Land prices in the United States are incredibly high. Even in “cheap” states like South Dakota, you can expect to pay more than $2,000 per acre of farmland. Cropland is even more expensive. If you can’t afford these land prices, one solution is to look for free land in the United States.
Yes, it is possible to get free land.
But, like with everything free, there are catches involved.
Here, we will go over the places still giving out free land in the USA, why they would give away land, what the catches are, and some alternative solutions for getting your piece of land.
Why Do Towns Give Out Free Land?
Free land programs have long been part of America’s heritage. The Homesteading Act of 1862 gave away 160 acres of land to people to encourage them to settle in remote areas and cultivate land.
While the Homesteading Act ended in 1976, some small towns have initiated their own free land programs to boost economic growth. In the long run, the towns stand to benefit from the property taxes they will get on the homes. More people in an area also decreases the cost of services per capita.
Warning: If the Land Is Free, It’s Probably for a Good Reason
If people were willing to pay for the land, towns wouldn’t give it away for free. So, any place in the USA with free land is going to have a lot of problems. Most are in areas subject to natural disasters like tornadoes and droughts. These are significant concerns that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
As one person said, “I grew up in Lincoln, Kansas, and that land has been free since 2007. It is also in a spot where it will flood as soon as a big rain comes.”
While some cities offer free plots of land, most of the free land will be in very rural and remote areas. Rural life comes with its challenges – particularly the lack of job opportunities (and the rampant poverty this creates in the area).
It’s doubtful that you’ll find fertile land for free, so living off the land can be difficult. Even if you manage, you’ll likely have to travel far distances to sell your goods. And, if you work from home online, be warned that the internet connection in remote places can be terrible.
What’s The Catch?
It shouldn’t be surprising that the free land programs are full of catches. These catches usually make it impossible to get the free land without spending a LOT of money on building a home (which kind of defeats the free land perk).
You probably won’t be allowed to build your own home or use the land for homesteading, either!
Here are the most common clauses you’ll find in free land programs:
Residential Property Only
Almost all free land available (even in rural states like Kansas and Iowa) is for residential use only.
Because of residential zoning regulations, you probably won’t be able to use the land for homesteading or farming. Some towns even specifically say that you won’t be able to have farm animals or chickens on the free land.
The Home Must Be of a Certain Value or Square Footage
Most free land programs require you to build a home of a specific value or square footage. The amounts are not small!
For example, to get free land in Halstad, Minnesota, you must build a home with an assessed value of at least $175,000. To get free land in Marne, Iowa, the home must be at least 1,200 sq. feet. And in Lincoln, Kansas, the house must have a footprint of at least 1,300 sq. feet.
These terms exist because the towns want to make money by collecting property taxes on your home. Ensure you carefully calculate the expected property taxes before getting drawn in by the lure of free land.
Because the free land programs require you to build a home, they also usually need proof of financing. If you want free land to save money, you might not have the necessary funding.
Meet Building Codes
Don’t think you’ll be able to build your own home on a free plot of land. The terms usually say that you need to meet all building codes and regulations (which may require you to use a licensed contractor).
Remember that a lot of the free land available is in very rural areas. Good luck getting a contractor to come to your middle-of-nowhere property for a low price.
Build the Home within a Set Period
You usually must build a home on the free land within 1 to 3 years. If you cannot build an approved residence in this timeframe, the property will revert to the city, or you will need to buy it from the city.
Off Grid Not Allowed
Free land on residential lots usually must be connected to the city utilities. You might not be legally able to live off-grid on the land.
For more, read: Off-Grid Laws of Every State in the USA
Is Free Rural Land Worth It?
Free land programs that require you to build a home usually don’t make financial sense: you can spend much more money to build a home that meets the requirements than you would if you just bought land somewhere.
Keep in mind that building a new home is expensive. Free land programs are typically in places where property value is low. If you spend $100,000 to build a home that meets the free-land requirements, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever be able to sell it for that much.
Because of this, free land programs only make sense for people who live in the area and are already planning on building a new home.
States Where You Can Get Free Rural Land
As of 2023, there are only 5 states where you can get free rural land. Note that these programs are run by the town or county (there are no state-run free land programs). These programs could run out of free land or expire at any time.
Minnesota is one of the best states for free land. Not only are there several towns with free land programs, but these towns also offer other incentives, such as free electrical hookups and building permits.
As of 2023, the following places in Minnesota have free land programs:
- Middle River
For more details on these programs, read how to get free land in Minnesota
Several small towns in Kansas give away free land. As of 2023, these Kansas towns have free land available:
For more information on these programs, see this post about how to get free land in Kansas.
Several towns in Iowa have experimented with free land programs. However, most of these programs were short-lived or no longer available. As of 2023, only these towns in Iowa have free land available:
For more info, read how to get free land in Iowa
Many towns in Nebraska provide incentives for new residents, such as relocation packages or tax abatements. There have also been several free land programs in Nebraska (some of which are no longer active). As of 2023, these towns in Nebraska offer free land:
For more info about these programs, read how to get free land in Nebraska
The city of Flagler, Colorado, has a free land incentive. However, the program is only for businesses and not for residential use. The available land has no utilities, so any business would need to build out to connect to the utilities.
More info here
States which No Longer Have Free Rural Land Programs
These states used to have free land available, but the programs are no longer active. I thought it was important to list them here since many articles mention them as still having free land.
The remote town of Anderson, Alaska, used to have a free land program. That program has since been suspended, meaning no free land is available in Alaska.
There are some state lands available through the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. These lands are not free, but some are available for very cheap. Get more info here.
The town of Antler in North Dakota used to offer free land. However, the free land program is no longer active, and the town’s population has declined. The population was 27 in 2010 and fell even lower to 20 residents in 2021. There are no other free land programs in North Dakota.
Maine no longer has any free land programs. The city of Camden, Maine, used to have a free land program up until around 2014. That program gave away 3.5 acres of land. The owner would have to pay $200,000 upfront but would be reimbursed 1/3 of the amount for every 8 jobs created. Further, the created jobs needed to pay more than the average wage in the county.
It’s worth noting that this free land was located at the site of a former tannery. As one former worker said, “That place was a chemical waste pit.”
The town of Grafton, Illinois, used to have a land reimbursement program: the buyer would pay $5,000 for a lot and get reimbursed through FEMA. The program was designed to encourage people to move out of the flood zones in Grafton.
Cities Where You Can Get Vacant Lots for Free
Some cities have programs that give residents vacant city-owned lots under the condition that they “improve” the lot.
These lots usually aren’t entirely free but are very cheap. The terms are generally much more relaxed than those in free rural land contracts. You typically need to own the adjacent lot to qualify for a vacant lot.
1. Buffalo, New York
Getting free land in Buffalo, New York, through the Urban Homesteading Program is possible. The program has been in effect for more than 40 years now. Under the program, you must fix any code violations on the free property within 18 months and live in the home for at least three years. More info here
2. Allegheny, Pennsylvania
The Allegheny County Vacant Property Recovery Program conveys land to applicants who have “demonstrated the capacity to implement it.” Pricing for nonprofits or community organizations is determined on a case-by-case basis and depends on the planned use of the land. More info here
3. Erie County, Pennsylvania
Under the Erie County Land Bank Vacant Lot program, residents can purchase vacant lots next to their properties for a heavily discounted price (starting at $500). More info here
4. Baltimore, Maryland
Under the Baltimore Side Yard program, residents can purchase the lots adjacent to their properties for $500. Non-adjacent lots are $1,000. More info here
5. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The city of Milwaukee has a Vacant Side Lot program. Under the program, residents can buy city-owned lots adjacent to their properties for $1. These lots have no development potential but can be used for gardens, open spaces, or side yards. There are also many lots available for $100 to $500.
Get more info here
6. Muskegon, Michigan
The small city of Muskegon in Michigan has some $1 lots available. However, the catch is that these $1 lots are “non-buildable” lots and must be used for “beautification or creation of natural habitat.” The city also refunds up to $1,000 in landscaping costs. If you want to build on the lot, the city sells lots for 75% of the actual value.
More on the program here
7. Chicago, Illinois
Chicago has several programs allowing residents or developers to buy vacant lots for free or cheap. Here’s an overview of the leading programs.
- City Lots for Working Families (CL4WF): Developers can buy city-owned lots for $1 so long as they make affordable single-family homes
- Adjacent Neighbors Land Acquisition Program (ANLAP): This program used to sell residents adjacent city-owned lots for $1. Now, the prices have increased to 10% of market value.
Alternative Options for Free Land
Don’t want to live in one of the places offering free land or can’t meet the requirements? Here are some options which can help you buy land for cheap.
Welcome Home Programs
The Federal Government and many State Governments have “Welcome Home Programs.” Under the program, you can get a grant to buy a home. The grants are usually up to $10,000 though some people – such as veterans – can get up to $15,000.
Farm-Link and Land-Link Programs
These programs connect younger farmers with older farmers who can’t farm anymore but don’t want their land developed. The idea is that the older farmers will pass their land down to the younger farmers. You typically have to pay a membership fee to access the network. You can find more info here.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has no free land available. However, they do occasionally sell land for cheap. In most cases, BLM land for sale does not have agricultural potential.
The federal and local governments regularly sell off land, such as property seized from criminals or land with unpaid taxes. While many people successfully get cheap land from these auctions, it’s not always easy. You’ll have to do a lot of research. It could take years before you find a suitable property and don’t get outbid on it.
USDA Rural Land Grants and Loans
The USDA has various Rural Development grants and loans. The terms are very favorable for people who want to farm or homestead. Get info here.
Places Which Will Pay You to Move There
Many towns and small cities now offer relocation incentives, including cash for moving there. This money can help offset the cost of buying property.
Native American Programs
If you are a member of a recognized tribe, then you may be eligible to get financial grants for buying or building a home. You can see some of the programs here.
Squatters Rights (Adverse Possession)
This is controversial, but loopholes in the “adverse possession” laws allow squatters to get property for free. The laws are complicated and vary between states. There is also a lot of personal risk involved since many states require the squatter to possess the property continuously for 20 years in other to get rights to it.