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July 23rd, 2014

What to look for when buying a ‘Fixer Upper’

Dollar House

If you’re willing to put in some time, energy and money, buying a home that’s considered a “fixer-upper” can be a rewarding experience. But there are important differences between a fixer-upper home and a real money pit. Here are some of those differences.

While things like location, neighborhood and local amenities are important in any home purchase, you should answer these questions when looking at a home that needs improvement:

1) What are the huge hidden expenses? Broken water heater? Bad foundation?

2) What things can we simply not do ourselves?

3) What sort of things can we do with little experience and little cash?

4) How much will fixing up this property cost?

We strongly recommend using a home inspector in your area who has experience with older homes. Many inspectors of newer homes (less than 40 years old) think everything in an old house has to be updated or replaced, and they will give an entirely a bad review. A home inspector who has experience with historic properties and fixer-uppers will give you an honest assessment of the property you’re looking at. (Hint: If an inspector is not willing to give you references and can site properties he’s inspected of the age and condition you’re interested in, then move on and find another inspector.)

When you find an inspector, go with them to the house and follow them from room to room. Ask questions. You will learn a lot more talking to your inspector than what he can include in the written report, whether you buy that home or not.

Generally, you’ve got to look at the following areas:

  1. Structure – Will it stand up? (This is one of the differences between a money pit and a fixer-upper. We recommend avoiding properties with structural problems.)
  2. Membrane (roof, cladding) – Will it keep water out and heat (or air conditioning) in?
  3. Foundation – Is the basement dry? Does the foundation have cracks? (This can be surprisingly costly and complex to fix.)
  4. Electrical – Is there enough power, and is it properly wired?
  5. Plumbing – Are there leaks and is the water pressure adequate?
  6. Heating – In addition to the age and type of furnace, are ducts well-placed and is the home well insulated?
  7. Doors and Windows – These cost more than you think, so get an estimate on any needed replacements or upgrades before buying a home.

Essentially, you don’t want to have to update the foundation and structure itself — and you should get estimates of costs on fixing other items so ensure that works into your total budget.

The next important detail you should look at is the architecture. Are the rooms of appropriate size or is the floor plan easily convertible to something you can live with and enjoy?

Cosmetics — painting, decorating, tile and other interior decorating issues — are largely things you can do yourself with time, effort and talent at a relatively low cost.

Contact us for additional advice on your purchase!

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