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  • Writer's pictureNathan Zarcaro

[2023] How to Find Cheap Houses Anywhere in This Real Estate Market


Buying a home has always been difficult, but general price increases and low supply over the last couple of years have made it even harder for buyers to find a home within their price ranges.


All hope is not lost, however. Even when it feels like every home is either dilapidated or hundreds of thousands of dollars too expensive, buyers have options.


Here is a 2023 guide to finding affordable, but great, houses even when on a budget.



What is an affordable house?


What classifies as an affordable house will vary by state and geographic region, but for our purposes today, I want to define a cheap house as one that sells below market value in a given area.


What qualifies as affordable will vary from household to household, but I'm generally talking about homes:


  • You can afford with at least a 10% down payment

  • With payments that do not exceed 30% of your gross income

  • With property taxes and homeowners insurance policies you can afford


Of course, you can add any other qualifying criteria to this list as you see fit.



How to find cheap houses: 8 tips


When my wife and I searched for homes in 2022, we found a number of helpful tips to find beautiful houses at a lower price. 8 such tips to help you get started include:


  1. Expand your list of target locations

  2. Continuously browse listings

  3. Consider a fixer-upper

  4. Look for foreclosures

  5. Consider older homes

  6. Choose the right home type

  7. Save a larger down payment

  8. Stay patient



1. Expand your list of target locations


An old adage states that real estate is all about location. Of course, in a real estate market that regulates itself based on supply and demand, this means that homes with the best locations are likely to carry the heftiest price tags too.


So, to counter this, I recommend that you become less selective about location, particularly if you're a first-time home buyer. I'm not telling you to buy a home in an area that you hate, but instead to be conscious about the price differences between geographically close areas.


My wife and I live in Central Connecticut, where the real estate market is quite a bit cheaper than where I grew up in Rhode Island. Sure, I'm an hour from the ocean and 35 minutes further away from Boston now, but we live in the town where she grew up, have her family close, and still probably saved about $100,000.



What areas have expensive homes?


Nationally, the most expensive real estate tends to be in states bordering oceans, both on the east and west coasts. This means that states from Maine to Florida and Washington to California tend to be more expensive that the rest of the country.


More locally, you can expect to find more expensive real estate:


  • In and within commuting distance of major cities

  • Near bodies of water

  • In convenient areas with access to interstates or airports

  • Near mass transportation options


Sometimes, even expanding a ten-mile search radius to twenty or thirty miles can be enough to save tens of thousands of dollars.



What areas have more affordable homes?


Similarly, less expensive homes can typically be found in the following areas:


  • Homes too close to airports or highways where noise is a concern

  • Homes in underperforming school districts

  • Where there are lots of renters

  • Near undesirable locations like chemical plants, shooting ranges, etc.


In no way am I suggesting that the only way to find a cheap home is to buy into these areas, but if none of these features bother you, you may be able to get a good deal. A great example would be buying a home in an underperforming school district if you don't plan on having children.



2. Keep checking online listings


Another old adage in real estate is that the early bird gets the worm. That has never been truer than it is in 2023. Sites like Zillow, Redfin, Realtor.com, and others pick up listings in real time, and over the past couple of years in particular, homes have been known to sell in as little as a day.


To make sure that you don't miss out any homes that may be of interest to you, I recommend that you browse these sites daily for your cities/towns of interest and act as quickly as possible if you see a listing that really interest you.



3. Consider a fixer-upper project


Oftentimes, the homes with the best prices are the ones that need some work done. But there is a huge difference between homes with structural or other deficiencies and homes that need cosmetic updates.


If you're okay with living in a cheap, older home until you have the time and budget to do some updating, though, you may be able to find a home for much cheaper than you could otherwise.


This could be a good idea in high interest-rate environments, as it will limit the amount of money that you'll need to borrow from a bank or mortgage lender.



Evaluating whether a fixer-upper is worth it


It can be really difficult to gauge whether a fixer-upper is worth the cheap price tag on a home, at least compared to others in the neighborhood. And ultimately, whether a fixer-upper is worth it or not depends on you.


When trying to buy an affordable home, it is unlikely that you'll get everything on your wish list, but fixer-uppers can be a great opportunity to add them yourself over time.


If you're struggling to make this decision, I recommend that you talk to a contractor to see if he/she can help you see a long-term vision in a home before you buy it.


And while there is no direct correlation between a fixer-upper and unforeseen issues, you should also have a home inspected before you buy it.



4. Search for foreclosures


Foreclosures can be excellent opportunities for you to buy a home at a more affordable price, though they should be approached with caution. Foreclosure sales are oftentimes sold at auctions or through "in the know" real estate agents.


As I alluded to, there are some risks. Though you can occasionally score a good deal, you may encounter homes that:


  • Are in bad condition, particularly if the home sat vacant for a period of time.

  • Are highly competitive: Unfortunately, others will also be interested, especially if the perception of value is there.

  • Have title problems: You'll need a title search before you take ownership of any home, but title searches on foreclosed properties can be messy, as there could be liens on the property.

  • Have a "squatter": Depending on the circumstances, you may be interested in a home that still has the foreclosed living in it. Evicting a squatter can be really difficult depending on the state where you live.



How to find foreclosure sales


Finding affordable foreclosure sales is easy to do if you know where to look.


There are sites online to help, including:




5. Consider older homes


Older homes are more prevalent in some parts of the country than others but considering them can be a way to save some money. Older homes tend to be more affordable, so long as they aren't historically protected or some type of landmark.


Similar to foreclosure sales, there are some risks to buying older homes that could make your affordable home not so affordable afterall.


For example, you'll want to make sure that the electrical and plumbing systems across the home are in good working order.



Minimizing risks of older homes


There are other things that you can do to minimize the risk of older homes, like getting an inspection.


Additionally, you should:


  • Check for things like lead paint and asbestos

  • Request a past property history report to search renovation and permit history

  • Start budgeting for repairs as soon as you buy the home

  • Be prepared to negotiate if anything comes up during the home inspection process



6. Choose the right home type


The real estate market in any area is incredibly diverse, with properties ranging from cheaper small condominiums, to single family homes, to mansions for wealthy buyers. But sometimes there are disconnects in the market, where different property types offer more value and are cheaper than other parts of the market.


Due to this, it is important that you consider all of the options available on the open market. There are pros and cons to all of these property types.



Condominiums


Condos are oftentimes thought to be on the lower priced end of the home ownership scale, but in many instances, you may be able to buy as much space as you'd get in a house for less money.


The potential downside is homeowners association (HOA) fees, which may be assessed monthly, quarterly, or annually.


Additionally, you'll likely be subject to community rules and regulations that most homeowners don't need to worry about.



Townhouses/Duplexes


Next on the homebuying scale are townhouses and duplexes, freestanding structures that house two units where owners tend to share a wall. Townhomes tend to be pricier than condos, since they oftentimes contain more space, but owners may still be subject to HOA regulations that limit what cosmetic/renovation type work can be performed.



Prefabricated houses


In some areas, you may be able to buy prefabricated homes for a little bit less. They look and function just like normal homes, but they tend to depreciate in value somewhat over time in ways that normal homes don't.



Traditional single-family homes


Next is the traditional single-family home that you've probably dreamed about owning. They normally cost more than the other types of homes on this list but tend to appreciate in value and come in a number of different architectural styles and designs, even in the same neighborhood.



7. Save a larger down payment


I'll be honest. While some houses are cheaper than others, no house is truly cheap. Buying a home is likely to be the most expensive purchase of your lifetime, after all. So if after a few months of searching you are still struggling to find homes in your price range, you have two options:


  • You can hope/wait that prices and interest rates decline.

  • You can save up a larger down payment so that you don't need to borrow as much money from your mortgage lender.


And while neither of these is the perfect solution, both will still help you pursue your goal of homeownership.



8. Be patient


When you're looking to buy a home, patience is key. And while this can be hard to hear, the home buying process is notorious for being drawn out and lengthy. At the same time, though, conditions can change rapidly.


All of this is to say that if you stay patient, your day will come.



Conclusion


Between higher interest rates, low housing supply, and inflated prices, finding affordable real estate has undoubtedly gotten more difficult in the past five years or so. But if you follow the tips on this list, you will find a home in your price range that you love.


Do you have any other tips to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!



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About Nathan Zarcaro

Nathan Zarcaro is the founder of The Student Debt Destroyer and is passionate about personal finance related causes.  A 2018 graduate of Providence College's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Nathan studied Finance, and has worked for industry leaders in both finance and healthcare.  In his free time, Nathan enjoys playing golf and traveling with his wife Brigid.

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