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Land Poor

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In both Real Life and fiction, it can often cost a small fortune just to barely maintain a high-value property, whether a small business, Big Fancy House, an exotic or custom vehicle, or an elegant estate with acres of gardens, farmland or pristine wilderness. For those with Impossibly Cool Wealth, this is not an issue. For this character, however, his lifestyle suggests that he is barely able to afford to keep the property. The property takes up a large portion of the character's time and money, and he is generally forced to live a very modest lifestyle otherwise.

Confusingly, there are two common terms for this — "land-poor" (as in, poor because of the expense of the land), and "land rich, cash poor" (as in, rich in land but poor in money).

Compare Down on the Farm. Contrast Fiction 500. Also compare "Friends" Rent Control, which applies to characters who rent or own real estate much nicer than they could realistically afford, but it's only their living space and not a landscape fit for a very minor aristocrat.

There are several different types, each one tending to be most associated with a geographic area:

  • European (Impoverished Patrician): the character feels that they have an obligation to all of their ancestors and descendants to keep the family estates in order, but no longer has the actual money-generating capacity to keep it going. Their efforts to earn enough to keep the property pristine while paying the property taxes make excellent plot fodder, whether Played for Drama or Played for Laughs. In some cases (generally in settings before World War I), the estate may have been entailed making it impossible to sell even if the character wants to.
  • American: Land could be purchased very cheaply as recently as within living memory, and land far away from big cities still can be purchased for far less than other parts of the world. As a result, lots of people gained land without having money to buy fancy manufactured goods, and having to pay property taxes to boot. As time went on, even though theoretically they had more wealth, farmers tended to became more economically pinched compared to city dwellers, since their income depended on keeping their wealth tied up maintaining the farmland. In fiction, the character is often portrayed as an uncultured counterpart to the Impoverished Patrician, keeping traditions alive and not selling out to the villainous developer, who is hoping Land Poor characters will default on their mortgages. It's also Played for Drama in places like a Dying Town where the characters have no economic prospects since the local factory relocated overseas, and can't sell their land and move elsewhere since no one wants the land.
  • Japanese: Land in modern Japan is scarce and astronomically expensive. Few people own substantial real estate, and many who do received the property through inheritance, and would not be able to afford to buy it now. Unlike Western media, in Anime, being Land Poor is less often a critical plot element, but rather used to give a character a place to be alone, find a long-lost MacGuffin or Artifact of Doom, etc., without being unreasonably wealthy. It's for these reasons that the Big Fancy House is vastly more significant in Japanese works than in non-Japanese works.
  • Russian: In the Soviet Union, there was little differentiation between the rich and the poor, real estate prices were tightly regulated by the state, and many families could have a vacation home called a dacha. After the fall of the Union, many people got impoverished and real estate prices near major cities skyrocketed, but some clung to their old property, and you can often see a poor family that maintains an inherited run-down dacha in a prestigious location with very expensive land, like the near Moscow Oblast.
  • Latin American: Many people have moved to the bigger cities in the last couple of generations. Not all of them have sold their old land property, and some use it as a vacation home similar to dachas in the former USSR. Historically much of Latin America had large landowners control huge swaths of the countryside, but some of them were either expropriated (and are now fighting their way back to their old property with both legal and illegal means) or fell on hard times and had to sell and/or flee the country.


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European Style

    Comic Books 
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck deals with the McDuck family becoming too poor to maintain property of Castle McDuck at one point, although their ancestors were originally driven away by a supposedly ghostly hound. This ends up delaying Scrooge becoming rich, as right after he legally became the owner of the incredibly rich Anaconda Copper Mine he's forced to sell it back to the previous owner to have the money to pay the back taxes, and in later years he uses most of what he earns from subsequent adventures to pay the new taxes and allow his family to live there until he arrives in Klondike and at White Agony Creek finds enough gold to become millionaire even with that constant expense.
  • Marvel Comics' Black Knight runs into this issue; he inherits his British family's ancestral castle, but since he was a former run-of-the-mill American physicist before doing so (i.e. not Tony Stark or Reed Richards caliber), he doesn't really make enough money to keep up with the property costs. This then gets worse when he's turned into a statue for a lengthy period of time, to the point where his friend Victoria Bentley who actually is wealthy and lives nearby, has to use some of her wealth to help him out. When she ends up being killed down the line, the Black Knight finally turns the castle into a museum, which presumably finally solves the whole finances matter.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Crimson Peak has Thomas and Lucille Sharpe, who live in a crumbling mansion and have completely run out of money in their quest to make the estate profitable.
  • Global Heresy: Lord and Lady Foxley need to rent out their mansion just to be able to afford to pay part of the debt on it and are desperate enough for money that they are willing to pose as their own servants for the guests.
  • Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind is an American example of a European-style Impoverished Patrician.
  • Part of the plot of the movie The Grass Is Greener (1960) with Robert Mitchum and Cary Grant. Part of the synopsis: "Victor and Hillary are down on their luck to the point that they allow tourists to take guided tours of their castle."
  • In Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, they titular character's grandfather describes how neighboring Lords have had to sell off their land in bits and pieces, while he has refused to do so.
  • In the film I Know Where I'm Going!, Torquil MacNeil is Land Rich, Cash Poor, since he's the laird (owner) of Kiloran, but has no money and needs to rent it out.
  • The V.I.P.s: A duchess is moving to Florida and taking a job at a resort, because she is unable to afford the old family mansion anymore.

  • In The Aldous Lexicon, the Underwood family, which most of the characters are in, is like this in some of the parallel universes (in others they have managed to get rich again). At one stage the house was sold, then bought by the grandson of the woman who sold it years later. The poorer Underwoods really aren't managing to maintain the house.
  • The titular Darnaway family in the Father Brown short story "The Doom of the Darnaways" are living in the few inhabitable rooms still left in their crumbling mansion.
  • Hercule Poirot:
    • Peril at End House: Nick Buckley is the penniless owner of End House, which is falling down around her. This gives her a strong motive to kill her cousin and claim the money her cousin had just inherited for herself.
    • Poirot Investigates: The short story "The Adventure of the Western Star" finds Poirot at a castle, investigating the theft of a diamond during a film shoot. Lord Yardley, who owns the castle, admits that he's flat broke which is why he's letting a bunch of gauche Hollywood people make a movie on his property.
    • Poirot's Early Cases: The short story "The Adventure of Johnny Waverly" has Poirot attempting to foil a kidnapping for ransom, which is actually being orchestrated by his father. The family house is falling apart, but all the money is in his wife's name, and she has no interest in contributing to its upkeep.
  • In Sea Lord John Rossendale has inherited the title of Earl of Stowey after his older brother committed suicide. The inheritance consists of the Stowey Manor and a very large tax debt. The family hopes to pay off the debt by selling a Van Gogh painting they own but it disappears under mysterious circumstances. Fed up with the situation and unwilling to sacrifice the rest of his life to care for a piece of land, John leaves England and sails the world for the next four years. When his mother dies, he finally returns home and tries to deal with the mess once and for all.
  • Sherlock Holmes deals with impoverished aristocrats all the time, some of whom are prompted to resort to crime in order to remain wealthy enough to maintain their ancestral homes. (See the stories, The Copper Beeches, The Speckled Band, and the Grenada television version of The Eligible Bachelor.)
  • This is the situation of several noble houses in A Song of Ice and Fire, who live in castles built back in the Age of Heroes but who no longer have the money to maintain them. Most were ruined by taking the wrong side in a war or were driven into the ground by an idiot lord. Of note are the eight families who have held the cursed money sink Harrenhal, all of whom have become this except for the current owner who received it within the last two years.
  • Noël Coward tackles the topic in The Stately Homes of England.
    The stately homes of England, how beautiful they stand
    To prove the upper classes maintain the upper hand
    Though the fact that they have to be rebuilt
    And frequently mortgaged to the hilt
    Is inclined to take the gilt
    Off the gingerbread and certainly damps the fun
    Of the eldest son
    Still we won't be beaten, we'll scrimp and scrape and save
    The playing fields of Eton have made us frightfully brave
    And although the Van Dycks have to go and we've pawned the Bechstein Grand
    We'll stand by the stately homes of England
  • A regular trope in the writings of P. G. Wodehouse. A typical example is Bertie Wooster's pal "Chuffy" Chuffnel in Thank You, Jeeves, who is trying to sell his ancestral pile and thus have money to marry his American beloved Pauline Stoker.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Lady Ludlow in Cranford. She resists the railway being brought through her grounds because she wants to hand the estate down intact to her son Septimus, and protect the livelihoods of the estate workers. She mortgages the estate against the wishes of steward Edmund Carter.
  • Downton Abbey:
    • The Crawleys were short of money before Robert married a wealthy American, despite owning a large stately home and most of the nearby village. When Robert loses Cora's fortune in series 3, they are faced with the prospect of selling the house (and moving into a smaller stately home they also own); Matthew rescues them with an unexpected windfall — one so improbable that they lampshade the hell out of it — driving much of the upstairs tension of the latter half of that series.
    • Much of the drama in the later post-war seasons deals with Robert's stubbornness in refusing to put more of the estate to work by leasing to developers, attracting more rent-paying tenants, and other money-making opportunities while Mary and Matthew, and later Tom, push him to get out of his old world mindset and realize that incomes off the family trust can't pay all the bills. Others aren't so fortunate. One of Mary's suitors is a government investigator making a long-term study on the viability of many private estates following the war and is generally not confident in the outcome. Robert's own cousin, a Scottish lord, got on the bandwagon too late and has to sell his own stately home, along with taking a diplomatic post in India for a couple years just to get back on his feet. In the final season, Thomas looks for employment as a butler outside of Downton and the pickings for senior level domestic servants are slim to none, with those willing to give him an interview generally living in denial.
  • The reality TV series The F*** ing Fulfords is all about this trope. The house in question still has "war damage" from the English Civil War (1641-51) that hasn't been repaired yet.
  • At least one episode of Midsomer Murders revolves around this, with the landowners desperate to keep their land (though they're not always the murderers...)
  • A significant portion of the series Monarch of the Glen dealt with the financial difficulties of the aptly-named Glenbogle estate.
  • Survivors had almost everyone dealing with this. Though being a post-apocalyptic world means money isn't relevant, due to the much smaller population (estimated as 1:5000 people surviving) it's relatively easy to locate and take over empty estates or farms. However, maintaining the land and buildings with small numbers and little technology requires the majority of the characters' time and effort.
  • Audrey fforbes-Hamilton from To the Manor Born actually sells the manor her family has held for over 400 years because the cost of maintenance, plus her husband's debts, make keeping it impossible. She gets it back in the end.

    Tabletop Games 
  • An unusual application of the same concept: in Rogue Trader, while most of the eponymous Intrepid Merchants are well into the Fiction 500, it's possible to start out as a Trader that has extremely low Profit Factor (a measure of their wealth, liquidity, and contacts) because their resources all tied up in their Mile-Long Ship. Since most Rogue Trader warrants are dynastic in nature, and the spaceships are so huge and long-lived that they pass from owner to owner, the ship in question is typically an inheritance, one of the few tangible assets left to a dynasty fallen on hard times. Of course, the upside is, it's a seriously Cool Starship that outstrips anything else the players could reasonably expect to start with.

    Video Games 
  • Gabriel Knight: The Ritter family is a textbook example. Wolfgang Ritter, the last of the line, is severely in arrears on property tax on Schloss Ritter, and can only afford to actually use about five rooms in the immense castle. Gerde mentions that Wolfgang's pride is partly to blame; he could have made at least some money by holding tours or leasing it to film productions, but Wolfgang preferred to let the castle slide into ruins to allowing outsiders to romp around his ancestral home, which, considering the importance of the castle, the artifacts there and the Schattenjäger line and rituals, might not have been a bad call. After the events of the first game Gabriel inherits the castle from his uncle Wolfgang, and uses the money from his book and what he stole from the Voodoo Cartel to pay the back taxes and begin repairs and restoration.

    Real Life 
  • The other wiki's stately home article touches on the subject of the trope.
    "The costs of running a stately home are legendarily high. Many owners rent out their homes for use as film and television sets as a means of extra income, thus many of them are familiar sights to people who have never visited them in person. The grounds often contain other tourist attractions, such as safari parks, funfairs or museums."
  • Cross between European and Russian examples in modern Romania. During the last 10 years of the Communist era, a large percent of the population migrated from countryside to industrial (now ghost-) towns and left behind country houses, while the property bubble of the 2000s drove the prices of major city real estate to the sky, while few if any natives had anything to do with farmland. So at this moment land in the countryside is quite literally dirt-cheap and a lot of otherwise poor people own significant acres of land. As a side effect, when natives worked well-paid jobs in Western Europe, they could raise huge, kitschy and mansion-like houses at home with only a few thousands of dollars to boot.note 
  • Many churches are this way, saved only by the fact that they don't have to pay property taxes in many countries. They take in enough in tithes and offerings to pay for a pastor, a cleaning person, and enough for a few programs (soup kitchen, homeless shelter, etc...) but little more.
  • In a way, even the Catholic Church is this way. They are the third largest non-governmental landowner in the world, holding 277,000 square miles (slightly larger than Morocco, the 39th largest country in the world), as well as a total worth measured in the billions of dollars. But most of their holdings in held in trust by local dioceses and much of their other wealth is tied up in historical documents, art pieces, and other heirlooms probably more properly classified as "priceless". Not only that, but it has to take care of all of those holdings, some of which require highly specialized (and therefore highly expensive and difficult to obtain) care.

American Style

    Comic Books 
  • In the Disney Ducks Comic Universe, when Duckburg was a small village the Coot Kin used to own most if not all the land around it. This started to change when Casey Coot entered the Klondike Gold Rush but failed to get rich, and to get money to go back home he sold Killmule Hill to a fellow prospector who had instead become a millionaire-Scrooge McDuck, who'd later move to Duckburg, build the Money Bin on the hill (renamed Killmotor Hill), and build most of the Coot lands to turn Duckburg into a metropolis. Grandma Duck, the eldest living descendant of the Coots, still own a farm with largish lands.

  • In the war movie / comedy Father Goose, Cary Grant is a drifter/former teacher sailing around Southeast Asia who has pretty much nothing but his boat and a two hundred dollar debt. He gets coerced into joining the British as a coastwatcher when old friend and Royal Navy officer Trevor Howard threatens to confiscate the boat.
  • In Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella owns valuable farm land, but no crop to pay for the mortgage since he plowed it under to build the titular baseball field for ghosts.
  • Magnificent Obsession: The Phillips family seems to be wealthy, owning a huge house on the shore of Lake Tahoe, as well as a hospital. Yet when Dr. Phillips dies his wife Helen is unpleasantly surprised to find out that the rather excessively generous Dr. Phillips gave away literally all of their money, leaving Helen broke.
  • In The Money Pit, the protagonists buy a Big Fancy House for a huge discount — and the repairs become a HerculeanTask.

  • In Michael Connelly's book The Lincoln Lawyer, it's revealed that Mickey Haller bought his home ignoring maintenance costs. He believes bail bondsman Fernando Valenzuela wouldn't accept it as collateral for a five-thousand-dollar debt.
  • In Mildred D. Taylor's YA novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and its sequels, which are set in Mississippi during the Depression, the fact that the black Logan family owns its own land gives them relative freedom and dignity compared to the other black families in the area, who are all sharecroppers and thus totally beholden to the people whose land they live on and farm. (Truth in Television for the era, obviously — after Reconstruction, the sharecropping/tenant farming system that set it was in some ways practically indistinguishable from slavery.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • An African-American variant crops up in Everybody Hates Chris. Although the family are perpetually short on cash, they own their home and the apartment above, giving them a valuable asset and a level of stability that most Black people didn't have at the time (or now).
  • In Modern Family, Cam talks Mitchell into buying the second floor apartment of the duplex they live in so they can rent it out as a form of income. As soon as they do, Cam's turbulent sister Pam comes to town after breaking up with her fiance and ends up living there rent free for months, and Mitchell loses his job outting them in financial straits.

    Western Animation 
  • In King of the Hill its revealed that Bill's family is a land poor family with a European touch to it, they used to be wealthy plantation owners, but modern times have reduced their income to near nothing causing the family to live alone in a large manor with no servants and likely a rising debt.
  • The Apple family in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic draw on many archetypical American Southern traits, including this one. While they're respected by most of Ponyville for their apple farming and have played important roles in local history (matriarch Granny Smith was present for Ponyville's founding), they live modestly (Applejack attends the Grand Galloping Gala to raise funds for improvements around Sweet Apple Acres; Apple Bloom is looked down upon by her wealthier classmates), and they struggle to compete with modern apple-farming technology, such as that peddled by the Flim-Flam brothers.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television The fate of James Madison's Montpelier estate. The plantation switched from tobacco to wheat as a cash crop since the former depleted the soil too much. However, when the switch was made wheat grown in the newly opened Midwestern states began flooding the market. The result was that Dolly was forced to sell the estate after James' death and move to Washington, DC.
  • After Spain lost the western half of the future US to America, a number of Spanish nobles had to prove their ranchos' claims in court to keep it. A combination of legal fees, squatters, and new maintenance requirements forced many families to sell part or all of their estates to stay afloat.

Japanese style

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Ah! My Goddess, Keiichi is an ordinary college student who owns an old Buddhist temple. This is a result of Belldandy's magic convincing the monk who previously occupied the place to move on and leave it to them; her magic also renovated the run-down place.
  • Kagome's family in Inuyasha is obviously not unusually wealthy, but they own a house with sheds, a shrine, a well, a huge tree in the backyard as well as the grove surrounding all of the above — in downtown Tokyo. Played straight in that her family has been the shrine's caretakers for centuries — the house is just so that they don't have to live in the shrine itself (which might be disrespectful); the sheds appear to be mostly devoted to things used for the shrine's upkeep and specific ceremonies. As for it being located in downtown Tokyo, it's generally implied (and possibly explicitly stated at some points) that the city grew up around the shrine — it wasn't just built there overnight or anything. The well and the tree were included in the land set aside for the shrine because of superstition and people recalling them as being associated. It's also implied that most of the family's disposable income comes from whatever Kagome's mom might do for a living. The shrine is a tourist attraction and the gift shop brings in a hefty hunk of change, but most of that money goes right back into maintenance and upkeep.
  • The Tendos in Ranma ½ also held a relatively large home in Tokyo, despite having very little means of support (they rent out the dojo and are called to deal with things like supernatural creatures). Downplayed as their dojo is in Nerima, which is a border district and was mainly farmland in the past. Up to this day it still has the largest proportion of farmland among all of Tokyo's special wards, and thus the property value isn't on the general Tokyo level. So the large estates aren't all that unusual for the neighborhood, even if it's decidedly middle-class.
  • In Tenchi Muyo!, Tenchi's family owns property that apparently includes a shrine, carrot farm, lake, large wilderness areas, and a Big Fancy House. His father is a professor of architecture, and his Unwanted Harem includes a Super Villain, two princesses, the grandaughter of the chief of the galaxy police, and a super-scientist. Despite this, his family can barely afford to send him to college, and his Unwanted Harem can barely afford to eat even working multiple jobs. The one time he asked one of the princesses to ask her dad for some money, he sent enough gold to destabilize the Earth's economy, which, of course, they had to send back for fear of runaway inflation.
    • On the other hand, It was never shown that they are indeed poor — at most it was used for a couple of offhand jokes about the "Friends" Rent Control. Plus, in the OVA canon Nobuyuki and Tenchi originally lived in their relatively modest house in the city, while Katsuhito lived in his shrine in the countryside. After their house in the city was destroyed by the Unwanted Harem's wacky antics, Nobuyuki has rebuilt it on the shrine grounds in an enlarged form. And, again, all this was in Okayama, where the property values are significantly lower than in Tokyo.
    • It is implied that the Masaki Clan were aristocrats in ancient Japan, and Yosho inherited the Shrine and surrounding property from his late wife/cousin, Kasumi Masaki, who held it before. Yosho is also, at least in OVA canon, LITERALLY centuries old. This means that, depending on when Ryoko was sealed, he could predate Okayama, which was founded in 1889!

  • The Silkworm: The missing novelist Owen Quine is not particularly well off, but he inherited a half-share of a large London house in the days when they were much, much cheaper. The co-owner, Quine's bitter rival, refuses to sell, even though the house is empty. Ownership of the house has so little impact on the Quines' lives that Quine's wife doesn't even think to tell Cormoran Strike about it at first, but it becomes a major plot point because it's a perfect place to hide.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Sparrow Clan of Legend of the Five Rings is in an odd position — despite being a minor Clan, they own some of the richest and most fertile land in all of Rokugan. And, due to a rather extraordinary political debacle involving a poorly received poem, they are not allowed to farm any of it, by Imperial edict.

Latin American Style

  • The House of the Spirits is about the Tueba family, the rich landowners in Chile. Esteban Tueba, the partiarch of the family, spends his life first making fortune as a plantationer, then fighting for his land, then getting large part of it nationalised without compensation, then trying to get it back once military junta rises to power. By the end of the story, the Tres Marías is abandoned, with all it's former land laying fallow and Alba, Esteban's grand-daughter, (or Blanca, his daughter in the film adaptation) visiting the ruins out of sentiment, no longer owning the place.
  • Mexican Gothic The Doyle family have run a silver mine out of their estate at High Place for decades or centuries. However, they lost the bulk of their fortune to the Mexican Revolution and the mine is running low; they can't even keep the whole house lit at once, and wouldn't have lasted as long as they did without mind-controlled labour.