Should I Buy a Fixer-Upper?

Exposed framing of interior house walls.

Should you buy a fixer-upper? That depends. If you’re willing to live in the Waco, Texas area and somehow score Chip and Joanna Gaines from HGTV’s Fixer Upper program to recreate your home, it may be a no-brainer. But for the rest of us, buying a fixer-upper is a decision that needs to be clearly thought through before making such a commitment.

Why Do You Want to Buy a Fixer Upper?

There are a few reasons people choose to buy fixer-uppers. A big one is to save money, as fixer-uppers (for obvious reasons) tend to be a better bargain. Of course, that’s before you consider the costs of renovations, which may significantly impact your savings.

Maybe you really love where the home is located or its general size and layout. You may also have a vision of how the fixer-upper could be remade to exclusively reflect your style and taste. Or maybe you want to flip the home to make a quick profit.

Are You Ready to Commit to a Fixer-Upper?

Okay, so you’ve decided you’re willing to tackle a home requiring significant TLC.

Before the work even begins, you’ll have to vet the contractor and subcontractors who will be working on your home. And just Googling these people may not be your best way to go about it. The skills, knowledge, and reputation of the contractor will be very important to consider. It may be better to network with friends, family, and colleagues who’ve had experience with a quality contractor that you can call upon. Of course, all that takes time.

This story has a lot of great tips on identifying a good contractor. From how to interview contractors to getting estimates to checking licenses, complaints, and litigation history. And this favorite tip: You probably don’t want a contractor who can start your project right away. The best contractors are the busy ones.

Not everyone has the time to oversee what the contractor and subcontractors are up to throughout the creation of your dream home. Work with your contractor on the best ways to keep the lines of communication open and when to stop by for periodic site visits to make sure your home turns out the way you’ve envisioned.

Are You a DIY Kinda Person?

If you fancy yourself a handy guy or gal, you may want to do all the work yourself – the most time-consuming path of all. And, chances are, there will still likely be areas you have to shop out – like electrical work, HVAC, plumbing, etc. Then there are permits and building codes to address. Yikes, hope you don’t already have a full-time job.

Unexpected Costs

Anyone who has ever watched an episode of Property Brothers knows that costly pitfalls are part of renovation territory. Often, the renovation process has a way of revealing serious (read “expensive”) issues that can delay progress and cause stress. The brothers also warn against starting major home renovations when your children are still babies and prone to making a mess of things.

Perhaps you’ve chosen to temporarily move your family into an apartment during renovation and you have a date by when you have to move into your renovated home before a new school year begins. Or you’ve been leasing an apartment, the lease renewal date is coming up, and you’re still a couple of months away from having your fixer-upper home ready to be moved into.

You have to look at the potential costs from all angles, to make sure you’re making the right decision for you, your family, and your situation.

Save Money by Living in the Home You’re Renovating

Living in a fixer-upper home while construction is going on is an option in some cases, depending on how much work needs to be done. But you’ll have to be okay with living in a construction zone. And as this U.S. News article points out, if you are willing to live in a home during construction, you can likely live without the use of a kitchen for a while thanks to take-out food. But you can’t live without a bathroom. Before making a decision, understand exactly how much and what parts of the home are actually going to be worked on and can you live with the inconveniences ongoing construction will cause.

If you’re not willing to rough it, you have a couple of choices:

  1. Find a rental property, whether it be a house, an apartment, or a spare couple of rooms in a friend’s or family member’s home* – while knowing the cost of renting may erase all the costs you’re saving by purchasing a fixer-upper.
  2. Admit to yourself you’re just not the fixer-upper type. You want to move into a home with as little work to be done as possible. It’s perfectly okay, because some of us don’t want the hassle of managing renovations, have very busy careers that won’t allow us to monitor a renovation, or simply like walking into a move-in ready home so we can get on to other things right away.

* Of course, keep in mind, moving in with others could have a negative impact on relationships.

Dream Home or Money Pit?

Under the right circumstances, a fixer-upper home could be just the living solution you’re looking for. Just be sure to approach it eyes wide open – by researching, planning, and understanding your needs wisely.

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