As more Americans embrace sustainability and self-reliance, living off the grid has grown in popularity. There's a lot to consider before setting up your homestead, though, including how to find available off-grid properties. Here's what you need to know to find the best home for your needs.
Updated July 22nd, 2019
Americans are accustomed to a level of consumerism that would have been unimaginable to our grandparents and great-grandparents. With mass production and the ability to buy anything — groceries included — at the touch of a button, the concepts of growing and repairing have been replaced with convenience and disposability over the past few generations.
But a growing number of people are finding this throwaway culture unfulfilling and destructive, both to the environment and their sense of self-reliability. In response, movements like Right to Repair, tiny houses, and off-grid living are gaining in popularity.
From hardcore environmentalism to doomsday prepping, there are many reasons to choose the off-grid lifestyle. Ultimately, though, it's about sustainability, good old-fashioned ingenuity, and a lot of hard work.
Because of their nature, finding off-grid homes can be a little tricky. Here, we'll summarize off-grid real estate options. Legal considerations surrounding these properties vary between states and counties, so enlist an experienced, local real estate agent to guide you in your search.
What is off-grid real estate?
At its core, off-grid living is autonomous, self-sustainable, and independent from public utilities. This means the property owner is reliant on their own power, water supply, and sewage systems rather than hooking up to municipal systems — thus living “off the grid.”
These homesteads are typically located on multiple acres in rural or remote areas. Their utility needs and methods usually depend on their surrounding climate and environmental conditions. Common power options include solar, wind, and hydroelectric, with water provided from wells, cisterns, or rainwater collection, and sewage managed via a septic system, outhouse, or composting (your new word for the day: humanure).
What are the challenges of buying off-grid homes?
If you think you can pack up and stake a claim on federal land, you're about 43 years too late. The U.S. government discontinued its practice of offering federal land for private ownership in 1976 (1986 in Alaska). As with any home in the ‘burbs, you must find your off-grid property yourself. We'll touch on how to do this in the next section.
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While off-grid living isn't technically illegal, regulations surrounding the infrastructure of an autonomous property can throw a wrench into the works of setting up your homestead. Laws and ordinances vary among states, counties, and municipalities, and are generally stricter in urban/suburban areas and more permissive in rural ones. It's absolutely critical to research the codes and ordinances of the location you wish to build in advance. The Municode website provides a good starting resource.
Common legal considerations include:
- Minimum square footage requirements for primary residences
- Sanitation standards/proper disposal of raw sewage
- Agricultural zoning ordinances for property owners looking to grow their own crops or raise livestock
Those looking to live off the land should be prepared to fork over some extra cash up front. Off-grid living is uncommon enough that your home won't qualify for most traditional mortgages. One option is an in-house loan from your bank, which has to take a chance on you as a special risk case because of what's viewed as a low-resale, niche property. Seller financing — that is, bypassing lending institutions and working out a financial agreement directly with the home seller — may be your best bet.
How do you find off-grid homes for sale?
Yes, with a tailored search, it's possible to find off-grid properties and land on this real estate marketplace juggernaut.
Use the following parameters in Zillow's advanced search feature:
- Remove apartments, condos, and townhomes from the home type
- Ensure your lot size is greater than 10 acres to weed out suburban properties
- Click “more filters” and type in the keyword “grid”
If you use these filters on your search, it's likely that you will find your perfect off-grid property in no time. Off-grid homesteads come in a variety of sizes and locations, so if you're restricted within a specific budget, Zillow has a filter for that option.
Off-Grid Real Estate Websites
United Country Real Estate only features sustainable, off-grid properties. It has listings all over the United States, so whether you are looking to buy local, or relocate completely to start your off-grid adventure, it's likely you'll find what you need here.
Survival Realty is a website that has listings specifically for people who identify as either preppers or survivalists, or both, so many of the available properties will be of the compound variety. Even if your tastes are on the less… extreme end of the spectrum, websites like Survival Realty still can give you a pretty good idea of what's out there.
Social Media Listings and For Sale by Owner
“Off-grid” doesn't have to equal “hermit.” The homesteading and sustainable living community is close-knit, eager to promote their lifestyle, and keen to provide information to people interested in joining in. A Facebook search for “off-grid homes” reveals several groups and pages of land and homes for sale by owner or listed by agents.
Without the aid of marketing from a real estate agent, locating FSBO off-grid properties can be especially difficult — at best, they'll be listed on social media or in the local newspaper, at worst, on a sign by the side of the road. The good news is, you'll have less competition from other buyers over FSBO off-grid properties than you would with a “typical” house.
Experienced, Local Real Estate Agents
Even if you're ready to make it on your own, partner with a local, trusted real estate agent to get you started on your off-grid journey. The market is tricky, and you'll want to have an advocate on your side when you find the perfect homestead.
Clever Partner Agents work with major brands like Century 21 and RE/MAX and have all been identified as top agents in their field. Besides helping you uncover additional cost-savings opportunities, Partner Agents also offer on-demand showings — sometimes in less than an hour.
Top FAQs About Off-Grid Homes
1. How much does it cost to build a house off the grid?
Building costs will vary depending on your location and needs. But, factoring in the cost of land, your home building, energy source, and water/septic systems, an off-grid property can easily cost $150,000. Add in extra land for crops and outbuildings for livestock and garden equipment, and you could be looking at over $300,000.
2. What states allow you to live off the grid?
While off-grid living is legal in all 50 states, laws and ordinances that affect your property's infrastructure, including the size of your home, utility structures, sanitation, and agriculture, vary greatly between states and cities. Do thorough research on the codes of the location where you plan to build.
3. What are the best states to homestead in?
Climate, availability of natural resources, population density, and off-grid friendly laws are all factors in determining the best locations for homesteading. States known for possessing many of these qualities include Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, and Tennessee.
4. Do you still have to pay taxes when you live off the grid?
You know what they say about death and taxes. People living off-grid are still subject to sales tax, income tax, and any property tax laws of their location. Consult your local tax codes or with a legal professional to determine what applies to your situation.
5. How much does it cost to go off grid with solar?
Solar power costs depend on the size of your property and your daily energy needs. The average cost of a solar panel configuration can range between $7,500 and $50,000.