Save Money on Housing Costs: How to Find a Free (or Almost Free) Home

free house
Trish Hartmann under Creative Commons

In March, one homeowner wanted to sell his beachfront home in Norway — and he listed it for less than the price of a gumball.

Kent Karlsen hoped to sell his home on the otherwise-uninhabited Norwegian island of Buoya. To do so, he placed an advertisement on, a site similar to eBay, listing his home for sale for just one Kroner (equivalent to 12 U.S. cents). Soon after the story hit the international press, the ad disappeared, likely because he was deluged with inquiries from people who wanted to buy the the fixer-upper cheaply and restore it to good condition. This would take a lot of work, though, as the home’s last inhabitants left in the 1970s.

Inexpensive homes, and even the plot of land they’re on, can be great investments. Fisherman Richard Lester purchased a plot of land in the Hamptons for $300 in 1956, and later added a modest trailer. Recently, when he was looking to sell his 0.36 acre parcel, he discovered that property prices had soared. The land he purchased for $300 all those years ago was now worth over $1.2 million.

So, where can you find a home for a steal? Actually, in a number of places. Below are a few avenues to explore for inexpensive homeownership.

Free Trailers and Mobile Homes on Craigslist and eBay

From this single-wide trailer in Redding, California to a couple of free RVs located in the Sacramento, California area, it’s not too hard to find a mobile residence up for grabs.

Since these trailers and RVs are on wheels or towable, they’re easy to move to wherever you’d like to live. However, most are not in mint condition and will need some work. Dirty, sometimes broken and in need of some serious TLC, they are definitely projects. The upside? They’re free.

When you’re getting a free RV or mobile home, be sure to assess it for any environmental hazards (such as dangerous molds). It’s not worth risking your health to get something for free. But with some elbow grease and a bit of mechanical know-how, your free find could turn into a nice home one day.

Be sure to have a legal place to store your new RV or trailer while you’re working on it. You’ll also want to save up some funds to pay for necessary materials and repairs.

$500 Houses in Detroit

Some areas of the country are known for having inexpensive real estate. Detroit in particular has received a lot of press in recent years for practically giving away houses. And come this fall, more than 30,000 homes in Detroit will be auctioned off for around $500 each due to unpaid property taxes, reports Huffington Post and The Canadian Press.

However, the cheap homes come with a number of hassles and issues, including the fact that in many cases, people (including former owners, longtime tenants, and squatters) may still be living in them. Foreclosing on these homes is a controversial issue in the area, as it may be adding to increased rates of homelessness. If you can find a house in decent condition that doesn’t have any ethical issues, it can be a great deal.

One man, Drew Philp, bought a $500 house in Detroit at the age of 23. He chronicled his challenges in this Buzzfeed article. The house was beyond trashed when he bought it, piled high with junk and dangerous biohazards, including human waste and uncapped syringes. While neighbors thought he’d be gone after a month or two, he stayed, fixing up his house and restoring it into a place he liked to live. When he published the Buzzfeed story, he had already lived in the home for three years.

If a mobile home is more appealing, consider a low-priced mobile home in Detroit, such as this one for sale for only $950. But keep in mind that you only own the home, not the land it’s on, so you still have to pay $450 a month in rent to the mobile home park. It’s still a pretty good deal!

Become an Author-In-Residence

On April 27, applications opened for Write a House’s Author-in-Residence award. This innovative program allows writers to apply to apply for a free home in Detroit. The early-bird fee to apply is $15, which eventually goes up to $25 to encourage only serious applicants to apply.

Interested? If you win, you must commit to living in your new house full time and becoming an active part of the Detroit literary community. You must also pay taxes and insurance on the home, which Write a House estimates will cost you about $4,500 per year. Still, it’s a pretty great deal on a house, especially since most writers can live anywhere.

Your Turn: Have you ever found a cheap or free home? Tell us about it in the comments!

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.