You'll almost inevitably have to restrict your search to a few areas around the country where property prices are consistently low, although the odd bargain can be had even in the South East. It is possible to buy a property for under pounds 20,000 in London but it is likely to be a ex- council flat in a tower block.
According to the Land Registry's most recent residential property price report, the cheapest regions are the North, North West, Wales, Yorkshire and Humberside. Pockets of Scotland are also a good source of cheap property. General Accident at Dingwall (01349 864848) has a two-bed house for pounds 17,000 in Avoch, a fishing village near Inverness, with lovely views of the Moray Firth.
By county around England and Wales, the cheapest areas are Blaenau Gwent, Kingston Upon Hull and Stoke-on-Trent. Blackburn, Blackpool, Caerphilly, Derby, Denbighshire, Doncaster, Hartlepool, Leicester, Middlesbrough, Port Talbot, northern Lincolnshire and Rhondda are also inexpensive.
Yet the survey's more expensive areas have bargains too. Geering and Colyer at Folkestone in Kent has a one-bed flat near the mainline railway station and the harbour for pounds 19,750, while Abbotts in Norfolk offers a one-bed flat in Downham Market for pounds 17,500.
If you can keep your head, try auctions. On Wednesday, estate agents William H Brown is auctioning a four-bed terraced house in Hemsworth, West Yorkshire, for a guide price of pounds 16,000. Other auctioneers include Allsop and Co, Edwin Evans, FPD Savills, Winkworth and General Accident. If you have no qualms cashing in on another person's misfortune, you could opt for a repossession. Many surface at auction or are detailed in publications like The London Repossession List.
Mobile homes and modern caravans, typically around 30ft long with hot and cold running water, kitchen and living areas, a small bathroom and bedroom, can be picked up for as little as pounds 200-300. Showman's caravan enthusiast Colin Bridge (01732 841311) has restored a 1920s showman's living van. At 14ft long it has two beds, a small bathroom and the potential for cooking facilities and is for sale at pounds 3,000.
Around 15,000 people live on houseboats. Before buying, have it surveyed by a qualified marine surveyor, and you'll need to pay mooring fees and get a licence from British Waterways. Virginia Currer Marine has Dorian for sale at pounds 19,500, which has a residential mooring on the River Thames at Ash Island, East Molesey. The boat, 12.5m long and 3.6m wide, is unpowered and has a solid fuel stove and immersion heater. The two cabins sleep four, there's a main saloon, bathroom and galley with fridge and cooker.
Provided you have the land to accommodate it, a timber cabin or lodge is an inexpensive way to buy living space. Starting at around pounds 6, 000, these can usually be erected in a couple of days.
London: one-bed flat in a Thamesmead tower block sold at auction for pounds 18,000
Scotland: two-bed house in Avoch, a fishing village near Inverness...
Home on wheels: a restored 1920s showman's living van for pounds 3,000
Doncaster: two-bed for pounds 20,000 in a consistently low-priced area
Norfolk: one-bed flat in large house in pretty Downham Market for pounds 17,500
... it needs work but views over the Moray Firth compensate. pounds 17,000
Home on water: Dorian, moored on the Thames in Surrey, for pounds 17,500
Build your own: self-build cabins or lodges start at around pounds 6,000