Relocating to Rural America - Tips, Tricks and Trends
There seems to be a trend to leave the cities - to get in touch with one's own self. People seem to start listening to the little voices inside of themselves, their gut feeling or nudges. Word got out, that there are friendly people wherever you go, especially out west and in the country, where they can grow a garden, raise livestock, hunt and fish and where people can be more independent of the things the rest of the world is doing. If someone has a job they can do from home, there are Internet connections available via satellite from even the very remotest spots, and most small towns make it a point to have Internet connections available. People, who work from home and are connected to the rest of the world via the Internet, are referred to as "Lone Eagles" - a new "industry" which small towns like to attract. The Lone Eagles are un-obtrusive, non-polluting and contribute to the local community through their level of education.
I have many clients, who came to buy acreage and then decided to live in a friendly small town with all the services they know from the big cities, but where it is easy to walk downtown and yet they are only a stone throw from the countryside, at a lake or creek for fishing or in the forest to hike and hunt. Small towns and countryside are also a great place to raise children. Here the children are free to walk to school and to enjoy the town. If they do get into trouble, you can be sure the parents will receive a phone call from a neighbor or storeowner within minutes.
Many Lone Eagles will have to fly to their place of business once a month or so, which is easy to do. There are commercial airports just about anywhere within an hour's drive. So if you have an office job, which you could do as well via video conferencing and Internet, you might want to take a look at my websites. "Montana, here I come!" and "Minnesota, here I come!" both will give you information about rural areas and the states in general. These websites will inform you about the economy, geology and history. On both sites you can do searches for available real estate in different areas. This might also come in handy if you are just looking for a second home in order to have fun in the snow, to participate in summer activities, or just to rest and let the fur grow back in for the next battle in the corporate world.
The winters in the north have become much milder over the last 20 years and are actually fun. The cold air is very invigorating, it makes your skin prickle and you have more energy. Snow is very much enjoyed by the people who live there year round, but they also offer great indoor activities. Mall of America in Minneapolis is one example and you have that on a smaller scale in smaller cities, with large indoor swimming pools, performing arts and festivities. The snow fun in Minnesota includes riding snow mobiles on the side of the roads. It just takes one day of training and even 14 year olds are allowed to ride them. In Montana you have 16 downhill ski slopes and about 50 cross country areas with groomed trails. In Minnesota they have dog sled races and ice fishing. It is also a lot of fun to take your snowmobile or truck on the ice on the frozen lakes. The lakes freeze solid much later now and melt weeks earlier then they used to, but you still have about two month of fun with the ice on the lakes.
Montana has millions of acres of National Forest and Minnesota has millions of acres of State Forest. So there are big areas that have fresh air to breathe and are a paradise for hunters. In Montana the mountains catch the rain and send the water down in creeks and underground aquifers, which is used to water the farm ground. Montana is basically high desert for the most part and the rolling hills are suited to accommodate cattle for grazing. Often you will need 40 acres for one mother cow and calf. There are barb wire fences everywhere to contain the livestock. Near the creeks and rivers ranches have water rights, to irrigate some of their acreage. That is where they grow their hay for the winter. Water rights are very important in Montana and they say: Whisky is for drinking and water is for fighting. Of course in winter, all the ranchers are friends again. But if you just want to buy a small parcel of land, you need to do some research to be sure that there is ground water available for a well, otherwise you will have to haul water from a nearby town. Also if you buy real estate, trees and grass are extra and so is an ample supply of water. If you want to buy a large tract of land, you need to look out for weeds, which need to be treated. If you think about depending on water rights, you need to check and make sure the water will be available through all of the growing season and does not get turned off in the middle of summer.
In Minnesota it rains frequently, the ground is fertile and suitable for row crops and gardens without water rights. The cattle you find there are mostly dairy cows, which are kept inside in winter. Most of the lakes and State Forests are in the north. Much of the land is softly rolling with tree lined fields and charming old farm houses and barns. Everywhere are lakes; from small ponds to the one's big enough for water skiing. There is a waterfront home for every budget, depending on the size and location of the lake. Private boat docks are being pulled ashore in winter. During the time when the lakes are open, you can often see a rack with canoes near a boat landing. Those spaces are for rent. As opposed to Montana, Minnesota has hardly any fences. Corn stalks don't wander off.... But if you have a horse, you can make friends with your neighbors and practically ride forever.
Montana was mostly settled by the English, Irish and Germans, while Minnesota attracted Scandinavians and Germans. Montana is called the Treasure State, because it has Gold, Coal, Oil, Methane Gas, Uranium and many other minerals, including the only platinum/palladium mine in the United States. Minnesota on the other hand was always farm country with big grain mills run by hydro-power. Minnesota is also one of the largest producers of lumber and wood products. The lumber industry in Montana has been pretty much shut down by people who are concerned about the environment, even though the elks enjoyed the clearings. Now the forests just do their own thing with wildfires to create clearing for the grazing animals. It just all amounts to the same thing, except if Mother Nature does it, nobody profits. Minnesota on the other hand manages its forests for productivity, regarding lumber and wildlife. Because of all the lakes and sloughs, Minnesota has an amazing variety of birds, including many game birds of course, but also many birds that are just fun to listen to.
When you relocate to Montana you need to watch out for ground water availability and for mining activity. Sometimes you will encounter contaminated ground from a previous chromium mine or similar activities. Even gold dust required some poisonous material to bind it. When you purchase land, in most cases you do not automatically receive the mineral rights. The mineral rights are usually scattered about among different previous owners and the State. Mineral rights supersede surface rights and even though the mineral rights owner has to reimburse you for digging up your land, it might not be what you had in mind when you moved to Montana. Some large ranches on the other hand welcome mineral right owners, since they will build roads to a remote part of the ranch and drill water wells, which will benefit their livestock. Many ranchers would have been forced to give up their herds during the drought if it would not have been for the water wells drilled by the mineral rights owners.
In Minnesota, there are not that many minerals to worry about and all the mineral rights are being held by the state. Also in Montana rock formations are a concern. If your ground is on a piece of granite, to have a septic system will be impossible. Also there are many old subdivisions that were created before the state released subdivision laws, and those often do not have legal access. The mountains create small micro climates and you can have a very windy spot just a mile or two from a very quiet spot. So just to find a piece of property on the Internet and buying it, won't work. You will need a real estate agent who works for you and checks for all of these pitfalls. The western part of Montana often gets gloomy in winter, while the central and eastern parts enjoy more sunshine, but also more wind and dryness. Eastern Montana is wide open; those are the plains that will continue through all of North Dakota. That is where the sky looks so big, because there are no mountains or trees to block the view. The real estate prices are very reasonable in those areas; the expensive real estate is right around the mountains and creeks.
Minnesota and Montana now have strict regulations when it comes to building near rivers, streams or lakes. You want to be sure to get the latest from the local health department. Actually Montana does not have any building codes. You can build whatever wherever, but you need to adhere to health and safety regulations, which includes the proper installation of a septic system and the ability for a fire truck to get water and to turn around. Subdivisions on the other hand have architectural requirements. If all homes in a subdivision are of similar value, it will hold up the value of all the homes. On the other hand a crummy trailer will keep the home prices below replacement cost for quite a distance all around. Do not buy a cheap lot and build the home of your dreams, if the neighborhood does not look similar to the home you want to build, find a different lot. Also you are better off buying a stick built home, it will hold the value much better in the long run if the location is right.
Subdivisions in Montana are often a far cry from what you might think about when you think of subdivisions. Often you have miles of river gravel road, which are very bumpy. You get 20 acres as a lot and often electricity and phone are miles away. Also watch out for rattlesnakes, bears and mountain lion, if you are near the mountains. Wear boots when you walk through the grass. When you see a bear, be sure not to get between a mother and her cubs. Moose attack, hug a tree, because they want to trample on things and they can't trample you if you hug a tree. But those encounters are very rare. In Red Lodge, Montana, the moose wanders along the sidewalks and into yards. Bears frolic along the alleys in fall to fatten up on leftovers for the winter. They are mostly fun to watch as they bumble along and you get used to scooping moos poop out of your yard. You are just part of the wild things here.
In Montana you can encounter county gravel roads that go on for 20 miles before you arrive where you wanted to go. In Minnesota most county roads are paved, so that comes in handy if you would like to drive an economy car. In Montana to own a 4-wheel drive SUV or truck is just about mandatory if you want to live out in the country or climb the mountain passes or foothills in winter.
Dorothea Lowe is the Broker/Owner of Sky Lodge Properties, Inc. She holds real estate license for the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming with two websites containing a wealth of information about these states: http://montanahereicome.com AND http://minnesotahereicome.com She also publishes a monthly newsletter, which is sent out once a month to nearly 8,000 subscribers via email, informing about real estate listings, geology, history, informs about agriculture and specific areas. Dorothea Lowe grew up in Berlin, Germany, and owned/owns homes in Hamburg, Los Angeles, Southern Oregon Coast, Arizona (Flagstaff and Sedona), South Central Montana (Red Lodge) and Minnesota (Detroit Lakes). Of course she also bought and sold various kinds of real estate in these states, specializing in land parcels, farms and ranches, recreational real estate and land development. You can read her biography at http://minnesotahereicome.com/dorothea.htm