How to Buy Homesteading Land Very Cheaply.

By on September 10, 2014

How to Buy Land Very Cheaply

Even in this day and age, unwanted land still exists, for those who know how to find it.

by Neil Shelton

It seems as if everybody wants land, and those that have it want more.  I suppose there are a few exceptions to this rule, but not many, because even a monk needs a monastery.

That’s why land prices are always high, and why some folks feel that if they can’t afford land now, they’ll never be able to in the future.  Tax sales may be a dandy way for the state to collect its due, but the buyer rarely ends up with marketable title and foreclosures often prove to be far more trouble than they’re worth.

After a time, we get the idea that we need to accept land which is deficient in some way; property near a land fill maybe, or without deeded access.  We feel that we must pay some other cost in lieu of the cash we don’t have to spend in order to get a good deal.

Or at least that’s the hair-shirt approach.  In fact, the best way to save hot, steaming piles of cash on a land purchase is simply to find someone whose plans have changed.

For example: Arlene met Bob at Woodstock.  Together they planned to leave New Haven as soon as Arlene finished her degree in anthropology.  They had an idea to move out into the country and let their lives regress to the Stone Age.  They’d live nude except for animal skins and make their living foraging for roots and berries.  After a few years, they’d write a book and become famous.  So, with some money from her inheritance, they bought forty acres of wooded land in the Midwest with a really charming cave, and begin to fashion their future.

However it turned out that Bob had uncouth personal habits and Arlene was a big of a nag.  Thus, it came to be that Arlene and Bob gradually grew apart and went their separate ways.

That was years ago, but Arlene still has that property.  She hardly ever thinks about it though, except when the annual tax bills come in.  Even then, the tax bills on vacant woods seem so cheap compared to her Atlanta condominium, that she just pays them without much thought.  The price she paid for the land back then wouldn’t buy her a space in the parking lot today, so she doesn’t view it as much of an asset.

I suppose you could say that Arlene’s lust for land has been fairly sated by this time.

So you’re thinking, “That’s a great story Neil, and if I had the rest of the morning to waste, I’d sure like to hear the the whole thing, but since I don’t, and since I don’t know anybody like you’re describing in the area where I want to buy land…”

Bear with me a moment.

You can find people like Arlene.  It’s simple.

But first, you’ll need a couple of tools.

Tools You’ll Need for Buying Land Very Cheaply

Tool Number One. –   A County Plat Book.  Each county in every state makes their real estate ownership data available to private mapping companies who make maps detailing all the land ownership in the county.  You can usually find these for sale in one or more of the office in the county courthouse.  They tend to run $40-80.

You can get plat books online from Mapping Solutions. They have maps in twelve different states (Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Illinois, Mississippi, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa).  If you live someplace else, you can probably find a company online that serves your state.  All of Mapping Solutions’  eBooks are now delivered digitally; they also have a product called a SmartMap for most counties that allows you to have the maps on your tablet or smart phone with your GPS location shown on the map.

Here’s a page out of a typical county plat book showing the name of each landowner and the number of acres in each parcel.

Tool Number Two – Maps. It would be a nice idea if you have plenty of maps of your area.  I used to buy these on paper too, but now I find that I can get what I need online.

Topographic maps and aerial photography are online at MSR Maps.

I also find Google Earth invaluable and getting better all the time.

Throughout this article, I’ve placed different views of the same forty-acre parcel on several different maps, to give you an idea of how much you can learn about a particular property without ever leaving home.


















How to Buy Land Very Cheaply by Neil Shelton

continued from page one

Tool Number Three – The County Assessor’s Office.

The last tool you needs comes to you free with your real estate taxes.  It’s the county Assessor’s Office, which keeps track of who owns what land in the county in order to assess property taxes.

That means that you can find the names of the owners of the blocks in your plat book, as well as their addresses.

Oh, something I should probably have mentioned sooner: this method is sure-fire and proven, but it does have a couple of drawbacks.

Drawback Number One: There’s work involved.

Drawback Number Two: You’ll still need some money to buy land.  That’s why this method works.  All those other methods that don’t involve you having money don’t work.

What you want at the Assessor’s Office is the name and address of all landowners with out-of-area addresses; the further out-of-area the better.

Arrive at the assessor’s office with a friendly smile, tell the attendant that you’d like to copy some addresses for landowners in Sections X and Y and could she show you to the appropriate book(s)?  (Later, you can ask for Sections Z and A if you don’t get enough names.  I don’t recommend that you go in sounding as if you’re going to be there all day.)

I suggest you try to define your area to four or five mile-square sections.  Using your topography map, pick the sections you’re interested in, write down the number, township and range and take that information to the County Assessor’s Office.  (You might want to see my article on how to read legal descriptions before you go.)

Once you have the names and addresses of each out-of-area owner of vacant land in the areas you’ve chosen, go back to your maps and see how many of the properties appear to meet your broad criteria.

If your land needs are very specific, then you’re going to be doing more work than if they’re fairly general.  For example, if you just have to have frontage on a stream, then you’ll want to concentrate on locating streams as they cross properties in the plat book.

You can learn quite a bit about the properties you’re interested in without leaving home.  I’ve posted several pictures of the same forty-acre parcel here showing what you can learn from maps on your desktop.

You’ll be able to eliminate several of your choices using the maps, but when you get down to the most serious candidates, you’ll want to go visit the properties in person.

Be sure to take a topography map and compass with you, and be careful to avoid trespassing on neighboring properties whose owners may be more close at hand than the owners of the properties you’re looking at.

Once you’ve gathered your addresses and very thoroughly examined all the candidate properties, it’s time to go back home and write a few letters.

To each of the out-of-area owners you’ve selected, you send a letter something like this:

Arlene Doosis

232433 Swansong Street, Apt 98

Atlanta GA 20144

Dear Ms. Doosis:

I am writing to enquire about your 40-acre property in Polecat County. 

I am in the market for a property such as this and I would be willing to pay you $[give your specific offer] for your land, should you be interested in selling.

If you would consider selling this land, please contact me at the address below.



Note that we don’t dwell on formalities here.  It’s important that you make the deal very straightforward.

Perhaps now you see the tricky part.  You have to be sure enough of yourself and what you’re willing to pay to put it up front.

I recommend that you may want to send out as many as a couple of dozen of these letters, perhaps in groups of five or six.

When you start mailing them out, you will mostly get any of three sorts of responses.  They’ll either ignore your letter completely, accept your terms, or inform you that the property is worth much more than whatever you said you’d give, which you may treat as an offer to negotiate.

So are we taking advantage of someone here?  Not at all.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the concept of what land is worth.

Nobody knows.

That is, there is the profession of appraising real estate and while that may be a noble and scientific profession, when they assign a price to a particular parcel, that does not mean that they will give the owner that much money for the land in question, only that similar sales in the area (if any) have suggested what the price might be.

In our exercise here, you are putting yourself in the position of a much more authoritative appraiser because you’re backing up your appraisal with cash.

Cash has a lot of appeal to Arlene.  Even though her land has value, if she wants to sell it, she needs either to list it with a real estate agent or make the effort to sell it herself.

The majority of real estate agents prefer spending their time promoting larger, improved properties, which offer them several times the commission for the same or less effort.  In a not-particularly-stellar market, Arlene’s property could wait years for a buyer.

If she has the wherewithal to advertise it herself, she’ll need either computer savvy or money, both would be best, and a certain amount of time to devote to the effort.

If you send a letter such as described to a dozen people in this economy, at the very least one of them is going through some sort of personal crisis and would much prefer to have some cash than a piece of land that sits unwanted and unloved, perhaps in another state.  I will all but guarantee you that you will be doing something to help out another person in a very real way.

I once bought a piece of land from a dear old woman who just wanted the money to help her grand-daughter with college tuition.  She told me that the bus driver she’d talked to on her trip to the closing said, “I’ll bet your land’s worth more than he’s giving and she said, ‘I’ll take that bet, because I’ve owned it for thirty years and no-one’s ever offered to give me anything for it.'”

There is no limit as to how low your offer can be, but it should be within reason, or it’s likely to be rejected out of hand.  The landowner only has to log on to the internet to compare your offer with what brokers are selling land for, so you can’t be senselessly low, but since you’re offering cash right now, most people will be willing to sell for significantly less to have a deal right now that doesn’t include paying any commissions.

You can determine what is within reason to your own mind by simply perusing similar property on the your state’s Multi-list sites.  Read forty want-ads and visit five or six of the properties and you’ll have about as good an idea of what that sort of land is worth as anyone else.

There’s something else nice to know when you’re thinking about how much to offer, many times the landowner’s deed will specifically state how much he or she paid for the property.  Knowing how much they stand to make can help you in making your decision of how much you want to pay.

You can find a copy of the deed at the County Recorder’s Office.  If that doesn’t state the sale price, you may find an old mortgage on record that would give you some idea of the old price.  Also, in some jurisdictions, revenue stamps are affixed to deeds in proportion to the sale price.

When you find a buyer who agrees to your price, you need to take charge of closing the transaction.  You don’t need an attorney here, just find a title company in the county seat.  They’ll examine the title for you, distribute the costs and close the sale for you.

Good luck.

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