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Land Cost in BC: The Primary Barrier To Homesteading

Jack Brixton


Joined: Sep 15, 2010
Posts: 3
(This is my first post here, so please forgive me if I break some unspoken rules! I apologize ahead of time if this comes off as a somewhat of a ramble, it's a conundrum that has nagged at me for some time.)

I’ve been researching the Permaculture, Homesteading, and off-grid movement extensively over the past 3 years, as it seems to present the most idyllic form of semi-retirement possible. One builds their own house for below-market costs, one grows their own food and sells the surplus to make a profit, all very well and good!

The issue is, for someone who is 20 years old in an economy which is doing its utmost to make it clear that my generation will never reap the rewards that the previous few have, the idea of finding a nice parcel of land to settle down on before you are 60 is quite unrealistic.

The primary issue is that here in BC and the PNW in general, land is exorbitantly expensive. This isn’t the 1970’s anymore, there is no longer a homesteading act to allow you to improve and claim crown land. Additionally, the days of buying an island in the Straight of Georgia / San Juan's for $7K and a whistle are long over.

Why is this? Well, to be honest I’m not sure. If I look south of the border, I can find parcels of up to 200 acres of nice farmland with a mix of forest for about $180K (http://washington.acreage.com/17877.htm) . Expensive, but not radically so when you consider that there are no parcels available between 20 and 100 acres anywhere in the habitable regions of British Columbia. I’ve spent 3 years stalking the MLS and Landquest Realty, I should know. Once you broach the 100 acre mark you are looking at well over $700K, more realistically above $1M. Exceedingly unrealistic for 1 or 2 families to ever purchase.

The situation arises, I believe, in direct relation to something I mentioned earlier: The termination of BC’s “Homesteading Act” (Not the official name), in the 1970’s. As a result of this, the vast (>85) majority of the province is tied up in crown land that is leased off as lumber licenses. Now, this tactic may have made sense 20 years ago before the complete collapse of the lumber industry in this province, but does it really hold water today when the few mills left are struggling to stay afloat?  Of course, the past decades worth of subdividing out the Islands and coastal real estate into grossly expensive vacation retreats has not helped things ($1.1M for 5 acres in the Cowichan, Gambier Island, or Texada, what).

To stop digressing, the core of the situation boils down to there simply not being enough land to go around in the parts of BC that get more than 4 months of sun a year, and the land that IS around being subdivided into smaller and highly expensive vacation retreats. As a result, I doubt I’ll be able to ever afford to buy 10 or 20 acres in this province (Averaging $300-440K when they appear on market). Sure, you could go to Lasqueti, but the affordable parcels that have been on the market for the past few years are some of the saddest, rockiest, most un-sustainable places I’ve ever seen.

Thus, what does one do?
- Find 200 people to split 200 acres in a commune because that’s the only way you could possibly afford that much acreage? Might as well just move to a small town if that’s your solution.

- Petition the province to reinstate the Homestead Act and hope you can grab a nice chunk before someone else? Given how often they sell crown land for less than $15M to non-corporations, you might as well engineer a flying pig.

- Move to PNW-US where the land is actually sanely priced in comparison? Dual-citizenship takes decades, and the USA is not looking particularly healthy as a country, to be honest.

For those who prefer to skip to the bottom: Considering BC has a population of 4M people and is nearly 1 Billion Square Kilometers in size, land is far too expensive to be sane.
                


Joined: Feb 09, 2010
Posts: 44
Location: West Coast of Canada
the situation boils down to there simply not being enough land to go around

That about sums it up.  The demand is kept high by all the Albertans buying up retirement property.

I have to confess that I did what many of them do: I paid mortgage payments for years in the city and then cashed out the city house for some land.  Even then, I just barely made it.  There's no quick fix for a young person.  Ya gotta pay your dues.

There are places where chopping up property into little vacation lots isn't allowed.  If you are familiar with Lasqueti, then you know about Islands Trust.  Still, the pressure is there even in the Islands Trust area.
Jack Brixton


Joined: Sep 15, 2010
Posts: 3
KeithBC wrote:
I have to confess that I did what many of them do: I paid mortgage payments for years in the city and then cashed out the city house for some land.  Even then, I just barely made it.  There's no quick fix for a young person.  Ya gotta pay your dues.


Aye, it wouldn't be very fair if there was a quick fix, either. I'm considering the mortgage route, but taking out a mortgage for a good half million is a little bit untenable sadly. Can't even cash out a city house because I'd be paying as much for a house here as the land I want out there!

I suppose the real point of my ramble was this: Radical societal changes, such as a switch to a more sustainable way of living through permaculture and eco-villiages are inherently driven by adopters from the younger generation as they are more open to change.

In this case, however, the cost of entry is so high that only those who inherit land or large sums of money, or professionals in their late 40's can possibly afford to decide to go out and start a permacultural homestead. The values of our society, however, ensure that they are far more likely to simply build a retirement log cabin or vacation mansion on the land instead.

Thus we have a paradigm: Those who can afford to do it are unlikely to do so, and those who are mostly likely to lead to widespread societal adoption are barred by sheer cost and end up resigning themselves to the rat race.

End result: is permaculture as a way of life ever to drastically catch on in the way it desperately needs to in order to ensure our long-term survival? Unlikely on the scale of actual homesteads and eco-villiages, for the reasons already listed. Leaving us with the altogether different beast of urban permaculture as the only viable alternative in both the short and long term...
John Rushton


Joined: Aug 14, 2010
Posts: 35
Location: Norman, OK
You might review this thread: http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/3426_0/intentional-community/land-ownership-and-permaculture
Allison Rooney


Joined: Mar 24, 2010
Posts: 42
Location: Shields Valley Montana
How about spending the next five years working on farms, permaculture farms if possible, but also one or two market farms based on their track record of profitability/professionalism/ethical mission, regardless of whether they practice permaculture principles, as your starting point.  You will learn food production skills, adapt to the physical, mental and emotional demands a life of farming requires, develop the discipline to stick to something so demanding day in and day out for month after month, begin to seek and acquire business management skills such as marketing, managing employees, organizational skills, and the skills required to profitably handle money, among others...building, mechanical work, irrigation work, etc.  By the third or fourth year, if you are committed, disciplined, and professional, you should have worked your way into assistant manager or manager positions on these sorts of enterprises.  By the fourth year, you are writing your own business plan.  You will have identified the machinery and infrastructure your desired project requires and know its costs. Throughout the duration of your "apprenticeship" you are striving to save every bit of money you can.  Once you have grown yourself into a professional "farmer/permaculturist" with a resume (wierd concept, I know) perhaps you may have the background and skill sets to contact a sympathetic BC landholder and propose a long term lease with option to buy?  You may have the money to buy equipment to get started.  From the beginning, you could start your relationship with said landowner by laying down that you are interested in permanent land ownership based upon your skills, and your business plan, and your future goals.  I would start to advertise for this lease with option to buy prospect by being very straightforward in any place you post your ad looking for land, that your primary goal is finding a small piece of land with an option to buy.  There are landowners and farmers out there who understand the difficulty young people face in setting down roots on an owned piece of land.  I wrote letters to farmers years ago, asking if they'd sell 10 acres to me for $50,000.  This was when land prices where I live were escalating quickly past the $75,000 per acre mark, and often much higher.  I got positive responses, only the two farmers I speak of had literally just weeks prior to my contact, signed over their land to developers.  I turned my sights toward the affordable land...incredibly marginal for agriculture, very remote, 35 miles from the town I lived in for ten+ years...I've learned there are benefits to this.  I also know some farming friends who found a sympathetic landowner who sold them seven acres at 1980s prices right outside the expensive town I used to live in...but they had been market farming for five years on leased land, and had the skills, track record, drive and committment to make this transaction work for the farmer...he knew he was working with mature, solid, professional people.  This land could have sold for at least $300,000.  He had no children interested in farming, and wanted to see at least some of his land stay in food production, knowing that when he passed on, his kids would likely sell the farm for the money.  I'm sure there are similar situations in BC.


Farmer at Cloud Nine Farm, located at 5300' elevation, on Sagebrush Steppe, northeast of Bridger Mountains in the Shields Valley of Montana. We do market gardens, four season growing, build earthworks, plant food forests, raise livestock and poultry, grow and sell plants and seeds, host WWOOFers, and more. Find our farm on facebook!
Mekka Pakanohida


Joined: Aug 16, 2010
Posts: 383
Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
Why do you NEED so much land?  I am doing what I can on 3.3 acres and I am a happy as a clam in a cool water bed.    Maybe re-asses needs over wants.
Jack Brixton


Joined: Sep 15, 2010
Posts: 3
John - Reviewed with interest before starting this thread, but thank you! Some innovative solutions indeed.

Allison - Unfortunately, I support my mother and sister and can't quit my 9-5 as much as this solution is exactly what I had planned to do when I left school =(

Pakanohida - Technically you don't, but in most of Southwestern BC the land prices are as high as 500k for 4 acres. I went with the highest upper bound to demonstrate how hard it would be for an organized group to find land to purchase at an affordable rate for everyone, in addition to how hard it is for an individual or family to do so.
                        


Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508
Perhaps the primary barrier is that you want to be where everyone else wants to be. There is clearly habitable land elsewhere in BC than in the southwest corner, although the climate is not nearly so generous and the markets not so easilly accessible  in other areas.

I would guess that land being cheaper in the States right now maybe reflects the relative economy? There are other things as well..such as rate of exchange and the health care costs in the States.

There is also still relatively cheap land in Saskatchewan left, especially if you are willling to be more than an hour or so away from what we call cities here. To  get land in southwestern BC, southern Ontario or along the St. Lawrence or even in much of the Maritimes is unlikely to be a reasonable (cheap) proposition ever again because everyone wants to be there. Even Alberta has gone crazy with houses that sold for $60, 000 7 or 8 years ago now going for several hundred thousand. (And all real estate ads include the words 'ONLY!!" who ARE these people?!) Many people in Sask  are trying to ride the coattails of the real estate in Alberta but there is sometimes a large gap between what is asked and what is eventually accepted.

If BC didnt have those forestry and 10 acre lot min  restrictions in many places the whole southwest would look like downtown New York in a few years.It's a shame what has happened to  the delta areas around Van ..my sister in law's family had a dairy farm with WONDERFUL  deep soil in Richmond and all of Richmond seems now to be either subdivisions or industy.Even with the restrictions, Van. Island (where I grew up and my brothers still farm) seems to be largely a series of strip malls now. My brother  lopped off 10 acres for his son/family  and it was horrendously expensive.

IF you are determined on BC, perhaps look around Burns Lake west or St. Johns north and west. The further north you go the more likely you are to find the sort of acreage you are looking for which is possibly still financially accessible.

Aside from the climate, much of southern BC is tough proposition as far as farming goes; lots of rock and very thin soil. The areas suitable for farming (and some that aren't)have mostly long gone either for that or for subdivisions simply because so many people want to live there. Much of the forested areas controlled by the forestry companies would be a difficult and extremely expensive  proposition to put into any agricultural endeavor. Clearing land and building soil is not an overnight job, and in any case, the land is likely best used for forest. Timber and pulp are only one aspect of the value of forest, possibly the least important in terms of long term inportance to the health of the planet.
                          


Joined: Apr 15, 2010
Posts: 13
What about the urban homesteader route?  Maybe there is some blighted corner of BC you can bring back?  Probably not.  The US has lots of places where the land is cheap, but the security situation is grim. 

We could use more people like you here in Maine, for example. 

                            


Joined: Apr 21, 2010
Posts: 32
Location: Vancouver Island, BC
Hi Jarerex,
I'm on Vancouver Island and I feel your pain.  But I've given these issues a lot of thought and come to some conclusions.  Here are a few:  cheap land in Canada (and the US) and the Homestead Act existed originally because of colonialism.  Treaties were made (or not as in the case of BC) that gave Europeans essentially free land, as colonial governments wanted white people on those lands instead of Natives.  That's why they gave it away for "improvements".  We are not entitled to cheap land; land is precious and the price should reflect its value (I'm not saying that's why land IS expensive, necessarily, of course! ).  By world standards, colonized countries like Canada, Australia, and NZ have way cheaper land than other developed places.  Hence all the foreign investment even in our most expensive cities like Vancouver.

Land is cheaper where it is less desirable for the majority.  Previous commenters are right, there is LOTS of cheap land in Canada.  I've often realized that if all I wanted was to live the self-sufficiency dream, I could, I'd just have to move.  GREAT locations include the Prairies and the East Coast.

Even within BC land prices vary a lot.  There are much cheaper properties in the Kootenays (Slocan Valley), the interior north of the Okanagan (esp around 100 Mile and Quesnel--great lake environments and just a few hours from Vancouver), Northern Vancouver Island and boat access only islands not far from them, and especially the North.  Smithers is a great community and PG has lots to offer, and the prices in between are MUCH less expensive.

So, as others have said, there are trade-offs and you have to choose your priorities.  Be careful about how you frame those, though.  In other threads, you'll find discussions about the pros and cons of living on big acreages in rural areas vs smaller properties closer to population centres.  Personally, we sold a condo in Victoria and bought a half-acre and a house little ways up the island (still commuting distance) for about the same money.  Ideal for me would be 5 acres around here or on the Gulf Islands.  If I wanted 100 acres, I'd be headed to the East Coast.

I think all of us have to work through these questions for ourselves when we live in expensive communities.  We have to weigh the importance of being in communities where we share values, being close to our families, land cost, taxes, and income opportunities, culture and politics, etc etc.  But land size, I am learning, is not in and of itself a determiner of success or ability--you'll find lots of examples of amazing ways to use small pieces of land and the challenges of large ones. 

[if I'm allowed to plug my blog, I've got more detailed posts of how I've worked through some of this, as well as a deeper exploration of the history of land ownership in Canada.  Yes, I am a geek!    Check my profile and the "Self Sufficiency" category on the blog]
Cory Arsenault


Joined: Mar 03, 2011
Posts: 55
Location: Ottawa, Canada
    
  10
I'm late to the show but I'd suggest checking this website:

http://www.dignam.com/category/western-provinces/

Right now there's 10 acres for $36k.

Even less expensive and smaller properties available.

I'd also try asking farmers in the area you're interested in to try to find a private sale.
T. Joy


Joined: Feb 03, 2011
Posts: 438
Whoa, Cory, where did you find that?

I'd love to move back to BC and I could actually afford some of the least expensive bits of land. I could never deal with it on my own though, I have 2 little kids and have worked in retail and restaurants all my life. The land tax alone would kill me, never mind building or planting anything. We'd freeze and starve in no time. I need a community of people to buy into. Or a dozen friends who want to start something up with me  .
Cory Arsenault


Joined: Mar 03, 2011
Posts: 55
Location: Ottawa, Canada
    
  10
I found it in the Survival Podcast forums where they were discussing land costs in Canada.

It's pretty interesting eh?  I'd love to buy some of those properties but my wife doesn't want to move out of this area.
T. Joy


Joined: Feb 03, 2011
Posts: 438
Where are you? We're in Southern Ontario right now because family is here but I don't love this area. So much conventional farming, it blows everywhere so there is just no way to do organic. And the air quality is meh.
I took a look at their listings here, so much on Manitoulin! Oh man...
Cory Arsenault


Joined: Mar 03, 2011
Posts: 55
Location: Ottawa, Canada
    
  10
Ya, a lot there which surprised me.

I'm 30 minutes outside of Ottawa and that website doesn't have much for this area.  MLS around here does a pretty good job when it comes to vacant land though.

There's a pretty good green network around here with probably a dozen or so organic farms within an hours drive.  There's a CSA farm (not 100% organic) not far from me that I'm going to sign up with in the spring.

Doesn't seem to be much of a permaculture presence though, however, this week my professor started describing in his words "sustainable agricultural practices that mimic the forest systems" but he didn't come out and say PC though.  I've been meaning to ask him if he was referring to PC.  (I'm an adult student trying to finish an Enviro Studies degree)
T. Joy


Joined: Feb 03, 2011
Posts: 438
Very cool. I looked into WWOOFing with the kids there, lots of kid friendly places. Darn cold though, Oh my gosh! BRRR!
                                        


Joined: Mar 04, 2011
Posts: 5
Another BC resident here, and first time poster, long time lurker.

"Cheap" land is still available here and there. Currently on MLS just under 20acres near Quesnel for $100k with a house. Not too long ago 10 acres near 100 Mile House for $60k incl stripped down house which was used as a grow up.
On the other hand, 1/3 acre of bare land downtown Vancouver for $3million  , same price for a 32 acre 6y/o blue berry farm in Ladner  .
Urban/small plot homesteading is a pretty risky bussiness over here. I live in the basement suit on that blue berry farm mentioned above, 3 months after we moved in they started building the South Fraser Perimeter Highway right next to us.  Obvious when buying you'll do a bit more due diligence. Non the less, the new Port Mann bridge took quit a few front/back yards. My parents in law live in Mill Bay, getting close to having it all payed off and since last year a new subdivision a bit uphill from them causes some serious changes in the ecological system in their garden, not too mention increased traffic, noise etc etc. Not even mentioning the uptight neighbours with their fancy lawn could just throw the tiddy lawn bylaws in your face.
To sum it up, the more land, the more secluded the better imo.

Buying bare land may seem like a cheaper option, just untill one realizes that building a house in BC costs around $150-200 per sq.f. Underground, strawbale, cob, etc etc forget about it, or at least it's gonna take some real effort to convince the average building inspector.

I would and am seriously considering moving somewhere else. Like mentioned the east coast is an option, alhough half of it seems to be flood area. 
I personally am more leaning towards the states, MO seems decent, average $1500 an acre, no building codes. Though, I do have to agree that the US doesn't look like a particularly healthy country to move to. But i do have the advantage that my wife is dual citizen which makes things a lot more easy. But with you being 20, time is on your side. Even if it takes 10yrs to be allowed into the States you'll be only 30.

To rap it up, in the end I feel that the more a place costs the less sustainable it is. For every dollar you save to put into buying land you'll have to make at least $5.

On thing I would like add, since you're supporting your mom and sis, assuming they are able to work and are in line with your mindset on this. You might wanna consider leasing an acre or 2 of farmland to start out and try to make a profitable market garden or something. From what I've seen lease/rent goes for about a grand per acre per year. 

BTW
KeithBC wrote:
That about sums it up.  The demand is kept high by all the Albertans buying up retirement property.

That's funny, on the mainland peeps like to blame the Asians for that.
Len Ovens


Joined: Aug 26, 2010
Posts: 1286
Location: Vancouver Island
    
  15
Pauluminous wrote:

BTWThat's funny, on the mainland peeps like to blame the Asians for that.


On the mainland it is true. I worked 22 years at Canada Post in Vancouver as one of the token white guys. A lot of rich factory owners move their families there so they won't get shot or kidnapped... this from one of those people who still runs his business by remote and frequent trips. Makes you wonder how he treats his employees... Now I'm on Vancouver Island going "wow look at all the white people".... and the Alberta plates
                          


Joined: Feb 03, 2011
Posts: 32
You need good judgement using Dignam Land. Most of the lots are miserable, yet have a nice pic in some far corner to lure you in. And it's really difficult to view- they seem to expect you to buy sight unseen.

Cheap land in BC can be found anywhere with a depressed economy- yes as suggested try 100 mile and PG regions. Thing is, if there are no jobs local then your land is worthless- good, AND bad.
I've heard excellent things about Haida Gwaii.
                            


Joined: Mar 05, 2011
Posts: 2
I have been researching the same for the last 5 years. We came to BC at the wrong time. The last decade has seen a ridiculous increase in land/property prices in BC. Exception is Northern BC, sort of anything around Prince George to Prince Rupert. Cold, gray, logged land far from anything.

So, what's the bottom line for us? We are packing up and moving to the East Coast in a month.
BC is beautiful but-hopeless.
Wayne Linehan


Joined: Feb 17, 2014
Posts: 1
Jack Brixton,
I just read your frustrating struggle in trying to Buy Land. I went through this several years ago and through much research, work, and persistence it paid off. I have 3 Quarter Sections (160acre each), in the Prince George and Vanderhoof area. I had many pre-requisites before i bought these lands, like on a logging road, close to a city, close to airport, have Timber, wildlife, farmland, water, etc
Although i have enjoyed all the lands, I will be downsizing to one property. Unfortunately, my Son and GrandKids do not have the passion i have for the Lands.
If you or someone interested in Homesteading, Wildlife, or Outdoor folks, then send an email to
linnyvirgo@gmail.com

Ask for Linny.
 
 
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