If you do not go condo, and as I said doing so is a very mixed bag, you will be looking at some kind of a house. The downsides to houses are they are not “lock and leave,” they require outside upkeep. Snow and grass must be taken care of. At least some landscaping has to be done. Damage must be fixed. On the plus side. you have more privacy, less rules, and more chance to enhance the BPB life with a garden, hot tub, or any other number of comforts and experiments.
BUY OLDER STOCK IN A STABLE NEIGHBORHOOD
In the 1960s, the average house was about 1,000 square feet, or very nice for a bachelor. More than enough room, not so much room that cost and upkeep eat you alive. A modern-minimalist size. Today it is 2,400 sq ft! Simply too big for one person to lead any kind of simple life. Modern houses are not built as well, either. If you grew up in the southwest or any “new” city, being a city that really boomed post-1970s vs pre-1960s, you will not see what I mean. When I lived in Phoenix, everyone from the northeast said how bad the houses were built. All the locals or those from SoCal asked what we meant. It is hard to explain, but if you see it you know it.
Suburbs built pre-1970s usually have a few nice, small houses on the street. They were build as cottages or just never added on to like the others. For this reason, they go cheaper, perhaps up to half the median of the street. The rest of the street will probably be reasonable in price, perhaps the second or third quintile. These quintiles avoid “ghetto” areas but keep you in an affordable situation. Chances are you will not end up in a bidding war for these ugly ducklings. Chances are you can bid low and still get the deal. Don’t be afraid of some work if you have skills. You could end up with a real pad!
Sometimes smaller homes are “attached” to each other for various reasons. This can be a problem or can not be, investigation is needed. Here are a few situations and my thoughts on them. One thing for sure, if you buy anything constructed since 1990 smaller than 1,500 square feet, it is almost certainly attached.
They are found in groups of 3 and up to about 8-10, though there is no real limit. Like a condo, you have a HOA and own your unit plus some part of the common areas, though nothing may be “common” depending on configuration. Upside is more privacy than a condo since nobody lives above or below. There is little to no exterior maintenance, there is a chance they even take care of snow in your driveway depending on the HOA. You may have a very small patch of ground for a few allowed plants if that is your thing, but forget about a garden more than containers on your porch. You probably will have a porch/patio where you can put a grill and said plants, but that will be about it.
Roof repairs will eventually come up, as will porch and siding. These will come out of your HOA fee, perhaps a special assessment, in which you will have no choice. My last issue is these things are E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E for what you get. They get squeezed in to areas very dense, they fill up. You can usually find older stock small homes (not “tiny houses”) in older cities, in newer cities they may be your only real choice for an affordable pad.
DUPLEXES AND PATIO HOMES
I love a duplex for a bachelor. Done right, you buy the whole thing, rent the side you do not live in, and have most of your mortgage paid. As rents rise, it is all paid, and again done right, in 15 years you are paid off and have bona-fide passive income! Don’t worry about finding an older neighborhood, this is all duplexes are located in. This is called “R-2” zoning (Residential 2-unit) and fell out of favor post-1960s. Even before, they were limited as they are a limited market. Families just do not buy them. Investors and single-guys buy them, and the single guy is just an investor. Appreciation is limited, meaning do not expect a big payday but do expect you can get into them at a reasonable price.
Newer “duplexes” are to be avoided. Today, builders sell attached homes but sell each unit as a single home. The buyer saves money but gets a lot of headaches. For one, many are “HOAs of Two.” Meaning it is a HOA but just the two of you are the HOA. When you go for a mortgage, your neighbor may have to agree. Roof needs replaced? You have to get together on it and agree. You may share a common driveway. Even in cheap markets, they go for almost $200,000! Forget buying both sides on the cheap. I’d rather have a townhouse.
These may be called different things different places and seem to be found in the south and southwest for the most part. They are “joined” by a partial common wall, usually the garage. The drive may be common, but there is some separation otherwise. Some drives have a little curb between, and nothing is common in on the deed, you own your half and nothing common. I have no idea why builders did this, it had to be to save money. They are older stock. Consider if it is enough privacy for you, maybe one day buy the other side if you can.
OTHER KINDS OF HOUSING
Besides the above, there are some other housing situations in the USA. There are mobile homes, a/k/a “single wides.” They may be on your own lot, but are more likely in some kind of “park” of a dozen to perhaps 100. They can be cheap, which is their appeal. Their reputation is not the best, known for housing low income folks, retirees who themselves are lower income, single moms, and just anyone who needs cheap housing. I’m not saying no good people live in them, and I have seen some very nice parks. Caveat Emptor, my friend.
Then there are “double wides.” Two “single wides” side by side. Might be called “modular homes.” These are nicer than a single-wide, perhaps much nicer. They came into favor after the late-1980s and the cost to “stick build” (build from scratch) a home rose and the cost of making one in a factory fell. Though all are called “mobile” they rarely move after being set on a foundation. Double-wides are almost always found in the country not city, and financing them can be hard. My thought is that areas they are found are usually too small and remote to make it a viable BPB choice, but do not rule them out.
“TINY HOMES” AND OTHER ODDBALL HOMES
Youtube “Tiny Houses” if you need to see what these things look like. My advice is upfront. The only reason to consider one is if it is free or nearly free and the alternative is to be homeless. I am not joking. These things are 150 square feet or less, that is 10×15, smaller than most bedrooms. They probably have no running water, toilets are compost jobs. They are on trailers meaning little protection in severe weather. And the kicker is the cost to build one is so high you can buy a cheapo RV for the price. If you are that bad off, get the RV, camp where you can, and recover.
Look for an inexpensive small cottage or duplex in an affordable area. The idea is to get a place you can pay off in 10-15 years, after this you are living dirt cheap and are no longer a debt slave prisoner to your job. The world becomes yours!