March 7, 2023

Choosing Homestead Property Features

Quaint cottage in the mountains

When choosing homestead property features, one of the key qualifications is how you plan to use the property.

How will the property be used?

Obviously, if you are looking to become a hermit, seclusion from prying eyes may be a priority for you. A densely wooded property down a modestly maintained dirt road may be in order. However, if you plan on grazing animals, you will need a pasture. That means clearing trees and potentially amending the soil.

So it is wise to plan for this need in advance. Otherwise, you might find yourself spending a lot of time preparing land for feed plots.

Out here in Texas, the landscape varies from county to county. In West Texas, you will find sand, agave, and yuccas predominant. So you won’t see many cattle. As you go east, rock outcroppings and the cactus that seems to thrive in this environment (especially Prickly Pear) are the order, along with Mesquite and Juniper (known around here as “cedar trees”). The further east you go, the sandier then clay-like you will find the soil. And so too, the treescape will change.

Topographic map of the author
Topographic map of the Author’s ranchette. The tank at the top of the photo was created in a shallow valley descending into the adjacent property.
Soil map of the author
Soil map showing the change in soil types by elevation. Note how the Juniper cover roughly outlines the Eckrant cobbly clay. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Soil type chart.
I’m not a soil engineer so I couldn’t explain the differences. However, I will tell you that the section of FaB Fairlie clay has captured in the mud my ATV multiple times!


My wife and I are partial to views. So hilly areas seem to have an allure for us. However, that view may come with a price. We have found that many view-worthy properties do not have adequate pastures for cows. Also, while the hilltop may be breathtaking, the weather may be an issue. Lightning strikes and high winds are not uncommon.

Just as important, that view may change. The ranch next door may be subdivided, morphing that view into a birds eye vision of other people’s “little slice of heaven.” So unless you are remarkably well-heeled and can afford to purchase a large enough ranch to control that view, you may be taking chances.


In west and central Texas, water is king. Live water ranches easily run 50-100% premiums. It makes sense. A river or lakefront property is aesthetically in demand and commands a recreational value. Poor men like myself often rely upon man-made water features, colloquially referred to as “tanks.” These are damned ravines where the rain runoff can be captured for aesthetics or livestock water.

Photo of a stock tank on a ranch
The author’s tank captures water from the Fairlee Clay

Having a topography on which you can catch runoff may be essential for your homesteading operation. Owning a riverfront or lakefront may be priceless for entertainment and aesthetics. Whichever your choice (or your budget!), you should ensure that your planned purchase suits your present and future needs.

Home Sites

You will want to make sure that the home site you envision is supported by the soil and topography. Many areas here in Texas are subject to severe runoff during storms, and mitigating the adverse effects of runoff can be costly and challenging in construction. Similarly, floodplains need to be accounted for. Having a portion of your property in the floodplain can mitigate property acquisition costs. Just make sure that your planned home site and access roads marry with mother nature’s natural drainage.

Here in Texas, wildfire needs to be taken into consideration. An adequate buffer zone should be around your house so that, should the worst occur, you will at least have a fighting chance at saving your house until help arrives.


Getting power to your new homestead can be pricey. Typical above ground power will cost between $5-10 per linear foot. Expect to add another $1,200 per 500 feet for installation of a utility pole. Underground wiring can easily double or triple that cost. So finding a homestead with existing utilities can be quite a cost savings. Check with the local power company to get an estimate of how far they will need to install infrastructure and if there are any incentives or payment plans to do so.

It is the rare rural property that has municipal water. But they do exist. Of course this water is at the road and will require trenching to get it to the prospective home site. Building a well may be preferable, especially if the water will be used for irrigation.

Local water tables will determine how deep the well must be and what kind of production can be accomplished. Your best resource is a local well driller. They will have the experience to give you an accurate estimate of “how deep and how much (water and $$$).” Water wells in Texas can run from $5,000 to $25,000.


How you will get to your new homestead should be considered. Depending upon your travel needs to get to town, that trek may be trouble free or tiresome.

The best of all situations is a paved county road. However, there may be a tradeoff with a loss of seclusion and vehicular traffic. Other times the road to your property may be a county maintained road base road. Depending upon the use, this may be palatable or a suspension jarring nightmare.

The basics of county roads in Texas can be found here.

The sad fact is that the old adage of “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is especially true when it comes to county maintenance. Depending upon the number of homesteads and their respective political pull, one may find the county maintenance satisfactory or untenable. Having a good working relationship with your county administrators will go a long way.

Check what kind of traffic is prevalent on your prospective access road. If there is a gravel pit or some other heavy equipment traffic of a continuous nature, be prepared for challenging road surfaces. County roads are seldom built to the same standards as urban roads, and may not tolerate dump trucks and filled 18-wheelers in continuous service.

Nice country road with beautiful trees along side to travel to homestead property.
Nirvana: A county maintained, paved, infrequently traveled road.
Typical packed road base county road to travel to homestead property.
The typical packed road base county road.
Poorly maintained paved road with asphalt crumbling to travel to homestead property.
Unmaintained paved road. It only gets worse!

Keep in mind that “county maintained” means different things to different counties. These roads can provide basic, serviceable access on a year round basis. However, some maintenance contracts look like they are serviced by “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Road Maintenance” and will not look much better than if you maintained them with your tractor. I have traveled some road that looked like an old-fashioned washboard and would rattle the fillings out of your teeth.

Private Roads

A word on private roads: My wife and I have looked at many properties serviced by private roads. Most were a disaster. It goes like this: The road is built by the developer but no association is formed for maintenance. Nobody wants to foot the bill for keeping the road serviceable and it falls into disrepair. The longer it is not maintained, the worse it gets. Every rain, every freeze, every cement truck for a new home etc., it gets beat up. Soon you are thinking a four-wheeled drive is necessary to traverse it.

The other scenario is that an association is created, but once that association is turned over to the owners, they stop spending money on the road. Once the association stops enforcing dues for repairs, a special assessment is required due to the large cost involved to rehab the road. That may require a super-majority to approve, which obviously is much harder to secure. At this point all the homeowners are left with crappy infrastructure and no way to pay.

In my opinion, you either have county maintenance or a strong property owner’s association (with teeth) to insure that the infrastructure is maintained. I know, many think property owner’s associations are an infringement on your freedom. Well I disagree. Since the beginning of time people have gathered to self-govern. POAs are nothing different. And who wants to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a homestead, only to have the value slagged because the guy down the street thinks you should pay for all the maintenance yourself? Everybody’s got an opinion…

These are just a few of the additional considerations when choosing a homestead property features. Careful determination of your priorities can save a lot of time while shopping.

See our other post: Choosing a Homestead Property

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