Hi , as Jim mentioned sweat equity comes when you own the home to increase the value. Consider buying a fixer or slight fixer if you or your family and friends have the skills to improve the home. There are plenty of fixers available in AV, I was born and raised in AV and know the area well, and service AV too. In addition, bartering with your friends is a great way to save money. You assist them with your stregnths and know how and vice-versa, then it is a win-win and you all save money. Then of course extra work, holiday work, garage sales, and so forth all add up. Once your in a home then there are more tips for improvement and ways to save.
It is best to work with a Realtor when purchasing new or existing homes, so they can aid you in negotiations and refer you in the right direction for a solid ethical lender, that right there can save you money. I recently had to stand up to a lender (a buyer chose) for over charging my client, and other things. Ethical lenders are out there.
Remember it is a declining buyers market in AV and sellers need to participate in aiding the buyer to get their home sold, if they don't another seller will, this is where an agent can assist you in YOUR best interest. Keep your thoughts open to learn and team up with an agent. Keep an eye on mortgage interest rates, that certainly can cost you money. Lots of great buys in AV, live like a king in the great aircraft/aerospace cities!