Friday, April 13, 2012

The Search Is On

OK, so if you have read through the blog entries, you know Alan and I are impatiently waiting to close on property in the Ozark Mountains. I was not planning to share the property search saga until after we closed, but as we had to agree to yet another one month extension today, I will go ahead and start the story. Around the first of the year, Alan and I decided it was time to become more proactive in realizing our dream to find property where we could live off-grid. Technically, you can live off-grid anywhere, just shut off your connection to the public electric company, or stop paying your bill and they will do it for you :-). But, we wanted to go off-grid in a location more suited to the life style. I do not think our neighbors in town would like us cutting down their trees for our wood burner and the village ordinances would probably not allow an outhouse or other alternative septic solutions.

So, the search began. Our plan was to research possible areas of the country that would meet our criteria, narrow it down to specific properties and then take a road trip in the spring to look at the most promising properties. However, about a month into the research, we realized that many of the properties we listed as having potential were selling quickly. We would bookmark the web sites, then go back in a week or so to look at them and many of the properties were already sold. So, we moved up the timeline. The Ozark Mountains seemed very promising, we particularly liked a lot of listings on one realtor's site, so we contacted her and made plans to spend about 5 days viewing properties in the Ozarks. We drove our 4 wheel drive vehicle because some of the properties we were interested in could only be accessed with 4 wheel drive.

We had given the realtor a list of some properties we wanted to see, but as we were driving from the hotel to meet her near the first property, I was wondering how do you explain to someone what you consider 'prime property' from an off-grid point of view? We were definitely not your typical 'older couple' looking for 'snow bird' retirement property. We were looking at some pretty remote pieces of property, so our realtor met us at a small village square, and rode with us to the property. She did first ask if we were serial killers or axe murderers, I am sure we would have answered honestly if we were. Within a minute of her getting in the car, as we were trying to give more details of what we wanted to do with the property, she told us that she and her husband had moved to the Ozarks a few years ago with the purpose of living off-grid! Wow, a kindred spirit, and one with years of experience helping us find our property.

So, off we go to property #1. It was about 5 miles off blacktop, that is 5 miles down a bumpy dirt road. The property had a small cabin, some small rough outbuildings and a well that may or may not be working. One of our top criteria was some form of water on the property, but our realtor told us they had been catching rainwater for several years and have never had a problem, a good rain storm can fill their 500 gallon cistern. While the property was nice, and the cabin 'quaint', it would take a lot of work to make it livable. The cabin and out buildings had at least a foot of trash covering the floors. And by the way, there are poisonous snakes in the area and they would probably love living in all that trash. Still the place had a lot of potential and we kept it on our list of possibilities.
We were also considering empty land to park an RV on, so we could do that while fixing up the cabin. Oh, one other drawback, our closest neighbor would be a chicken farm and depending on how the wind blew in the summer that might not be too pleasant.

Property #2 had Alan 'aquiver' as soon as he heard about it because it was a mountain top. The views were beautiful, and there was a logging road on the property that we could park an RV on, if we could get the RV up the mountain. I felt the fact you had to go up and down the mountain would make it too difficult, it would feel more like survival at times than living the good life. Alan agreed that I was probably right and said that he was more enamored with the idea of owning a mountain top vs. actually living on a mountain top.

The third property we wanted to look at was in Oklahoma, quite a distance from the Ozarks, but it sounded promising and there was also a second property in the same area. So, the next day we headed to Oklahoma. After driving quite a distance, leaving the Ozarks, going through Arkansas and almost into Oklahoma, I get a phone call from a client. Cell service is spotty, so Alan decided to pull off the highway so I can keep the connection for the length of the call, and he decides to get gas at the same time. As he finishes pumping gas, he looks at the ground and there is a pool of gasoline. The gas tank on the Sportage just sprang a major leak. We make a mad dash to the airport about 5 minutes away to get a rental car, and then I follow Alan to the nearby Kia dealership. I loose site of him at one point, but can still follow his trail of gas on the road! He had several people run up to him at stop lights to let him know gas was pouring out of the car. So, after that bit of excitement we now continue into Oklahoma with our rental car. Remember, we took the Sportage so we could access some of the properties? Well the only rental we could get was a Mercury Gran Marquis, little did the car know what it was in for. We were following maps to the next property and had gotten down to dirt roads. We just passed a 'Y' in the road that we thought was about 500 feet from the property, when we came to a stream crossing the road that was about a foot deep. We could have crossed it with our Sportage, but decided we better not try it with the rental. Alan decided to cross the stream and walk the rest of the way since we were so close. He would come back and get me if it was worth looking at (no cell service again). About 45 minutes later, and still Alan has not returned. I ford the creek, and head up the road and start calling out to him. About 15 minutes later I see Alan in the distance coming down the road. Turns out the 'Y' we passed was not the one we thought it was, it was about another 1 1/2 miles up the road. Alan had passed it on his 'stroll' but knew I would be getting worried so he turned around. During his walk he could not get any calls out to me, but at the furthest point he got a text message 'Congratulations, you have won an iPad!' So he quickly tried to text me again, but the small 'bar' of signal had disappeared already. Alan had tracked his walk with the GPS on his phone, so back at the hotel we checked and he had come within about 150 feet of the property we were trying to get to! By then we decided we were not supposed to buy land in Oklahoma.

The following day, back in the Ozarks, our realtor was not available, but she had shown us some other listings when we were at her office, so we went to see one on our own. We had seen it when we were conducting online searches in Wisconsin, but had passed over it because the description did not list some of our criteria. Turns out it was actually more interesting than what was included in the description. It was a three bedroom house on 20 acres that had been foreclosed on. At some point the home had been vandalized for the copper and wiring (who steals Romex?) The house is near the road, and backs up to a wooded hillside. We start exploring the property and this looks like it may be the one. There is a well, cistern and septic as well as a ravine coming down the hillside with a stream. Across the road is a creek, but as it is on the other side of the road from the property, we don't pay too much attention to it. We consider the holes in the dry wall a 'plus' as we will be rewiring for a 12V system and this gives us a head start. We are pretty sure this is the one, and the next morning we are back at the realtor's office to tell her we found the the property we want. She pulls up the topographical map and to our surprise, the 20 acres is not the property behind the house that we had explored, but it is the property on the other side of the road from the house. The property ends right behind the house but then extends across the road for most of the 20 acres. So now we have no idea of what the actual property is like, except for the creek next to the road, so back we go to explore the real 20 acres. The good news is, it's still the property we want and we put in an offer. We discover it is a 'Freddie Mac' property, which means it has been foreclosed on, a bank now owns it and while the procedure is a bit different to purchase it, it should be no problem as we are ready to pay cash.

With our car in the shop, we are now stranded in the Ozarks for a few extra days so we hope to hear if the offer is accepted before we leave. It is accepted and closing is to be 'on or before April 3rd'. Our realtor assures us that the closing will probably be before the deadline because it is a cash deal so the bank will move quickly. A little background on Freddie Mac properties: if we, the buyers, delay the closing past the closing date that was set, we are fined $100 per day. The sellers (bank) have no such stipulations. Also the property is totally 'as is' with no survey. If the 20 acres actually turns out to be 5 acres, that is what you get. Our realtor says that is an exaggeration of what the pit-falls can be and I joked that with no survey the property could actually be 5 miles down the road, she laughed and said technically yes, but that could never happen.

To be continued...

Today's questions:
1. Have we closed on the property, yet? No.

2. Do we know what the hold up is? Yes. I will save that story for my next post.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog and think that is an excellent adventure! I am so happy for you both and know you will be successful! How wonderful for you tow and what a great time the kids and grandkid(s) will have with you. Thoughts and prayers for you!