Second home on the Plains

Dan Robinson

Out of curiosity, I took an online browse today of real estate out on the Great Plains. I've considered eventually retiring somewhere remote on the High Plains of western Kansas or Oklahoma. Although that's about 25 to 35 years away, I've given some thought to purchasing another home out there in the next 5-10 years, for a place to live from say, March to July. Somewhere flat with few trees, open skies and of course storms. Nothing fancy, just a comfortable place to live and enjoy the change of pace in a totally different lifestyle and place.

Home prices are pretty low in that region. Of course this wouldn't be something you'd do if your intent is to invest and make money on an eventual resale. But, if your purpose is to establish an eventual second home and eventual place of retirement, it is very affordable out there. I could go into all the logistical things like the lack of facilities and conveniences out there, but that's another thread. I've been to these areas countless times and there is just something appealing about the openness and the 360 degree blue skies.

Looks like you can get a small, fairly decent house for around $40K out there in some of the smaller towns. That's easily affordable for a modest income. About $200 a month for a 30 year mortgage. I work in web design and multimedia and could even set up satellite internet and keep working my main job remotely. East coast dollars would go pretty far out there.

Wondered if anyone else has given this some thought (or even done it).
ITs great living in the small towns of the Plains for many other reasons then just chasing, and yes it is very reasonable esspecially the farther one gets from the cities a home that is valued at around 100,000 30 miles out of Omaha sells for about 60,000 80 miles from Omaha. The only hidden costs of owning a home in the plains that one does not have to worry about on the E Coast is the costly deductables from repairing damge from hail and heavy winds, but not having to worry about tropical systems is a relief.

I know a lot of retired folks from Nebraska live in the area during the summer months then long about October they move back to the South. Many of the residents in this area who dont migrate during parts of the year own two homes locally as well. THe low real estate costs allow for many people two have a cabin on in some cases a fairly nice place on a river or lake that they stay in on the weekends or when ever they feel like getting away
Home prices are pretty low in that region. Of course this wouldn't be something you'd do if your intent is to invest and make money on an eventual resale. But, if your purpose is to establish an eventual second home and eventual place of retirement, it is very affordable out there.

Wondered if anyone else has given this some thought (or even done it).

I am always curious about real estate and when I search for plains real estate I see the same thing as you noted. Plenty of reasonably priced housing.

I would prefer to be within one days drive of the rockies. I love the sand hills the high plains of CO, that crazy uplsope weather.

Farming requires fewer and fewer folks so in some areas housing demand is dropping.

I have thought about this on two fronts. First: buying a chase base, no I am not wealthy but my first humble home in Appalachian ohio is paid for so payments on a 40K house would be reasonable. I have avoided this up until now because there is a good chance that some of these towns will literally die, dry up and blow away. So my 40K would be wasted in that case.

The second option that intrigues me but I do not have the financial smarts to figure it out, is farmland investing. The investor buys the land, someone farms it, you get a return on the farmed acreage. Of course the farmer wants tillable acres and I love old run down farmhouses so it could be a good situation. Especially if you found property with both. Seems like farmland investing is mostly for folks looking to shelter $$ from taxes and therefore I can not get a good feel for the details.

I think about it all the time.

Buy a house out there and start a "planned chaser community". I see a HAM radio repeater, or a series of them, satellite internet or other broadband. Lots of parking for hail shattered vehicles, etc etc.

Western Kansas, Western Nebraska and Eastern CO would be my target.
I own one house FL, and another house in TX (which I purchased last year). Currently, I am renting
out the the TX house and it's working out pretty good. The FL house is paid now and the TX house should
be paid off before I retire. Using my second home as a rental property, I can decuct travel expenses
and others which helps, especially if I happen to go there during cetain times of the year.
Using my second home as a rental property, I can decuct travel expenses
and others which helps, especially if I happen to go there during cetain times of the year.

:) Now you are talkin...

What would the taxman think when I deduct a hail totalled car year after year as part of the "expenses" of owning a rental.

Tom Hanlon
I've spent much of my life in big cities. When I was in college I thought for sure I’d buy a little loft in downtown San Fran somewhere, as many of my friends were doing. That’s what I wanted...or so I thought.

October 1989 changed my mind about all that. My friend Gayle’s china flew out of her cabinets and onto the floor, and all the Macs went careening across the room at her job. The smell of coffee drifting down Powell St. is unbeatable, and I rejoiced in Mac-nerd heaven (I was a graphic designer), but when I saw the Cypress Freeway pancake one layer on top of the other (I had driven that stretch a thousand times), I realized that SF plans probably needed rethinking. Did I really want to live with it in the back of my mind, all the time? Even the radio station was called “The Quakeâ€. My glass-sweeping friend moved to Brooklyn.

Back then, where the heck was Kansas and Nebraska? My family made several trips across country. Those big storms were the highlight of the trip. My dad and I would get up and watch all the CGs at 2am. I remember that like it was yesterday. Nothing like that in Calif.

The closest to country life I ever came was buying a house on old vineyard land in a small town outside Sacramento. It was a really nice town. Expanded freeways and “progress†caught up with all that though, and the appealing country look of the town is long gone.

I made several trips to the Desert Southwest. About 10 actually. Fell absolutely head over heels for Arizona. I’m silly about it. I call it home since 1994. And this place feels like home. But now, it’s starting to feel like San Francisco. Median single-family home price San Fran: $556,000. Welcome to Scottsdale: $331,674.

Phoenix is becoming Los Angeles. Sprawl is unchecked. It is hard to watch the change. Arizona however, distilled any remaining “city girl†right out of me a long time ago. I live in the desert now, and intend to move even further out in the coming years.

So what to do down the road?

Sometimes I find myself pining for New Mexico...the land is open and the lightning plentiful. I can also see myself in southeast Arizona, or up on the Mogollon Rim in a little mountain home (I’m an outdoors person) or somewhere on the Colorado Plateau in a little adobe.

However…they’re still homesteading in Kansas…hmm.

So what do I think about a second home on the Plains? Kansas = beautiful. Buffalo, wheat fields, storms, sunsets, nice towns, nice people…and even Dorothy. Whoever just flies over the Plains is seriously missing out. Kansas even has mountains. You just have to look up in the air, sometime in May, to see them :).

I think the Plains would be a great place for a second home. Garden City, perhaps. I’ve even thought about Iowa. Who knows.
I've thought about the same thing. I've looked into property in Eastern Colorado (Springfield area). In my line of work it would be hard to relocate for even a few months but the idea of a retirement property (paid off when I'm ready to retire!) is very appealing. In the meantime I could use it for chase vacations or just to get away on a weekend to the wide open and away from Southern California sprawl.

Its so crazy to hear about a $40K house!! In Orange County you can't even buy a 1 bdrm condo for less than $400K! And forget buying an actual home unless you have $700K to spend. :blink:
There are some small high Plains towns with 2 and 3 bedroom homes selling for $14K to $20K. Now I'm not sure what you'd find on the inside of those (probably next to a stockyard or something), but the photos of a few of those sub-$20K houses didn't look all that bad. A few nice exteriors and actually some yards. For those prices you could afford to put a lot of money into fixing them up nice. The 2-story, 3-bedroom $80K house next door to mine was foreclosed and sold for $50K, so there might be some similarly decent possibilities there in KS-OK-CO. I'll bet there are a lot of foreclosures and good deals if you spent a year or so looking.

I might have to stop and take a look at a few of those when I'm out there just to see how good/bad they are.
I can't speak for other areas, but here in far NW Oklahoma (I live in Woodward) there's a pretty wide range of real estate prices. For example, here in Woodward proper, home prices are skyrocketing because Woodward is a fairly large (for this area, anyway, about 13,000) hub city that's drawing quite a few people from outlying areas. Also, the increase and oil and gas activity is just insane, and that's driving a lot of people here and allowing them the buying power to purchase homes. The result is a seller's market.

We moved here nine years ago from Norman and depending on if we decide to move back to Norman or stay here a while longer, we can probably sell our house for double what we paid for it (and it's a modest house). Now, I grew up in Norman and although Woodward's home prices aren't anywhere near the white-hot levels in my much-beloved-but-increasingly-bulldozed-subdivided-strip-malled-identity-stripped hometown with its vast tracts of Faux-Tudor McMansions, Woodward's real estate market certainly isn't in the cellar.

However, when you look at the surrounding smaller towns and hamlets, you'd be amazed at how cheaply you can pick up nice homes. Drive thirty, forty miles in any direction (but especially west and north) and you'll find some great deals. For example, homes in Laverne of Buffalo (about thirty miles north of here) are selling for tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than comparable homes in Woodward, and I'd say homes in Woodward are on average, a few thousand dollars cheaper than the metro.

Of course, the trade-off is, you have to live in Laverne or Buffalo. Great if you're a self-employed prairie rat like me who loves it out here, but not so great if you're used to living in a metro area with bookstores, coffeeshops and other trappings of urban life. The advantages are friendly people, solitude and (to my eyes) those beautiful, neverending plains.

I fled Norman and the real-estate developer cabal that now runs it due to the ongoing wholesale destruction of what once was the best place in the state to live. It still is, I suppose, but every year it looks a little more like just another (shudder) Edmond-like suburb of OKC. I for one really enjoy living out here away from it all. No traffic worries, low crime, good schools for the kids, no smog alerts, no stress-inducing commutes, and if I need to get away I'm 2.5 hours from Norman, OU and my family and only a short day's drive to the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado.

This is easily the least-visited part of the state due to the mistaken notion it's flat and ugly, and I like it that way. I'd highly recommend it to anyone tired of "the city".
There are plenty of nice towns in the Plains. Generally the larger the town and the closer to a metro area the more expensive but perhaps a safer investment. The county seat in rural areas will often provide a stable economy and an appealing Main Street which would help keep the town together. You don't want your new town to go to shambles as many Plains towns are destined. The ideal town for a retiree would have a hospital and basic ammenities such as a grocery store (which are often in the county seat). The storm chaser would want reliable high speed internet access which could be done via satellite in the sticks. My father grew up near Benson, MN (pop. 4000) where a 2BR fixer can still be had for less than $30k. The town is the Swift Co. seat and has all the basic ammenities. Good shopping and restaurants in the regional hub of Willmar 30 miles away and you can get to MSP before the lunch hour. Towns like this in the Plains are abundant. Kingman, KS is a nice town of about 4000 residents about 40 miles west of Wichita with 4 lanes on U.S. 54 nearly all the way. It's a very nice looking town where some homes can be had for under $60k. Just a couple examples of cheap places to live. I'm certain there are some reasonable sub $20k homes in the true sticks. The retiree might have it made but finding a steady income for the working years could be tough.
Really interesting topic and perhaps I can lend some personal thoughts. I grew up in Wichita, bought a house right out of college, and then - at age 25 - my career led me to the east coast. Fortunately, my wife and I were in a position to hold onto and rent out our nice brick ranch in Wichita rather than sell out when we moved. We held it for about 12 years, and then, after buying a few rental houses around Richmond, realized that the rental income and appreciation potential in Richmond provided a much better return on investment than the house in Wichita (from which the rent was basically paying the mortage, but didn't provide much excess cash flow), decided to do a tax-free (section 1031) exchange, sell the house in Wichita and use the equity we had to buy three more rental houses here in Richmond.

From a strictly financial viewpoint, it was probably the right decision. The house in Wichita was appreciating at about 2% per year, and throwing off maybe $100 over the monthly mortgage payment, whilst the houses in Richmond were appreciating at 10% per year and yielding $200 over the monthly mortgage.....well, this worked out great on paper, but guess what? We had a major life change, I left my corporate career and became an independent stock trader (I can work from anywhere with an internet connection), and now I would give almost anything to have that brick ranch house in Wichita back. In the meantime, I had a major mid-life crisis, and one of the offshoots was realizing a latent interest in storms and storm chasing. So, while and I am very, very thankful I have wonderful family still living in Wichita, Kansas City, and Springfield, MO to whom I can visit and even stay with for a plains chasing excursion, I still regret selling that house in Wichita. Did I realize this at age 30? Absolutely not - it was the furthest thing from my mind. The point is that life changes over time. What makes sense today may seem "bass-akwards" 10 or 15 years down the pike.

At the present, my obligations and interests are diverse, but not very congruent. I have divorced and re-married, with a new wife in Charleston, SC who recently bought a nice little bagel shop and coffee house, at which I have been working to help her get started and living down there most of the time. In the meantime, my kids (now college and high school age) have a home in Richmond, where I keep a second home so I can still be near them. All the while, I know my heart is still back in Kansas. If it were just me, myself and I, I know exactly where I would be. But, it's not just me, myself and I.

Mostly just rambling here, but the point is that following your heart and following your head is sometimes kind of complicated, and it tends to get complicated as you get older. Also, just doing a linear projection from where you are today to where to project yourself in 20 or 30 years is a damn hard thing. You have to look ahead, but you also should keep in mind that things change over time. I guess the ancient advice of "know thyself" is probably very wise.

Realize some constants at the same time: land in the plains is plentiful and will be for hundreds of years to come. Land on the coasts is scarce and will become scarcer. If you are looking to build wealth, absolutely no substitute for owning property on the coasts. You can buy something for a very, very great personal value-to-cost ratio out on the plains today, and will probably be able to do so for your whole lifetime. If the premium on being able to visit and use it (and yes, there is a travel tax deduction to consider) is of great value on a PERSONAL basis, then I would hope anyone would go for it. If it is something I "might or might not" be interested in down the road, then keep your money working where it works best; if the dream is still there down the road, chances are you will still be able to buy real estate in the plains for a 50% or even greater discount down the road. It all comes down to "know thyself."