Because everyone has so much fun weighing in on real estate searches... clearing land

This thread offered so much good advice, I thought I’d go for round two.

Backstory: we’re approaching nearly 3 years of farmette searching. Lots of heartbreak and hours spent making offers only to come up empty-handed. We live in a weird real estate market. This time of year, the best way to describe the market is “sluggish” (understatement of the century).

We just passed on the farm in the link above-- too big. As if the real estate gods were watching and laughing, another potentially suitable farmette popped up on the market as soon as we passed on the other. But in true Goldilocks fashion, this one isn’t quite right, either.

House- meh. It’s liveable, meets our minimum needs, and move-in ready, but nothing to get excited over.
Location- meh. I’ll spare you the pluses and minuses, but it’s basically fine in the end.
Horse facilities- turn-key! Four stall barn with shelters and storage, paddocks in move-in ready condition with excellent fencing. Zoning allows my whole herd of three horses and two donkeys no problem.
Price- under budget! By quite a bit (thanks to the “meh” house and location), which encourages us that we could have money to make the property exactly what we want over time.
Lot size- 13 acres of level land… perfect! Except here’s the kicker: only 2+ acres are in pasture and the rest are in woods. head desk

Two acres of pasture is really too small for our needs in the long run.

BUT… with the property being so far under budget and otherwise turn-key, DH and I are pondering something that was otherwise a “hard no” for us-- clearing land. I can’t recall who said it, but I remember reading a quote here on COTH along the lines of “any land worth clearing would have been cleared by now.” But maybe it’s worth investigating in this case?

The thought being we could make do with the two acres of pasture for the time being and work on clearing another two to three acres to add more pasture and a small arena within the next couple years. Maybe we’d want to clear even more over time, maybe not. Either way, adding another 2-3 acres of cleared land would give the property so much more flexibility. But we also recognize we don’t know what we don’t know about clearing land…

So who has cleared land? What were your experiences? In this situation, would you consider it or keep moving on?

I remember twenty years ago when I was looking for my first place in MD, land clearing was very expensive, and you had to get permission in many areas even if it was zoned ag.

I’m kind of in agreement with the “any land worth clearing” statement.

A year and a half ago our 11 acres was completely wooded. We hired a logging company to come log and grub the property. We thought we could quit on that and finish it up ourselves. Big NO. Way too much work. Our land is pretty much flat, not only did we not have the equipment capable of finishing the excavation work ourselves, the land needed a bit of grade work. So that was an unexpected, added, expense.

It took about four months to clear and excavate the 11 acres.

We had a stop work order placed on the property by the DEQ and one from our County. We had to install 1600 feet of silt fence along the creek that runs through the middle of our property and have the DEQ engineer approve the regrading work since it affected the watershed. No fees, just a pain in the butt.

We seeded a little over a year ago. We are fortunate to have great soil. We had full pasture by April of this year. We are still very careful with turnout on the pastures, even though they are full, they are not established. The root base is still shallow. The horses do spend a lot of time on the sacrifice paddock.


I bet this is true as far as it goes, but I’m guessing it also depends on the local real estate market. As land becomes scarcer and prices increase, areas that were not worth clearing in the past might become worth clearing now. You’ve mentioned that the real estate market in your area is really eccentric so that might be a reason this hasn’t been cleared yet.

I don’t have any experience clearing land so I can’t answer your actual question, but I can tell you how I would answer the question IIWM. I would ask the contractor who built my outdoor arena, dry lot, etc to walk the property with me and give me his thoughts. He’s an engineer and a genius at reading land and foreseeing drainage issues etc. He’s also a horseman who would understand how you’d want to use the property, and would probably have some suggestions you haven’t thought of. He actually lives in between your part of the state and mine, so if you’re interested, this is him: Dave Wisner of K&L Contracting ( He is the best, seriously.

1 Like

might want to make sure you can legally remove the trees

One of the questions is what kind of woods is it and why is it woods. Is it natural woods or was it planted for timber?

If it’s natural woods there may be issues with whether or not you can clear it, especially if it has a water source in it. If it was planted, then probably you have far more flexibility.

What species are there? Again, is it mixed or a single species? And is the terrain flat or rolling (or worse)?

Some tree species indicate that the soil type is different. For example, soil that supports conifers tends not to be good soil for pastures.

Why is that section wooded and the other section pasture? What made them stop clearing when they got to the wooded edge? There are all kinds of possible answers to that question, and figuring it out may help you decide if there are hidden reasons why you won’t find it practical to clear. Maybe 2 acres was all they needed and wanted, or maybe they couldn’t do more. Maybe the soil changes there.

During the inspection process, find someone who clears land and bring them in for an estimate. You’ll probably learn a lot from them about the various issues and considerations local to the property.

And last thing is, you don’t want to just cut and leave stumps - you’ll need the stumps out too if you want it to be pasture.

1 Like

Thank you for sharing this experience! You confirm a lot of my fears. DH thinks we could do a lot ourselves, I was skeptical, and pretty sure it’s impossible now reading your experience.

But for the sake of conversation…

Would it change your opinion to know:

  1. The land is completely flat- less than 2% grade is how it is reported.
  2. There are no bodies of water on the property or on neighboring properties. While I believe we’d still have to be approved at the county level for sediment/erosion control, the land is not deemed a critical area (from what I can tell).
  3. From the soil survey, I think the soil should be good and not need too much besides proper seeding and time to establish once cleared.
  4. With part of the property being already cleared and horse ready, we aren’t in any rush. The donkeys really shouldn’t be on pasture period, and having so little land would encourage me to keep them dry-lotted as they should be. While I don’t want to commit to a lifestyle of small acreage horse management for the rest of my life, I could make do just fine for a couple years. I’ve done it before.

I’m just asking because I don’t know.

Poltroon, forgive me for not addressing most of your questions.

But this one I can provide a straightforward answer that may help others when weighing in.

The property is in a subdivision, of sorts. I’m not talking HOA-type subdivision or anything, rather a cul-de-sac road of maybe a dozen residential properties in an otherwise agricultural area built about 20 years ago. All of the houses are of similar construction and are on 2 acre, cleared, cookie-cutter lots. Some of the houses, including this one, have extra land in the back. This house’s extra land happens to be wooded; some of the extended lots are wooded, others aren’t. I don’t know why or when land was originally cleared.

It’s the 2 acres around the house that have been smartly utilized as horse facilities; the back part of the property has been left wooded. It’s native hardwoods-- oaks, sweet gums, maples, etc. that have grown up over the years. Again, I don’t know why it’s in woods. There are just as many logical reasons why it may have been left that way (hunting, no need for more pasture, lack of funds, personal preference) as there are potential “red-flag” reasons (regulations, unsuitability, etc.) why it wasn’t cleared.

Doesn’t sound like that property is quite what you are looking for.
That would be a gamble in that situation, unless really “dirt cheap”.

The house will need work to suit you.
The land definitely does.
Maybe not quite what you really want to buy?

Let me tell you about the zero other suitable options on the market at the moment… or the fact that it’s been a fruitless three years. :lol:

I’m not trying to be snarky, Bluey. I would say the same thing myself when giving someone advice. But gosh darn this search has stunk and I’m losing patience! Even as our nest egg has grown to what I would consider a decent amount, it hasn’t made the search any easier. Winning the lottery would help. We love this area, we would like to stay in this area, but “farmettes” are ridiculously hard to come by. Want 1000 acres for strictly agricultural purposes at a bargain? No problem! Want an affordable single family home on a 1/4 acre? No problem! Want 5 clear acres that aren’t ridiculously over-valued? Good luck!

refer to this thread

Could you start by thinning trees out to still use as turnout areas without pasture? If it’s usable wood maybe someone would be interested in harvesting the wood for their own use.

1 Like

Those are common trash trees no one much wants. If you can accept the costs and time involved, get some numbers on seeing what it’s going to run you. You could always tackle 3-4 acres and get it in good grass then decide if you want to clear more ( we carved 8 acres out of our 32. the rest is still mixed forest :wink:

1 Like

My questions were largely rhetorical so you could answer them for yourself - so I hope they were helpful!

What I hear from you is that you really want to give it a go and it doesn’t feel like red flags. It is an interesting question why this property and others were given ‘extra’ land if it was flat. Developers are usually pretty efficient. :wink:

I’d call someone who clears trees for a living and ask them for an estimate during the inspection phase. I’d go down to your local controlling government entity and ask them if there’s any permits needed to cut down the trees and clear the land. If those two felt okay, I might go for it.

In addition, you might be able to thin the trees a few at a time and use it for trail riding and space regardless. You can also consider how awful it would be if you couldn’t clear the land directly. At the very least, they give you a buffer from the neighbors which is a nice thing.

1 Like

I can probably share a few things. 20 or so years ago, we purchased 30+ acres of raw land and turned it into a small show barn. It isn’t a project I would want to repeat as it was a LOT of work, but like you, we wanted to be in a very specific locale. Clearing the first 10 acres wasn’t too bad. The property had been part of a dairy farm and the front 10 acres had been pasture that had grown up over time. We had a landscaper come in and take out the small stuff. The excavator took out the larger stuff (there wasn’t much) after some grading, the fencing went up, we seeded and six months later we were using the acreage. Tackling the back 15 acres was another story. There were stone walls throughout the property, but I’m not sure if the back acreage was ever cleared. We had a tree guy come in and he worked for weeks and weeks dropping trees and cutting them into lengths that could be hauled away. We gave away the wood for free. We did have to observe set backs around DEC protected wetlands. Once the trees were felled and removed, we had to deal with the stumps. We buried some and had others ground down. I would NOT recommend burying the stumps. Everyone will tell you it is safe, but we had a significant sink hole open up in one of our pastures. We have used our excavator for years and years and I have immense respect for him, but I will never bury stumps again.

Another thing you will need to consider is what you will do with all the leaves and small branches. We chipped some and we burned some. In our area, a burn permit was required.

Our soil is poor and rocky. The excavator had to dig out the larger rocks. Then we had another person come in with a Bobcat and rock picker to remove the smaller rocks. Finally we had to have topsoil hauled in and spread before we could seed. It all worked out fine in the end, but it was costly and time consuming.

Naturally we left one or two healthy trees in each paddock to provide shade. If you do the same, make sure the trees aren’t located near the fenceline or near a building. It is inevitable that some trees will die and you don’t want them near a building or a fenceline when it is time to take them down. Take note of which trees are toxic to horses and make sure you aren’t leaving them in the paddocks as shade trees.

Sometimes folks may recommend fencing the area and working on removing trees over time. I would not recommend that approach. It is more efficient to clear the land first and fence later.

Let us know what you decide!!

OP, it’s like a horse - if you have to talk yourself into it, it’s not the right one for you.


The property is in a subdivision, of sorts. I’m not talking HOA-type subdivision or anything, rather a cul-de-sac road of maybe a dozen residential properties in an otherwise agricultural area built about 20 years ago. All of the houses are of similar construction and are on 2 acre, cleared, cookie-cutter lots. Some of the houses, including this one, have extra land in the back. This house’s extra land happens to be wooded; some of the extended lots are wooded, others aren’t. I don’t know why or when land was originally cleared.

There’s your red flag. I would be wanting to know what the zoning intent was/is in this area and why the local government left some homes with “extra” in the back. Case in point: my cul-de-sac - 4 of the homes back up to a greenspace that was deeded to the city by some old person many years back upon their death. There is a 20’ “berm” between my property line and the greenspace owned by the city, which is owned by the county. So it’s kind of a “no mans land”. It was also stipulated in the will that the land not ever be developed, which is why we don’t already have homes behind us, although trust me the city has tried to get around it. (We’ve been here 20 years).

And, as other posters have had issue with, having horse property in a developed area - issues with neighbors, etc. So it would make me wonder if there’s going to be some sort of ‘development creep’ in the future.

I’d be taking a real hard look at how this “subdivision” came about and what it’s original intent was, and what the future plans might be.

1 Like

Or as they say, “if in doubt, don’t”.

Especially for a decision as important as your next farm.

Admittedly, there is no perfect place, but some are more perfect than others.

If you clear those doubts and are sure is ok, then why not?

Just for cost estimate (and I know this varies greatly by region): In NY state (Central Hudson Valley region) I just got quotes for clearing about 3 acres of timber. These are natural woods, so lots of worthless young trees and lumber-quality mature trees. Quote was $15k to fell and remove all the trees (he keeps any proceeds from the lumber) & haul the junk and limbs to a landfill. Another $5k to come back and grub the stumps.

Couple of other considerations:
Timing: Goes without saying that you’d want to do this work in the cold season when all leaves are fallen. But also, depending on where you live, you may have endangered bat species (here’s a good summary of species of concern and where they’re found). To avoid killing bats, you’d want to limit tree clearing to the window when they’re hibernating (in NY, Nov1-Mar31).

For the wetlands concerns, be aware that come December 22, 2019, repeal of the federal Clean Water Rule goes into effect, which drastically relaxes wetland protections. (Let’s set aside political /ecological opinions about this, I’m just sharing the fact). There are still state-jurisdictional wetlands, but usually they’re less expansive than the federal rule was. Most isolated boggy areas or ephemeral wetlands won’t be subject to permits. (This is a huge simplification and you should check with the local planning dept for guidance).

1 Like

Thank you for sharing your experience! All very helpful information.