My family’s homesteading path has been one full of transitions and new adventures. We started out in 1999 on a rental homestead in Oregon, moved to Missouri in 2012 to build an off the grid homestead from scratch on land we purchased with cash, and in the fall of 2018, moved once again, this time to Vermont, where we live in a rental on 60 acres. Homesteading can happen anywhere – in urban, rural, and suburban places, and in rentals, on leased land, or on property you own. Since I’ve had significant experience with renting and buying homesteads, I’m going to share with you a few reasons to rent a homestead before you buy, and a few reasons why you might want to skip the rental homestead and head straight to ownership.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the subject, so please feel free to chime in in the comments.
Reasons to Rent a Homestead Before You Buy
1) Decide if the homesteading lifestyle is for you
If you’re new to homesteading, renting a homestead can be a great way to get your feet wet and see if the homesteading lifestyle is a good fit for you and your family’s needs. When we started homesteading, we spent almost 14 years living on a rental property that already had a bit of infrastructure when we arrived – a few apple trees, a pond, a chicken coop, and a small garden. We were able to jump right in and learn several homesteading skills with little to no investment.
In lieu of a rental, you might want to think about a caretaker position or perhaps even a longer stint on a WWOOF farm. All of these options are great ways to try out homesteading, without risk.
2) Get your finances ready to homestead
Renting a homestead can be a great way to grow your homesteading skill set while preparing financially for a future purchase. Rent, of course, is not always cheap, so look for creative ways to lower your rent and expenses. For instance, we have successfully negotiated several work trades for rent over the years, and are currently enjoying a caretaking trade that is mutually beneficial and enjoyable for all parties involved.
Remember, renting allows you to live without handling the large expenses that come with property ownership – repairs, property taxes, infrastructure costs. Get your finances ready to homestead while you rent by saving and budgeting for your future home.
3) Rent a homestead while you build your homestead
If you’re starting with raw land, as we did in Missouri, you will need to think about your accommodations while you build. We spent the winter renting a home in town while we began the work of planning, siting, sourcing materials, and eventually breaking ground on our new homestead.
Once we started the process of building our tiny house, we were able to catch water from the roof and erect a temporary outdoor kitchen; both were necessary requirements for living comfortably on the land. We were able to sleep in a borrowed pop-up tent trailer, and then a tent until late October, at which time we needed to move indoors to keep our family warm (we had a toddler and a young child at the time).
Consider your needs carefully. Do you need to be showered and well dressed every morning to head to a professional job? Living in a tent might prove challenging! Would it feel better to you to have your belongings organized in a rental home, rather than piling them in a storage unit or shed? Do you want to begin the fun of growing food and raising animals while you complete your new infrastructure? A yes answer to these questions might point to renting while you build.
4) Create local connections to find your perfect homestead
This may be the most compelling reason to rent a homestead before you buy. Living in the area in which you’d like to purchase property and getting to know other community members and homesteaders is a great way to tap into opportunities that might not be listed on Zillow or Craigslist.
Word of mouth is a powerful tool. Let folks in your community know that you’re looking for your perfect homestead, get clear on what your ideal homestead land looks like, and see what emerges!
5) Experiment with different methods of growing food
We’ve lived in three very different zones and growing seasons in our homesteading journey. Growing food in Vermont looks very different than growing food in Missouri or Oregon. I now have two growing seasons under my belt here in Vermont (Summer of 2017 and Fall of 2018) and I’m only now starting to get comfortable with the timing of planting and the crops that are most successful.
I found that when we finally purchased our homestead after years of dreaming about it, that I wanted to get everything RIGHT the first time. Had we rented a homestead in Missouri first, and taken time to experiment with different methods of growing food, I might have made some very different decisions.
6) Learn from local farmers and homesteaders
Of course it’s good practice to learn from others, whether you rent a homestead or buy a homestead, but I’ve found that renting is a great time to gather as much information as possible and make time to connect with other local farmers and homesteaders to learn what plants and animals do well in the area.
Once you find your homestead property, you’ll now only be in position to make educated choices, but you will have also established a network of likeminded people with whom to build a strong homesteading community.
7) Practice Taking Baby Steps
Renting a homestead naturally encourages you to slow down and make thoughtful decisions. You may have to check in with your landlord at each step, or you may need to seriously contemplate a purchase, knowing that it may not be possible to transfer to your eventual property.
So often, we homesteaders want to do ALL.THE.THINGS but I’ve found it’s not a very sustainable course of action and can lead to burn out and frustration. Renting a homestead is a wonderful opportunity to practice taking baby steps.
Three Reasons to Buy a Homestead Today, Rather than Rent
Okay, now that I’ve argued for renting a homestead before you buy, let me share some thoughts about why you might want to dive straight into homestead ownership.
1) It might make more financial sense to buy a homestead
Renting is not always the most affordable option – certainly here in Vermont, a mortgage might be equal or less than a nicer rental. And yes, when you rent, you’re placing your hard earned cash into the hands of someone else, not your future home.
Whatever the reason, you may find that it just doesn’t make financial sense to rent a homestead. Although I like getting real about money, I’m not a financial advisor. Find yourself a trusted professional or team of trusted advisors and create a best path forward for your unique situation and vision.
2) You are ready to dive in, 110%
I hear you. When we first started to homestead, you couldn’t have stopped us from diving in 110%! We had so much energy and excitement about the homesteading lifestyle (and a landlord that encouraged our projects!).
If this is you, then you may want to just go for it! Otherwise, you may end up feeling frustrated with the slower pace of a rental, or the restrictions placed upon your passions.
3) Your homestead vision involves lots of permanent infrastructure
It’s ironic that I’m even talking about this because we put in SO much permanent infrastructure at our Oregon rental. We planted dozens of fruit trees, built a new goat barn, fenced in about an acre of goat pasture, built a brick bread oven, and erected a high tunnel. None of which were able to come with us (although our landlord, amazingly, compensated us for some of the infrastructure when we left).
If your homestead vision includes a lot of permanent infrastructure (greenhouses, a shop, lots of permanent fencing, etc), you may need to head directly to ownership. Either that or get very lucky with landlords, as we did.
Homesteading can take many paths, and no one direction is the right one. Whether you decide to rent a homestead or buy a homestead, you can still embrace the lifestyle and take steps toward your dream. If you would like some support to help you on your path to homesteading, I’m available for coaching and consulting and would be honored to work with you.
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