When you’re about to make what’s probably the most expensive purchase of your life, it can be scary. Yep, we’re talking about house hunting. And as prices seem to climb into the stratosphere every time you turn around, it can make you wonder if there are any house bargains out there. But there are!

Here are 4 characteristics to consider when on the hunt for a new abode.

1. The up-and-coming neighborhood

You probably know the “it” areas the neighborhoods and suburbs that everyone’s buzzing about. But what about the ones that are thisclose to being hot? Those are the ones where deals might still be had. Your real estate agent is often the best source of intel since they know the market inside and out, but some other signs to think about include:

  • Construction and renovation: If other homeowners are pouring money into their homes, they’re literally becoming invested in the well-being of the neighborhood.
  • Amenities: Hip neighborhoods are typically going to start attracting coffee shops, restaurants, corner grocers, and other signs of life.
  • Young people/families: If the next generation is flocking there, it’s a good sign that they might be like you, wanting a neighborhood on the rise.

2. The house on the outskirts of the school system

Schools are a major factor in home values. One way to find a hidden gem is to find the school district you like, then look for houses on the outskirts rather than right smack in the middle. This way, you’ll benefit from the school district “halo effect,” but are likely to save money on the purchase price.

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3. The cosmetic fixer-upper

While everyone else is swooning over new construction or marble countertops, you might be wise to look for the opposite the house that has good “bones” (aka a solid roof and good plumbing and electrical systems) that others are dismissing because of cosmetic flaws. You know, the outdated track lighting, the garish paint.

While everyone else is dazzled by the flash of a perfectly staged or updated home, smart home buyers look past the chintz wallpaper and wall-to-wall shag carpet for a home that can be easily (and economically) updated. Make sure you have a professional inspection, though, because unless you’re handy or have a big budget to overhaul a fixer upper, you’ll want to make sure the majority of the fixes are truly cosmetic and therefore relatively easy to remedy.

4. The small house (in the hot ‘hood)

There’s an adage in real estate that’s true, no matter what the market is doing: location, location, location. That’s why you want to buy the ‘hood, not the house. In other words, if the home you buy is in a desirable neighborhood, chances are good you’re going to be happy with your purchase down the line. While everyone else is chasing the biggest and best, it might be smart to go for more affordable, even if it’s a little older. And then, if you choose, you can make the upgrades that suit your lifestyle. You can always move a wall to create another bedroom, but you can’t move the house to create more demand.

Safe and smart | Home safety

about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.