Shopping for a home can feel like you are on a roller coaster. The longer you look, the more likely you are to find properties that look like they could be a good deal—houses you could turn into a home. The lower the price, the more likely you are looking at a fixer-upper. Would-be homes of this caliber are transformed into paradises every week on television shows like “Property Brothers” on channels like HGTV. It almost makes it seem doable! The fact is any property can be rehabbed or renovated to be the exact place you want, provided you have the budget and the know-how to make it happen. The trick is figuring out whether it is worth it. Here is what you need to know before buying a fixer upper:
Structure Is Everything
When you buy a fixer upper, many of the changes you will need to make are cosmetic. You’ll likely need to patch some walls and add some paint. You may need to refinish floors, remove wall paper or replace baseboards. You might also want to install different light fixtures, add trim, change faucets or replace doors. While these activities can take a lot of time and do require some knowledge of how to do it, they are relatively inexpensive as long as you do the work yourself and easy enough that most people will be able to tackle the task at hand. What does matter is the structure of the house itself. The size of the lot and the relative shape of the house are things that you can’t change. You definitely can’t make the yard bigger and sometimes trying to fix a bad layout by moving walls or building additions simply isn’t practical or advisable.
What Really Needs Fixing
Some fixer uppers need more fixing than others. Before you buy a fixer upper, take a look at the structure of the house. Check the foundation. Is the property level or will you need to shore it up? Check the roof. Does it leak? Are there shingles missing? Do you need to replace it? Consider the HVAC system. Does it work? Is it painfully inefficient? Will you need to add central air? Now think about your plumbing and electrical. Do those systems work well? If you have an issue in one of these areas, that fixer upper could end up costing you thousands more than it is worth, plus the time for the work to be completed and your frustration levels. That’s not to say you should rule these extra-care-required homes out completely, but do make sure you include the cost of major repairs when you weigh whether a house is worth your money, time and energy.
Many Changes Are Optional
You should also know that many changes are optional when you buy a fixer upper. While an out-dated kitchen and a bathroom that looks out of style may not strike your fancy, it also isn’t something that needs to be changed before you move in. While waiting until your family is established in the home and your stuff is filling every cabinet and corner may make a remodel more difficult and certainly more messy, it doesn’t mean that you have to make those changes before you move in. You could purchase the fixer upper and wait five years (or more) to do the renovation on those eye sores. In the meantime there is a myriad of things you can do to make the rooms more visually pleasing.
Most importantly, be aware that a fixer upper can come with many hidden costs. If you are looking at a home in a questionable condition (or you just want to protect your investment), you may opt to have additional inspections. Pest inspections, roof inspections, sewer line inspections and so on can help you identify an issue before it becomes a problem. You’ll have time to do the repair and possibly negotiate a lower price for the property by having them done—but inspections are costly. It may be in your best interest to pay a contractor to look at the property and give you an estimate as to how much any necessary repairs and preferred renovations will cost. This could help you plan for future expansions or renovations.
Remember What Is Important
This is important to understand because you can save a bundle when you purchase a fixer upper over a finished home—but only as long as you carefully evaluate what you are getting yourself into. “If people are unforgiving up front about assessing the costs of renovation, the value of the property and the neighborhood, and how much money they have,” explains Bradley Inman, CEO of HomeGain.com, “they can come out ahead and buy more house than they otherwise could ever afford.” You can possibly move your family into a nicer neighborhood, better school district, more convenient location or significantly larger home when you buy a home that needs a little work.
By Malka Abrahams