Some places are cheap because of long-term trends that have taken many jobs elsewhere. An example of this is Altoona, Pennsylvania, a town of about 35,000 in a beautiful setting in the Allegheny Mountains. Many of the towns in this area of the country have lost their industrial employment base. That's okay if you have a business you can run from anywhere. The town is still large enough to have all the basic amenities necessary for a nice lifestyle, and the last time I checked (early 2010), there were still some decent-looking homes for sale for under $30,000.
Independence, Kansas, in the southeast corner of the state, has brick-lined streets and (according to my internet research), a bustling downtown. The local economy is based on various industries, and this is a small town, with a population of just about 10,000. Houses start at less than $30,000 here as well, although the $11,000 three-bedroom home I saw listed in 2010 was probably a fixer-upper.
Keokuk, in the southeastern corner of Iowa, is farm country, on the banks of the Mississippi River, and has a population of about 11,000. The last time I checked there were many houses under $50,000 and at least a half dozen under $30,000.
Even in the resort town of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina you can find some of the cheapest homes in the U.S. - and within walking distance of the Atlantic Ocean. In this case, the homes are condos, which were apparently over-built during the boom years, and now sell for as little as $35,000. These are not fixer-uppers generally, since they are often only a few years old. Many are bank repossessions. The drawback here is that property taxes are very high. That gets us to the other part of finding cheap homes.
The Cheapest Homes are Cheap to Own
If you really want cheap living, then in addition to looking at the price of a house, you have to look at all the other costs of ownership. These can vary quite a bit depending on the type of housing as well as the area of the country where a home is located. Here are some of the larger expenses to look at.
Property taxes: These vary widely. On a $90,000 house here in Canon City, property taxes are typically about $450, while a house of the same value in Myrtle beach, South Carolina could have taxes as high as $3,600 (even more if it is a second home). When you compare homes, look at tax rates.
Insurance. Insurance rates don't vary too much in most of the country, with the exception of those area where hurricanes regularly hit. The same home that costs $400 annually to insure in Iowa might require thousands of dollars of insurance in Florida.
Utilities. The cost of lighting and heating a home vary for two reasons. Electrical rates can be much higher in some communities, for example, and it will always cost more to heat a home in Minnesota than in Kentucky. But the bigger reason for most differences is the house itself. Some drafty, poorly insulated homes can costs a fortune to heat. Ask for some old utility bills to get an idea of what these costs will be.
Other costs to watch include maintenance, water, and distance from work. Old homes may need much more to maintain, and water can be a big expense in desert areas (avoid large lawns in these areas). The distance you'll have to drive to your job can make a home more expensive than you think as well. To get the cheapest homes in the U.S. then, you need to choose an inexpensive area and then look at the individual costs of each home carefully.