We own a camper

So, as I mentioned in my last update about the remote property (my wife and I have decided to start calling it “the estate” so we sound all hoity toity when we’re talking about it…maybe I’ll start doing that here too), we decided we need to get a camper to make staying there while we’re working a bit more comfortable.

I started looking and found a a couple of likely candidates right away, however one really stood out so I went and took a look at it on New Year’s Eve. It was on consignment at an RV dealer north of Richmond so it was about a two hour drive from here, but it was worth it.

It’s a 2005 Fleetwood Mallard 21′

For its age it’s in excellent condition. There are a few minor issues they’re going to fix for me before I pick it up next week.

They’ve already replaced the awning fabric which is ripped in the picture…it’s brand new now.

50 Ga fresh water tank with 40 Ga gray and blackwater tanks. Two propane tanks for a total of 60 Ga. Everything but the A/C, fridge, water heater and microwave can run off the battery and the fridge and water heater will work off either 110v or propane.

It has one small slideout in the back for the sofa.

There are some minor dents and dings and there is one external trim piece that’s missing that I’m not sure a replacement is available for. I’m going to call the maintenance guy who’s working on it tomorrow and talk to him about it, he couldn’t find out on Friday because their parts suppliers were all closed. If all else fails, it will be covered up with the universal redneck cure-all…white duct tape.

The inside is clean although it’s obviously used and has some wear.
Most of the wear is cosmetic. things like curling edges on the wallpaper trim, a scratches and marring of the wood surfaces etc. The functional elements are all in excellent condition.

All the fabric cushions are in great shape, all the drawers open and close smoothly. There is one cabinet latch broken that they’re going to fix. All of the appliances look brand new and work great.

Even without the slideout extended, there’s plenty of room inside…with it extended, it’s downright huge in there.

I really wasn’t looking for one with a slideout, if for no other reason than because it’s just something else to break, but this one is fine because, as I said, even without it extended, there’s still plenty of room, so if it does break…no great loss. The maintenance guy told me (and he struck me as one of those brutally honest guys…he told me at one point “I’m not the salesman…my job is to make sure you’re happy with it when you pull it off the lot” and he pointed out several of the issues that need to be fixed that I hadn’t even noticed) the newer RV slideouts aren’t nearly as well built as the older ones and are often points of failure. He said the type of mechanism in these older RVs is very well made and virtually “bullet proof”; so I’m not nearly as worried about it at this point.

It also included an anti-sway, weight distributing hitch. It only weighs about 5k lbs (4.2K dry – 6.4k Gross) so I’m not sure I’ll need it with my truck, but that’s nice to have anyway.

The asking price was reasonable but at the high end of that, so I got them to call the seller (it was a consignment as I mentioned) and negotiated them down to $900 below the original asking price. I wouldn’t call it a “steal” but it was a fair price for the age and condition of the unit and was within our price range.

I think we did OK.

I don’t have room to park it here in my city house, but the Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) department has an RV storage area on the base that’s open to retirees and is very inexpensive. We’ll keep it there during the time we’re dragging it back and forth. After we get some security arrangements made on The Estate, we may just leave it out there for the duration. We’ll see how things go. It may be better to just keep it here so we have access to it if we ever decide to use it for a vacation elsewhere. We’ve been talking about a trip to the Grand Canyon for quite some time. Maybe next summer (2023). Probably need to make RV park reservations a year in advance for something like that anyway. I’ll check into it.

Anyway…that’s the latest development.

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New Plan

I’m back from my trip to the mountainous wilds.
(click all pix to make bigger).

My plan for this trip didn’t work out exactly as I’d hoped. When I’d been out to the property before, I’d thought I could get my truck all the way up to where the electrical meter and well pump were located, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do so because the “driveway” was blocked in several areas.

I did go out to the electric company and talk to them. She said it would be a good idea to have one of their people come out and look over the lines, transformer, etc that feed the property and make sure everything is OK before trying to start service. Unfortunately, no one was available for that trip, so after I get my next trip scheduled, I need to set up an appointment with them so someone can meet me out there. If that all checks out, then I should only need a “reconnect inspection” to get the meter turned on.

One good thing I did discover is that the meter panel that’s out there already has a 200 amp master breaker, a 20 amp double pole breaker and three more open spots, so it doesn’t look like I’ll have to replace that panel after all. When I saw it before, I didn’t open it up and I’d thought it was just a meter panel. I’m glad I was wrong about that.

But that’s as far as I got with the electric this time.

I drove over to the across the road neighbor and introduced myself. Nice guy. We had a good conversation and he told me some of the history of the property from his perspective.

The existing meter and well pump are at the level on the property where the most recent resident had his trailer.

The trailer was on the left, the well pump house is on the right, you can see the shed and power pole in the distance. At some point someone started trying to build a small cabin on a section of the area where the trailer was. They only got a couple of rows of logs down before giving up, but that’s what that mess is beside the firewood shelter. There’s also a bunch of wood and junk laying around from who knows what.

Anyway, what the neighbor told me is that after the trailer was brought down from there, the owner was having problems with people coming out to the property to party (hence where the huge amount of beer bottles and such scattered hither and yon came from). To bring that to a stop, he rented a bobcat and pushed dirt up in the driveway in places to create berms to prevent vehicles from getting up there. He also drove some rebar poles into the ground and piled scrap wood and such from the burned down house in the way. I hadn’t realized how inaccessible he’d made it when I was out there before. As soon as I tried to get my truck up there, I realized it wasn’t going to happen.

So, next time I go out, I’m going to rent a bobcat and undo all the stuff he did and thereby make the “top” area where the trailer was accessible again. Once that’s done, that will become my camping area and work on the well pump and electric can begin in earnest.

So this trip I spent mainly doing some brush clearing including using the winch on my truck to yank a couple of small pine trees that had grown up in the “driveway” out so I wouldn’t have to worry about that later.

I also did some more exploring, and took the opportunity to set up my chronograph and test some .45-70 loads I’d been working on.

I do think we’re going to get a camper if I can find a used one relatively cheap. After we get a fence and gates along the road, we may just leave it there so we don’t have to haul it back and forth. I’ve always enjoyed tent camping, but I tend to only camp once or twice a year. I have a feeling that doing it once a month for several years is going to get old quick. Plus the temps were getting down into the 20’s at night…the tent got pretty chilly and every morning I was waking up to frost on everything. Makes getting the morning coffee on that much more important.

Anyway, that’s the update. Until next time…

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Next Steps

So, now we’ve got our property, the title issues are resolved, everything is looking good, so now we’ve got to get started making the place functional.

There are several things that are high on the priority list so figuring out what to tackle first is going to be a challenge, especially considering the limited time I’ll have to work out there. It’s enough of a distance away from where we’re living now, that just going out for a weekend isn’t really worthwhile, we’d basically get there one evening, set up camp, have maybe a half a day to get some work done, then have to break down camp and head home to be ready for work on Monday.

Fortunately, I’m given plenty of vacation time from my employer and I’ve gotten quite a bit of time banked up so the plan is for once a month or so, take a couple of vacation days and go out there for a long weekend. As often as possible, I’ll coordinate it around holidays so we’ll have an extra day to add. That means we’ll be spending most of our holidays on the property working instead of relaxing with friends and family, but sacrifices must be made.

So the next step is figuring out priorities. There are lots of things that need to be done and there’s only one of me so I’ve got to get things prioritized correctly. I’d be happy to get some input on this from people who’ve “been there and done that”.

So, here are the priorities as I see them in broad strokes:

1. Electricity (need that for the well pump if nothing else)
2. Water (get the well running, get a pressure tank put in)
3. Security (get a fence put up along the road and gates across the access points)
4. Trash/junk/burned down house cleanup
After this is where it starts to get a bit hazy, but the above will keep us busy for a while.

We’ll still need to clear the land I plan on putting a garden/orchard in. I want to get the fruit trees (and asparagus patch…I love asparagus) planted as soon as practical because they’ll take three years to start bearing fruit. The earlier we get them in, the sooner they’ll be productive. Having a tractor would make clearing and preparing that land much easier, but I don’t want to buy a tractor until I’ve got a secure, weather protected place to keep it.

So, do I build a pole barn first, then buy a tractor, then start clearing the land for the fruit trees? Or should I try to get some land cleared for the fruit trees and get them in before worrying about the barn and tractor? Also, where’s the barn gonna go? I don’t want to build it, and then two or three years from now when it’s time to put up a house, decide it’s in the wrong place.

If anyone has any advice or alternative viewpoints for the above, I’m happy to hear them.

So, those are the broad strokes. Here’s what I plan to accomplish on my trip there next week:

High on the priority list is getting the well operational so we’ve got water and don’t have to haul it out there. We do have a small spring on the property that, with a filter system we could use for some things, but just being able to turn on a tap would be much better. That means getting the electricity turned on, so I think that should be my first priority and what I’m going to invest my upcoming trip on.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s already a pole out there with a meter and an outlet. It’s connected from the road through two power poles, one of which has a transformer mounted on it. I don’t know if the transformer’s good or not, but I assume that’s the power company’s responsibility. It’s on my property, and I know of no easements so I could be wrong…but I’d think that would be on them if the transformer’s bad. It’s not like I can buy one at Lowes.

Also, I’m not sure what amperage of service was provided before and what the existing wiring can support now. Since I want to run the well off it, as well as power tools, lighting and some other things we’ll need to run, I think I need at least 100 amp service.

Also, with just an outlet, there’s no main breaker or breaker box for adding circuits. I think I need to add a breaker box with a main and the ability to add at least 6 more breakers. One two pole for the 220v well pump. One single to run to the pump house for a light and possibly heater strip to keep the pressure tank above freezing in the winter. One single for the shed…this one will be a shed light and an outlet to plug in a router for internet that we’ll eventually get hooked up. One for an outdoor outlet near wherever we decide to put the campsite and one spare (or maybe an additional outdoor outlet somewhere else).

I could get away with a box with only 4 spots if it can support tandem breakers, but I’d rather have too much capacity than not enough.

I was also thinking about getting a single box that has the meter housing and the breakers to simplify things. I don’t need a meter housing, but it’s not that much more expensive to get a combined unit than it is to just get the breaker panel.

So, my goals for the upcoming trip. Go to the power company, find out if they can tell me what amperage of service is out there now, start my contract with them and maybe set up an appointment to get someone out there to check the transformer and wiring to the meter. Also they sell the electrical permits so I’ll buy the permits I need there.

Oh, remember when I told you that the property used to be two parcels? They had different addresses. The meter is actually on the smaller parcel that had an address that no longer exists, so the existing service that the power company has in their records is for an address that’s no longer there. I hope that doesn’t cause too much trouble to straighten out, but I won’t know until I talk to them.

At any rate, then it will be time to get to work. Either add the breaker panel to the existing meter service, or replace the meter base completely with a combination unit…I’m leaning toward the latter. Possibly upgrade the wire between the service entrance and the meter if necessary for 100 amp service. Wire the shed up and get a light and a couple of outlets installed. Run wire to the well pump (this will be an event, it’s probably about 60 feet from the pump house to the power pole and I’ll have to dig a trench for the cable(s). I could rent a trencher, but the closest equipment rental place I could find is about 45 minutes away so I’d end up paying for an hour and a half of rental just in travel time. Not sure it’s worth it. I can dig a 60 foot trench by hand, it will just take time.

Anyway, I’ll also need to decide where our “established” camp site’s going to be an run a wire to that, sink a post and put an outlet there. Once all that’s done, I can try to set up an inspection. I doubt I’ll be able to get it done that week, especially so close to Christmas, so I’ll likely have to schedule that for the next trip in a month or so, but I at least hope to have it all ready to be inspected so I can get that handled next time and hopefully get the power turned on.

I’ll take pictures as I can and update with progress after the trip.

Any thoughts, especially for things I may not be considering but should be, are welcome.

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The saga of the Title

OK, so I’ve related the story of finding the property up to the point where we made an offer.

The seller accepted the offer within a day or two and then the next phase began…trying to get it done.

I will not purchase a property without a clear title and title insurance. In the few times I’ve purchased property in my life, this has never been an issue, it’s been mainly a formality. Not this time.

The first problem revolved around the fact that the property we bought was actually two separate parcels. The second parcel was a rectangle of about 2 acres that was completely enclosed within the larger parcel. Basically, the people who owned the big piece at one point gave the smaller piece to one of their children to put a trailer on and live on.

The people who owned the big parcel had passed away without a will. Somehow the property passed to a descendent without any record of the ownership being passed and that descendant subsequently passed (after burning her house down semi-intentionally (she meant to start the fire on the front porch but didn’t intend to burn the house down) and going to jail for arson as a result). The seller was a second generation descendent of the listed owners and the executor of the estate of the last person who lived there. In summary, ownership was a bit murky…additionally, there were several other descendants (and their descendants) who had a potential ownership interest as well.

As for the smaller parcel, it had apparently been sold or gifted to another extended family member at some point, but there had also had a judgement against it for taxes, had been seized by the county, the county had tried to auction it off, but no one bought it, then the delinquent owner paid the taxes and got ownership of the property back. Wow.

So, the seller and the title company had to track down every possible descendent of the owners of the big parcel and get them to sign quitclaim deeds relinquishing any ownership interest in the property. They also had to ensure that the same was done for the smaller property, because ownership there was a little vague as well, they also had to ensure that the county signed off on vacating their acquisition of the property and that all the taxes had been paid. There was also some other document that needed to be signed by any people with potential ownership interest that were senior citizens to certify that they were clear on what the implications of signing the quitclaim deeds were and that they weren’t being taken advantage of.

Needless to say, this took quite a long time.

Honestly, had the property not been so perfectly suited for our needs, we’d have dropped out as soon as it became obvious that closing was going to go past the expiration of our initial contract, but the bottom line is that the property fit our needs perfectly. I hated to pass it up and not find anything else suitable, so we stayed in there…for a while.

The problem is that we really wanted to have a property secured by summer so we could start getting it squared away during the late summer and fall, and this was taking way too long. Our contract expired, was extended, expired again and was extended again…all with seemingly little being accomplished.

All this time we were waiting and there was no guarantee that everything was going to get done. If one person with an ownership interest made unreasonable demands (say, insisting that they be paid far in excess of what their interest is worth) to sign the quitclaim deed, the deal could fall through and we’d end up with nothing.

The thing is, I was worried about inflationary pressures that were building and didn’t want to keep waiting forever, not getting the land in the end and wind up having to pay much more for a different, less suitable property later on. We were wasting time waiting for a property that may never become available.

So, after three months or so, after the most recent extension expired, we dropped the contract and started looking again.

We spent the next couple of months repeating the process we’d started on before. I even took a trip out to look at another property that looked promising, but it wasn’t laid out well. The property lines on three sides were on ridgelines and the only really useable land was a narrow strip in the valley down the middle.

After months of looking and researching and finding nothing suitable, we got a call from our realtor. The seller of the property we’d made an offer on had retained the title lawyer after we’d dropped the contract and had continued working on the issues. He said they’d assured him that they’d gotten all the issues resolved and that they were still willing to sell at the original offer price.

So, we reinstated the offer and signed a new contract. This time, it went (relatively) smoothly and within a reasonable time we were in the final stages of finalizing everything. We ended up signing the final paperwork some 7 months after making the original offer.

It was a long, frustrating, exhausting process, but all’s well that ends well and we now own the perfect property with a clear title and title insurance intact.

By the way, in the process the two parcels were combined back into one so we only have one title to worry about.

You may have noticed when I posted the map image from my phone, there is a “notch” in the property lines at the southwest corner. That was another distant relative who had bought or been gifted an acre of the original property to put a trailer on. The trailer is still there, but we can’t tell if anyone is living there or not and the listed owner has passed. We’re watching for that little chunk to come up for sale and if it does and the price is reasonable, we’ll try to buy it too which will even out our rectangle and make the property right about 20 acres total.

Of course, the title issues will probably be just as bad with that one as with the rest, so the price will really have to be reasonable to make it worth the effort. Time will tell.

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The Quest for Land

So, in documenting experiences surrounding our remote undisclosed location as I mentioned I was going to do, I suppose I ought to go back to the beginning.

The first step was finding the land to purchase. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Not so fast.

The first big problem was the fact that we were looking for land a significant distance away from our current residence. We couldn’t just trot over in the evening and look a place over; it took more planning than that.

We were concentrating on the area we chose for several reasons: we were looking for land in a state that was firmly in the “Free America” category. While I believe that ultimately all of the red states will eventually fall prey to the leftist virus spreading throughout the land, we are hoping that the state we chose will resist long enough for us to reach our eternal rest before the jackboots take control. That’s only a hope, but one of the points in buying rural land is that rural areas tend to be the last to fall. The cities go first, but then for them to build the population of socialists up enough to outvote the rural citizens and take over all branches of the state government takes time. Usually decades. So we should be good.

We also wanted land in a mountainous region as it lends more privacy and defensibility to the homestead. While it’s possible to approach our land from the “back” side, you have to go over a mountain ridgeline to do it. Limiting approach vectors is good policy. Also, mountains make great backstops when it’s time to put in the gun range. As an added bonus, we love riding our motorcycles in the mountains. After we move to the new land, to do that, we’ll only have to leave the driveway.

Another consideration, the land had to be inexpensive enough for us to be able to afford to buy it, and still have enough money to develop it and make it useable as a homestead. We wanted at least some of the land to be woods so we can leave it in its natural state, but also needed enough flattish, clearable land to put a house, barn, garden, etc on.

It had to have road frontage. I don’t want to have to deal with easements and getting power to land that isn’t right on the road can be an expensive proposition. There’s lots of undeveloped “recreational/hunting” land available for cheap, but if you want to use it for a home site, developing it and getting utilities set up can get expensive quick. The only real options for something like that is “off grid” and I’m not prepared to go there yet. I’d like to have the option, but don’t want it to be the ONLY option.

The land had to be big enough to do all of that and maintain a decent spacing between my home and the neighbor’s…we were really looking for something between 20 and 30 acres.

So, with all that criteria in mind, we started using all the typical search tools…Zillow, Realty.com and a few similar tools specifically designed around rural and undeveloped land. That helped, but those tools kind of suck. I’d set the filters to, say, “10+ acres” and “$100k or less” and I’d get listings for city houses on postage stamp lots because there was no acreage listed, and huge mega ranches because the price said “Call for price” or “any reasonable offer” wherein it was obvious that “reasonable” is defined in 7 or 8 figures.

Even when the filtering is done, none of the tools offered all the filters I’d have wanted so we had to wade through listing after listing that didn’t fit our criteria.

Then, when we found a property that looked interesting, I’d start researching. Look at Satellite views, check the FEMA flood maps, find out what county it’s in and look for problematic county ordinances, check to see if it’s in any kind of “protected” status (wetlands, protected species, watershed areas, etc).

If it passed all of those checks, then the next step was often the most difficult. Try to get in contact with the listing agent or seller. Sometimes they would respond, sometimes not. If they responded, then we started asking the requisite questions:

Are there any easements? Do all the wood, mineral, water and other rights convey? Is there a current survey? Is the title clear? Are there any known environmental hazards, hazardous waste issues, restrictions on use? Has there been a perk test for suitability for a septic system? Is a well viable?

Often, they would fail to respond to any of the questions, or they would answer some of them and ignore the rest. If we asked any follow up questions, that was usually the last we heard from them.

Apparently there are enough investment corporations and/or rich people willing to buy land sight unseen that they don’t need to worry much about dealing with the questions from pesky people like us who actually were intending to use the land ourselves.

After going through this crap for a few months, I decided we needed to narrow our search down to a specific three or four county area and find a local realtor to act as our buyers agent. That would enable them to help us communicate with the sellers and their agents and they had access to some research resources that we didn’t.

That was a great idea until after about the 5th Realtor in that area I spoke with once and then wouldn’t return my calls any more. Apparently, they didn’t feel we were serious and thought they’d be spending a bunch of time on us to no avail. Either that our our requirements were just too stringent for the amount of money we were able to spend (and, therefore, the amount of commission they would get).

We finally ended up finding a realtor who would work with us. I’d love to give out his name publicly but that would break opsec because he’s easy to find. He really did a bang-up job for us and we now consider him a local friend in the area that we can rely on when we need something. He’s a good dude. If you’re looking for land similar to what I’ve been describing, e-mail me. If you’re interested in the area he works, I’ll give you a referral.

At any rate, finally equipped with a local realtor to help us out, the search started in earnest. We took some recommendations from him, took some that we’d found online that we were interested in, and a couple that we’d heard about from word of mouth and made a list of the properties we’d like to take a look at, then we took a trip out there.

The one we ended up buying was the third one we looked at that day. It is actually smaller than my low limit, but knowing that it already had power lines, a well and a septic tank made it worth taking a look and I’m glad we did. Although on the smallish side, it is laid out exactly the way we’d hoped to find and was perfect for our purposes.

We made an offer on the spot.

And so the saga of the title began. Next time.

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Remote Undisclosed Location

I’ve mentioned in the past that My wife and I recently purchased a remote undisclosed location for “get the heck out of dodge”, recreational and, ultimately, a retirement home purposes.

I’ve decided to try to document some of my experiences with this in my blog. I don’t want to give away too much information for opsec purposes, but I think I can do it and still retain our privacy if I’m careful.

At any rate, consider this the first post of the series. I’ve created a new category “Undisclosed Location” for this series of posts.

First, I haven’t had the chance to get out to the place since we closed on the purchase. The last time I’ve been out there was a few days before closing, just to make sure everything looked OK and nothing terrible had happened between us finding it and closing. Other than being pretty overgrown, everything was good.

Since then, I’ve been working on a project in this house (remodeling a bathroom) and haven’t had an opportunity to get out there, but I haven’t been idle.

I’ve contacted the power company that serves the area and have gotten information from the local fire marshal on what it will take to get the already installed power meter turned on. Right now it’s just a meter and an outlet on a pole. I’m going to expand that service so I’m going to add a breaker box with a master and some additional circuits. I want to power the shed that’s right next to the pole and I hope to get internet connected there. That way I can put in a router and install some security cameras so I can keep an eye on the place while we’re not there.

There’s already a well on the property. The pump hasn’t been run in a while but I’m hoping it still works. I’ve been in contact with the company that originally drilled and installed it and they gave me information on the well itself and the type of pump that’s installed. I’m going to run a circuit from the panel to the pump and get it running. If the pump doesn’t work, I’ll get the well company out to troubleshoot and possibly replace the pump.

So my first priorities are going to be to get power turned on and then get the well running. That will enable us to more easily camp on the property while doing other things.

One of the other things I did was use a trick I learned from my work: I used the survey and the state’s property plat maps to get the GPS coordinates of the property lines. I entered those coordinates into a spreadsheet and then converted that into a .kml file.

Then I found an “offline” mapping app for my phone. This allows me to view maps and GPS location without a cell or wifi connection. I paid a few dollars extra for an add on that allows the import of .kml files and imported the property lines GPS locations. That gives me an overlay of the property on the offline map, that I can then use while I’m exploring the property to see where I am in relation to the property lines and such. I want to be able to be sure I’m actually still on my property when I find features to explore or things to do.

I fuzzed out the gps coordinates and blocked out some details along the road to protect privacy, but here’s what it looks like on my phone:

And that’s what the property looks like. The southeast edge is the low end along the road, and the Northwest end is basically the ridgeline. I’m thinking a mountain will make a pretty good backstop.

I’m hoping to take a trip out there in a couple of weeks so I’ll let you know how things go.

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