What You Need to Know About Buying a Fixer Upper

Apr 12, 2015

I love home improvement shows, especially the before and after that magically happens in two days. Unfortunately, that's not even close to real life. I have bought and remodeled two fixer uppers on a budget and still spent a small fortune. Approximately 80% of my weekends have been sacrificed over the last 15 years to DIY projects, too. That is the reality! When I saw both of the homes we bought for the first time I pictured what they could look like in my head. I can't say everyone shared my vision at the time, but they came around as the rooms started to take shape. What I didn't know was how much everything would realistically cost and how much time it would take to complete each room.

It all started with home shopping. I told myself some whoppers of lies that I hear other people say as well.

It's just paint. This may or may not be true. If you have 17 foot tall ceilings and the entire house needs to be painted inside and out, it's thousands of dollars of paint. The contractors had to build scaffolding to paint this room.

I could have bought a used car for what we paid to have the exterior painted.

Even for simple rooms you need to ask yourself if you can paint or do you think you can paint? It's not easy to cut in around ceilings and doors. It has taken me years of practice to correctly use an angled brush. You also need to factor in the cost of ladders, paint brushes, painters tape, drop cloths and other accessories.

We can live with it for a while. It will become the bane of your existence. That's what I said about most everything in my house when we moved in. "It's not what I would have picked, but it's not terrible." I found myself a few days before Christmas one year tearing out my carpeted stairs. I couldn't handle it one.more.day. A while somehow turns into years as other things take precedence, like a new roof or air conditioner.

DIY will be fun! No, it won't. I think my husband and I almost needed marriage counseling after building these living room shelves and fireplace mantel. It was one of our first projects and we were beyond frustrated with each other. I have since learned how to nicely say the shelves aren't level and he has learned to use a level.

Okay, it's not all bad. There is an amazing sense of accomplishment and pride when you are finished with a project that is 100% uniquely yours.
There are things that I wish I would have done differently to make things go so much smoother and on budget.
Get Organized. Start from the day you walk through a new house. Make a list of everything you want to change, from the big remodels to the lighting fixtures. Estimate the cost of the projects by visiting home improvement stores or contacting a local contractor. Add this amount to the sales price of the home for the real cost. It's a great way to put things in perspective and accurately compare homes. The updated house down the street for a bit more might not seem so expensive now.

Will you get your money back if you sell? I watch the housing market very closely. I don't always wait to remodel just because I am still saving for it. Once I decide a project will get me a complete return or close enough to it, that's when I start my project. Home values aren't known for going up all that much where I live, which is why most people don't remodel here. Adding a granite countertop or a new wood floor in the family room is usually the extent of an update. I've also seen formerly nice neighborhoods drop in value here. Luckily, I don't believe this is the norm for most of the country.

I also think because we are so emotionally invested in our homes and neighborhoods it's hard to admit when it's not working for your family any longer. As families grow or children leave for college, what you need out of a home changes. I never thought I would need a mudroom for backpacks and shoes until I had three school age children. When I saw them in magazines years ago I truly though they were unnecessary and extravagant. Silly me! It's amazing how these changes will sneak up on you. What works for you right now may not work for you in just a few years. Sometimes it just makes sense to move instead of trying to change your home.

Hire a professional. Sometimes hiring a professional will save you money. There are times I would have saved money getting it done right the first time. That was plumbing for me. Never again. Get a free quote and you might be surprised. Sometimes the price is worth it if you are in a time crunch and just want the project done. One thing I have learned is to put my family above any project we have going on. I have hired painters for rooms I could have easily painted on my own, but I wouldn't have made it to reading groups or math tiles at my son's school. Also, consider hiring an interior designer on a consulting basis for those hard to figure out rooms or just to pick out finishes. It can also save you money and time in the long run.

Big Announcement Here

I have not mentioned this before, but I have been working with clients as an hourly design consultant. It started through word of mouth as people have read my blog. It's easy for me to relay my knowledge in a short amount of time for their problem areas, guide them in the right direction, or stage their homes to sell. I love the way this is working out for me and my clients. It saves them money and frees up my time since (another announcement here) I started a full-time job working from home in the nursing field. Yes, I know this is a lot! These opportunities fell in my lap within months of each other and I didn't want to say no to either of them. Who doesn't want to decorate homes and work in their PJs?! It's also the reason I haven't been blogging quite as much. I can't say what the future holds for either of these careers since they are both new and it will be a bit of a juggling act once you throw in family life, too. It's such an exciting time and I hope to share even more updates with you soon!

Sorry, for the side note. I'll get back on topic! You might be wondering why I would buy two fixer uppers if the cost and stress were more than I ever intended. It was worth it! I'm definitely one of the most picky people you will ever meet. I have never found one house in my price range that didn't need a remodel in my eyes. If you are like me, you will be tearing out a perfectly nice countertop or floor because you don't like the color. It makes more financial sense to buy something a bit cheaper if you are going to redo everything anyway. Despite the high cost I have managed to come out ahead financially through careful planning. The best part is I have a home that I love!



  1. This truth what you say about the lies we tell! That made me chuckle, I've so been there. One thing we didn't always do is watch the housing market and decide if a project would add value. I hope that the projects that we do have, but who knows? We hope to sell in a couple years when Jake graduates from college and I'll definitely have to start paying attention now! Congratulations on your new jobs! I love that you are doing something that is creative and you love to do, and I'm so curious what kind of job you have at home as a nurse, that is awesome! You will be very busy but you'll love the balance that your design work is bringing to your life.

  2. So funny, but so true. I have high ceilings too...there is no way I could paint myself and painting can be expensive. You have done a wonderful job on your home and it doesn't surprise me that you have jumped into design. By the way...I would of never of noticed the shelves...