It was almost 5 years ago that we purchased our land in Leelanau County, Michigan. I realized we haven’t really told a concise story on how it came about, the things we looked for, and the things we learned through the process. Some things have changed since we purchased but we learned a ton through the process. I also receive quite a few questions every month about our experience and things I suggest to people. So I am going to give all the details for you here in this post today.
To present the picture of our land. We purchased 10 acres in 2016 and then in 2020 added in another 5 acres that is adjacent to our property, which is quite common to do in Leelanau and other parts of rural areas. So we now own 15 acres total with each of our neighbors owning between 10-25 acres themselves.
First of all, when we were looking it was in 2016 sort on a whim. This was before there was a mad rush to purchase land or real estate in general. It was just normal crazy up here and there was quite a bit on the market. I just want to preface that. Let’s jump in.
Why We Bought Land in Leelanau?
As I mentioned we sort of bought land on a whim, but only in the sense we were just curiously looking and not sure we were ready to purchase or invest in something just yet. That said, we knew without a doubt we wanted to be in Leelanau County, we just weren’t sure when. When we bought our land we were actually living in Raleigh, NC. We wanted to buy something to hold on to possibly so we one day while staying with friends in TC started looking. I grew up in Northern Michigan and then Mike and I had lived in Leelanau/Traverse City for 6 years after college so we felt very much at home and ready to be back. As our friends said when we moved to North Carolina… “Be honest…you never really left!” We came back every summer for the entire summer and stayed with my parents even after we moved away and we figured maybe what we would do is build a small cabin there and spend our summers up north.
Cue having a baby and me desiring the groundedness of family. This brought a deep desire to find a sense of home for us. You can read more about it all here in this post, but basically, we were ready to leave North Carolina at that point. Our son was 5 months and we felt the need for support very deeply.
The quick of the story, you can hear more in this podcast episode….is that the market in Raleigh was really hot at the time and we had a house in a great transitional neighborhood with a unique thing (a garage). We bought right before the market was topping out and the inventory was low. A huge plus, but we had only lived there just shy of two years. So we planned to hold on to it till we passed that 2-year window where we could avoid capital gains taxes. So we didn’t plan to sell the house at the time. The thing is sometimes we can truly manifest what we want in life I believe and it is because of our land and how it all worked out.
When we started looking for land I saw this one piece and the photos drew me in. It felt right in the photos so when Hayes was sleeping we drove out one day. When we landed there I didn’t want to leave. It felt like home. More about that in the podcast but truly it did. So we called and made an offer using a land mortgage we had been approved for a month or so prior just in case we actually found something.
That week while we bounced back and forth on pricing and legalities I received an email from a local realtor asking us if we would be willing to sell our home in Raleigh because she had someone interested. We asked our realtor there to check in on the legitimacy of it and sure enough, she had a buyer and asked for our ask on the house. We asked something beyond what we would ever expect to get and they accepted a $1,000 under. We didn’t really have any plans of moving as I said…so there we were with a closing set a day after our close date on the house 2 years prior with everything we owned in that house, a piece of land under contract, a 5-month-old baby, 2 dogs, and no idea where we would be living when our house closed the end of September. It was rapid and unexpected, but it also felt right.
That was when we felt it was completely meant to be for us. Thankfully friends offered us their rental property while we started this process and they didn’t give us a timeline for when we needed to be out. Another gift we never saw coming. But that sort of thing is why we wanted to come back to Leelanau. People and friends who do that. That said, that begins our journey of building home which you can read all about in these posts.
The Top Things on Our List When Buying Our Land in Leelanau:
We often get asked what we had on our list when looking for land. We had been dreaming for a while and some of it worked out better than I thought but some of it we were strict about. I suggest to ANYONE looking for land here or anywhere else to have a list of things. These were our’s:
- Privacy: We didn’t want anyone being able to just drive past our home. Since our life is so public on the internet I wanted a safe haven as an introvert I like the quiet and stillness and not feeling seen or observed more than I already am. My career then was even more different than now, but that still stands. So we wanted a long driveway that hid us away into our own world.
- Acreage: We wanted a minimum of 5 acres but more like 10-20. At the time it was about $3k – $5k an acre in Leelanau so it felt doable in our approved land mortgage.
- Flat area for a garden: Even though we didn’t talk a lot of gardening we wanted an area for a garden. I always pictured my life focused on this so I knew it was necessary:
- Internet access: This may seem silly to most people but Leelanau County doesn’t have great internet still. There are literally black holes of cell service and internet service so we knew this was necessary.
- Close to Town, but not too close: We wanted to have the amenities to Traverse City but the rural life of Leelanau. Best of both worlds if you will. We now live roughly 15 minutes to TC and 20 minutes to Sutton’s Bay and 20 minutes to Lake Michigan.
- Rolling hills and various eco-systems: We knew we didn’t want to cut trees when we built (which we didn’t cut any) so we wanted to have a field area and we wanted a mix of woods…this land has it all and even now has a natural spring.
- No previous farming in the last 20 years: Since this is a huge agricultural hub we didn’t want to have commercial farming recently done on the land. Meaning the soil may have toxins from spraying chemicals. Even so our well now is over 500 ft deep and we use an RO water system with a charcoal filter because of the number of chemicals sprayed here for Cherries and other farming.
- Option for chickens: Some areas do not allow them and though we compromised to not have any livestock such as horses, cows, goats, etc.
- Bonuses were a carved road and electric: This land had them both but they were just bonuses to us.
Why We Chose This Land:
There is a deeply personal reason why we chose this land which you can hear in the podcast, but on a practical level, we both fell in love in a moment with the land. When we stood on the hill we knew our home would always be filled with light and the sunsets would always be good. It was incredible, but the land hit every single thing on the list. The area we were considering building was covered in invasive plants so we felt the ecosystem would actually thrive because of our existence once we were established and not be harmed by it.
More than anything the land felt like home and I think when you buy something you have to be aware of how that feeling feels. Whether it is a house or land.
What Did We Learn Along the Way:
We had bought some land previously in Raleigh with a friend but we had never bought land prior to this on our own. So this was huge for us, but it was significantly easier than buying a house was. These were a few things we either did or learned through the process though:
- Have a Contractor or Expert: We were lucky enough to have my dad who is a licensed contractor come and help us navigate the whole thing and how we should think about the land from a home position and everything. We ended up hiring a builder (Shugart Builders) within 6 months of buying the land and securing our construction loan. More about that here. If you can have this person with you before you close on the land even better. They can help offset challenges you may face down the road when building.
- Positioning is everything: We wanted our house to have light year around. We know how long and dark the winters here and we know how much of a difference light makes. Having our house on the hill and knowing that made this land even better. Walking through our neighbor’s home who is also on a hill and had the same idea reassured us it was the right move. Knowing how you want to feel in your home will help you choose the type of land that is right for you.
- Driveways are expensive….ROADS are expensive: We are utterly thankful for the previous owners who had cut a 2-track up to the exact spot we planned to build. It saved us a lot of money. Everything just needed the finishing touches. But also living out here on a gravel road is hard work too. Paving it is out of our budget right now (yes we got a tractor, but paving our near 1/4 mile driveway would be more than the tractor). Understanding this is necessary when building.
- You are entering an existing ecosystem: The land we reside on was shared hunting grounds of the Odawa and Chippewa people. This means this was a fertile and life-giving ground that was focused on peace, connection, sharing, and gratitude. This also means that by buying this land we chose a responsibility to honor how this land was used and to live in awareness and action of this. We became highly aware quickly that we entered the land and we are but co-existing and hold no ownership over this only the responsibility for care. For instance, the roaches took up residents in our basement (yes you read that). And many other things have happened along the way.
- Living a rural life brings gifts and challenges: Living here means so much beauty but for those used to trash service, recycling service, food delivery, and more…those aren’t realities here. We are in charge of all these things ourselves.
- Taxes: I tell everyone that is looking for land to ask about all taxes. Leelanau has them, your township has them, your city has them…know them well so you are not surprised by them.
- Propane Tanks: Rural life if you use any natural gas or propane involves a tank that needs to be accessible. We used this for cooking more than anything, but it is still a necessity.
Would We Have Done Anything Differently?
After a lot of thinking and living here…absolutely not. We love this land. We love that it is our opportunity to do good in the world and heal the Earth. We love it beyond anything and feel so much gratitude to have it. The things I would change are about building more than anything, but most of those decisions came down to money. A post for another day, but more than anything know that location matters, what you want to do there matters, and that the thing you are buying is a living and breathing organism that affects the greater world. The more land you own the more responsibility to do good by it.
If You would like my top home building tips you can read them here. I cover some of the things I would have done differently.
Hear more of the story on our podcast episode as well. Or you can read this post where I shared even more about the process of buying our land.