How to Find Really Cheap Housing

By: Steve Gillman

So you want really cheap housing? Whether you are buying or renting, here are five ways to find a home that costs you less. Those are followed by a list of the real expenses you need to compare your options fairly.

If you can live where you like, you can start by looking at towns where houses or apartments cost less, and cut your housing costs by as much as half or more. For example, an apartment which rents for $500 in Tucson, Arizona might be $1,500 in New York or San Francisco. A house you would have to pay $400,000 for in California might be $120,000 in many other cities.

Once you know which city you'll be living in, find the neighborhoods where prices or rents are lowest. If they aren't clearly unsafe or otherwise undesirable, start your search here. Only move on if you can't find what you need after carefully looking at what is for sale there.

Some types of housing are cheaper than others. Normally mobile homes on property are the cheapest options for buying or renting (although I have seen exceptions). Beyond that, the relative value of various types of houses can vary a lot in different cities. In some, classic old houses are valued more than new homes, while in other towns they're seen for the trouble they are and priced lower. Start cheap and work your way up if you don't find what you want.

There are often just plain good deals that can be found in any area or with any type of home. Putting a price on homes (or setting rents) isn't an exact science, and some sellers won't even use what decent tools are available for this, so keep your eyes open for an under-priced house. If you're willing to deal with a fixer upper, this could mean paying $20,000 less to buy a home that needs just a couple thousand in repairs and deferred maintenance.

Also, you can always offer less than the asking price. Learn a few good negotiating tactics if you are going to be talking to the sellers yourself. Otherwise you can make a bunch of low offers to see if one of them is accepted by a seller. If your first ten are rejected without a counter-offer, though, you might need to adjust your sights.

How To Compare Housing Costs

Don't make the mistake of thinking finding cheap housing is all about the lowest price or monthly rental charge. A house for $10,000 less may mean paying $60 to $90 less per month on the mortgage, but if it means driving 10 miles more to and from work, and your car costs 30-cents-per-mile to operate, that's an extra $120 per month right there. Look at the following when comparing options:

- Loan costs. A higher interest rate on a small house may make the payments higher than those on a lower-interest owner-financed home which costs more. Consider the interest costs.

- Home owner insurance. Really cheap housing may not be so cheap if you have to pay more because of old heating systems or being in a flood or earthquake area.

- Taxes. A block or two can be dramatic in the cost of property taxes, depending on whether you are in or out of the city or township.

- Car expenses. It is not only your job, but also stores that can be further away if you are too far out of the city. Estimate your monthly car expenses based on the location and your habits.

- Gas, electric and other utilities. Your heating bill can be twice as high on a drafty old house versus a new energy-efficient one. Consider electricity, water, sewer and garbage collection expenses too.

- Repairs. Some homes are truly ready to live in without any work needed. Try to estimate the next three-year's repairs and divide by 36 to get a monthly figure to compare.

- Other regular costs. Does the home, condo or apartment have association dues? How about special assessments, snow removal costs or lawn care expenses?

Write down any and all expenses for each home you consider, so you can meaningfully compare them. Estimate as closely as you can if no records are available, and find a monthly average total for each. In this way you can see which are really cheap housing options.

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