Is homesteading in Wisconsin a bad idea? : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

We are thinking of moving to Wisconsin. Though we are from Tennessee, we lived in central Illinois for 10 years. When my contract ended at my job, we decided to move back to Tennessee to move to the country. It isn't working out. We don't like the weather (I hate it, and my daughters, who were born in Illinois, don't like the long, hot, humid summers, and lack of real winter). Bad things happened, and we want to go back to the midwest, where we enjoyed it. I really don't want to go back to Illinois (the land of megafarms) and we have a good friend in Madison. So we are thinking of somewhere outside of Madison, close to a small town.

But I have read some negative things about homesteading in Wisconsin. I have heard of high property taxes -- like $2,000 to 3,000 for a smallish home on some property. I have heard of places where you need 35 acres to build a house. I have heard of rural areas where you need 35 acres to have chickens. I have heard of people leaving Wisconsin to homesteading.

Current and former residents -- what do you think?

We really like Wisconsin, but I need a place where we can live reasonably well on the income from my home-based businesses. Like Charles Long ("How to Live Without a Salary"), we want to be able to live well on a small income. Can you do this in Wisconsin?


-- John Grauer (, June 27, 2000


Hi John, We left Wisconsin for Missouri 2 years ago, prompted by Y2K. We are sure glad we did! Taxes in Wisconsin are very high. We paid $2,000 a year property tax for an old six acre dairy farm. New school building is a contagious disease - every district around seemed to be having referendums on borrowing for building new schools. We lived 35 miles from Madison and the area is growing tremendously. Many of the small towns really can't handle all the traffic, etc. The way oil is going up we are glad we don't have to heat our old farm house anymore. It used to cost us $600 a year for fuel oil. I'm sure it would be extremely difficult now the way prices are going. We really did like the area though. One advantage is a large well educated population if you can take advantage of that in your business. I would say the area we were in near Madison is really not very homestead oriented. Lots and lots of people moving out to the country to commute to Madison and Milwaukee with no real interest in farming, gardening,etc. Farmers were selling off land for development because there is no money in farming. I think you would have to do a lot of research in the area you are interested in before you move. If you have any more questions I would be glad to try and answer them.

-- Deb (, June 27, 2000.

John: We live in central wisc. Yes, the taxes are high. Here, six acres, house, and a pole bldg about $1600/yr. I'm guessing the 35 acre requirement was in an area zoned for ag only. Around here, my place is zoned ag/residential. 2 1/2 acre minimum requirement. Livestock permissible. greenhouse business etc. The people are generally decent with the common exceptions. Land prices are going up. Our land has tripled in value over the last 8 yrs.

-- john leake (, June 27, 2000.

Wherever you go, rent first for a year to get a good feel for the area. If you then decide it is for you, you have a base to go looking out of, rather than just weekend or whatever property hunting trips.

I guess I'm spoiled. I have about 860 ag acres in TN and only pay about $1,600 a year in property taxes. I would say our schools and infrastructure support are just as good as WI.

-- Ken Scharabok (, June 28, 2000.

Would you Wisconsin residents explain something to me please. I keep on running into comments like the one above "I'm guessing the 35 acre requirement was in an area zoned for ag only. Around here, my place is zoned ag/residential. 2 1/2 acre minimum requirement."

Do you have zoning in the county? Is ALL the land there zoned?

I am used to rural Tennessee, where, as a friend from rural Indiana said, "you could put a nuclear waste dump in your front yard."

Obviously, in towns and close to towns, zoning exists, but not in the countryside. Does such zoning exist in the Wisconsin countryside?


-- John Grauer ((, June 28, 2000.

Hi John! We live in the NW corner of Illinois, and can be to Madison in about 65 minutes.The terrain here is the southern edge of the the SW wisconsin hill country, so more rolling than steep like the west side of Madison.The real estate market here is driven too much by the Chicago buyers that use this area as a getaway, because we can be reached from Chicago in 2-21/2 hrs by car. If you built new here the taxes will floor you-figure about 2.2% of the ASSESSED value or market value of the home, not what it cost you to build it. The place up the road from us is for sale now for about $130,000, 20 year old 2 story house on 3 acres all in very good condition, taxes are 2400 plus per year. We live in an old 100 year old house with a dairy barn and other outbuildings and 10 acres of great privacy and our taxes are only half of that. I also saw another farmette yesterday on my way to work-3 acres old farm house and barns 149,000--taxes only $700 per year.In this area the old established places are pretty reasonabletax wise but the newer places really get hammered.I suspect our area is like everywhere else as far as people go, mostly good with the occasional bad egg. Not a lot of homesteader types but there are some and we seem to find each other through various means like goats for sale or other ads in the local papers.We like it here, its quiet and farmy enough that the infrastructure is here for feed and vets and other livestock needs,yet we are not so far from the " big city" that we cant make a day trip out of it. Kens advice is as sound as you will find. Avoid the impulse to buy and rent for a year, and you will be able to really get to know an area and make a better choice. ( take my advice, I'm not using it!)LOL

-- Mike (, June 28, 2000.

Don't it get cold up there????

-- Joe Cole (, June 28, 2000.

Oh, I just have to put my 2cents worth in here.....

Yes, our property taxes are a killer! We have a new house that is 60% done (which we are building ourselves) and 80 acres, our taxes this year will be up to $5000. Most of this is due to the people that have moved out from Madison and are crazy enough to pay $3000/acre average for over 5 acres. They assess on what the current rate is not on what we paid for the place. Our rate of tax is $20 per $1000 of the value. I just went around with our assessor and its hopeless until we can get some of the congress to realize that people are being taxed to death. On the other hand every acre of land that has timber can be put into a preservation program and decrease the tax on that acre from $40/yr to $2.Guess where were putting our timber land? The other thing is that if land is actually used as farm land it is taxed at a lower rate, something like $15/yr vs the $40 for recreational land. Help increase the profit margin on those beef cattle.

We do have zoning on everything. The land out here is zoned ag/residential and ag. If you have under a certain # of acres that you want to build on and it was a field before I believe that you would need to have it rezoned to ag/resid. In our township we are trying to slow down the non-ag building, but they dont have a restriction on #of acres to build on. They go by whether the land is "prime ag soil", basically whether it is good farm land, or not. You have a hard time getting a variance to build on prime ag land. I think thats all for the better, but would also like to see some density requirements too. As I said before the land is high, we are only 35 miles west of Madison and it has tripled in the last 4 years. The further out you get of course the better the prices. If you can go down closer to Dubuque or north to Richland center area it really drops off in price. I think that is the case anywhere that you get around a large town, we found that near Kansas City too.

I think that there are a lot of people out doing "homesteading" around, I went to a extention office sponsored Small Farm Income seminar. I met alot of people who were doing a real diverse number of things, it was very inspiring. There are a couple of pasture poultry operations, both sell at the farmers market in Madison. Speaking of which if you get in the area that is an excellent Market. I have talked to many vendors and it is one of the best around. Shearing days, market gardens, tomato greenhouses, perennial flower cart, these are all things people are doing within 40 miles of me that I personally know. Most of the small towns in the area have started their own markets, Dodgeville, Mineral Point, Baraboo, LaCrosse, and of course Milwaukee all have markets. I think that there is a great opportunity for direct marketing in Madison. Lots of people interested in CSA and Organtic produce.-and the money to pay for it:)

Now having said all of that, I wouldnt move for anything. I love Wisconsin and I believe that it is the most beautiful place I have ever been. We moved to Kansas\ Missouri border for a year, and I missed our weather! The fall color is worth all the money in the world. If you dont mind the snow and cold winter, and wont miss the heat and humidity in the summer then there is no better place.

If there is anything that I could help you with, just ask! Tami

-- Tami Bowser (, June 28, 2000.

Hi, I believe that zoning varies by area, with a lot of counties going to zoning out in the country to keep the land from becoming one massive subdivision. We did some looking around Wisconsin before deciding to move to Missouri and we found a lot of areas had a minimum of 35 acres to build a new house. Those interested in farmers markets need to check regulations before planning on selling at one. We heard there is a 5 year waiting list to sell at the Madison farmers market, it is so popular. Down here, if you want to sell at the Springfield farmers market, you have to be a resident of the county or an adjoining county. Wisconsin is a beautiful state, with a lot of wonderful things about it. We certainly miss some things. It is also the #2 tax state in the nation. Research, visit, talk to a lot of people. The more you know, the better your decision.

-- Deb (, June 28, 2000.

I cant speak to the area around Madison other than its probably pretty tough to make it strictly homesteading because the prices there are rather high compared to elsewhere in Wisconsin.

We searched all over NE Wisconsin for a place and learned that most people will tell you that you need to buy 35 acres or more to build but it isnt necessarily so. The area I live in has similar zoning regs. The purposes of the zoning are strictly to keep the city folks out of the country and keep taxes low. My property was zone ag3 (I believe its called)which meant that a person did need 35+ acres to build but what that means is that if you had 35+ then you could just go ahead and build. No one could stop you, you just pay for your permit and get yourself a box of nails. If you wanted to buy/build on less, then you needed to be rezoned (to ag2?) and the town got to vote on weather you should be allowed to build. I could only swing about 20 of the 39 acres and had to have it rezoned so I put a rezoning contingency into my bid (very important) and then brought it to the town board. The seller had to pay a rezoning fee of @ $250 to have the property split. Half the people in the township must have showed up so they could get a good look at "the new guy". Everyone who showed up briefly discussed weather we should be allowed to move in. About 1/2 were afraid of recent subdivision problems a few townships away and didnt want any more plots smaller than 35 acres. The other half argued that one more little guy wasnt going to hurt anyone. The townboard decided to stop the bickering and asked me to get up, introduce myself, and tell everyone what my intentions were for the property. I explained that I was a homesteader (and had to describe what that was) and promised that I would not try to further rezone and develope the land in the future and that if the opportunity arose I would try to buy the other 19 acres to add back to my farm. Everyone liked the idea of homesteaders moving in and we were granted the rezone. That is, out of the 39 acre ag3 we were made into 1 20 acre ag2 property with house and 1 19 acre ag2 property that could be built on with board approval still owned by the other guy.

Im over toward Algoma (NE of Green Bay) just on the south side of the Door/Kewaunee County border and cant think of any good reasons not to homestead over here in this part of Wisconsin.

-- William in WI (, June 28, 2000.

If you really like the idea of being an eskimo, Wisconsin is perfect!

My parents moved last year to Missouri because they couldn't afford the taxes any longer. I believe second in the nation....not absolutely sure on that, but they are way high at any rate.

I moved 10 years ago, because I just couldn't take the battery out of my car so it wouldn't freeze for yet another winter.

It is pretty in a lot of places, but too dang cold for me!

-- Doreen (, June 28, 2000.

let's not forget this magazine is published in wi. Maybe the belangers could help out with your questions. if the homesteading in wi is anything like the magazine it would have to be pretty good. however i like my 3.7 acres in missouri and my $40.00/year in taxes. it would have been nicer this winter if it had been colder as we would have less ticks. i still think it is your attitude now your location that makes a homestead.

-- gail fick (, June 29, 2000.

Is Homesteading in Wis a bad idea?

It is like one of Jd's favorite sayings "How long is a piece of string? It depends."

Every place has it's pros and cons. It really comes down to what do you really want.Do you like sun or snow? Do you need an off the homestead job or will you work at home? Do you want to grow grapefruit or ? Here in north central Wis we are in zone 3 we had frost in the middle of June last year with frost again in Oct. We use to live down by Madison in zone 4 so you have a better growing season but land prices are higher. Taxes are high, unemployment is low. I have lived in California and Texas, personally I'm not to crazy about snow and cold but I love the changes of the seasons and the great thing about Wis is if you don't like the weather just wait 5 minutes it will change.

I could homestead almost anywhere, you would have to do different things depending on where you are located but then I do things different from what my next door neighbor does. So the question is what are you looking for in a homestead? Make a list of everything you think is important. Then you can narrow your search down to 25 states or so, then check the pros and cons of each state. Make list and do it again and again. Then when you find a place, throw out old list and start again because what you thought was important before really isn't now.

It's like life, you set a goal and head for it but before you get there you get side tracked a little and by the time you do get there your goal has changed from what it started out to be.

To answer your question. What kind of home business are you planning on doing. Do you need people close by or can you be out in the sticks away from everyone? How much is a small income for you? I can think of better and worse places to homestead, but, for my family we like it here so it must be a good idea for us.

Most of the big real estate companies have web sites so you can look at different places and see the what's in your price range and see what the taxes are. That should narrow down your search a bit.

-- Steve Belanger (, June 29, 2000.

Moved to central wi 5 years ago from the Madison area. Before that it was Springfield, Ill. I don't miss the hot and humid stuff down there. Seasons change here, sometimes before your very eyes. Land within 40 miles of Madison is expensive and so are the taxes. Just beyond that it gets more reasonable. I currently make the 65 mile drive to the west edge of Madison 5 days a week to build up cash for the final break. We bought 20 acres, an older farm house and three outbuildings for under 60K. Taxes around 1100. My wife's an artist and has found plenty of outlets a within reasonable distance of the homestead. We direct market pigs and pastured poultry along with selling produce and such at Markets around Madison. Check out places like Stoughton, Waunakee, verona and Middleton for good, small farmers markets that still touch the yuppie crowd with deep pockets and a yen for country goodness. Hope to be full time on the farm in 6 years when the child finishes college. I'd say the only mistake you can make is not to homestead somewhere.

-- ray schaub (, June 29, 2000.

I also live in central Wisconsin. Have been here since 1971. I think Wi. is a very nice place to live. You get the pleasure of all 4 seasons, usually good fishing and hunting. Sometimes, the garden doesn't do too well if we have a long cool spring but that usually only affects the tomatos. I've also lived in Ohio and Ill. and wouldn't move away for anything! I prefer being far away from large major cities. We have a small town of just over 300 people here,with the usual small grocery store, hardware store, bank and have to travel 20 miles to get to a Walmart or Fleet Farm. Homeschooling restrictions are pretty good. We have to log everything the kids do and go according to the state requirements for each grade. It really isn't too bad! I've been doing it for going on 12 yrs. and haven't had any trouble. As for the winters, you never know what each year will hold till it's here. Last winter was pretty mild. Had 2 wks. of the really cold stuff! Some years the snow will be more but you get used to it. Property taxes would be my biggest argument! Other than that - I raised chickens, hens, hogs, goats, etc. on only 1 1/2 acres for years. (just kept everything to the back of the property). Now I own an additional 6 acres. Visit the area you're thinking about living in. Take a couple days and get the feel of it. GOOD LUCK !!!!!

-- Pat (, June 29, 2000.

$5000/year property tax?? I can't imagine. We have three acres, a 1400 sq. ft. house, large barn, & shed/garage/smokehouse. Our property tax is only $200/year. I don't know how ya'll do it! Gosh, even $700 sounds stiff to me! Maybe I am just spoiled! :o)

-- Linda in GA (, June 30, 2000.

We thought homesteading in WI was a bad idea! I spent 3 years there as an assistant professor at UW Madison. We lived about 30 minutes away in Jefferson County. We loved our town (Cambridge) but as someone said new school building is contageous. Our town of 1000 built a new school with an Olympic size swimming pool. Our old farm house with a barn and 6 acres had taxes of $2400.

We raised sheep there and sold produce at farmers markets, to coops and to restaurants. It was very obvious to us that I'd have to work full time to stay there. We moved to the Ozarks in Arkansas. Have a house and 25 acres and pay about $140 per year in taxes. The schools aren't fancy and aren't as good as WI but they aren't 10 times worse!! I decided to get involved with the schools, substitute teach etc and I like what I've found! My kids are thriving.

Our winters here are beautiful, we get enough snow to enjoy it but not enough to get tired of it. Fall in the Ozarks is gorgeous and spring is one colour after the other! I wouldn't ever choose to homestead in WI. It's beautiful but property value, perceived standard of living and taxes were enough to convince us to look someplace else. Kim

-- kim (, July 02, 2000.

To paraphrase Jd, one nice thing about being 20 below is there are no mosquitoes. Where I'm at in west-central TN the summers may be hot and humid, but at least we don't have a mosquito problem. Get maybe one bite a year. Ticks haven't been a problem either. As noted in other postings, there are trade-offs.

-- Ken Scharabok (, July 04, 2000.

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