I’m in a mad frenzy to save money and buy a home by late next fall. That gives me a little more than a year (14 – 16 months) to save up enough cash for a down payment. However, in Southern California, homes are crazy expensive! I’ve budgeted a reasonable amount for a “starter” home and am hoping to snag one for under $410,000. First, let me list my requirements:

  1. Must be in a few select cities I’ve chosen, mainly because resell value will be better in those neighborhoods in 10-15 years. I’ve found homes in my price range in other cities, like Van Nuys, but the city name alone reduces resale value. (The 10-15 years is based on my retirement plan in which I move to Colorado! 🙂 )
  2. Must be at least 1,100 square feet. I know I write a ton about little homes, but the truth is I’ve lived in a 1,600 square foot apartment for the past four years and now have the furniture to match!
  3. Preferably a home that’s had some upgrades (also, many homes in my area were built in the 1950’s and ’60’s). For close to $400K, I don’t want to have to replace windows or tear out flooring.
  4. Must have some kind of back yard. It doesn’t have to be huge, just a typical sized lot (6,000 square feet minimum).
  5. Preferably a two-car garage in the back of the house down a long drive way, not in the front as the main focal point.

Here’s what I can buy, within my requirements, for that amount right now:

1. 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house for $399,000 that meets my requirements and is 1,206 square feet. It’s very cute, but the location is a bit sketchy (even though it’s in a “city” of my choice). Also, I think the garage has been converted to a guest house which means there is no garage. This is also a flipper house, based on the sales history :

Cute remodeled house within my "budget", but the neighborhood is sketchy.
Cute remodeled house within my “budget”, but the neighborhood is sketchy.
Inside so-called "sketchy" house, very nice.
Inside so-called “sketchy” house, very nice.

2. 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house for $409,000 and is 1,214 square feet. The neighborhood is a bit better, I actually lived nearby for 5 years and would feel comfortable living in this area again. I don’t necessarily like that the single-car garage (which is very dinky) is in the front of the house, but I could deal with it. The interior has been remodeled and is quite nice, but notice the driveway would need to be repaved – lots of cracks.

Nicely kept "traditional" home.
Nicely kept “traditional” home.
I like the open kitchen/dining area/living room remodel. The interior has definitely been remodeled and kept nicely.
I like the open kitchen/dining area/living room remodel. The interior has definitely been remodeled and kept nicely.

That’s it folks – two houses meet most of my criteria. Sure, there are others for sale in the areas I’m focusing on, but most of them range from $430,000 to $450,000. Of course, since I won’t be ready for another year, these houses will be long gone by then and I’ll have to find a few more choices that meet my criteria. I’m really hoping the real estate market slows down a bit and I can find more homes within my price range next fall.

Have you purchased a house recently? Were you able to meet most of the criteria on your list?


  1. Wow it’s just crazy how expensive homes in Southern California are. We currently live in St. Louis where housing is very cheap. You could get a very large, brand new home, in a great neighborhood for around $300,000 here, and you could go much cheaper and still have something great if you wanted as well.

    We are thinking about moving to Colorado, where in some areas the housing is more expensive than in St. Louis. We are trying to save as much as we realistically can so that they can move there in about 20 months hopefully!

    • @Michelle – SoCal is definintely house crazy. I’m really hoping prices dip a bit come late next year, but I’ll just have to see. As for Colorado, I have family there (and really none here where I live) and love that state. I haven’t ever lived in snow, but think I could deal with it for a few months out of the year. Moving there is a long way off, but who knows, things could change. 😉

  2. Those prices are amazing. Here in Michigan, for that money you could have a 3,500 square foot brand new house with all the fancy trimmings and finishes.

    Good luck!

    • @Money Beagle – I know. It’s always a bit depressing when I compare home prices in other states and see what I can get for my money!

  3. I am thinking about building a house in one of the most exclusive areas of Guatemala City, that should come to $250,000 for 4,000sqft on a huge plot overlooking the city and volcanoes. In a high cost of living area I think I would get a tinier home but in a walkable neighborhood, close to a park or somewhere to go stretch when the house feels too small.

    • @Pauline – I definitely agree with you; tiny and small houses work in more expensive areas, especially if land is hard to come by!

  4. While those prices are high compared to many parts of the country, they’re probably in line with many really good quality parts of the Chicago area. One difference though is that you’ll get some much nicer winter weather 🙂

    • @Ray – That’s true. The cost is dependent on location. Around here, I guess it’s our weather that bumps up our costs!

  5. With prices that high, saving for a down payment is tough! We just moved from the Chicago suburbs to Tucson, so for the first time, we could afford a house! We bought one that was 1,600 square feet for less than $200,000.

    Good luck in your search. The two you featured today were cute!

    • @Melissa – Prices are definitely dependent on location. Hopefully, by late next year we’ll be ready to buy a home!

  6. Yikes! Yep, that’s why we left the LA/Ventura area. We’re in Kern County now, just 100 miles away and our house cost probably 1/5 of what it would’ve cost where we used to live. We just could not see ourselves being able to afford a home that expensive! Good for you for saving up though, that’s the way to do it.

    • @Aileen Barker – My parents live in Kern County, and while we actually like where they live, I don’t think we’ll be moving any time soon due to my job. I actually called a school district in Kern and asked what a comparable salary would be for me to make the move and it was a huge salary cut in my case (my circumstance is a little different, so pretty much any other school district would pay me much less).

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