So you’re looking to buy a fixer upper…that’s exciting! I remember looking at our house for the first time and feeling totally clueless. We walked in, did a brisk walk through, asked a total of like 5 questions and left shortly after. Chris has some background in home renovations but we realized we needed expert opinions. We decided to do another walk through with my brother and sister-in-law (who have done their own fixer upper) and Chris’ parents (who know the fundamentals of home ownership).
That second walk through was hilarious because there were 7 adults and 2 crazy kids going through this house and the poor owner was getting bombarded with questions left and right. My brother was a rock star and felt no shame in inspecting every inch of the house and Chris followed him around the whole time. They crawled in the attic, looked in every cupboard, climbed up on the roof, and inspected the electrical. They did the most thorough inspection I’ve ever seen and it was awesome! Through my brother we really learned the ins and outs of the house and got a better feel for what work needed to be done. Nothing we learned was shocking but it was so helpful to gauge the work load ahead of us.
If my brother hadn’t been there to give his opinions and tell us about his experiences, we would’ve missed a lot of important information and there would have been a handful of surprises after purchasing the home. I get that not everyone has a family member or friend that has experience with fixer uppers and that can be a really intimidating challenge to take on without any advice from an expert. Although I would never claim to be an expert in this department, I will share a few things we learned along the way.
Natural Light – If the home has a lot of natural that is a gold mine! Adding windows can be done, but it can get expensive quickly so if you already have great natural light and lots of windows that is a major bonus!
Wood Floors – If you come across a home that has real hardwood flooring in great condition, that’s going to save you a ton of money down the road! Replacing your floor can easily be one of the most expensive projects you’ll encounter so wood floors that are still in decent condition are a bonus. You can always sand and refinish the floors (which btw will still be cheaper than replacing them) and you can stain them in the color of your choice. P.S. if there’s carpeting down, don’t be afraid to pop out a floor vent and look under the carpet to see if there’s a layer of wood flooring underneath.
Storage – The one area that old homes tend to lack in is storage. Whether it be a lack of cabinetry or a teeny tiny closet in the bedroom, this is something you’re going to see in a lot of older homes. Just look to see if there are ways to add storage. Maybe you could knock down a wall to expand the kitchen or you could convert a powder bathroom into a large hallway closet. There’s plenty of ways to add storage so you’ll just need to get creative and think beyond the existing space.
Layout – Layout can always be changed significantly if you’re willing to put the work into it. If you’re not up for a major challenge, just look to see that the home flows easily from one room to the next and that it doesn’t feel awkward. Sometimes knocking down a wall or just creating a large cased opening is all you need to make a space flow.
Unique Characteristics – Look for anything that makes the home unique. This could be anything from beautiful crown moldings, glass door knobs, to a brick chimney. These characteristics are often the aspects of the home that become the focal point and may even add value to your home down the road.
Ok, before I dive in I need to clarify a few things. Most of the red flags that I’m listing can be dealt with if you’re up for a challenge or willing to pay someone to fix it. There are very few red flags that I can think of that warrant a house needing to be torn down. This “red flag” list is for people who aren’t looking for a total gut job or a “start-from-scratch” renovation. If a home you’re looking at has one of these issues, just take note of it and really evaluate if it’s something you’re willing to fix. Most of the time the red flags = $$$ so consider your budget, the resale value, and the work load your willing to put into it.
Structural Issues – First and foremost you really need to know that the house is structurally secure. The basement foundation is the first place you’ll want to inspect. Cracks, gaps, and bowing walls are going to be the first indicators that something isn’t right with the foundation. Also look at the floor joists and ceiling rafters. If the ceiling looks like it’s bowing, it could be that a beam or load bearing wall was taken out when it shouldn’t have been. If the floor is sloping, that’s another indicator that your foundation needs work. When it comes to structural safety, always, always, always get it inspected by a professional!
Knob and Tube/Not To Code Wiring – If you’re looking at an old home, chances are the wiring is outdated and/or in rough shape. Knob and Tube wiring is an old system, that if maintained properly can still be safe to use. However, if altered or handled improperly it can become dangerous and you’ll need to hire someone to replace all the knob and tube wiring in your home. On the flip side, if you see updated wiring that has been installed incorrectly, that is also just as dangerous. If you’re not familiar with electrical wiring, I highly recommend you hire an electrician to give you a rundown and a quote.
Termites – Termites can wreak havoc on a home. My brother dealt with termite damage and they had to replace the entire exterior wall of their home. Not only is it a safety hazard (they can eat away the wood leaving nothing left to support your roof), but replacing/fixing the issue can get expensive quickly depending on the severity of the issue. Again, it can be done; but termite damage almost always requires a good bit of work. Unfortunately, termite damage often happens behind the walls so it can be difficult to predict, but there are times where you can see the damage in windows and trim. Be on the lookout for it.
Toxic Mold & Asbestos – Depending on the severity, toxic mold can become a health issue. If not dealt with in a timely manner or treated properly you could be exposing yourself to harmful bacteria. The same goes for asbestos. If you start to do demo on a home that has asbestos, those particles are floating in the air which are extremely harmful to you. There are kits you can purchase to test if the paint has asbestos. If it tests positive and you plan on demoing anything with asbestos, you’ll need to hire a professional crew to dispose of it for you.
Old Systems That Need Immediate Replacement – If you’re working with a tight budget, replacing an old water heater, air conditioner, or HVAC can easily eat up a lot of your budget; especially if all three need to be replaced at once. It can be done, and it’s not all that difficult to do (especially if you hire it out), but plan on shelling out a good chunk of cash up front for th
Poor Drainage – If you notice that the yard seems to slope towards the house, or if there’s standing water along the exterior of the home, most likely that is doing damage to your foundation and you may have water issues in the basement. We dealt with this issue in our own home and we had to regrade most of our back yard. It wasn’t all that expensive (just the cost of renting a bobcat for a couple days) but it takes a perfectionist to get it done right. You’ll find out quickly the next time it rains if your newly graded backyard wasn’t done right. Just be sure when it rains that the water drains away from your house.
I hope this list was helpful and I didn’t scare you too much! Buying a fixer upper can be intimidating but if you’re as informed as possible before buying the home, you’ll encounter far fewer “surprises” and you’ll have a better idea of the work load that is required. Plus you’ll have more fun renovating when you know what you’re dealing with and you’re not stressed about what you’ll find behind those walls.
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