Homesteading 2009 style: Moving into a $1,000 house

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Over the past year, amid twisted tales of economic meltdowns and subprime mortgages, a new housing market has garnered a great deal of media attention. Ultracheap homes, often priced below $1000, have been cropping up across the country. While these properties generally require considerable renovation, as an article on CNN money notes, they can still be great bargains.

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Over the past year, your devoted Walletpop writers have kept a close eye on this developing market, noting both its pitfalls and rewards. One potential downside is that these incredible bargains are often located in formerly booming industrial centers like Detroit, Cleveland, Flint, and Buffalo. As manufacturing jobs have evaporated, so have communities, transforming many of these cities into ghost towns. They are often characterized by massive unemployment, substandard schools, insufficient social services, and a moribund cultural life. In many cases, moving into these cities will require new arrivals to be pioneers, in almost every sense of the word.

On the other hand, for motivated and adventurous homeowners, this can be a great opportunity. For example, as New York magazine noted in an article about Buffalo, these depressed towns can offer a lifestyle that is unaffordable in more prosperous cities. For that matter, one could argue that like attracts like, and the concentration of urban pioneers may lead to the emergence of some new, energetic societies. In Buffalo, for instance, cheap rents and an influx of creative, ambitious people has led to a growing arts scene and a sense of endless possibilities. Another thing to consider is that, while these former industrial towns may be victims of America's loss of manufacturing jobs, they could also be the beneficiaries of America's emergent telecommunications trend. After all, while the old economy dictated that workers had to live near their jobs, high-speed internet is, increasingly, making it possible for workers to live almost anywhere.

In fact, as Wired magazine points out, telecommuting actually improves productivity in many industries. As more and more workers access the office through the web, there is little reason for them to remain in expensive, overcrowded cities, especially when outstanding housing is available elsewhere.

Detroit has over 700 houses that are currently listed for $1,000 or less, and housing prices from Cleveland to Birmingham are often ridiculously low. Added to this, HUD and Congress are lining up to offer loans and grants to homeowners seeking to improve moribund neighborhoods. While the future of America's former industrial cities might not resemble their manufacturing past, one thing is for certain: the current housing slump offers amazing opportunities for America's adventurous homesteaders!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Every so often, he daydreams about moving to a ghost town and fixing up some old police station or church. Then he remembers his neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant and decides to hold off for now.

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