Few things put a crimp in your home-buying dreams like realizing you've been priced out of your ideal neighborhood. Hey, it happens. But that doesn't mean your house hunt should end—it just means you'll have to open your mind to new neighborhoods.
We know: It's hard to say goodbye to a place you know and love, but if you want to buy a home, it might be necessary. And guess what? Once you're settled in, it's entirely possible you will fall in love with this new nabe, too—that is, if you pick right.
Here's how to find those alternative areas that will feel amazingly similar to the neighborhood you covet, only at a price you can live with, too.
Separate needs from wants
The first step in finding an affordable neighborhood you'll love, according to Dillar Schwartz, a real estate agent in Austin, TX, is to "re-evaluate your must-haves versus your wants." Pare down your must-have list so that you can be a little more flexible with the rest.
Find the things that you absolutely can't compromise on: a certain school district, for example, or an acceptable commute time. Once you have a few things that are true must-haves, you can rule out any neighborhood that doesn't meet those criteria. More importantly, you can re-evaluate areas that you hadn't previously considered but that do meet your most important needs.
Define the features you love
Next, make a list of concrete things you love about your dream neighborhood. This will help you separate your emotional attachment to a neighborhood from the stuff that's actually important to you.
Be specific: "cool vibes" is not helpful, but "walking distance to a good coffee place" or "access to dog parks" is. When you're exploring alternative neighborhoods, you might be surprised by how many things on the list you can check off.
Christine Ko, a senior sales associate at Climb Real Estate, in San Francisco, gives this example: "In the city of San Francisco, a handful of neighborhoods have the same style of Victorian homes with period details. While some neighborhoods charge a premium and a higher price per square foot for these homes, you can easily explore surrounding neighborhoods or a few areas farther from the city with the same style of quintessential charm."
Capitalize on what you don't care about
Another way to find bargain neighborhoods is to home in on features that other people value that you don't care about, says Jeff Corriolan, a real estate agent with the Keyes Company in Miami.
For example: If you don't have kids (or plan to have any), then there's no need to pay a premium for the best school district (but keep in mind that a good school district is important for your home's resale value). Or if you work from home or don't mind driving, being farther from downtown might not matter. Maybe you aren't bothered by being on a busy street, or you have no interest in taking care of a yard, or you're a tiny-house aficionado who doesn't see extra square footage as a plus.
By making a list of features you don't want, you can maximize the bang for your buck by choosing areas whose "unattractive" features aren't actually a negative for you.
Explore nearby neighborhoods
OK, so you have your lists of wants and needs and loves and don't cares, but how do you actually find the neighborhoods that fit your requirements? Start from your dream neighborhood and move a little farther out.
"Look at the nearest surrounding areas," says Schwartz. Often "neighborhood" lines are somewhat arbitrary, and heading a few blocks in a less hip direction could yield a neighborhood that is similar to where you want to be in all but price point.
Want help? At realtor.com/local, you can enter the name of a neighborhood to see how much homes cost there—and in surrounding communities, too. For instance, the median list price in Park Slope in Brooklyn, NY, is $1.6 million—but in nearby South Slope that median dips to $1.3 million.
Move in/move out/move up
So maybe you have your heart set on this dream neighborhood and nothing else will do. In that case, says Schwartz, your best move is to make a plan that gets you there in a few years.
"Invest in a property with a great return so that you can resell and buy into your dream neighborhood through appreciation," she explains. "Most agents refer to this as move in/move out/move up."
Or who knows? Maybe after you've lived in your less-than-ideal "starter neighborhood" for a few years, it will change into a new dream neighborhood where you want to stay.