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Why You Should (or shouldn’t) Buy a Fixer Upper

should you buy a fixer upper?
A behind the scenes look, mid-reno
should you buy a fixer upper?

should you buy a fixer-upper? Image: Lisa5201/Getty Images

Before anyone considers purchasing a fixer-upper, they should ask themselves a few simple questions. The first may seem a silly one to ask, but it’s really a question worth pondering. Do you prefer newer or older homes. This answer may seem straightforward – either yes or no – but it really isn’t. Once you’ve answered your own question, ask yourself why it is you prefer older or newer homes. You may discover you’d really prefer an older home with the amenities of a newer home. If the answer to this question is Yes, you may proceed to the next set of questions.

challenge of owning a fixer-upper

Are you up for the challenge? Image: Kerkez/Getty Images

Is a fixer-upper for you?

    • Do you like to take on new projects?
    • Do you have a vision of just how something should look?
    • Are you creative, hands-on, or handy?
    • Are you patient?
    • Are you a team player?

If you answered Yes to 3 or more of these questions then perhaps you should buy a fixer-upper. But, before you decide for certain read on to see whether or not a fixer-upper is really for you.
If not, go find yourself a pretty turn-key!

For those who love the charm and characters of the older homes – the archways, moldings, hardwood floors, architectural details, the interesting little quirks like hidden closets, door knobs, etc. – but wish to have a more streamlined look with modern amenities, renovating a home might be the right thing for you.

Classic living room, paneling and ceiling moldings over a herringbone hardwood floor furnished with white upholstered sofas and ottoman. 3d rendering

Combine the charm of older homes with modern style. Image: Peter_visual/Getty Images

What to expect

A fixer-upper can be a great way to get into a larger house, or a better neighborhood than you might be able to get into otherwise. Before you open the door and walk down the long and winding road of home renovations you’ll need to figure out a few things. You should take into consideration whether you will be planning to live on or off premises. It’s more economical to live on premises, but for those homes undergoing extensive remodels, this may be unpleasant or not even an option. But, if you do choose to live on the premises you will have to be prepared to live with dust – a lot of dust. Your home will be a construction zone for well up to a year or beyond.

Think about whether you’ll be doing most of the work yourselves or hiring experts (recommended. Highly recommended.) You will most likely be living out of suitcases and moving from room to room while work is in progress. You will have to live without a real or finished bathroom for some time. You will have to live without a real or finished kitchen for a significant amount of time. If you have children we strongly urge you to live off premises for health and safety reasons. If your renovations are minor, new kitchen cabinets and appliances, ripping out wallpaper, shag carpeting, tile or installing hardwood floors, and plan on fixing up your home slowly, over the period of a year or two or even longer, then you’ll be able to stay at home but you’ll need to be organized and plan well to accommodate loss of use of certain rooms.

Modern Bathroom Image: deliormanli/Getty Images

Figure out a budget

The money you save on a house will, for all intents and purposes, go into the renovations. There are savvy and cost-effective ways to save money but you never want to do anything on the cheap and you never want to sacrifice quality. As with any major purchase, get the best that you can afford. Saving a few dollars here and there won’t amount to any great savings and may give you more of a headache than satisfaction. Make a budget and stick to it.

Figure out where you may want to splurge and where you may want to be more economical. By the same token you never want your well to run dry. Make sure there’s enough padding for a rainy day and make sure there’s enough in case disaster strikes…  When planning your budget meet with professionals to get estimates from them. You’ll need to think about cost of materials, supplies and labor. In the end you’ll need to have a hard look at the overall picture.

Will it be worth your time and money. Is this going to be a good investment? Will improving this house increase the value of it in the near future and in the distant future? Write everything down, make a list of pros and cons, and then ask yourself if this is something you want to do and whether it will be worth your while and your finances.

Clipboard with Kitchen remodel estimate. Cost of renovation.

A fixer-upper on a budget Image: designer491/Getty Images

Expect the unexpected

Things go wrong. Things can go very wrong. Expect some setbacks and don’t be shocked by the major ones. They are bound to happen – a new oven or fridge may not have left the warehouse even though it was due to be on your doorstep a week ago. The hardware you ordered for your cabinets looks terrible, or worse, the manufacturer messed up the order and shipped the wrong stuff. All of these are actually relatively small things and will, in time, resolve themselves.

Take a deep breath. In older homes you may find that sizes for today’s items, such as appliances, plumbing, electrical items, may be quite different from what you have room to work with. Adjustments will need to be made which will add to your overall renovation times and costs. You may discover that you need fix something you had no idea was broken or installed improperly.

This happens quite frequently. Your older home’s electricity may not be up to date to handle all your new kitchen appliances, or something’s gone wrong with the plumbing. Then there are the worst case  scenarios – there are major structural issues.

Home inspector explaining damage and repairs to homeowner

Renovations may require a home inspector to visit your house. Image:SDI Productions/Getty Images

Have an inspection

Have  your home inspected before you purchase your house and be sure to tell the inspector that you will be renovating the home. A home inspection will set your mind at ease and let you know that your investment is indeed a sound one. Or it will give the opportunity to back out and run away. If your home does require structural improvements, or needs extensive “hidden” repairs such as plumbing, foundation work, wall repairs, etc.) you may want to weigh the pros and cons of those repairs.

“Hidden” repairs are those that are invisible to the naked eye and therefore, despite their expenses – which are considerable – are rarely worth the price tag as they most often will not raise the value of your home enough to offset the costs of the repairs and the renovations.

Image:Rick Gomez/Getty Images


Be prepared for it to be time consuming

Whether you do your renovations on your own, with partial or full help, be prepared for the time the renovations will take. This is especially true if you plan on doing most or much of the work yourselves. You will lose your free hours and your weekends to your home. And many say they were prisoners to their homes until the projects were complete.

Most agreed, after having gone through a home renovation once and having done the work themselves, that should they do so again a second time around they would hire help and move out during the renovations. Not one person, however, ever regretted their decision to buy and renovate a fixer-upper.

Image:Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

A Designer shares her thoughts on home renovations

Meredith Heron of Meredith Heron Design recently talked about renovations on her website and knowing that I was about to write an article myself offered to share her thoughts on renovations, from a designer’s perspective. She was happy to have me share her thoughts with you.

  • When renovating your home pack EVERYTHING up or hire people to do so. Put your items into pods or climate controlled storage units. “And for heaven’s sake. MOVE OUT yourself.
  • Do not time renovations to be completed on or near a major event or holiday such as Thanksgiving, Christmas or someone’s Birthday. Chances are it won’t be done by the said date.
  • Don’t try to cut  corners by saving a few dollars. In the end you won’t want to have had to endure hell and then regret your choices.
  • You will need a designer. You will need professionals.
  • Problems will arise. Be prepared to roll with the punches.
  • “This is a team effort. Be a team player.”
  • “Problems are opportunities to re-examine your decisions and choices up until this point. Often they are opportunities. Seize them.”
  • Don’t choose your renovation time to go on a cleanse, give up drinking or go on your diet. You will need all your vices to see you through. Heron does, however, advise taking up yoga or meditation!

Photo taken in London, United Kingdom

Image:Wachirawut Priamphimai/EyeEm/Getty Images

What you will get

In the end, should you decide that a home renovation is best for you, you will be thrilled with your decision to go ahead and do so. You will have a home designed by you, specifically for you and the way you want to live. You can quite possibly create your ideal or dream home for less than it would have cost to build one from scratch or move into a newer model. Because you’ve renovated your home you’ve most likely replaced windows, doors and flooring all of which can drastically reduce your energy consumption and energy bills.

Your new appliances will also be energy efficient but they will be up to date and hot on the heels of what’s in style in home decor. Because much of, if not most of, your home will be new you will also see a decrease in your maintenance costs. Home renovations are ideal for those who’ve outgrown their current space but either hate the idea of moving or don’t want to leave their current location.

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