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Buying Land in Alaska; How to Stop Charging into a Bad Idea

So why aren't the sellers the bad guys?

To put this simply-it's because it's Alaska. A lot of people deal with the issues I'm going to talk about. For them it's a way of life and not that abnormal for this state and it's residents. For people coming from out of state it can be a devastating reality causing expenses, being stranded and wasted money. Let's not waste your money, ok?

Wild and Free

A local fishing spot we visit in the summer. Interior Alaska, south of Fairbanks.

A local fishing spot we visit in the summer. Interior Alaska, south of Fairbanks.

Let's get under that ground

Using a website you've found your land for sale. It looks beautiful! Trees for miles, seclusion and best of all-it's cheap. An example would be 10 acres for $5,000. Three things that can be majorly devastating about deals like this to people who aren't from Alaska are: Permafrost, Location and water.


So permafrost, what the heck is that and why is it important? Permafrost is what happens when the temperatures get so cold the earth forms pockets of ice that do not thaw out, even when the temps get to 113 degrees F. (Yes, parts of Alaska can absolutely see that temp in the summer. A lot of the time in the interior we see -55 degrees F and I personally have seen -76 degrees several times in my life. These temps do hit in the winter. Sometimes it's short bursts like a few days in a row and then it'll warm up to -30 before dropping again.) In the summer Permafrost can melt and move. It drags the earth down making huge pot holes and sink holes. Meaning it's bad to build a home on. It however is not impossible but it is very expensive. Heavy machinery cannot dig into permafrost easily and digging a foundation often is the most labor intensive part of building a home in Alaska. Concrete slab foundation is not advised in Alaska, permafrost shifting, sinking and rising will crack the foundation slab. A great way to tell if your property has permafrost is by looking at the trees. Creepy, sickly trees in a swampy like area screams permafrost. Birch trees, aspen trees and other leafing trees do not like permafrost lands. Abundant Birch is a good sign.

Attempting to dig our foundation in July of 2019. Permafrost can be huge frozen rivers through property.

Attempting to dig our foundation in July of 2019. Permafrost can be huge frozen rivers through property.

Location

Perhaps you've decided you don't mind to build on permafrost and that's totally ok. People do it all the time. Just be sure to research what that entails-it's a process and requires more materials.

Location is where a lot of people feel lied to after they buy their land and arrive to the nearest town. Last summer my husband ran into a man who's car was loaded with belongings and his young family. He was searching for a lake because he bought property on the lake but couldn't find the road to the lake. My husband corrected him because there is no road. Access by float plane only. This is entirely too common with cheaper lots. Float plane, bush plane or ATV access ONLY. There are many properties that aren't accessible in the winter because there's no snow maintenance. A lot of residents do live this way, in fact. They buy heavy equipment to operate themselves and manage the land. Almost all ads for land for sale include a map showing the location of the plot so be aware and look for roads, ask questions.

Another pitfall of location is the subject of power. If there is year round access with a road to the property what does that mean for installing power for your home? Power can be extremely expensive. There are many people who don't bother with the cost and go for a generator instead. You'll have to haul and store fuel for the generator. Again this is all perfectly doable and about 1/3rd of the population of my town lives using generators.

Having our water well drilled in June 2019.

Having our water well drilled in June 2019.

Drill or Haul?

Drilling for water can be expensive. A lot of people from the Lower 48 assume there will be city water. There is rarely city water and even more rare is city propane. There is a way to set up a water tank for your home. Usually they're buried and between 500 and 1,000 gallons. In Fairbanks this is very common. Fairbanks has rusty smelly ground water so most people opt for tanks and call for a service to deliver or families will buy a spare pickup with a smaller tank to refill their larger tank. Hauling water can be a huge pain. We lived in our home for an entire winter without running water or a water tank. I had 6 gallon water jugs I would fill in Fairbanks once a week. Not every town has water houses like Fairbanks does. Fairbanks has several well houses that take card, cash or coin and dispenses water. It's set up like a gas station so that means yes, even in -40 temps people go get their water.

Our property has great water underground, for us a well is a must. About 90% of our town have their own wells for their homes. Depending on the depth of the well it can be expensive or fairly reasonable. 15 miles from our house wells have been drilled less than 30 feet down. Our property, with permafrost, was 100 feet down for water. Costs for well drilling range from 55 to 60 dollars per foot. Our cost just to drill was $6,000.00.

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Is 907 for you?

Alaska is beautiful, harsh and can be dangerous. There is a freedom here that doesn't exist in the lower 48. If you're willing to work and cover expenses it could be a positive life changing experience. Building your own home can be extremely rewarding and you can truly build the Alaska experience you want.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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