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10 Critical Considerations When Buying a Fixer Upper

Updated: Apr 19

Purchasing a fixer-upper home can be a rewarding investment (we certainly think and hope!), but it also comes with its own set of challenges. Here are some important things to look out for and consider when purchasing a fixer-upper.



1. Structural Integrity

Check for any signs of structural issues such as foundation cracks, sloping floors, or sagging roofs. Structural repairs can be costly and complex, so it's important to assess the condition of the home's foundation and overall structure.

2. Extent of Renovations and Scope Creep

Determine the scope of renovations needed. Are you comfortable with the level of work required, or is the home's condition beyond what you're willing or able to tackle? Be cautious of scope creep—when renovation plans expand beyond what you initially intended. This can lead to higher costs and longer timelines. If possible, bring a general contractor along to open houses help give you a live assessment of ballpark numbers for updates you'd be interested in making. Which brings me to the next point...


3. Contractors and Professionals

If you're not planning to do all the work yourself (it is unlikely that you can DIY every aspect of your home), research and hire reputable contractors and professionals who have experience with renovation projects. Generally, for subcontracted jobs if you do not plan to hire a GC (General Contractor), it is ideal to get at least three quotes from three different companies. Multiple quotes gives you a well-rounded idea of the scope, tasks involved, multiple price points and comparison of levels of experience and quality:

  1. Cost Comparison: Different subcontractors may have varying pricing structures and estimates. By obtaining multiple quotes, you can compare costs and identify the most competitive pricing for the same scope of work. The more shopping you do, the better chance you have of finding the best price. You will also avoid potential overcharging.

  2. Quality Assessment: Not all subcontractors offer the same level of quality in their work. By comparing quotes, you can assess the quality of materials, techniques, and workmanship that each subcontractor plans to provide.

  3. Scope Clarification and Avoiding Unforeseen Issues: During the quoting process, subcontractors may provide different suggestions or approaches to the project. This can help you refine your project scope and make more informed decisions about what you truly want. Sometimes after discussions with the contractors, we have come to realize that the task is not that complex and we have chosen to do it ourselves after gaining the valuable insight. Different subcontractors may identify different potential issues or challenges in your project. Hearing multiple perspectives can help you prepare for and mitigate these challenges.

  4. Budgeting: Having multiple quotes gives you a clearer understanding of the potential range of costs involved in the project. This helps you budget more accurately and plan for any unexpected expenses. Often times the market rate for specific jobs differs from your expectations.

  5. Value for Money: It's not just about finding the cheapest option, but the one that offers the best value for the price. A higher quote might include better materials, more comprehensive service, or a longer warranty. Often when we choose between multiple quotes, we select a mid-range quote that responsibly strikes a balance between quality and cost.

  6. Negotiation and Financing: Once you have multiple quotes, you may be in a better position to negotiate with subcontractors to potentially lower costs or adjust the scope of work to fit your budget. Sometimes subcontractors offer financing options with 0% APR which is helpful for managing cash flow. They may also offer all-cash discounts.

  7. Understanding the Process: Engaging with multiple subcontractors gives you a chance to learn about different approaches, timelines, and processes for the project. This information can help you make more informed decisions.

  8. Building Relationships: Engaging with multiple subcontractors allows you to build relationships within the industry. Even if you don't choose a particular subcontractor for this project, you might consider them for future work.

  9. Customer Service: The initial interactions with subcontractors during the quoting process can give you insights into their professionalism, communication skills, and commitment to customer service that will build your reciprocal skills and ability to work with subcontractors more effectively over time.


4. Budget and Financing

Create a detailed budget that includes not only the purchase price but also estimated renovation costs, permits, and any unexpected expenses that might arise during the process. Creating a comprehensive budget when buying a home is essential to ensure you can afford the purchase and related expenses. Here are important factors to consider when budgeting for a new home:

  1. Down Payment: The down payment is a percentage of the home's purchase price that you pay upfront. It typically ranges from 3% to 20% of the home's price, depending on the type of mortgage and lender requirements.

  2. Mortgage Payments: Your monthly mortgage payment will include principal, interest, property taxes, and homeowners insurance (often abbreviated as PITI). Use a mortgage calculator to estimate these costs.

  3. Property Taxes: Property taxes vary by location and are typically paid annually or included in your monthly mortgage payment.

  4. Homeowners Insurance: This insurance covers your home against damage, theft, and liability. It's often required by lenders and can be rolled into your mortgage payment.

  5. Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI): If your down payment is less than 20% of the home's value, you may need to pay PMI to protect the lender in case you default on the loan.

  6. Homeowners Association (HOA) Fees: If you're buying in a community with an HOA, consider their monthly or annual fees.

  7. Utilities: Estimate monthly utility costs for electricity, gas, water, sewer, garbage collection, and any other relevant utilities.

  8. Maintenance and Repairs: Budget for ongoing maintenance and potential repairs. Experts often suggest setting aside 1-3% of the home's value annually.

  9. Renovations and Upgrades: Plan for any immediate or future renovations or upgrades you want to make to the home.

  10. Moving Costs: Budget for expenses related to moving, such as hiring movers, renting a truck, or purchasing packing supplies.

  11. Home Inspection: Prior to buying, you'll likely want to hire a professional home inspector to assess the property's condition. The cost of the inspection should be factored into your budget.

  12. Closing Costs: These include various fees associated with the home purchase, such as appraisal fees, title insurance, attorney fees, and more. Closing costs typically range from 2% to 5% of the home's price.

  13. Appraisal Fee: Lenders often require an appraisal to ensure the property's value matches the loan amount. This fee is usually paid upfront.

  14. Survey Fee: A survey confirms property boundaries and can be required by lenders or requested by buyers for peace of mind.

  15. Home Warranty: Consider if you want to purchase a home warranty, which covers repairs to major systems and appliances.

  16. Furniture and Decor: If you'll need to furnish and decorate the home, allocate funds for furniture, appliances, and decor items.

  17. Emergency Fund: Having an emergency fund is crucial to cover unexpected expenses that may arise. A common guideline for a general emergency fund is to aim for an emergency fund that covers three to six months' worth of living expenses.

  18. Reserve for Future Goals: Consider how your new home fits into your overall financial goals, such as saving for education, retirement, or other investments.

  19. Commuting Costs: Consider commuting expenses, such as fuel, public transportation, and parking, if the location requires additional travel.

  20. Opportunity Costs: Consider how your housing costs affect other financial goals, such as investing, saving, or paying off debt. Is the money you are investing in your home going to grow more than if it was invested elsewhere?

Explore your financing options, including renovation loans, to ensure you have the necessary funds to complete the project. Here are some common options below. Choosing the right financing option depends on your financial situation, credit history, goals, and the specific property you're interested in. It's important to shop around, compare terms, and consult with lending professionals to find the best fit for your needs.


When buying a fixer-upper, it's important to be aware of the most expensive updates that you might need to consider. These updates can significantly impact your renovation budget. Keep in mind that costs can vary depending on factors like location, the extent of work needed, and the quality of materials you choose. Here are some of the most expensive updates to be prepared for:

  1. Foundation Repair: Addressing foundation issues can be one of the most costly updates. If the foundation is compromised, it can lead to problems throughout the entire structure.

  2. Roof Replacement: A new roof can be a significant expense, especially if the existing roof is in poor condition or if you're upgrading to premium materials.

  3. Structural Repairs: Major structural repairs, such as fixing load-bearing walls or addressing significant termite damage, can be expensive and require professional expertise.

  4. Plumbing Overhaul: Replacing or upgrading plumbing systems, including pipes, fixtures, and sewer lines, can be a costly undertaking.

  5. Electrical Upgrades: If the home has outdated or unsafe wiring, you might need to update the electrical systems to meet current safety codes.

  6. HVAC System: Installing a new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can be a substantial investment, especially if the home lacks central air conditioning.

  7. Kitchen Remodel: Kitchens are often one of the most expensive rooms to renovate due to the cost of cabinets, countertops, appliances, plumbing, and electrical work.

  8. Bathroom Remodel: Bathroom renovations can also be pricey, particularly if you're dealing with plumbing and structural changes.

  9. Windows and Doors: Replacing windows and doors with energy-efficient options can be costly, especially if the home has many openings.

  10. Exterior Work: Repairing or replacing siding, trim, and exterior features can add up, especially if the home's exterior has suffered from weathering.

  11. Insulation and Energy Efficiency: Adding insulation and improving energy efficiency might not be immediately visible, but they can be significant expenses that pay off in the long run.

  12. Environmental Hazards: Addressing issues like asbestos, lead paint, or mold can be costly due to the specialized expertise required for safe removal.

  13. Landscaping and Outdoor Areas: Creating an attractive outdoor space can be expensive, including hardscaping, landscaping, and potentially even repairing or building decks and patios.

  14. Permit Costs: Obtaining permits for major renovations can incur additional costs that need to be factored into your budget.

  15. Labor Costs: Hiring skilled contractors and professionals for various aspects of the renovation can contribute significantly to your overall expenses.

When considering a fixer-upper, it's important to thoroughly assess the property with the help of experts. Get detailed estimates from contractors for the specific work you plan to undertake, and build a comprehensive budget that includes a buffer for unexpected costs. Being aware of the potential expenses will help you make an informed decision and avoid financial surprises down the line.


5. Location

"Location, location, location!" How often have we all seen that on a Zillow post?! As annoying as it sounds, it is crucial to consider the neighborhood and location. A fixer-upper in a desirable area might offer better resale potential, but it could also come with a higher price tag. A fixer-upper in a desirable neighborhood or area is more likely to appreciate in value over time, providing a potential return on your investment. The overall quality and safety of the neighborhood can influence your daily life and the long-term value of the property. Research crime rates, school ratings, amenities, and the general atmosphere of the area. Access to amenities such as parks, shopping centers, restaurants, public transportation, and healthcare facilities can enhance quality of life and attract future buyers if you decide to sell. Pay attention to the real estate market trends in the area. If the location is currently experiencing growth and increasing property values, it could be a promising investment opportunity.


Consider whether the location appeals to a broad range of potential buyers. Even if you plan to live in the property long-term, a well-located home can be easier to sell if circumstances change.


6. Renovation Timeline

Determine how long the renovations will take. A prolonged renovation timeline could impact your living situation and overall budget. The renovation timeline of your home can be impacted by various factors, including the scope of work, availability of contractors, weather conditions, unexpected issues uncovered during the process, and obtaining necessary permits. Delays in material deliveries, changes in design plans, and coordination challenges between different subcontractors can also extend the timeline. Proper planning, clear communication with contractors, and building in a buffer for unforeseen delays are crucial to managing and minimizing potential disruptions to your renovation schedule.


Consider the projects you have in mind relative to the season and "critical path." Do you have outdoor projects that cannot be executed in freezing temperatures? In construction project management, the "critical path" refers to the sequence of tasks or activities that determine the shortest time in which a project can be completed. It's the path that has the least amount of flexibility or float, meaning any delay in tasks along the critical path will directly impact the overall project timeline. Tasks on the critical path have zero float, meaning they cannot be delayed without extending the overall project duration. These tasks should drive your project planning. Tasks that are not on the critical path have some flexibility, known as float or slack. These tasks can be delayed or run concurrently to critical path tasks. For instance, if you are waiting for a concrete slab to cure in the basement to install tile, you can concurrently paint.


7. Zoning and Permits

Check local zoning laws and permit requirements to ensure you can make the desired renovations without legal complications.

8. Inspection, Code Compliance, Health and Safety, Utilities:

Hire a qualified home inspector to thoroughly assess the property. This can help you identify potential issues that might not be immediately apparent. Consider using one home inspector or a team of multiple inspectors depending on your preferences, the complexity of the property, and the level of expertise you require. A single inspector might be more efficient in terms of scheduling and completing the inspection, as well as cost of inspection. A team of inspectors may bring specialized expertise to different areas of the property, allowing for a more thorough examination of various systems and components such as structural integrity, electrical systems, plumbing, and more, ensuring a thorough assessment of the property.


The inspector(s) should help you determine whether the home is up to current building codes. Renovations might require bringing certain elements of the home up to code, which could increase your costs. Inspectors will also help Look for potential hazards like mold, asbestos, lead paint, or pest infestations and will help assess the condition of plumbing, electrical systems, HVAC, and other utilities. Replacing or updating these systems can be costly.

9. Resale Value and Long-Term Goals:

Consider the potential resale value after renovations. Will the investment in repairs and improvements be likely to pay off in the long run? Will the improvements align with what potential buyers in the area are looking for? When contemplating renovations for resale, a prudent approach involves a comprehensive assessment. Begin by researching your local real estate market to understand current trends and buyer preferences. Consult real estate professionals for insights into which renovations yield the best returns in your area. Calculate renovation costs accurately, factoring in both materials and labor. Compare these costs with potential increases in property value to gauge ROI. Focus on high-impact areas like kitchens and bathrooms, and consider the competition in your neighborhood. Avoid over-improvement and align renovations with buyer preferences, aiming for functional upgrades and energy efficiency. Lastly, balance your timeframe and goals, ensuring that renovations enhance both the home's value and your potential resale outcome.



10. Emotional Preparedness:

I'll never forget the last thing our home inspector said to us: "Anything can be fixed with time, money, and guts." Renovating a fixer-upper can be emotionally taxing. Be prepared for setbacks, surprises, and the challenges that come with the renovation process.


 

Buying a fixer-upper can be a fulfilling and potentially lucrative endeavor, but it requires careful planning, thorough research, and a realistic understanding of the time, effort, and costs involved. It's often a good idea to work with experienced real estate professionals, contractors, and inspectors to ensure a successful renovation project.


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