In red-hot Montana housing market, young cash-strapped buyer beats the system

Note: This story is part of Squeezed Out, a series from Lee Enterprises that focuses on the escalating housing crisis in the West. Across the region, costs associated with renting or buying property have skyrocketed, forcing many individuals and families to redefine the meaning of home. More than one dozen reporters, photographers and editors across the West contributed to this project.

The toilet was sinking through the rotting floor, and there was damage from standing water in the crawl space. My heart was sinking, too. The shabby, little house I was hoping to buy would take $10,000 in repairs before I could even move in.

In the short time I had been daydreaming about becoming a first-time homebuyer in Billings, Montana, the housing market had changed dramatically. Two years ago, colleagues at the newspaper where I work as a staff photographer were buying their first homes in the $180,000 range, nice little clean bungalows in tidy, working-class neighborhoods.

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