Where a House Costs Less Than a Used Car

A tiny 'studio house' in D.C. costs $250,000. A one-bedroom house in Iowa? $10,000.

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Can't find a house in your price range? In some parts of America, homes are cheaper than the cars in the garages.

In my hometown of Titonka, Iowa (pop. 880), my family recently put my great-aunt Katherine's house on the market for $20,000. They got $9,750.

[READ: Why You Should Ignore the Housing Experts]

That's already staggeringly cheap, but compared with my current city of Washington, D.C., the contrasts are dizzying. A one-room house recently went up for sale in the Capitol Hill neighborhood for $248,500. D.C. real estate website Urban Turf this week highlighted the "studio house," which is described on realtor.com as an example of "extreme simplicity." The one-room home is on the market for more than 25 times the price of Aunt Katherine's house, which at 900 square feet is larger than the entire 746-square-foot lot on which the Capitol Hill house sits. And Aunt Katherine's house isn't an outlier; towns across rural northern Iowa go for similarly low prices, well below $100,000 in many cases. True, incomes are lower in Titonka than in the District. Median household income in my hometown is at $46,597, according to the Census Bureau, compared with $61,835 in the District of Columbia. That could account for a bit of the price differential, but it's certainly not the whole story.

The contrast between the two homes is also an illustration of the old real estate maxim: "location, location, location." Titonka is a wonderful place, in my unbiased opinion, but like many tiny towns nationwide, it doesn't have the features that would make it desirable to a wide cross-section of Americans: a wide variety of jobs, for example, or any form of mass transit that could take you to the movies (20 miles away) or the mall (50 miles)...and the nightlife is pretty quiet.

It boils down to the question of priorities: those who want to climb the career ladder in D.C. pay dearly for their housing. Those who want nothing more than to be a homeowner, however, can buy houses — perhaps multiple houses — in the thousands of towns and villages scattered across the country.

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