12 Underrated Strategies for Scoring Affordable Dream Homes in Your Ideal Location

Don't miss out on these little-known tricks to snag your dream home at a bargain price.

Couple buying a house
Updated May 28, 2024
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Homebuyers may still be feeling the pinch of high housing costs or interest rates, and low housing inventory is an issue nationwide.

If you're trying to retire early, you may want to sell your home and downsize to something more affordable. But finding your dream home where you want to live can be challenging and expensive.

If you’re struggling with the housing market, check out these ideas for finding a home you want to live in.

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Consider downsizing

2ragon/Adobe concept of limiting living space finances

Reevaluate your needs and think about cutting back on the square footage you want for your desired location or price point. You may find that you don’t need as much space as you thought. 

If this is your first home, you can buy now and move to a larger home when prices are lower, or you have equity in your home to finance a larger home.

Look for the worst home in the best area

littleny/Adobe boarded up home in foreclosure

You may have your heart set on a particular neighborhood but can’t afford some of the most up-to-date houses there. So think about compromises you’re willing to make. 

If the neighborhood is most important, would you be willing to buy a home that may not be in the best shape? 

You’ll have to put some extra work into it, and your weekends may be spent on projects. But you'll eventually have a house you love without an expensive mortgage.

Look for vacant homes

Vusal/Adobe stylish sun room with plant pots

A vacant home may belong to a motivated seller who has already relocated, or someone could have inherited it and wants to cash out.

A vacant home can also help you better visualize your furniture or design in a particular space. Seeing an empty canvas instead of a cluttered space may be a selling point.

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Don’t worry about curb appeal

Smole/Adobe couple standing outside their new house

A home may make a poor impression on you as soon as you park in front of it, but don’t let that discourage you the way it might other sellers.

Plants and flowers can be replaced, weeds can be pulled, and a home's exterior can be fixed up or repainted.

You also may want to consider bigger curb projects like landscaping the front of the home or painting or replacing siding to give it a different look.

Consider for-sale-by-owner homes

Andy Dean/Adobe for sale sign outside house

Someone may decide to sell a home themselves instead of using an agent to avoid paying a realtor’s commission. That savings could be passed on to you as the buyer.

Have paperwork reviewed by a real estate attorney or your real estate agent so you don’t make costly legal mistakes when buying directly from the owner.

Ask around

fizkes/Adobe couple consulting male finance advisor

Realtors may have listings they’re holding on to for specific clients, or they’re waiting for the best buyer for their sellers. You may also have friends or family who know of someone who’s about to list their home in an area you desire.

You could also make cold calls, talk with family and friends, or perhaps even appeal on social media in groups specific to the neighborhood you want to live in.

Consider short sales and foreclosures

zimmytws/Adobe mortgage document with foreclosure stamp

A short sale or foreclosure can be more complicated than buying a home in a traditional way, but it could also get you a good deal on a property.

Do your research on the issues involved with buying a property as a short sale or foreclosure, and make sure you have all the paperwork or other information you need to be eligible to buy a short sale or foreclosed property.

Be willing to make repairs

Kurhan/Adobe male plumber repairing kitchen sink

A home may be sitting on the market longer than others in the area because it needs a new roof, a furnace replaced, or a major repair that could cost a lot.

But a home with a major repair looming could also be a home that’s more affordable than a typical place in the area.

Negotiate for a lower price if you’re willing to take on the extra project as a do-it-yourself issue or one where you have to set up a contractor to make it work.

Expand your search area

Irshaad Majal/peopleimages.com/Adobe father son playing with moving boxes

If you're looking in a specific area for the ideal house and coming up empty, it may be time to expand your search area.

Look at other neighborhoods or towns nearby that might not be as expensive. Consider changing the location if you’re unwilling to compromise on size or the type of house you want.

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Become a caretaker

Andrei/Adobe female student using laptop for study

You might want to consider becoming a home caretaker if you want to live in a tourist destination or a town with many second homes.

A caretaker can live in a home in a desirable area for free or get paid to take care of the property for the homeowners.

Of course, you probably won’t be able to make the home your own since it doesn't belong to you. And you’ll have to find other accommodations when the homeowner wants to use their home.

Ignore issues that might bother other homeowners

Krakenimages.com/Adobe woman annoyed at noise at home

Perhaps the most affordable home in the area is near train tracks, a fire station, or a really busy street.

These may be issues for other buyers, but they might not be issues for you. Consider what you’re willing to overlook to get the home in your desired neighborhood.

Renting out part of the property

Kseniya Ragozina/Adobe for rent sign outside beautiful mansion

Becoming a landlord on your property may be a good option — if you find the right place and tenant.

You might find a home with a living space with a separate entrance or a room above your garage. You could also have a separate dwelling or guest house on your property that you can rent out to help you pay your mortgage.

Bottom line

JacobLund/Adobe couple shaking hand after making deal

In the current housing market, you might have to make some compromises, but there are ways to get the house you want in the neighborhood you want for the price you want.

You also might have to find ways to earn extra money to cover renovation costs, which may be something you’re willing to do for the right home.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen

Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.