As amazing as it may seem not all the land in the U.S. is spoken for by private, business, church or government ownership. Finding it unclaimed on the other hand, isn’t so easy and then laying claim to it might involve some bureaucratic red tape that will have you pulling your hair out. But if have the time, the inclination and some pioneer spirit, you can be a land owner for free, or at least until the local municipality sends you a property tax bill.
If this sounds like something you’d like to explore, then you’re in luck, because journalist and writer Colleen Kane has done a lot of your work for you by finding seven towns where land is still free. She even wrote about it for CNBC.com.
As expected this land is often far from the maddening crowd or in very desirable locations. You won’t find a lot of water front property on this list, except for Maine, but you won’t be stuck some swamp either. To say these are remote locations would be an understatement, but you’re pioneers right, so the more remote the better.
So here’s Colleen’s list of where to find land for the price of your labor, plus the occasional property tax:
Marne is in southwestern Iowa with a population of around 150 (149 at last count). It’s about 60 miles from Omaha and 80 miles from Des Moines. At its peak in 1875, the town had a population of over 600, but people started moving away around the turn of last century, through the teens and 20s. “The decline of the family farm affects rural areas like this, says Mayor Randy Baxter. “Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there more smaller farms, and small towns supported the folks in the country, but now those homes aren’t there anymore.”
In hopes of boosting that number, the Marne Housing and Development Corporation has made four free lots available :3 for private and 1 for commercial use. The first family to take advantage of the free land moved onto their new property the fall of 2008, also availing funds from the USDA’s Rural Development Agency for building their home, and they qualified for $10,000 down payment assistance from the Southwest Iowa Planning Council.
To take advantage of the free land in Marne, applicants need only to submit a proposed floor plan for the house they want to build. It’s not restrictive, but Baxter notes that it must be within reason-- no trailer homes, no horses or livestock. Among the unreasonable proposals for the land: “They want to bring a camper in hogs, or store junk there.”
New Richland, Minnesota
New Richland is a town of about 1200 in southern Minnesota, 75 miles from the outskirts of the Twin Cities, offering lake recreation and many fine churches. If this sounds like home, then consider a free 86’ x 133’ lot on the Homestake subdivision on the northwest side of town. Those who claim lots must build a house on the property within one year.
The land itself is free, but assessments for services provided by the town such as streets, curb and gutter, water and sewer. The fee for these is about $25,000, which suddenly sounds a lot less like “free,” but through Tax Increment Financing this number is reduced to about $14,000 for qualified candidates, which is paid over 15 years on a semi-annual basis along with real estate taxes.
I know Kansas isn’t a town. But it has so much free land offered throughout the state by local Kansan governments and development groups that there’s an online hub to organize all the information, the appropriately named Kansas Free Land.
“Most rural areas in Kansas have been declining in population since 1900, so rural Kansas communities either fight or disappear,” says Jenny Russell, Republic County Economic Development Coordinator for Republic County in northern Kansas.
Her county has opted to fight. Republic County has a free land option available for the right industry and free residential lots throughout its communities for new home construction. Russell cites the area’s rural advantages: very low overhead costs compared to cities, and “With developing technologies, businesses are now able to conduct their operations from almost anywhere.”
Kansas Free Land links to more than a dozen communities, from Herndon, population 124, to towns with populations in the low thousands, each with their own offers and requirements.
One city in southeastern Nebraska that reaped the benefits of the original Homesteading Act of 1862 has created a new version of what worked so well before. The Homestead Act of 2010 offers several parcels of land for free on a first-come, first-served basis. As with the original act, applicants must occupy their parcels of land for five years.
With a population of about 12,564 and situated just 40 miles south of Lincoln (via the Homestead Expressway) and 99 miles from Omaha, Beatrice is one of the most populous and more accessible locations on this list. In this case, the aim is not to stave off the death of a town with a dwindling population, but to clean up neglected properties and get them to generate taxes and utility fees once again.
Hoping to attract industrial employers, the city and county of Muskegon, Michigan, (pop. 174,344) launched Muskegon 25 .Under this program, companies that will bring in 25 full-time jobs or more will be granted industrial park property for building, complete with all services, gratis. In addition, the industrial parks are situated in low tax “Renaissance Zones.”
Muskegon Area First is hoping to attract food processing industry, other suppliers for local industries, and alternative energy providers. New or existing companies creating 25 jobs are allotted five acres, 50 jobs get 12 acres, 75 jobs get 20 acres, and 100 or more jobs get 20 acres. The program also provides discounts at rates proportionate to the amount of jobs created. The 25-job companies are entitled to 50% off water and sewer bills, and the discounts increase from there, down to 20% of the full rate.
State business credits and other tax incentives are also available. To sweeten the deal further, the city will even throw in tickets to Lumberjacks hockey season tickets or a local boat slip to qualified participating companies.
Curtis is known as Nebraska’s Easter City due to its famed 40-year-old Easter Pageant tradition. This 3.266-square-kilometer community of approximately 832 persons in southern Nebraska’s Medicine Valley has the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture and an airport three minutes away.
Sound good? All righty, then: Curtis offers two options for free-land claimers. Consolidated Companies, Inc. created Roll ’n Hills lots to boost the local economy by providing free sites on paved streets with all utilities for single-family homes. Three of those lots now have occupied homes, says Ed Coles of Consolidated, and nine remain.
Additional free lots are available through the city of Curtis that overlook the all-grass nine-hole Arrowhead Meadows Golf Course, which is one of the best public courses in the state—at least according to Medicine Valley’s
Camden is the coastal exception in this otherwise-landlocked list of free land locales. The charming New England berg of about 4,052 citizens is offering 3.5 acres of land near Camden Harbor for a business that will create at least 24 jobs .The former industrial site on the Megunticook River, refurbished by the Town of Camden, comes equipped with 3 Phase Power, Sewer, Water, Cable, Broadband, and parking is available for up to 300.
Clearly, this is a prime deal for the right company. The Town of Camden is hoping for a company from industries such as biotech, information technology, financial services, medical labs, film, or green businesses. In fact, those last two listed industries are encouraged, as creative economy employers are encouraged and environmentally friendly businesses are given preference in this search.