Mia Anderson
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Fixing a Fixer-Upper: Where You Should Start

Got a fixer-upper in your sights? Good for you. Whether this old house is going to be your dream home or you're angling for a rental income, it's best to know what you're getting into before you lay your money down. Don't be beguiled by the dream: make a cool-headed assessment from the top of the roof to the foundation and, if it's got one, the basement. 

Finding a Fixer-Upper
The local clerk of court's website is a good place to find deals, including foreclosures and short sales. Also, find foreclosure listings on Homes.com. Shop through auctions and estate sales. (Caution: Do your due diligence and research thoroughly; avoid careless bids.) Your real estate professional may also be able to help you with finding the right fixer-upper.

Home Inspection
Once you find a home you want to acquire, hire a home inspector. You might even enlist a couple of home inspectors. Or, ir you're competent to judge how well a house is holding up, you'll need to look at the following:

  • Structure
  • Roof
  • Foundation
  • Electrical
  • Plumbing
  • Heating
  • Doors and Windows

Pay particular attention to foundation and wall cracks, as well as water damage.

Flooring
Flooring is likely one of the major renovations you will make. If you have hardwood, it may be worth refinishing. If it needs to be replaced, you might consider laminate, which looks good, is easily maintained, costs less than hardwood, and is very durable. You might go for carpet, especially if you're in a colder climate, while tile might be the best choice for the kitchen and bathroom.

Hiring a Contractor
Once you've got an idea of the scope of your renovation, interview some contractors — at least three. You'll want to hire someone who has the ability to create a prospectus for the work so that you can refer to it and be assured the contractor is on track with the timeline and knows what you want. By interviewing more than one contractor, you could have a backup if one starts giving you the run-around.

Planning Your Project
The kind of fix-up you will do should depend on whether you intend to stay in this home for the rest of your life, or if you want to fix it up for a shorter-term goal: to sell it or to use it as a rental property. For instance, if you intend to stay in the home you may want to spend more for better, long-lasting materials, personalized colors, and in general, unique touches that will appeal more to you and your family rather than to a potential buyer. If the home is to be a rental property, you will want to use durable materials. 

Fees and Permits
Chances are you'll need to pay fees and purchase permits to do some of the work on your fixer-upper. A reputable contractor may do this for you, but do follow up and ask questions about what kind of permits have been obtained. Check with your local authorities so you will know what is required.

Will You Stay or Go?
Staying in your home during renovations may work out if you're doing the work yourself — or not. It could be easier to remove yourself and the family to a motel until the work is done.

Fixing a fixer-upper can be an exciting and rewarding adventure. Above all, remember that good planning and organization can get you through the rough spots and will see you to the satisfactory completion of your project.

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