I have a $33,000 dream. Plus or minus 10K.
March 4, 2014 1:52 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to buy a home in a very cheap place that still has culture--local, regional, and national music. Museums, public attractions, parks. Bike friendly and/or walkable and/or good public transportation system. Great natural attractions nearby--hiking, rafting, kayaking, swimming, climbing, caving, hunting, fishing. Where is this possible?

Currently I have St. Louis, MO, on my short list of one location. It hits most of the highlights, though you need a car.

It seems like I could get a small not-perfect house that is good enough in a surprisingly OK part of town for $33,000, +/- $10,000. I could get a large, multifamily fixer-upper in the ghetto for the same price.

Where else exists in the US like this?
posted by jsturgill to Society & Culture (44 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Duluth, MN has everything you are looking for and quality housing stock in your price range. If it wasn't for the winters.........
posted by lstanley at 1:58 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've heard good things about Bloomington, IN.
posted by chaiminda at 2:01 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

How close do you need to be to national music, and how big of stars in national music do you need?

Museums, public attractions, parks

Even the smallest towns have these things.

There are many places in New Mexico where you can buy a house very cheaply, attend local and regional music shows, walk or bike everywhere, and have the natural attractions listed nearby. You'd have to get your national music father away though, and public transit is somewhat lacking.
posted by yohko at 2:24 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Depending on your definition of 'good public transportation system,' many Rust Belt cities might meet your criteria.
posted by box at 2:30 PM on March 4, 2014

Response by poster: Museums, public attractions, parks

Even the smallest towns have these things.

I'm looking for offerings better than most of the smallest towns can provide. The St. Louis City Museum, for example, is (close to) world-class awesome. I know small towns, and their museums are... quaint. Not impressive.

Aside from their own merit, which is substantial, I feel like having (close to) world-class offerings is a proxy for a culture that hasn't been entirely drained of mid-20 to mid-30-something people who are alert, aware, liberal (strong and important personal preference), and vibrant.
posted by jsturgill at 2:36 PM on March 4, 2014

Look around in Missouri. I live 45 minutes from downtown Kansas City in a small town that has many houses in your price range.
posted by annathea at 2:40 PM on March 4, 2014

I bought a large, multifamily fixer-upper, and it has cost a TON to fix. I would be very careful about what you take on. Unless you're already skilled in the higher-cost trades, have a lot of time on your hands, and have others who will help you, you'll probably spend less if you find a structure in decent shape.
posted by slidell at 2:41 PM on March 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Pretty sure there are actually livable homes in Pittsburgh for around that price range -- you might have to go up to $50k, but you wouldn't have to do too much work on them. Here's one in Monroeville, not too far outside Pittsburgh proper.
posted by jabes at 2:47 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

First of all, please realize that you're looking to buy a house for about 1/8 - 1/5 of the nationwide average (let alone the high end), and you are looking for attributes that many, many like-minded people want, so you are going to have to make some compromises.

That said, you could do worse than Kalamazoo, MI given your goals. It has a solid university, a really good private college, and punches above its weight in terms of art museums, theater, and music venues (including nationally-touring artists, given the convenient location between Detroit and Chicago). If you live close enough to downtown a fair number of things will be walkable, though I won't pretend the public transit is awesome and you probably can't realistically live without a car.

If you do have a car, though, beautiful Lake Michigan beaches are barely an hour away, there is forest hiking and small inland lakes in every direction, Ann Arbor is easily accessible, and Chicago is either a very long day trip or an easy-peasey weekend trip if you're jonesing for bigger culture, better museums, etc.

On your budget you're still only going to get a townhome, though it might have a small yard. Though if you live in Kalamazoo proper, your kids' college tuition (if you have any kids) could be comped, so that could really take a load off in terms of financial obligations.
posted by rkent at 2:54 PM on March 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

I love Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is crazy cheap, so here you go (note that all of these places are in safe neighborhoods):



Appleton (believe it or not, a really nice place to live - the college helps a lot re: cultural offerings)

Obviously if you're looking at condos/townhomes you'll have even more options. Milwaukee and Madison are, IMO, significantly nicer than St. Louis.

Also, because I was surprised how cool Louisville was, Louisville.

I'd bet Nashville would work for you, too. Or one of those C-cities in Ohio.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:01 PM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Or perhaps Champaign, IL.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:02 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

New Bedford, Mass has cheap housing and puts you in easy reach of NYC and Boston, as well as mountains and beaches.
posted by vrakatar at 3:04 PM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Not to keep posting but this is a fun project - man, you can live in Chicago for $50k. That neighborhood (West Elsdon) is not the greatest, but it's not scary; I worked around Midway for years and mostly it was just boring.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:14 PM on March 4, 2014

posted by chinston at 3:18 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel like having (close to) world-class offerings is a proxy for a culture that hasn't been entirely drained of mid-20 to mid-30-something people who are alert, aware, liberal (strong and important personal preference), and vibrant.

If you want to find this, it will help you to look for this sort of social climate specifically. Close to world class offerings are correlated with those things, but there are many places with close to world class offerings that don't have a liberal political climate or that skew to much older age groups.
posted by yohko at 3:20 PM on March 4, 2014

posted by chasles at 3:41 PM on March 4, 2014

Look around Rochester, NY.
posted by gentian at 3:49 PM on March 4, 2014

Yeah, there are many Pittsburgh neighborhoods in your price range. Many of them bikeable/walkable - public transit can be iffy and change every few years, so you want to choose your neighborhood carefully if you're going to rely on that. (Ask me how many times my transit routes have changed since I bought this house six years ago...)

We have lovely parks and museums and decent theater, and I know people who seem to do plenty of outdoorsy hiking/camping/fishing stuff in the nearby area, although it's not my thing so I can't give you specifics.

We do still have a problem with people leaving the city after college, so the city skews young and old but not as much in the middle. But there are still plenty of us who stuck around and spent our 20s and 30s here.

It's very much a city of dozens of little neighborhoods with very different vibes, so I'd strongly recommend finding a way to visit specific neighborhoods you were thinking of buying in, if that's an option, before committing to a specific neighborhood.
posted by Stacey at 3:59 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to throw out there: Detroit.

Lots of amazing hope there. Shinola is a bike company based in Detroit, for example. From what I've been reading, there is a push for artists, makers, innovators, and anyone wanting to take a chance, to move there.
posted by mamabear at 4:11 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Floyd, VA, about an hour's drive or so away from the Virginia Tech campus, has a lot of what you're looking for. The culture is really steeped in bluegrass music (both weekly at the Floyd Country Store and yearly at Floydfest in the summer). There are lots of hiking/caving activities, as we're snug in the Appalachian mountains. (The Trail is an hour away, tops, and the New River provides excellent kayaking). There are also lots of local artists in the area, including the awesome Jacksonville Center for the Arts, which hosts tons of classes in jewelry making and pottery and blacksmithing. Locals affectionately call the town the Republic of Floyd, given the high percentage of hippy-lol-commie types living there.

The town itself is extremely walkable (largely due to its small size), but a car is mandatory if you need anything more than the basics. I couldn't tell you specifics on land values, as I live in Blacksburg, but I know property is pretty easily had. Houses tucked into the woods along the highways coming out of the main street area, that sort of thing.

If I were to make Southwest VA my permanent home (and not just a place to live while my partner finishes her PHD), I'd happily move there.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 4:27 PM on March 4, 2014

Check out Syracuse, NY.
posted by lyssabee at 4:31 PM on March 4, 2014

Minneapolis is doable if you don't mind a fixer-upper in a somewhat questionable neighborhood. Although if it were me, I'd prefer a small Midwest town with a large state university. Houghton, Iowa City, Madison, Urbana, etc all have a ton of cultural stuff and should be easy on your budget.
posted by miyabo at 4:38 PM on March 4, 2014

Buffalo has a fantastic art gallery.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:54 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would challenge the idea that you need a car in St. Louis. I lived without a car for more than 10 years in St. Louis. (I now share a car with my husband.) The key is choosing a house in easy walking distance of a light rail station or a major (3 or 4) bus terminus. The great things - museums, parks, etc. - are definitely public transit accessible. Also, bike lanes are expanding throughout the region.
posted by hworth at 4:56 PM on March 4, 2014

Just to be different let me suggest Omaha. Very affordable housing, a really nice city center/market place, growing art and music scene. My son bought a small three bedroom house (with real yard and basement) in a safe but rundown neighborhood last year.
posted by idest at 5:17 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Grand Rapids, MI.

Bring your snow boots.
posted by mibo at 5:38 PM on March 4, 2014

Property taxes vary significantly by state. This is a variable you'll want to keep in mind as you consider your options.
posted by aniola at 5:57 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

(East/North) Knoxville, TN. Although you would need a car if you'd like to hike in the Smokies
posted by KogeLiz at 6:20 PM on March 4, 2014

Durham, N.C. if you buy in neighborhoods that aren't yet hip and nice.
posted by aka burlap at 6:24 PM on March 4, 2014

Many of the suggestions seem unrealistic. In Minneapolis/St. Paul, for example, $30-40K will get you into a 1970s trailer in a trailer park or a small, condemned house in the absolute worst neighborhood. The median home price is $210,000.

I am not sure what the market is like now, but two years ago you could buy a cheap condo in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Atlanta.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 6:55 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I will echo goodbyewaffles and recommend Champaign-Urbana, IL. The house he/she linked to is most certainly in what-passes-for-ghetto in Champaign, but that's a long way from real ghetto. Basically it means your neighbors will be black and there is petty crime around. C-U has one of the best public universities in the US, which brings in tons of brilliant people and high-quality culture and gives a lot of it away for free, or for so cheap that locals balk when they visit other towns. A lot of the cultural activity comes from the students, or the very large population of former students who graduated and decided to contribute their talents back to the community. Still, the price you want is ridiculously low even for C-U -- bump it up to $50K and you'll find places both in north Champaign and east Urbana.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:30 PM on March 4, 2014

Does it have to be the US? Because for that you could buy a Narrowboat in London, UK and cruise around the canal network for little money. What a contradiction, in one of the world's most insane property markets. Can't get much more cultured than London...
posted by hannahlambda at 10:52 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

First of all, please realize that you're looking to buy a house for about 1/8 - 1/5 of the nationwide average (let alone the high end), and you are looking for attributes that many, many like-minded people want, so you are going to have to make some compromises.

This is factually correct but both the mean and the median are pushed way up by those extraordinarily high prices at the top end of the market, places like California and the east coast (let alone New York and San Francisco)--consider that the median household income in America is, after all, still around $50,000. If you've lived in a city where even modest homes in safe neighborhoods regularly sell for $150-250K, it's easy to forget that vast swaths of the country outside of New England and California have a lot of very, very affordable housing. I grew up in Michigan, and still think of $30-60K as a "normal" price for an older (1920s through 1950s) house in good condition in a working-class neighborhood. It makes living in Chicago difficult.

Many of the places I could recommend have already been mentioned, but you should take a look at the Trulia heat map.
posted by pullayup at 10:55 PM on March 4, 2014

You'd have to go far from the center, but definitely look in the areas around Asheville NC. Culture, huge range of outdoor possibilities, and better weather than most of the places being mentioned here.
posted by kalapierson at 3:02 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone who just moved to the South Side of Chicago and bought an apartment on the cheap I'm coming around to the realization that most big cities will have neighborhoods with affordable housing stock. With that being said, St. Louis is a great city that is only getting better. My sister in law lives in a beautiful restored townhome in South City that would cost 10x what she paid in most other cities.
posted by ghostpony at 5:54 AM on March 5, 2014

I'll second hworth's challenge about the St. Louis car thing.

I did without a car for about 9 months in St. Louis: I walked to work and the grocery store and lived on a major bus line as well as about a 15-minute walk to a Metrolink station. This was in an apartment. I own a house now (and a car), but it has pretty much all the same properties although it's in a very different neighborhood. Can't walk to work anymore, but I do have the option to bike or Metrolink as well as drive.

It's all about location, and also being ok with it taking a while to get places.
posted by brentajones at 7:22 AM on March 5, 2014

seconding cleveland ... there is plenty of housing stock around that price range (especially if you are willing to do some work on it!). great culture (symphony, art museums, theater, music, great food and such big portions too), cheap living, beaches/parks/etc. the public transportation is ok, and can even be good if you are going to the right places.
posted by anthropophagous at 7:53 AM on March 5, 2014

Phoenix. Minus the good public transportation (It's getting better with the light rail expansion.) Even though the market has started it's comeback here in Arizona, there are still good deals to be had on foreclosure properties. Plenty of outdoors activities, great concerts and lecture series at the Musical Instrument Museum, a thriving art scene, a canal system that runs the length of the city and is great for biking and running ... but honestly you can run anywhere here. It's a great little part of the country (crazy state politics aside).
posted by nubianinthedesert at 8:06 AM on March 5, 2014

Pretty much any city in upstate NY (defining “upstate” as further away from NYC than Poughkeepsie). Albany/ Schenectady/ Troy at least have decent public transportation.
posted by metasarah at 9:10 AM on March 5, 2014

My aunt just sold my grandparents' house in Memphis for $25k, and according to Zillow there are a lot more available for under $30k. You'd have to do some research re neighborhood walkability/safety/etc, but there's certainly culture there.
posted by bradf at 9:23 AM on March 5, 2014

lyssabee: "Check out Syracuse, NY."

Seconded. You can get something within walking distance of downtown at the upper end of your budget. You won't be in a great neighborhood but there is some effort going on to improve the area.
posted by maurice at 9:24 AM on March 5, 2014

Tampa, Florida. Or Central Florida, in general.
The foreclosure crisis is still alive in Florida. There are still some real steals in the real estate market picking up some of the foreclosures.
posted by Flood at 12:35 PM on March 5, 2014

Ditto Nashville - I have lived all over the U.S., with similar priorities, and Nashville is as good as it gets!
posted by mmiddle at 1:25 PM on March 5, 2014

Pittsburgh, specifically Greenfield, Morningside, and Brighton Heights. You might be able to get away with a property on the Regent Square side of Wilkinsburg, but I wouldn't take my chances there for a couple more years.
posted by punchtothehead at 1:31 PM on March 5, 2014

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