Often, buyers tell me that they want to buy a fixer-upper. They reason that a home which needs work will sell for less money, they will want to personalize the home anyway, and what better way to accomplish both goals than to buy a home that needs TLC.

Most Realtors use a client questionnaire to determine the needs and desires of our buyers. We want to know the most important factors such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square feet, school age children, price range, amenities, attached or detached homes and whether or not the buyer has been pre-approved. Last on my list is their tolerance for repairs, and how that will factor into our search.

Buyers who ask for fixer-uppers will say things like “I’m very handy and I like to fix things myself”, or “I don’t want to pay someone to do something that I can do for myself” and my favorite, “the worse the house, the better the deal”.

That’s usually where it stops. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened the door to a home which qualifies as a fixer, and watched the crestfallen faces of my once enthusiastic buyers. I grant you that some projects are simply too big, and should be handled by contractors. What I find amusing is when someone is adamant about doing their own home repair, and gets turned off by poor paint colors or dirty caulk.

The buyers who are the most successful buying fixers are the people who have the ability to see past the current condition and visualize the finished product. Often with couples, one of the parties has this ability while the other does not.

You should start by addressing your ability and finances. Do you currently work in the construction trade? If so, then you might be proficient in certain areas, and have friends who might be proficient in others. If you are not in the trades, but are truly ‘handy’, be truthful about your abilities and available time. Lastly, have you set aside enough money for the repairs or are you planning on doing the work as you acquire the money? All of these will factor into how well and how fast you will be able to complete the job.

Which jobs are you willing to perform, and which will you contract out? The list may include: roofing, foundations, gutters, painting, sheetrock, flooring, plumbing, electrical, lighting, bathrooms, tile, bathtubs, showers, fencing, termite repair, landscaping, concrete, trim work, kitchen cabinets, kitchen counters, replacing appliances, stucco, re-piping, windows, interior or exterior doors, plumbing fixtures and more.

Presuming that you are truly ‘handy’, many of the items on this list can be done for just the cost of materials and don’t take very long to complete. Painting is one of those easy jobs, where for the cost of a few gallons of paint and painting supplies, you can transform a room very quickly.
If you are planning on living in the home while making repairs, you should decide in advance which rooms will be completed first. Obviously the major items such as roofing, structure etc. should be completed first. You can finish the home while occupying it as long as you are ok with living in a construction zone.

I recommend completing the bedrooms and main bathrooms first. That allows everyone to get a good night’s sleep and normalize a portion of your life. It also eliminates the need to haul tools and construction materials through completed areas. This reduces dust and minimizes potential collateral damage.

Next I would address the kitchen. If the cabinets are well constructed, and are configured in an acceptable manner, you can update and make a kitchen look new by painting the cabinets, installing new counter’s, and adding new hardware. If you have the standard 24” counters, precut granite counters are inexpensive and can be installed in a few hours. Again, with proper planning, a kitchen can be transformed in a few days without killing your budget.

The bottom line is to have the right perspective, be realistic about the costs and timelines, and develop an appropriate plan of action. Be prepared for surprises and enjoy the journey.

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