In the spring of 2005, our family had grown tired of cramped apartment living. The wide-open spaces beyond the city limits seemed strangely inviting, despite the harsh desert conditions. A nice, sprawling ranch-style home somewhere out there would be perfect, but totally out of the question financially. In 2005, real estate prices were increasing with no end in sight. Indeed, home prices were already outrageous, and it seemed like we would never escape from our apartment “prison.”
So on weekends, we could have found driving through our California desert valley, looking for just the right spot to build upon, with no idea how we would ever find funds for the acreage, let alone a house. My credit was not in great shape either. I was making a decent living as a truck driver, but a layoff from my engineering career three years earlier had left my credit in shambles.
Then I discovered the raw land listings on eBay: this represented a breakthrough, of sorts. I learned that many properties could be purchased on a “land contract,” thereby avoiding conventional bank financing. That was all I needed to know; a financial solution was at hand!
Soon we found three adjent 2-1 / 2 acre parcels to our liking. We were able to contact the seller directly, and make a deal: we put $ 2,000 down on the property, with a balance of $ 41,000 to be funded over 10-1 / 2 years at $ 455 per month. We finally had our “patch of desert”; on the 1st of June, 2005, we took possession of our 7-1 / 2 acre plot!
Of course, we were not quite ready to move out of the apartment yet. Yes, we now had our land, but no water, no sewer, no gas and no electricity. We did not even have a picnic table on the property yet, much less a house! Undaunted, we began making plans.
It would be autumn, 2008 before we could put together an actionable plan. That was when a neighbor told me about a nearby mobile home for sale. The owner was willing to make a deal. For a mere $ 2500, he would sell the home to anyone who would tow it away. Preparing the home for the move would require some hard work, but it still seemed like a good deal. We paid him the money. The home was finally ready to move about a month later, and it was towed to our property.
The mobile home had an addition which would require reassembly. With winter approaching, we had to hurry to close up all the openings in order to keep the rain out. As a matter of fact, we even had a heavy snowfall that winter, which slowed our progress somewhat. We had much to do before we would be able to occupy the home, not the least of which was to put water, septic, propane and electrical systems in place.
Still short on funds, I bought myself a shovel (two actually) and began drilling a hole for the septic tank and a trench for the rest of the system. The 60 foot trench was 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep. Digging that trench by hand was a tremendous amount of work, but satisfying, once the tank, and all that perforated pipe plus gravel was finally in the ground. Once the septic project was complete, we still had a huge mound of dirt in the backyard, though!
Initially, we would be hauling water from a well which was five miles away, owned by the local water association. I was able to purchase a large water tank from one of our neighbors for $ 300. We hauled it over to the property, and set it in a gravel base up on that big mound of dirt from the septic project. I thought this would be the best location for the tank: the water pump would get a break, helped by the effect of gravity.
Next a couple smaller trenches were dug, so that the water, propane and electric lines could be installed and buried. A local propane company installed a 250 gallon propane tank for us, to supply our stove, furnace and water heater. Initially, an enclosed gasoline powered generator would supply electricity. Long term, the plan is to stay off the grid; the site is favorable for both solar and wind power. Finally, to provide a little more storage space, we rounded-off our pioneering project with a 12 'x 14' steel storage shed.
In November, 2009, nearly a year after the mobile home was moved to the property, we were finally able to live in it! A total of 4-1 / 2 years had passed from the time we bought the property, but the greatest part is that our final $ 455 payment is to be paid in December, 2015. We will then own our home on that 7-1 / 2 acre “patch of desert,” free and clear!