How to Buy a House That’s Not For Sale in a Neighborhood You Can’t Afford

People say divorce is brutal.  But far worse than the divorce was having to live with my ex-husband through the divorce and for another 9 months afterwards as we tried to unload our home in a downward spiraling market.

We finally found a buyer the day before Thanksgiving 2006.  This is the dead zone for real estate.  Anyone who hasn’t already listed their home is unlikely to put it on the market until after January 1st, but more likely March 1st.  And if you’re looking for a home in one of the few neighborhoods that continues to increase in value, the only homes that are still on the market in December are those that are vastly overpriced, the color of a port-o-potty, have a registered sex offender next door, and/or smell like rotting diapers and are over priced.

So there I was, finally free and nowhere to go.  I moved everything I owned into storage except for a suitcase and my computer and moved in with my parents for 3 months.  At 38, this alone is torture and I may end up writing an entry about that adventure, but not today.

Before we’d filed for divorce, my (then) husband and I had decided to sell our home and move to another town about 25 miles west. Our (then) full-of-baloney realtor (and no, I won’t capitalize the R, since lawyer and car salesman are not capitalized) told us that he was so awesome that he’d have our home sold in 60 days.  We decided to enroll the kids in the new school so they wouldn’t have to change schools when we moved.  So 19 months later when I actually sold the house without the idiot realtor and cheating husband, I needed to buy a home with less than half the cash we had projected and with only one income to pay the mortgage.

In the mean time, we had dropped the price almost $100,000 from where the incompetent realtor had originally priced it. Add to that, the town where we’d planned on moving was named one of the top 10 best places in the U.S. to live.  Twice.

So this was my challenge:  find a home I could afford in a town where 90% of what was for sale was over $100k out of my price range at a time when there was virtually nothing on the market.

Oh yeah, and make sure it was in the tiny little zone for the school where the girls were already attending, so they could walk or ride the bus every day when I was at work.

No problem. The realtors that approached me insisted that I was being unreasonable.  They kept trying to convince me to buy houses that didn’t fit my needs or were far away from the girl’s school.  After all, it would be much easier for THEM if I would just do as I was told.  My mortgage broker told me that I needed to lower my standards and “be reasonable”.  Even my boyfriend at the time discouraged my search.

Whatever.  These people OBVIOUSLY had no idea whom they were dealing with.

I’d already driven around the neighborhoods in this town and looked at a few houses, so I had an idea of where to look for something affordable.  There were a few communities of tract homes built in the 70’s and not that many floor plans in each.

Step 1:  County tax assessor’s office

This is public domain.  I was able to find homes that had been assessed at a price within my range.  I had an address, owner’s name, square footage, and taxable value.  I picked all the houses of a certain square footage (this indicated my preferred floor plan) and taxable value.

Step 2:  Post notes

I wrote a little note: “Dear Homeowner, I am a single mom trying to keep her kids in their home school.  If you are considering selling your home in the next 6 months, please call me before contacting a realtor.”  I posted this note on about 100 homes.  I got about 10-15 phone calls.

Step 3:  Talk to homeowners

I had some great conversations with people.  One older gentleman asked me if he could pay me to do his taxes.  It’s 4 years later and I’m still doing his taxes.  I’m not an accountant and he knows that.  Crazy.  Another guy asked me out on a date.  Ummm… no.

So the last appointment came about six weeks after I’d posted the notes.  She answered the door with her eyes low and her chin high.  “I don’t know why I asked you here.  I’m not selling my house.  I love it here.”  Fascinating.  I  replied, “Well, I’m here now.  So why don’t you just show me why you love it so much.”

Meredith had obviously been a great beauty in her youth.  Tall and blonde, with eyes like sapphires.  She shared with me that her sons had grown and were off at college now and her life was changing.  That was why she had called me.

The home was decorated like an old lady; baby blue, white, peach and cheap wallpaper in nearly every room.

Meredith’s livingroom

The fixtures and cabinets were installed in the 70’s and had not been quality when they were new.  It was quite shabby except for the new windows and laminate floors.

But then I saw it.

The back yard was huge, the trees were colossal and there was a sprinkler system.

This is just the north half of the yard.

I was sold.

I told her what I was willing to pay.  She told me she thought it was worth more.  I reminded her that while it probably was worth more, she would end up with less once she fixed everything necessary and then had to pay 6 or 7% commission.  I told her I’d let her think about it.  No rush.  I wanted her to be as happy with the decision as I was.

Three days later she called me back.  She agreed to the price, but tried to convince me to split the cost of a realtor to do the paperwork.  Let’s see here…. it’s about 4 hours of work at this point (maximum) and for this the fee would be between $8,550 and $19,950, depending on what percentage this “friend” charged us.  Wouldn’t you love to have a job where you could charge almost $5,000 an hour and keep your clothes on?  I told her that if she chose to do that, the fee would come out of her proceeds, as I would not be paying for this service.

Step 4:  The contract

Did you know that all of the documents you need to buy, sell or rent a home are available for free on the internet?  It’s true.  Additionally, the title company will do much of the work that needs to be done whether you have a realtor or not.  I filled it out and sent her a copy.  Her realtor “friend” looked it over and found one tiny syntax error I’d made.  Thanks.

Step 5: The inspection

Always, always have a home inspected before you purchase it.  I’m big on doing things myself, but this is a service I always pay for.  Around here we have a company called “Inspex”.  I use them every time.  Everything he told me was expected.  It was, after all, a run down, 30 year old house.

Step 6:  The closing

At this point, we were friends.  I’d been over a few times to start repairing things that needed to be taken care of before the new carpet went in the day after she moved out.  The mood was happy and we worked everything out before hand including the closing and moving dates that worked best for both of us.  It was easy and pleasant.

Step 7:  Happily ever after

So now I live in this house that I love, warts and all.  It is cozy and warm and the squirrels and joggers provide hours of entertainment for my dogs.  My girls are close to school and their friends are down the street. We are all happy here.

I’m so glad I never listened to those people who told me to settle for anything less.

My living room now

My book, Dating, Sex, & Jesus is now available at Please “like” the Dating, Sex, & Jesus Facebook page at: for fun and interesting content and book excerpts in your feed. Thanks!


About howhardcoulditbe

While this started as a chronicle of my many (sometimes ill-conceived) "Do It Yourself" projects, it has morphed into a journal of my 9-year journey as a single Christian woman striving to live by God's design.
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5 Responses to How to Buy a House That’s Not For Sale in a Neighborhood You Can’t Afford

  1. What a novel idea, I never thought of it. You are brilliant
    John Wilder

  2. Don Mituzas says:

    Although I’m a Realtor, I applaud your tenacious effort to purchase a home that meets your needs. It’s unfortunate that the “idiot” agent who had bought your listing by telling you the value was far above the market. It drives me nuts when agents do this just to obtain a listing. It’s actually a violation of Article 1 of the Realtor Code of Ethics. Just like in every profession there are some good at it, some that are far less than honest and some that are downright scary.

    Doing your homework at the assessor’s office and sending notes to those who own homes that meet your needs is a great idea. I’ve done this myself in the past when I had a client looking to purchase a home in a specific neighborhood. As my note was real, personalized and described the family I was working with, I did get a response that successfully resulted in a sale. It wasn’t one of those blanket mailings saying “we have loads of buyers for your house” which is usually a bunch of hogwash. They were real people relocating from out of state and after giving the a tour of the area including schools, shopping and homes on the market they had decided on a couple of neighborhoods where they wanted to live.

    I’m sorry you had such a bad experience with your Realtor. I’m sad to say as a former chariman of professional standards for our local board I’ve heard this before. I’m not going to put all sorts of info to promote myself on your blog, I just wanted to say that you did a great job at finding a home for your family and it can be done without a Realtor if you are prepared to do the work. It was nice you added Step 7: Happily Ever After. Glad to hear it. Nobody deserves what you went through.


    • Thanks, Don.
      Just like every other profession, there are the good, the bad and the ugly. I recently sold that house and bought another one. I was working full time and had a long commute, so I used a Realtor and she did a great job.

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comment!

  3. Anne says:

    I found your article when I searched “how to find a house in a specific neighborhood.” My husband and 3 girls sold our house in June and are now renting an smaller apartment (where the rent is ridiculous) while we’ve been searching for a new house. We love a few neighborhoods, but there just hasn’t been anything for sale! Just this past weekend I made flyers to distribute in mailboxes. Crossing my fingers that we find the right house in the right neighborhood. This gives me hope!

    • Thanks, Anne. Do your homework and know which neighborhoods you can afford. You never know when someone has just had some disaster hit, needs out now, and doesn’t want to deal with the struggle of listing. Two notes: 1. I sold that house a couple of years ago for a good profit. My next door neighbor’s daughter wanted to buy it, but insisted on having her realtor handle the deal. If she’d left him out of it (I didn’t list with him, and she didn’t find out the house was going to be on the market because of him), we could have worked out a deal. The price at which it sold minus the commission was her offer price.
      2. Eight years later, I’m still doing my former neighbor’s taxes.
      Hang in there! It can be done!

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