Alaska is not just the largest state, it is so big that, if it were cut into two states, each would be larger than any other state. It is as large as two-thirds of the continental United States and contains federal parks that are larger than other states.
Because of Alaska's immensity, its frontier reputation, and the fact that much of the state remains wilderness or at least remote and unpopulated, many people dream of acquiring cheap or free land there. It is true that property in Alaska can be less expensive than in other states. But while there is certainly land, as well as dwellings, that can be purchased in Alaska, like every other state, the days of homesteading are long gone.
Homesteading in the Last Frontier of Alaska
Homesteading is a concept that awakens the imagination of many who seek a rural life. Like the early settlers in the West, they dream of getting title to a piece of land by claiming it and working it for a certain period of time.
The Homesteading Act was a federal program enacted in order to encourage people to move to and farm some of the abundant land in the western part of the country. It was signed into law in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln. Under the terms of the Act, 160 acres of land were made available in many western states to people willing to live on the land for five years, develop it for agriculture, and build a house on the land.
Alaska was a territory at that time, so it wasn't included in the program until 1898. The program officially ended on Oct. 21, 1976, with the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The law repealed all homestead laws across the country. However, since Alaska was a new state then with few homesteads, a 10-year extension was allowed, and Alaska was permitted to continue its homesteading program until 1986.
The End of the Homestead Patents
It was the last state to allow homesteading. By the time the final homestead patents were granted in 1988, 3,277 homesteads had been conveyed in the state, conveying over 360,000 acres in Alaska alone. The prospect of homesteading in Alaska remains very popular, however, and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) advises people that, should a program reopen, they will spread the word in news and press releases.
Private Land Offerings at Fair Market Value
The end of the homestead program does not mean that the state has no land available to potential buyers. Of course, anyone owning property in Alaska is free to sell it. That means that a potential buyer need only determine where in the huge state they would like to buy land and communicate with real estate agents in that area.
It is true that land purchased on the open market will cost more than obtaining land by homesteading. However, there are upsides. A purchaser is not obligated to live on or work the land to own it. And, although it is not free, rural land is likely to be available at a much lower price than in other states.
DNR Sales of State Land
The state of Alaska also sells parcels of state-owned land through the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR). There are several programs available for purchasing these parcels of land for sale, one called "land offerings" and the other "over-the-counter sales." It is possible to buy inexpensive acreage from the DNR, although the land may be far from urban areas and undeveloped.
The land offerings program involves periodic auctions of surveyed lots of land between one and 40 acres. This program is open to the public and not limited to Alaskans. The timing is announced in news advertisements, media releases and public information messages. Notice of these land auctions is also posted on the website of the Division of Mining, Land & Water Land Offering. Each parcel is sold to the highest bidder, but a minimum price is set.
Any parcels of land that are not sold through the land offering program auctions remain available for purchase. They are offered as part of the "Over the Counter" land purchase program for the minimum bid price that was set in the auction, plus a handling fee. A potential buyer should visit the Over the Counter program webpage.
Remote Recreational Cabin Site Program
One more public land purchase option exists, but it is open only to Alaska residents. Residency is a legal term, and those uncertain of whether they qualify might seek legal advice. It is entirely possible for someone to become a resident if they follow state rules. Once residency is attained, it is possible to participate in the land purchase program.
The program is called the Remote Recreational Cabin Sites Staking Program. It involves land that the state has designated as a "staking area." An Alaska resident can view, review or visit the various staking areas. If they decide they would like to own land there, the resident can claim a parcel of land in the staking area.
While the term "claim" might make a potential landowner think of homesteading, this is not the case. A state resident interested in claiming a parcel of land in a staking area must lease the land. The lease continues until the Alaska Department of Natural Resources completes a survey process. Once the parcels are surveyed, the resident has the right to purchase the parcel at market rates.
- Start with the DNR options first for the best deals, and then move on from there.
- Don't get fooled by anyone talking about homesteading. Homesteading laws don't exist anymore in Alaska.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.