Fixer Upper: 8 Things to look for When Buying House to Remodel

July 29, 2019

“Needs TLC. Loads of
potential.” If you’ve spent time browsing real estate listings, you’ve likely
seen one of these “fixer-upper” homes and fantasized about turning it into your
perfect abode. With a little elbow grease, it could really shine. Plus, you’ve
been looking for a new DIY project.

A fixer-upper home can be a fun project, and a great way to build instant equity, but it also requires a great deal of knowledge and hard work. In the excitement, it’s easy to overestimate your capabilities or overlook the many aspects that go into renovating a fixer-upper. If the home needs more extensive repairs, like electricity or roofing, even the handiest person may find themselves out of their depth. Since information is power, we partnered with Redfin to put together 8 things to keep in mind when buying a fixer upper.

1. Partner with the pros

Investing in a fixer-upper can be intimidating, particularly given
the uncertainties, construction costs, and project timeline. That said,
fixer-uppers are a worthwhile investment – building immediate equity – if
you’re well-informed and strategic. Two pieces of advice: First, you must know
your market. Hire a seasoned, highly rated realtor and have them counsel you on
the investment. Is it priced right? How much could the value increase after a
remodel? Know the numbers and make a decision that will both protect and
benefit your pocketbook. Second, bring a general contractor and/or interior
designer with you to evaluate the home. They will give you a sense of the
home’s potential as well as the possible costs to transform it into your dream

Oren Farkash, CEO
South Land Remodeling

Planning and budgeting your home remodel.

2. Budget for home improvements

If you plan on buying
a fixer-upper, you need to know which projects you can take on and which you
will need to hire someone to complete. If you are not handy and need to
bring in professionals to complete the renovations, the costs can climb quickly
and a fixer-upper home may not be the best option for you. Create a budget and
stick to it. Prioritize the projects so that you can take care of the areas
where you spend most of your time.

If the house is
“move-in ready,” you will be in great shape. Sure, the kitchen may be ugly, but
is it operable? Don’t blow your budget on one area of the house. Take your time
to get everything just the way you like it. It may take a bit longer to complete
everything, but in the end, you will have converted the “fixer-upper” into a
place you can call home while hopefully adding some equity to the property at
the same time.

Colin Shaw, Owner, 
Shaw Remodeling

American middle class row houses.

3. Don’t out-remodel your neighbors

You should look for homes that are solidly built and in good
neighborhoods. Look for the home that is not necessarily the worst in the
neighborhood, but not the best either. You want your home to end up being not
the greatest, highest priced one in the neighborhood, but close to it. You also need a good
realtor, one who is willing to look hard for what you need. 

When you get ready to remodel the home, make sure that you do not
‘out remodel’ your neighbors. Meaning, you do not want to spend so much that
when you decide to list the home for sale, you are in upside down. There is a
fine line to balance when it comes to pricing your home. 

Debbie Speck, Vice President
Spektacular Home Remodeling

Kitchen with lots of natural light and open concept. Featuring Old Mill Brick Rushmore brick.

4. Prioritize natural light

Focus on the space available and the lighting. Having a lot of natural light can make a big difference in the end result and atmosphere in the home. It can be expensive to knock down walls and add more windows but updating the color pallet, flooring, and accent walls are much more affordable and DIY-able. Look for places in the home where simple updates can make a big splash such as adding an accent wall for texture. For example, you can easily and affordably add a DIY brick accent wall with Old Mill Brick Brickwebb.

It can also be helpful to have a theme in mind before you buy the
home. If you are wanting to create a farmhouse look and feel, try to find an
open concept house with the right bones for the style. You want to make sure
that your plan for the interior style will match the exterior of the home. For
example, a victorian style house might feel odd and disjointed with a modern
minimalist interior.

Alison Milbury
Old Mill Brick

Fixer upper with water damage.

5. Water damage isn’t always a deal-breaker

Most homes will suffer water damage at some point. Provided it is
addressed promptly and properly, there is little concern about the integrity of
the home. However, when the damage is not taken care of, or in many cases, not
known until it’s too late, the required work can be extensive. Certain
parts of the home are more likely to be impacted by water and/or mold. The
areas that we typically find damages are the kitchen and the bathrooms, which
have tale-tale signs if you know what to look for. 

Most home inspectors will point out differences is appearances, but often the person performing the inspection does not go into much more detail. Often times what an inspection paints as horrific conditions, may have a simple fix and can be handled promptly by a certified restoration company in order to maintain your home-buying schedule.  At this point in the home buying process, an experienced restoration professional’s evaluation can potentially save you money and avert headaches that are often associated with long term water damage.

Kris Lloyd
Complete Restoration Services

Contractors play an important role in your remodel. Make sure you find a reputable professional to work with.

6. Vet your contractors through the BBB

Don’t feel uncomfortable telling professionals how much you have
allowed for your budget. They will better guide you to the right products in
your price range. Hire professionals with impeccable credentials and research them thoroughly. Check the Better Business Bureau
(BBB), National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and home builders’
association (HBA) in your area.  You will come across a lot of people who
really do not know what they are doing and you could regret hiring them

Have a good idea of what you really like aesthetically. Take time
to look at photos of other kitchens to get ideas and inspirations that appeal
to you. Eventually, you will see a pattern of what you like and you can incorporate
that concept into your space.  The remodeling “reality shows” are great
inspirations for “before” and “after” but they do not show what really goes on
behind the scenes. Do not rush into making decisions just to appease someone
else. You want to feel good about your choices!  

Nancy McRobb, Kitchen & Bath Designer
The Kitchen Specialist

Deck remodel before and after.

7. Deck safety is a priority

With a deck “fixer-upper”, safety is your main priority. Sometimes
you only need to replace some deck boards; however, many times a deck that has
not been properly built or maintained needs a complete overhaul. First, inspect
the deck to make sure it has all the required safety hardware: 

  • The ledger board needs to be attached to the home with ½ inch galvanized lag screws and bolts 
  • Metal galvanized fasteners need to be used on all joists and posts
  • Deck railings need to be securely fastened with hardware to be able to withstand 200 pounds of lateral force

If any of this hardware is missing, you can sometimes retroactively add the correct metal fasteners to make the deck more secure. However, sometimes a deck is not built to code and beyond repair. If the deck frame is not up to code or beyond simple repair, then
you need to factor deck demolition and replacement into the cost of buying the

Trent Irwin, Owner
TnT Builders Inc.

Roof repairs are time consuming and expensive. Pay close attention to the state of the roof when buying a fixer upper.

8. Roof issues can be expensive to fix

When buying a fixer-upper, the following types of roofs should be
avoided if possible:

  • Light wright tile roofs: Although these roofs are beautiful, they are expensive to install as well as maintain. If you buy a fixer-upper home with this roof, you can expect to pay a lot in repairs down the road.
  • Low sloped or flat roof: These roofs are extremely expensive to repair. Assuming the previous owner had this roof for years, since these roofs have a shorter lifespan, you can expect to pay a lot to replace the flat roof.
  • Roofs that have not been maintained: Even though you’re looking for a fixer-upper, broken tiles, slipped tiles, missing shingles, mold, or leaves and debris across the roof are signs that extensive restorations may be needed.
  • Houses that have multiple trees over the roof: Though not as important as the other signs, a house with many trees over it can cause major damage to the roof. As weather changes, the tree debris clogs roof drainage, which can lead to mold, leaks, and costly repairs.

Besides a standard home inspection, always pay a licensed
contractor to do a roof inspection, which usually costs $200 to $300. The roof
inspection will provide you the general condition of the roof and can uncover
serious and costly roofing issues that could impact your purchasing

Charles Petri, President
All Climate Roofing


If you’re dreaming of
buying and renovating a fixer-upper, you don’t have to go it alone. There are a
wealth of resources available to help you along the way. Skilled professionals
such as roofers, contractors, and designers are generally happy to offer a free
or low-cost estimate for your project. The most important thing is to be realistic
about your capabilities – even the handiest DIYer can find themselves in over
their head and over their budget. Doing your research and will save you from
investing in a dream home that turns out to be a nightmare.