California North Coast benefits from go-rural land purchase boom
With more than 18 months to rethink life and work styles, aided by modern online technology, many Northern California residents are considering a strategic move within or out of state — some to Oregon and Washington and others as far away as Idaho, Montana, Texas and Arkansas.
These migrations to wider open spaces, some affecting the North Bay where San Francisco residents, mainly in the tech industry, are choosing to relocate to the Marin, Napa, Solano, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties.
Those itching to move include wildfire victims looking for safer areas to buy or build and those who have left the state, seeking a lower cost of living, a better job or just a different lifestyle.
Longtime Windsor residents Joe Gossett, his wife and their three children recently purchased three acres with a home in rural Arkansas. Gossett grew up on his parents’ farm on Eastside Road near Healdsburg and joined the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. He later served as a Superior Court bailiff before retiring.
“We flew to Arkansas and stayed for a month, checking out available property and knew we could rent our present home quickly to make the move,” he said. “We’ve always wanted more land and this initial move is part of our 5-year plan that will include more acreage in the future.”
The Gossetts’ packed their belongings in a large trailer and left California in October.
Their goals also include becoming more self-sustaining by growing organic vegetables, raising livestock and enjoying the ability to have lush, green pastures and their new fishing hole in an area with a year-around water supply — and fewer government and regulatory restrictions.
Family members told the Journal they especially appreciate the fact that the Arkansas public school system allows medical exemptions from vaccine mandates. One of their teenagers is planning to enroll in the University of Arkansas and their daughter has friends in the area making the transition easier.
For the Gossetts’ three young people, having broadband access to social media and cell coverage is high on their wish list and a game-changer when it comes to staying in touch with friends in California.
Rural land sales more than double
In early September, the National Land Realty survey found a 155% increase in land sales during the first half of this year across the U.S. Through June, $678.2 million worth of land sold, compared with $265.4 million in the same period the year before.
This survey included input from more than 348 field agents in 40 states, including California.
“The largest sales increases occurred throughout the southern states and in the Pine Belt from Texas to Virginia where there is a lot of vacant land,” said Jason Walter, CEO of the Greenville, South Carolina-based real estate brokerage. He said there are other areas in the central and western states with high sales results, but not nearly as many in New England. Nationwide, the average price per rural acre is between $2,000 and $5,000.”
According to Walter, 97% of the U.S. is rural, housing 19.3% of the population. Elsewhere, some 80% of the people live on 3% of the land. He noted that the usual definition of “rural” describes land with 500 or fewer people per square mile. It can also be defined as unincorporated land versus property within incorporated municipalities.
He believes lifestyle change is the motive behind many of these moves. Other incentives include a desire to hunt, fish, boat, hike and camp in a place ideal for recreational use as well as for practicing conservation and growing vegetables. Some want enough land to have horses or to rent campsites, raise timber, as well as having plenty of space to entertain family and friends.
Walter said, “With more people retiring early, this transitional group wants to keep busy in their active years. However, most are new to rural living and are not familiar with different conditions, such as the prospect of ground perk tests, having to use bottled natural gas instead of relying on underground utilities, coping with septic systems and wells, controlling pond algae and finding resources for fencing, etc.”
Several organizations, including National Land Realty, offer support, advice and a host of related educational materials for those thinking about moving off, or nearly off, the grid.
Buyers seek turnkey homes with acreage
Nicholas Cadigan is a senior appraiser with American Ag Credit in Santa Rosa. He was the North Coast co-chair of the team researching and writing the 2021 California/Nevada Trends in Agricultural Land and Lease Values annual report.