How to Get Free Land in the United States

With housing prices increasing across much of the U.S., you might think it’s nearly impossible to find affordable housing. However, if you’re flexible with where you can live, you may want to consider homesteading on free land. Even in the 21st century, communities are willing to give away land for free or at dirt-cheap prices.

Homesteading has been a popular concept since the Homestead Act of 1862. But instead of packing up your wagon and heading west across the prairie, you can rent a U-Haul and drive to your new property. This guide will show you how to get free land in the United States and start life’s next adventure.

Table of Contents
  1. Why Do States Offer Free Land?
  2. How to Get Free Land in the United States
    1. Consider Rural Areas
    2. Compare Lot Sizes
    3. Estimate Long-Term Expenses
  3. States with Free Land
    1. Colorado
    2. Illinois
    3. Iowa
    4. Kansas
    5. Minnesota
    6. Nebraska
    7. New York
    8. Texas
  4. Free Land Scams
    1. No Federal Homestead Programs
    2. Must Speak With City Leadership
    3. Requires Building a Home
  5. Summary

Why Do States Offer Free Land?

You can no longer receive a federal homestead grant – the last recipient was back in the 1970s. Fortunately, several states and cities offer homesteaders land grants and tax incentives. You don’t have to live off-grid and be the ideal candidate for a reality show about survival. However, you must be willing to live in a city that lacks the attractions of most metro areas.

The community may also exhibit traits of a “dying town,” with the free land programs intended to revive the town’s population (and tax base), helping industries survive for another generation. You may also need to be willing to improve a fixer-upper or possess skills to strengthen the local economy.

How to Get Free Land in the United States

The homesteading requirements are different for each location. However, here is how the general process works:

  • Apply for a homesteading lot: You will need to apply to the local government to see if you qualify. The initial paperwork can include your personal information, home plans, and lender pre-approval if you’re financing your project.
  • Build a permanent home: Usually, you will need to build a permanent single-family structure (i.e., not a trailer home) that’s at least 1,000 square feet and satisfies current building codes. The free lots are usually undeveloped or have had previous structures removed.
  • Open a qualifying business (for business land grants only): Some programs are designed for companies wishing to relocate and add new jobs to the community. You will need to submit a business plan which the zoning commission and townspeople may review.
  • Pay assessment fees: While communities are eager for you to come and be a productive citizen, you may need to pay upfront property assessment fees on top of taxes and construction costs. Some towns waive the fee for new residents to incentivize growth.

Consider Rural Areas

Many communities offering free land are in remote areas that may only have one or two core industries. Before packing up your belongings, make sure you can live in a rural area with sufficient but minimal urban conveniences. However, many cities are within driving distance of large cities when you need access to an airport, advanced medical facilities, or need to go shopping for a day trip or an extended weekend.

Compare Lot Sizes

While you might expect homesteading programs for farmers who need land to make a living, many programs are for typical residential lots. In most situations, lots are big enough to have a house and a yard that’s easy to mow. You can expect your lot to be up to one acre (43,560 square feet), but most are 12,000 to 30,000 square feet. This property size can be perfect if you can telecommute and want to enjoy the charms of small-town living. Depending on the program, you may be able to request multiple lots.

Estimate Long-Term Expenses

Depending on the city, you may need to build out the infrastructure for utilities like electricity, water, gas, phone, and internet. This is an additional expense when other locations only have you pay for building expenses. In addition to your building costs, you should also compare the following:

  • Employment prospects: Can you work with a local employer, do you need to start a business, or can you work remotely with high-speed internet?
  • Income taxes: Will the state income tax rate be higher or lower than your current rate?
  • Property taxes: What are the estimated state and local property taxes for your homestead?
  • Ongoing incentives: Are you eligible for any local, state, or federal grants that can help you start a new business? Farming and agricultural subsidies are pretty standard.

Upfront, free land can feel like a windfall, but you must determine if the long-term costs are worth the rewards.

States with Free Land

Several states, primarily in the midwest, offer free land incentives to individuals and businesses. Here are some examples:

Colorado

Flagler

City: Flagler, Colorado

Closest Major City: Denver, Colorado (110 miles)

Population: 650

Primary Industry: Farming and ranching

Flagler, Colorado, is approximately two hours east of Denver and directly off I-70. As of this writing, the town is giving away around 480 acres to qualifying businesses with a $10 per acre deposit. The city recently purchased three additional water wells to make the expansion viable. The lots can also have railroad spur access, and there are grain elevators in the town. Other attractions include youth sports and an indoor swimming pool.

Illinois

Grafton

City: Grafton, Illinois

Closest Major City: St. Louis, Missouri (36 miles)

Population: 600

Primary Industry: Tourism

Grafton can be one of the most picturesque towns with free land. The city is on the Mississippi River, about 40 minutes above St. Louis. Grafton’s economy is driven by tourism with a vibrant yet quaint downtown and riverboat cruises. However, spring flooding can impact the local economy until the water recedes. Their free land program requires buying a lot for $5,000. However, the amount is refundable when you build a home within three years. You can drive to St. Louis in approximately 50 minutes. Chicago, Kansas City, and Indianapolis are all within a four-hour drive, giving you access to several major cities.

Iowa

Manilla

City: Manilla, Iowa

Closest Major City: Omaha, Nebraska (75 miles)

Population: 775

Primary Industry: Farming

Manilla has free residential lots with paved streets and on-site utilities without hookup fees. You can also get property tax abatements for up to five years. The town offers plenty of essential services and also has a golf course. Omaha, Nebraska, is just over an hour away, and Des Moines is right under two hours.

Marne

City: Marne, Iowa

Closest Major City: Omaha, Nebraska (60 miles)

Population: 100

Primary Industry: Farming

A farming community at heart, Marne, Iowa, is conveniently located off of I-80. It’s only 45 minutes away from Omaha and a 1 hour and 15-minute drive from Des Moines. Select residential lots are available for free when you build at least 1,200 square feet.

Kansas

Lincoln

City: Lincoln, Kansas

Closest Major City: Wichita, Kansas (130 miles)

Population: 1,200

Primary Industry: Farming

Lincoln, Kansas, is one of the largest towns with free land in the United States. The residential lots have the opportunity to become a cozy neighborhood and come with electric, water, sewer, trash, and gas services. The lots are within city limits, so you won’t be able to raise farm animals or livestock.

Several city parks, museums, and a first-run movie theater can provide family-friendly entertainment. This city is the county seat of Lincoln Country, and the locals sometimes refer to it as Lincoln Center. While farming is the prevailing industry, you may also be able to work for the Lincoln Country Health Department or at the Lincoln Park Manor nursing home.

The town is also 45 minutes northwest of Salina, Kansas, which tends to be the regional hub for many free land giveaways if you’re willing to commute for work or access services.

Mankato

City: Mankato, Kansas

Closest Major City: Salina, Kansas (90 miles)

Population: 900

Primary Industry: Farming

Mankato, Kansas, is the seat of Jewell County and has approximately 26 lots in the Johnson addition as a horseshoe-shaped drive. The lots are a half-mile from the town shopping center and close to hospitals, high schools, motels, and a steak house.

Utilities are at or near the lots, minimizing your building costs. Your new home must be at least 1,200 square feet and contain three bedrooms and a two-car garage. You must build your home within two years of acquiring your lot.

Agriculture (wheat farming) is the primary industry of rural northwestern Kansas, but there are local initiatives to provide coding jobs and remote work. You may also be able to work in healthcare. In addition to being approximately 90 minutes northwest of Salina (population 47,000), larger nearby cities include Topeka (2.5 hours) and Lincoln, Nebraska (2.5 hours). Your application must consist of approval from a lending institution and city council. You can contact the Mankato City Office to start the process.

Marquette

City: Marquette, Kansas

Closest Major City: Wichita, Kansas (80 miles)

Population: 600

Primary Industry: Farming

Marquette has one of the more successful free land programs, and it’s only 1 hour 15 minutes north of Wichita. Salina is just over 30 minutes away can also be easy to access for groceries and employment. The town sports a motorcycle museum and has an annual motorcycle rally. You can also enjoy historical museums, an outdoor swimming pool, and outdoor recreation. For example, Kanopolis Lake is only 13 miles away.

Osborne

City: Osborne, Kansas

Closest Major City: Wichita, Kansas (180 miles)

Population: 1,400

Primary Industry: Farming

Osborne is about as close as you can live near the geographic center of the United States. The town is offering free residential and business lots. The residential lots must have a new house of at least 1,400 square feet and be occupied within 24 months of application approval.

It’s also possible to revitalize an existing property and get tax rebates for five years. Free land for commercial, light industrial, and heavy industrial is available at the junction of U.S. Highways 24 and 281. Some of the town’s modern conveniences include:

  • Municipal airport
  • City-operated power plant
  • Fiber optic internet and phone services

Plainville

City: Plainville, Kansas

Closest Major City: Wichita, Kansas (200 miles)

Population: 2,000

Primary Industry: Farming and oil production

Plainville (once known as Paradise Flats) offers 155 feet wide and 93 feet deep lots. Once your application is approved, you must complete construction within 18 months. You will also pay a refundable $500 deposit to secure your lot. Rooks County lets you save up to 50% on property taxes over ten years with its Neighborhood Revitalization Plan. There are no special assessments as the critical infrastructure is already in place for your lot.

While this city is a little further away from a major city (Wichita), the town population is approximately 2,000. Farming, oil production, and health care are the primary industries. You can also drive 30 miles south to Hays (population of 20,000), which is right on I-70 for additional opportunities and amenities.

Wilson

City: Wilson, Kansas

Closest Major City: Wichita, Kansas (130 miles)

Population: 700

Primary Industry: Farming and oil production

The city of Wilson is offering free lots in the Prairie Estates with a cul-de-sac atmosphere striving to be friendly for families and retirees. Additional lots are available for purchase. City amenities include a disc golf course, splash pad, several businesses, and railroad access. This town also holds the honor of being the Czech Capital of Kansas and is home to the “world’s largest hand-painted Czech egg.”

Minnesota

Claremont

City: Claremont, Minnesota

Closest Major City: Minneapolis/St.Paul, Minnesota (80 miles)

Population: 540

Primary Industry: Farming and medical

Claremont offers free lots when your gross annual income is below $99,700 (family of two or less) or $114,655 (at least a family of three). You can purchase the lot at a reduced rate of $9,500 with a higher income or want an adjacent lot. The standard asking price is $28,637 outside of this program.

Utility hookups and high-speed internet are available. You must complete the construction within 18 months. The program also requires a $1,000 non-refundable administrative fee when selecting your lot.

The city’s most popular activity is HogFest each August, similar to a summer fair. You’re also 1 hour 15 minutes away from the Twin Cities and about 30 minutes from Rochester, home to the Mayo Clinic.

New Richland

City: New Richland, Minnesota

Closest Major City: Minneapolis/St.Paul, Minnesota (85 miles)

Population: 1,100

Primary Industry: Farming

You can claim an 86 by 133-foot lot in New Richland in southcentral Minnesota. Your land assessment is free, but the approximate costs are $25,000 to install paved streets, water, and sewer.

Thankfully, buyers with a qualifying income can enroll in the Tax Increment Financing program (TIF), reducing this cost to approximately $14,000 over 15 years through property tax payments. The city is 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities and an hour from Rochester, and you’re also not too far away from I-35.

There are several outdoor amenities nearby that nature lovers will enjoy.

Nebraska

Curtis

City: Curtis, Nebraska

Closest Major City: Denver, Colorado (280 miles)

Population: 900

Primary Industry: Farming and education

Curtis is offering paved lots with utilities within city limits. According to the economic development board website, industry and commercial lots are also available, with high restaurants opportunities. The town is home to the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, which ranks as one of the best trade schools in the United States.

Farming is the dominant industry. The city is also famous for its Easter and Palm Sunday celebrations.

Elwood

City: Elwood, Nebraska

Closest Major City: Lincoln, Nebraska (180 miles)

Population: 680

Primary Industry: Farming

Elwood offers 110 by 115 feet lots and features paved streets and utilities. You can receive 10% of your construction costs (up to $25,000) as payment from the city upon completion.

New York

Note: You might be surprised to see New York State on this list because the eastern seaboard is so heavily populated. But parts of the state have experienced several decades of population decline.

Buffalo

City: Buffalo, New York

Closest Major City: New York City, New York (380 miles)

Population: 278,000

Primary Industry: Tourism, technology, and banking

Buffalo is one of the few significant cities offering free land. Its Urban Homestead Program lets you get free residential lots in three ways:

  • Obtain an adjacent vacant lot to your existing home
  • Build a new home
  • Rehab an existing structure

You can anticipate living in the dwelling for at least 36 months after the construction or remodel finishes. The city may also have you verify your income sources to qualify. While this is a unique opportunity, Buffalo can have a higher cost of living and property tax rate than other free land programs.

Texas

La Villa

City: La Villa, Texas

Closest Major City: Houston, Texas (330 miles)

Population: 3,000

Primary Industry: Agriculture

Near the southern tip of Texas, you can settle in La Villa in the arable Rio Grande Valley. You can contact the city to see if they are currently offering free land. The city periodically pauses the program until it can expand the infrastructure to support more homes. You’re within driving distance of Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi (beach trip!), and Laredo.

Free Land Scams

Free land is rare, and you may come across several scams as you look for affordable housing. Here are some things to look out for to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

No Federal Homestead Programs

While you may come across grants from federal agencies that can help establish a farm or conserve your land, the federal government no longer offers free land grants. It’s the same thing for states which may direct you to participate in city and state-level grant programs.

Must Speak With City Leadership

Small towns administer most programs. As a result, you likely won’t be talking with an agency to start the application process. It’s good to get the phone number and email information from the official government website.

Requires Building a Home

Nearly every program offers undeveloped lots that require building a new home. Turnkey programs that only require you to buy a home that needs minimal repairs, or is a trailer home, will be a scam.

Summary

If you’re location-independent – perhaps because you work remotely – and have the funds to build a new home, you can be the perfect candidate to live on free land. While you sacrifice the amenities of a bustling metropolis, a mid-size city can be nearby when you need to escape the rural setting for a day. However, you can enjoy a family-friendly and peaceful environment 24/7 while saving money.

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About Josh Patoka

After graduating in $50k with student loans in May 2008 from Virginia Military Institute with a B.A. International Studies and Political Science with a minor in Spanish (he studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain for 3 months), Josh decided to sell his soul for seven years by working in the transportation industry to get out of debt ASAP and focus on doing something else with a better work-life balance.

He is a father of three and has been writing about (almost) everything personal finance since 2015. You can also find him at his own blog Money Buffalo where he shares his personal experience of becoming debt-free (twice) and taking a 50%+ pay cut when he changed careers.

Today, Josh relishes the flexibility of being self-employed and debt-free and encourages others to pursue their dreams. Josh enjoys spending his free time reading books and spending time with his wife and three children.

Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank or financial institution. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  1. B.K. Gant-Ussery says

    Is that the only place in texas? Wanted more panhandle than that.lubbock area

    • Jim Wang says

      We tried to find examples so that people who are interested can do more research, it’s not meant to be an exhaustive list.

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