the abundance of alders and cottonwoods, we knew that water source was close, although we could hear nothing above the rustling of the leaves in the ever-present breeze (this property positioned at the mouth of a coastal mountain range corridor). We followed a path through the forested area to the gravelly banks of a large creek. Knowing the geography of the area, it could only be the creek that we were married at just a few miles upstream. Our hearts lurched. We wanted this place. Badly. It was a Wednesday.
So, we talked to a lender. She and my husband determined that there could be a path to homestead ownership here, because a) the property was not farmable in its present condition and b) the house was more of a “rebuild” than a “remodel” thus freeing up construction type loans which had programs with low down payment requirement ranging from 0%-10%. We could swing that. But that lender’s bank didn’t offer the programs we needed, nor the next bank we contacted. Or the next one. Or even the next one. At about 4:30 PM on Friday night, a lending agent at a smallish local bank responded to our online home loan inquiry. She had a program for us. A 3.25% down payment program for us. She agreed to work through the evening to get us pre-qualified so that we could make an offer the next day. On our anniversary.
Yes, on our anniversary, we made an offer on a piece of property through which flows the same creek we overlooked during our wedding. Fitting, no?
It was a three day holiday weekend. Being a bank owned property, we wouldn’t hear back until Tuesday.
Tuesday arrived. It was a multiple offer situation. Sucker punch to the gut. We had until Wednesday 5:00 pm to come back with our best and final offer. We hard scrambled to collect well logs and septic records to give us a better idea of what we were looking at. It wasn’t great. We would need a new well and the septic status was questionable. But still, we went for it. Full asking price, with closing costs, and not a penny more. Tick-tock, tick-tock… Thursday, no answer. The entire business day on Friday, no answer. At 5:30 on Friday evening, we got the call from our realtor. They had accepted our offer. Bring on the tears of joy. Our path to homestead ownership was finally clear and defined.
Closing: the crazy-making part of homestead ownership
Per the terms of our specific loan program, we were looking at a 12-week closing process, one of which we were told would be the most invasive, redundant process ever known to home ownership. It did not disappoint. I am not exaggerating to say that it was a 10-15 hour a week part-time job to wrangle the paperwork, secure the inspections, and clarify all aspects of the closing. There were tears of frustration, heated email exchanges with the lender, fees overpaid. Mistakes were made. Not many of which were ours. But somehow, on August 31st we closed.
Homestead ownership achieved.
It was a bit anti-climatic, truth be told, as we were no doubt nursing a few closing process induced ulcers. But it was joyful.
Homestead ownership at long last
The last month has been dedicated to securing the property and demolition. The first lines of fencing are up, and a driveway gate erected to prevent the trespass, vandalism and dumping that vacant properties so often experience. We are clearing brush to reveal a vista for which we have named the property, Cottonwood Hollow. Two weeks of hard labor, mostly on the part of my husband, resulted in complete removal of all the drywall, soiled and disgusting insulation, and 1980s fixtures. We are taking pains to preserve the original lap siding, hardwood floors (under some gross subfloor), and most perfectly vintage pantry complete with pie safe – we are clinging to every bit of remaining vintage charm.
Neighbors are coming out of the woodwork to help us reclaim the homestead, including the arborist that trimmed up some trees to make room for heavy equipment, the one that gifted us with extra fencing, the farm king of the area offering to help us restore the pasture land, and even the teenage boy that helped with drywall. We have found a beautiful community in our neighbors.
Over the next couple months, our general contractor will take over (another necessity of our loan program – hiring a general contractor). A new well will be drilled, septic repaired, the home and property rewired, the barn rebuilt, pastures fenced, two small additions created, and the home restored to livability and perhaps even a little glory.
Homestead ownership has never felt so good, my friends. Not a day goes by that I am not thankful for this.
Want to follow our progress? Make sure you join the email newsletter or follow me on social media. Also, when all is said and done, I intend to detail our path to homestead ownership more completely in an ebook – so keep your eyes peeled for that. Homestead ownership is not just a dream – it can become your reality too.