In the last installment of Buying Rural Property in Alabama, I presented my five favorite online tools for researching property. In this article we finally get down to the nitty gritty. You’ve searched through the listings. You’ve found a promising parcel with the right blend of features and cost. You’ve done your homework, and now it’s time to see the land. What do you need to know to ensure that the first visit is productive and enjoyable?
What to Bring
On our first excursions to look at property we were complete amateurs. We’d pile into the van, armed only with a notebook, and drive out to the country. We were ravaged by insects, shredded by briars, starved and dehydrated on those early adventures. What’s worse is that we were so inefficient in the process that we exhausted ourselves tromping around and rarely came home with all the information we needed. If only there was a list of things to bring on those expeditions… we could have saved ourselves a lot of stress and spent our time productively enjoying our walk through the woods…
- Insect Repellant – I understand if you’ve taken a strong stand against slathering yourself in petro-chemical poisons, but this one is a non-negotiable in our family. You have no idea what you’re going to be walking into when you visit property for the first time. Mosquitos, gnats, chiggers, spiders, ticks… take your pick. They’re all waiting for lunch, and you’re the main course. I don’t fool around with gentle sprays like Skin So Soft. I get the stuff they’re using to firebomb jungles in South America.
- Shovel – We tried machetes, hatchets and other tools, but I found a plain, old rounded-point digging shovel to be the handiest tool for walking property. You can slash blackberry branches, chop briars and vines, and it offers an effective defensive against legless lizards in a pinch. You can carry it like a walking stick, and it’s great for taking your soil samples along the way. A good alternative might be a bush axe, but who’s got a bush axe lying around?
- Bucket – You’ll probably want to take a soil sample while you’re on the property. Use a small bucket with a handle to carry the sample home. I’ll post about where to get buckets later.
- Boots – I tease my wife all the time about wearing “grown-up” shoes. She’s prone to wearing flip-flops or light tennis shoes on our adventures, and I just think it’s crazy. If you’re setting out to find property, go buy a decent pair of hiking boots. You’re going to be tromping through manure, mud, water, and Lord knows what else. Get some “grown-up” shoes. While you’re at it, no short-pants either!
- Pen & Paper – You’ll want to take notes. It’s a given.
- GPS/Smartphone – If you’ve read the article on my favorite online tools, then you’ll be familiar with ARC GIS. Download it to your smartphone and get familiar with it before you head to the property. You can use it to identify property lines and maintain your bearing while you’re walking around. Just ten years ago this technology was reserved for the military and commercial aviation. It’s probably in your pocket now. Use it.
- Property Map – In my favorite online tools post I detailed how to use the GIS mapping software to get satellite imagery of the property. Print off several copies of the map of the property, complete with the property lines and contours. You can use the map to navigate around and make rough notes about where landmarks are.
- Snake Bite Kit – I honestly don’t know if these things really work. I’ve seen the viral Facebook article about how one saved some dude’s life somewhere, just like everybody else. Who knows? For $10 it’s worth the risk either way. We keep one in the van just in case. You can typically get them at Academy.
- Gun – I don’t want to get into any kind of political conversation about firearms, but I think you’re crazy to go tromping through the woods without some way to defend your family. We’ve got everything from bob-cats to snakes, coyotes, wild dogs, wild hogs, rabid racoons, moonshiners, angry hermits and everything in between in Alabama. I usually carry regular ammunition and snake-shot just in case.
- Camera – I’ve gotten so lazy with the technology that’s available. I don’t write anything down that I can simply take a picture of. It’s great for plant identification, documenting landmarks, and generally remembering what a particular area looked like.
- Water/Food – Tromping is hard work. There’s nothing worse than braving a 1/4 mile of brush and bramble with a dry mouth. Having some water and a quick snack will make the experience much more pleasant.
- Toilet Paper – I’m not going into any detail here, but as I mentioned before, the shovel has many uses…
That should cover the basics. I’m sure there are a million other items that might be useful or are unique to your particular environment, but this should be a good start. In the next article we’ll make the most of your trip with a list of things to do while you’re there.