Homesteading Today: Living on Free Land

The Four Percent


Osceola, Iowa, a city with a population of around 5,000, is also giving away empty lots around the city. “People get to choose,” said Bill Trickey, the executive director of the Clarke County Development Corporation, which runs the free land program. “There are empty lots right next to the golf course or down the street from the elementary school. We gave away a property on a lake on the south side of town. They built a nice home there.”

One of the couples who participated in the program is Misty and Bryant Schiltz, ages 30 and 31. She works part time at Allegiant Airlines, and he is a commercial flooring installer. They have three children, 9, 8, and 6. They found a lot across the street from his parents’ house and they hope to break ground soon.

Without having to pay for the land, they are able to build their dream home. “On the main floor we will have the dining room, the living room, the kitchen, the laundry room, the office, and the master,” said Ms. Schiltz. “We have a vaulted ceiling, and it’s so open. We are going to have these really nice living areas that aren’t separated by walls. I am assuming we will live here forever.”

Mr. and Ms. Laine decided to build a home in Claremont after not finding a home in the area that met their priorities. “My husband wanted a big garage because he is a motor-head geek,” she said. “For me, I was picky about the bathtub.” Now they have a four-bedroom home with two baths and a three-car garage.

She can see why few families have chosen the same path. “It was a lot harder than I expected,” she said. “Our title company, I think they hated me by the time we were done. I called them every day for a week and a half to get our paperwork before they closed for the pandemic.”

And of course, the more remote the land, the harder the challenges. Ms. Reil doesn’t live on her family’s land in the Southern California desert, but her uncle has a cabin there, where he must bring his own water and use a generator for electricity. To help pay the property taxes on the land, the family leases land to Desert Adventures, which runs Red Jeep Tours.

Mr. Sheldon also faces problems on his free land in Alaska: “It sounds silly but water is a major problem. You’re in a sea of ice, but you have to turn that into liquid form, and it uses a tremendous amount of energy.”


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