Buy. Some. Land. (Here is how in the USA)

Our backyard. Photo credit to Ed Anderson

Our backyard. Photo credit to Ed Anderson

One of the absolute indisputable, universal, simple centers of all Heathen (and most Pagan) ritual life is found in our relationship and stewardship of the land.   To break away from the faux-Western ideal of “conquering” land with man-made objects and the war against lawn grass in favor of native flora and edible plants against the status quo of wasted time trimming lawns is almost becoming a subculture in itself.

Before I continue- I think it must be stressed that in this age of debt and over-extension of the finances of most of the population in the United States is working on creating it’s third generation of apartment dwellers- and I was one of them.  It is beginning to feel like societal pressures are now making home ownership seem “impossible” or even “undesirable”.

In older terms, this is an acceptance of your own Serfdom…but if we are all going to be Serfs to this corperate ogliarchy, please at least consider that the mortgage payments, bills, and expenses of a reasonably priced home on some land in most states is usually comparable to that of renting an apartment.

I rented for most of my adult life because, simply, I traveled often and had no roots “tying” me to any particular area, and I frequently lived out of state and occasionally abroad.  Now that I am in my 30’s with aging family members, even without children the realization kicks in that as a Heathen, my responsibility lies at this point of time in being “present”, even if unneeded, in case there is a medical issue with my inlaws, my grandparents, my father…even if they do not wish or accept my help.  The willingness to live in State #49 in economic development as opposed to  “exploring out” to Oregon or Colorado, although attractive aspirations earlier in life- just are not practical any longer.

In this realization that I will be in Pennsylvania for likely several years, the idea paying rent felt like the equivalent of flushing our money down the toilet- especially since in most apartments these days (Like my former ones) do not provide timely or even ‘Good’ service regarding repairs and maintenance to the point where I realized I was fixing ALL problems that were typical to a home ownership without compensation by my slumlords, while the OTHER problems with our old place were directly as a result from negligence and filth of our neighbors within the same building.

I was surprised to discover that home ownership is actually easier than it is made out to be- and here, we are faced with another Lie of American culture: That only those of high income can afford a mortgage.

Well, sure- if you are going to buy a cookie-cutter McMansion in a soul-less development devoid of any real nature outside of lawn grass and red-mulch flower beds filled entirely with useless, non-native ornamental plants and neighbors driving leased Audi’s… (*cough*…Dad…)

Anyway, The importance of land stewardship regarding those who find themselves aligning themselves with a Odinist/Heathen outlook on life becomes almost like a yearning; prior to home ownership I used to “adopt” streams in local parks and clear them out alone as my personal meditation.  I guess I made the stream vaetirr happy enough with me that Ed and I were blessed with finding a cheap property with both an indiginous stream as well as a spring-stream that feeds it that bubbles gently about 10 feet away from the deck.

Now, don’t think we ended up anyplace fancy- our ranch home was listed as “900 sq. feet” which I doubled by finishing the basement with a good cleaning, some carpeting, and minor repairs.  For cost:  I used carpet squares which are easily found and replaceable.

Anyway, if you know you aren’t going anywhere for a couple of years, it’s worth the time and effort to get out of the apartment hole and get yourself a home with enough land to satisfy your desire for stewardship (and fresh produce) within a township with minimal restrictions, no Home Owner’s Associations (HOA’s), and preferably a low crime rate.

Things to take into consideration:
1. Space/rooms needed for family.
2. Commute.
3. City ordinances.
4. Not being pressured/pushed into taking out more than you can afford.
5. ‘Handiness” or a willing to learn basic (and some not so basic) home repair and maintenance.

First, calculate your current bills per month and then hold that number against your income.   The mortgage of your home should not exceed 25% percent of your monthly income- to my friends in New England and California who are currently laughing at this- keep in mind few live in Danbury, CT, Londonderry, NH, or most of the Western part of Massachusetts (past Worchester aka ‘Wooster’), or in Northern NY.

I cannot speak for the West Coast because I do not live there, but I am told, as per most of our country, that the less densely populated areas “in the boonies” are generally far cheaper…and the “boonies”?  That’s woods, folks.  We like woods!

Anyway, I’m on SSDI- very, very fixed income. My spouse works as a machinist and we are both incredibly cheap/thifty people… to the point where I have been banned from all grocery shopping for my penchant for filling the cart with the $2 meat du jour to undesirable results gastronomically. (Oh, and Ramen…I think we have finally whittled down my $1 CASE of ramen after 2 solid years).

Okay.  This is not an immediate process.  All total it will take you a year if you are working on this alone.  It is true that purchasing a home is complicated, but not impossible.

First:  Find a credit union you qualify for (if you can)…and if not, a very small local bank with a good reputation for customer service.  Befriend this bank- put your direct deposit there, your savings, buy a cheap car using their loan program and pay it back.  This will lessen your “risk” with that particular bank in way where if you would be rejected by larger lenders, your personal accountability will “boost” your ability to score a mortgage with a decent interest rate.

Second.  Fix your credit.  Credit is a set of imaginary numbers made of by three companies that usually are seeking to dick over the average consumer.  Each year we are permitted ONE FREE CREDIT REPORT. Yay.  On this report, you will likely find countless errors, debts that you paid off years ago that still count against you if they went to collections, things mis-attributed to your score that simply make no sense and other shenanigans.

Yes.  This can mostly be fixed.  Your goal score is 650 in this present economy.  In the credit scores of my spouse and I we found that since he has a common name, the “issues” that lowered his score were simply debts that belonged to other people with the same name.   Simple, stern phone calls between the debt collector and Experion (who did the most misreporting) provided that by only providing Ed’s social security number had those issues resolved within a day or two.

As for me- my income was unsteady throughout my 20’s in being “out in the world” and stuck with various degrees of shitty roommates.   It got to the point where my “like” of roommates is directly relational to whether or not they dicked me over repeatedly on bills or not…and that includes exes.  Since I paid off most off my debts by age 30, I was able to convince most companies to remove their negative reports by explaining each situation and indicating each debt was paid.

As for student loans… although mine were forgiven entirely, they did not budge on removing a default despite the fact there is literally no debt owed.  Sallie Mae is one of the few, true evils of this world.  Luckily for us, the rest of the finance industry knows this as well.

In honesty, most of my debt has been in medical expenses over the years.  Don’t ignore those- some say they “don’t count” in credit scores.  That depends on the bank, but if you are within 6 years of the original debt, making even the slightest efforts to pay off that garbage will get it removed.  The hospitals know that our healthcare costs are insane;  I still have a $900 ambulance-transfer bill from when I had complications from major surgery in 2011- I was able to dispute the bill and suspend it.  How?  Because I was given no choice about being transferred from my local hospital to the hospital where my surgery took place after complications began and no option to have a family member drive me there…. medical malpractice can also be financial in that way.   Since I called about the issue- it was put “under review” by the hospital and removed from my credit report.

Cool part?  They haven’t bothered me about it since.  In talking to others, this happens often in the world of medical billing; it is easier to collect on a debt that is clearly owed than one disputed and not worth the cost and effort for them to fight if there is any question at all about the legitimacy of the charges.  I was very fortunate. (But not quite so fortunate enough to not have complications with the latest surgery…at least they aren’t billing me, just ignoring me until I hit the 90-day mark…when I can do more to safeguard future patients from my negative experience post-surgically inpatient. (They gave me two medications to which I was on-record as allergic and ALSO forgot to administer my heart medication…and then kicked me out before I could even sit up without assistance.  This will be a fun, quick fight when it happens…another post, perhaps.)

Do NOT pay to check your credit score- each time your score is “pulled”- it somehow hurts your credit. (How charming).

If you cannot pay off your debts entirely, no worries- start making an effort to pay them.  It honestly does help.

The sneakiest way to know how much your credit has improved is look at the quality of your junk mail- when companies other than Capital One are offering you cards with decent interest rates, you are likely doing fine.  American Express is a great indicator.  Right now they are sending offers for “6 months no APR and 10% interest after!”- which is still shit, but better then the offers of “Get a prepaid $500 Capital One Card to build your credit! Only 25% interest for 6 months!” …which is shit.

DO NOT TAKE THE CREDIT CARD.  We have no credit cards. None.  By your 30’s you should have enough bills in your history that it is a lie that credit cards are a necessary part of credit building.  Student loans, car payments, timely bill payments, and rent all contribute to your credit score.  Living within one’s means is critical; modern society strives to convince us otherwise to take out too much, live in places that are too expensive, and to live lives without sacrifice of any creature comforts.  It’s better to live without than to end up underwater financially.  Ed is my dishwasher, and I am his handyman.  Cutting out all unnecessary expenses such as cable, credit cards, and maximizing the use of your resources in knowledge and elbow grease goes a long way. Anything plugged in draws current- dishwashers make your water bill explode into triple digits, and there is no need, as a Heathen particularly, to need the absolute newest technologies when you can get the “newest/best technologies” from previous years for next to nothing from online refurbishers or real life pawn shops. (I get my computer stuff from here. )

This is the new laptop.  I splurged and spent $350 for a durable 2011 HP EliteBook,,,,the same computer with only a marginally speedier processor is well over $1000 for the 2015 version of the same machine which actually is less durable than the 2011.   When purchasing electronics, reviews from prior years are essential- a top of the line model from 5 years ago CAN equal or even surpass current models.  Alienware is notorious for this since they were purchased by Dell lowering the quality of their gaming machines compared to prior to their merger, as an example.

I like to mess with my computers: I do most of my own repairs and upgrades (or ask friends/family for help if needed) add Linux and do some light programming on occasion-  on many websites a simpler machine than mine can be had for as low as under $100, sometimes, even $50 if all you need it for is basic tasks such as paying bills, social networking, and writing.  If you do not write- you might not even need a computer.  A smartphone from a prior year works fine.  (That’s what I’ve been using the past few weeks in conjunction with an ancient tablet we honestly kept in a closet for years)  For a phone?  I use the “free” one from my carrier.  It’s bottom of the line, but the warranty is nice.  I require my phones to make calls, pay bills, and give me directions to destinations turn by turn.  Considering I used a damned atlas to take me from Philadelphia to Tulsa- even writing that sentence is an oddity and amazement at what technology is required to exist and function without being entirely cut-off from the world.  In a perfect world, we’d be spending most of our time in nature- but we don’t.  Only you can determine your level of technological immersion.

Anyway, #3- get pre-approved for a mortgage via your credit union or banking office….even before you begin looking at homes.  Based on our income, I figured our upper limit for a home purchase with a 30 year mortgage (we don’t plan on going anywhere) would be 130k- with an ideal number being 100k or under to lower our current expenses in the transition from apartment to an actual house.  We secured under a 5% interest rate with only 3% down on the total mortgage cost for closing.  Keep in mind this is based on my credit score at the time of literally 666…not my husband’s stellar 700+ (After a year of fighting to correct misattributions of debts over his incredibly common name)…and my SSDI does count as steady income as much as being employed would.

Note: For those of you who are single on SSDI- there are programs available that one can find via your city, state, and SSDI itself to give discounts and assistance in getting out of an apartment.  They were created mostly in the 1950’s and 1970’s to prevent disabled homelessness and have been virtually ignored and forgotten.  It is actually EASIER to keep your house on Disability than (the usually shitty) apartments they offer.  Since I am married, these programs did not apply to us.  Veterans, however, have it the easiest in this case with the additional support of the VA and other organizations.  I received no assistance in purchasing a home, but found out later I could have.

One misconception in Heathenry is that our government programs are a sort of “charity” that should be shunned- but in the absence of a real community and strong family structures these programs now shoddily fill in the gaps that used to be covered by the community/family.  With the insane inflation, it is judicious to make use of every single resource available to you without bias.  It is not worth shooting yourself in the foot over a misplaced sense of “honor” when our government financial system is entirely without honor in the first place.  These are not people- they are simply corporations serving as government contractors that provide all incentives and services in home-purchase.   No one is going to starve from you taking advantage of incentives and programs in your area, income bracket, or any other strange qualifier.  If anything, you are making a single 1%-er slightly less grossly wealthy….and if you worked a single day in your life in a shitty ass job to afford your rent…that is one more day than anyone in most positions of US financial power ever accomplished of honest work.   I would love to see a congressman who delivered pizza, worked retail, and bartended concurrently to make rent without insurance, days off for years, or appropriate life-sustaining compensation.

You won’t find one- they all come from families of wealth, and should not listen to their base biases against the middle and working classes regarding income vs. intrinsic value of a human’s existence.

Born into insane affluence= lack of respect for the careers in retail, manual labor, and restaurant in which most of us “peasants” have toiled in unpaid overtime without health benefits, 401k’s, or the nice things our parents and grandparents both enjoyed and voted against continuing for subsequent generations in favor of military spending, “protecting Christian values” (which frequently contradict Heathen values), and voting to cut taxes…for higher classes of people that they assumed one day would be their own birthright to ascend to via “The American Dream.”

The American Dream in the form of us all being fabulously wealthy is dead.  The sooner this is realized, the sooner we can go back to “Everyone in their own home and a chicken in every pot”,  (Or, with current legislative trends: Pot in every chicken with appropriate medical clearances).

#4.  Find a GOOD realtor who specializes in starter homes.  We picked a high school friend of mine who had successfully homed many of our classmates over the years.  Knowing our realtor well and having one who was within my active social network is protection.  Realtors get work (or do not) via their reputations.  Our realtor has wonderful traits:  She was busy with clients, prompt with information, well connected, and informed and made optimal use of technology to keep in touch with people as easily anxious as my husband and I.  (If you live in Bucks/Lehigh county, Pennsylvania- Her name is Marcie Purcell)

One myth that must be addressed is that the buyer pays for the realtor- Not so!  It comes from the sale of the house.  Working with a realtor is a true give/take relationship where you get what you put into the relationship.   Making a list of the bare minimums you are looking for in a home and a price range are good place to start.  We found the place we are currently living in in our first trip looking because we were clear on our needs, price range, and ability to make repairs

Here were our requirements:

1. Cheap: In this area, that is under 115k- but I have friends in Detroit who bought a block of Victorian homes for under 10k a piece and relocated their online graphic design business for the lower cost of living in an abandoned city.
2. No Home Owner’s Association.  This gives us greater freedom to use the land as we choose and decorate our home without silly restrictions.  Additionally, HOA’s have high fees with no return except for grief over more people meddling with your life than necessary.
3. The land must be completely owned, including mineral rights.  No trailer parks or leases on the land that need to paid monthly in addition to the mortgage.  If you are going to go through all this work to purchase a home- don’t half-ass it.  Own the land you live on as well. (My township holds mineral rights to the owner of the property and does not sell them to outside buyers.)
4. No oil heat because the price varies too much to be stable and replacing a heating system is extraordinarily costly.  Further, considering our country seems to believe oil is “currency” despite our wealth of this natural resource, we are never more than a raspberry at an Arab Sheikh away from another oil crisis, shortage, or insane inflation.
5. Isolation.  We do not need a school district and we’re misanthropes who prefer “nature” over “strangers”.
6, Single floor preferred.  It saves hugely on utility costs.  Every time I see a vaulted ceiling I wince thinking about the cost to heat all that empty space in unpredictable Pennsylvania winters. Heat rises. if your ceilings are taller than most ladders you are doing a fantastic job at keeping all the warm air around the light fixtures rather where you live.

So… in the house hunting process- keep in mind your own level of expertise with repairs and the skills of those you trust most.   People you trust most are generally people in your life for several years and remain consistent as positive people to your existance, Heathen or not, who you have helped with moves/repairs in the past.   I like living via a barter system if at all possible with friends and acquaintances.  Most of my friends simply require “beer and pizza”.

We found a 900sq ft ranch  house for under 100k on over half an acre of land in between two mountains on the very outskirts of Reading in a town with very few ordinances with even less permit requirements.  We can have chickens.

The downside was it took over a month to fix-up to make habitable after the old man we bought it from let the place fall into disrepair- although overwhelming to look at- flaws that are cosmetic should NOT factor into your decision for a purchase of the home itself…except in the case of the one house we saw in pictures that was wallpapered entirely in orange and brown cats.   Tearing down wallpaper is a rough time for me…but on the otherhand, we replaced the entirety of the bathroom except for the tub in 2 days.   I suppose it depends on what one is able/willing to correct.  Our back porch roof will likely need to be resupported this winter since I was too sick to repair it over the summer with the surgery…and our deck needs some boards replaced.  The shed was once nice…likely in 1983; but thanks to moving to a good,laissez faire township, it will be recycled into a chicken coop in the spring. (which, apparently, was what was there prior.)

I understand and realize not everyone has the true advantage of being able to use tools correctly on account of about 30-50 years worth of devaluation of manual labor in favor of getting everything “fixed” on demand by contractors…but no matter what the age you are currently: you can learn how to change an outlet, fix a toilet, install a light fixture/fan, and even minor carpentry.

But still, Heathen needs tend towards having a bit of land to steward and care for- which provides habitat and food for wildlife moreso than the typical American lawn.   Our incentive to terraform comes from a deep loathing of mowing the lawn on both of our parts and also the strange phenomenon that occurs when one plants trees it creates an illusion over time of more space instead of less… and much more opportunity for augery and other types of divination by creating habitat.  Over the summer since I was so restricted physically by my medical issues, I was still able to dredge out both streams and deepen them simply by relaxing and tossing rocks away from the natural silt/sand base creating deeper reservoirs for fish and other aquatic creatures while creating a sort of dam-in-progress that serves to protect the property from flooding slightly.   We were also fortunate that most in our neighborhood fish, liked our idea, and followed suit.

It’s amazing what a little bit of your own labor can do to inspire others.  We now see trout more often on “high water” days, and a great blue heron even spent a lovely couple of days chilling in our yard.

The importance of owning your own land in Heathenry is that this is land that you can sanctify, work closely with, and bring it “back to nature” in a way that is mutually beneficial for yourself, the local wildlife, and even your neighbors who benefit from the literal fruits that occur in time.  Space used for ornamental gardens can be equally ornamental with useful, native plants for your region.  Some organizations are even willing to certify your land as “habitat”- such as Audobon.  Here in Pennsylvania this link is useful to determine what is best for you and your personal needs.  Use native where you can, rip out all invasive species (Ed actually did that first- Goodbye Asian Honeysuckle…), clear all human trash from the property.  If you have a water feature such as streams/creeks like we do- continually pick up human trash as you see it, as well as from the front yard.  Encourage the growth of native saplings growing in inconvenient places by moving instead of killing them.

In spring, just spend $20 and rent a roto-tiller from your local hardware store (or borrow one from a landscaper friend) and just plow out where you want gardens.  The more gardens, the less mowing.  Weeding can be handled by focusing only on species that are harmful to your gardening goals, a random sunflower in the garden in good luck and won’t really bother much.  Use organic methods of pest control.  Marigolds around tomatoes rather than pesticides to repel nemotodes, for instance.   Poisoning the land with chemicals creates only the superficial appearance of “health”.  Same goes for inside the home… we were well aware this house had a rodent problem prior to making our first bid.  Having three cats and a dog solves it without traps or poisons, and we are separate enough from our neighbors that their poisoned mice don’t make it to our property.

Regarding making bids and closing on a house, my perspective is a bit outside of the norm.  Honestly, as long as the numbers equaled to significantly less than the upper limit we set for ourselves in expenses, we were not like some who try to wrangle every penny out of a seller that was already flat-broke.   We put more funds and expectations on inspections to do that for us.  If I have a regret, it would be not “playing dumb” regarding the ancient furnace…but even that was fixable for $20 and an insufferable day of misery. (Note: I was miserable anyway 10 days past surgery.)

In our case, there was a title company error with our mortgage after all paperwork is signed.  There should be no additional closing costs after closing day- but one problem is that occasionally unethical people will try to say otherwise.   Having a great realtor helped in sorting it out for us and getting a fee we were not legally liable for dismissed from our table and placed on the shoulders of the bank and title agent.

There is no such thing as a “perfect” experience unless you have the means to purchase a home in full with a suitcase stuffed with hundred dollar bills.  Yes, we are now in debt to the bank for $90k-ish…but our monthly payments and bills actually amount to far LESS than I ever paid for an apartment in this state.

Other new homeowners among my friends noticed a similar phenomenon across the board:  The truth is apartment companies and landlords are mostly gouging criminals who want to get you for as much money as they can.   When leaving an apartment for a home- be aware that you cannot be charged for “normal wear and tear” such as carpeting or cracks in the wall from building settlement.  If your former landlords attempt to charge you, please look up your local laws regarding the matter and possibly involve a state representative to protect your rights as a tenant.

I believe the goal, ultimately, is true self sufficiency.  Our ground water tastes better than what spills from our tap- many friends of ours are in the solar panel industry in one way or another so “shadowing” a friend for a day to learn how to install them is a worthwhile goal.

As for nature in the winter?  Easiest way to get your ass outdoors is NOT to install a fence and get a dog.  Seriously- get a good dog.  Dogs are awesome.  They are better than doorbells, warm in the winter, and if well trained and taught well- actually work with you.   Just via websites and youtube videos without a class our dog is better trained than most children even PRIOR to her upcoming service-training.  Having a stream that changes flow depending on the time of day has created a wonderful system of waste removal. Dogs prefer not to step on their own shit as much as we do, so when she figured out how the stream “worked”- that is where she goes.  When it’s cold, she stays on the banks (There are coyotes and foxes here.  My dog is smaller than a coyote- the environmental impact is non-existent with our high water table).

We have the start of a compost heap which serves the dual purpose of not wasting vegetable/fruits as well as hopefully providing a future base of rich soil to use on the gardens.  Further, the local wildlife digs having the extra food source.

Pet food that is not eaten goes outside to our Odin/Cernunnos altar in a small bowl.  The local corvid and spotted skunks seem to like it.   The only “issue”, if this is one- is the the alcoholic doe that likes getting smashed on our hard cider offering bowl. But, then again, neighbors tell us she also steals beer cans left on porches and drinks the puddles under the recycle bins of the heavier drinkers in our immediate area.

We have had no problems with local wildlife interfering with our lives except for the occasional wasp nest.

We try to keep the skunks content because they are beautiful and they keep the neighbor kids off our lawn… Natasha the dog will undoubtedly learn the hard way to leave them alone in time.  But, that’s what tomato juice is for.

I hope this helped some, and although I am no real estate agent nor expert on the topic- I can say that it just feels “right” to own a home in a way that renting never did.  We are still making monthly payments- but they actually MEAN something.

Most of you are likely doing your own repairs anyway- or waiting on some shady-ass landlord to send a contractor that never *quite* makes it to your home.

But, I would rather pay money to my credit union who leaves us alone as long as they get their money than be a slave to the whims of another human who had the legal right to sell any building they own, at any time- to place restrictions on what we could do in our own living space regarding alterations, or suddenly add additional costs every year in ways that are never explained.

Here, we are at the mercy of taxes…but again, we don’t have kids, taxes are based on property values, and we bought “cheap” for our county in Pennsylvania.  We took out a long mortgage to keep monthly costs down and our home improvements we’ve been able to make (ripping out carpets, sealing the floors, painting, replacing, fixing, etc) have raised our property value enough that in line with other homes in the area, we would not find ourselves at loss to sell.

As Heathens, our people are the ultimate good neighbors- we’re generally quiet, kind, and we like to fix things up.  There may be a giant brushstroke of cranberry red on the side of the house where I had to quickly retreat from a wasp nest while painting the shutters, but hey- it’s better than cockroaches from the filthy beasts that used to live above us in our former apartment unit.

Buy yourself some land.  Heck, at this point it’s likely a better investment than college regarding personal and financial returns- until that bubble bursts.

At least owning a home means that you are 100% in charge of its upkeep, the upkeep of the land, and can live a more harmonious life in what you do with it.  Not all opportunities in life are career-oriented, home ownership used to be something all people sought and now seem to be discouraged from attempting on account of all the horror stories of variable rate mortgages (get a fixed rate ONLY…or walk away from that particular lender) and people purchasing homes outside of their means.

If Ed lost his job tomorrow, through doing all the calculations in advance I know that we will still be able to make our payments with the sacrifice of few amenities we currently enjoy.

It can be done and with effort of the goal in-mind to own instead of rent you can also do this thing.  I believe in you.

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