Here’s How to Find a Home off the Beaten Path

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“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

While Frost probably wasn’t talking about his search for a new home, this excerpt from the poem “The Road Not Taken” can certainly apply to a home search.

While you’ve probably searched for homes on Zillow or maybe even called the number on a “for sale” sign, have you ever scouted haunted houses or scoured DOT listings? If not, this list is for you. We’ve rounded up six ways to find a home off the beaten path — on the road less traveled, if you will.

So if you’re ready for an adventure, one of these ways might just be the path to your next home. To help us get a better understanding of how to uncover these homes, we talked with Sara Lee Parker who is listed in the top 1% of Atlanta, Georgia real estate agents. She gave us even more insights on how to find homes for sale off the beaten path — especially in the hot, hot market that we’ve seen since 2020.

An old home that was off the beaten path.
Source: (britt gaiser / Unsplash)

1. Uncover Cheap Old Houses

The Cheap Old Houses Instagram feed is filled with amazing examples of traditional homes in nearly every style. It’s run by Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein, who scour listings across the country to bring us old houses that are priced under $100,000.

So if you’re looking for a deal and a chance to preserve a piece of America’s history, a cheap old house might be for you! Along with each post, they include the listing agent’s information and some details about the house.

If you want to go even further off the beaten path, Cheap Old Houses offers subscription newsletters for Cheap Old Farm Houses, Cheap Old Houses Abroad, Ultra Cheap Old Houses, and more.

2. Find a free house

Sometimes a house is up for sale…but it can’t stay where it is. Often, houses that need to be moved from their current lot are offered for free.

What’s the catch, you ask? You would have to pay to physically move the house to your site, which can cost upward of $200,000 if it’s going further than just a few miles. The cost varies depending on how big and heavy the house is, as well as on the route — crossing railroad tracks or dealing with power lines can add to the cost. You’ll also have to pay for preparing the new site for the home.

(If you live in rural Wisconsin, like me, you might just see a team of horses pulling a house down the road…true story.)

Some, like this beautiful mid-century modern home in Dundee, Illinois, need some updating and repairs. But this one in Lincoln, Kansas, comes with some help. According to the caption, the Lincoln County Economic Development Foundation was offering $30,000 in grant money that they secured to help relocate and rehabilitate the property, as long as the new owner meets certain income requirements.

Others are beautiful and ready to move, like this one in Vancouver, British Columbia, that the owner referred to as her “most ambitious recycling attempt.” This house did eventually find a home on Galiano Island — where I now want to move.

If you dig through Facebook Marketplace, you can find free homes that need to be moved there, as well, like this one in Bushnell, Illinois.

A letter explaining a home off the beaten path.
Source: (Leon Rojas / Unsplash)

3. Leverage your agent’s network

According to Parker, agents are always talking to each other and discussing properties that will be listed in the near future, giving your agent the chance to find you a home before it even hits the market — especially since 2020, when we’ve seen such hot seller’s markets almost everywhere. She observed that “more than ever, last year and the year before, we helped facilitate sales of homes that were off-market.”

When Parker has a buyer interested in a certain area, she takes a proactive approach in today’s market. She says, “the first step, typically, is sending a letter to a neighborhood. We’ve got letters explaining exactly what we’re looking for, exactly who we are, and who our buyer is. We might send 500 to a neighborhood and get two calls. But those are two options for our buyers.”

Having a proactive agent on your side can be a huge asset. Parker notes: “I’ve heard people literally taking an offer in a neighborhood where a buyer may have lost out on the house next door, but an agent will go door-to-door to a neighborhood and say, ‘here’s an offer for your house — are you willing to sell?’”

These are some things that are key to finding a house off the beaten path. It’s difficult for buyers to do what agents can when searching for a home. “They don’t have time to go out and pound the pavement and look for houses,” she points out. “That’s what an agent is for.” Finding an agent who can tap into their network and use their local knowledge and connections can help you unearth hidden properties and give you more options.

4. Bid at a surplus auction

In some cases, the government, whether federal, state, or local, will offer surplus land for sale at auction. The U.S. General Services Administration allows you to browse real estate and auctions and maybe find a deal — like this Presidio, Texas, home with a starting bid of $10,000.

Another place to look is on the Department of Transportation website (both federal and state). And the cool thing about this is that you don’t necessarily need to wait for the house or property to be listed as an auction item. In Oklahoma, the process to evaluate excess land and potentially sell it starts when a customer requests that land be reviewed as Excess & Surplus based on reasons that include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Purchasing vacant ODOT property that is adjacent to your property
  • Purchasing a private utility easement
  • Leasing property for your business or private use
  • Purchasing access rights to access your property
  • Investigating the ownership of interested property

Individual counties may even hold their own auctions, or might place their surplus land or property on an online auction site. Waukesha County in Wisconsin, for instance, often uses the Wisconsin Public Surplus auction site to list properties and accept bids.

5. Investigate stigmatized property

The National Association of Realtors® defines a stigmatized property as “a property that has been psychologically impacted by an event which occurred, or was suspected to have occurred, on the property, such event being one that has no physical impact of any kind.”

A house can qualify as a stigmatized property for multiple reasons, including a death or a notable crime taking place in the house or on the property, homes previously owned by a famous or infamous person, former drug labs, and more.

This can go either way for buyers, depending on how much demand or interest there is surrounding the property. Sometimes they’re a challenge to sell, allowing the buyer to get a deal, but in other cases — buyers might be eager to get in on the notoriety, which can bump up the price.

According to the website (yes, it’s real), houses where someone dies can decrease by 25% in value. So if you don’t get squeamish at the thought of a death in your home or mind the possibility of ghosts, you might be able to get a great deal!

A home that is for sale and off the beaten path.
Source (re-sized): (A Syn / Flickr via Creative Commons Legal Code)

6. Seek out a set

If you have a spare million dollars or two laying around, you just might be able to buy a famous TV or movie home. Imagine pulling up everyday to Kevin McCallister’s Home Alone home, or enjoying the view from the house where Cameron and Ferris enjoyed part of their day off.

You may not even have to fork over millions to make this work. Leslie Saeta’s 100 Year Old Home, for instance, has been used for multiple movie and commercial sets, and while it doesn’t look like she’ll be selling anytime soon, it might be possible to find other homes that have been used for your favorite commercial, TV show, or movie.

If you really want to get proactive, you could contact location scouts and ask if they know if any of the homes they’ve filmed in are for sale. It’s worth a shot!

The bottom line: Get creative!

In today’s seller’s market, you may not be able to win a bidding war or offer $50,000 over asking price. But this is where creativity might just get you the perfect home.

Whether you’re seeking out cheap old houses, asking your agent to get out there and knock on doors, or tracking down the set of your favorite commercial, finding a home can be an exciting adventure if you’re willing to keep your options open and get creative!

Header Image Source: (Eric Chen / Unsplash)