So you’re looking into buying a fixer-upper house. How exciting! Whether it be your first house or an upgrade, buying a new house, even a fixer-upper, can be extremely exciting, but don’t let yourself get too swept away in the excitement that you miss some important details. After all, buying a fixer-upper isn’t like buying a regular house. They require time and money and you might be getting yourself in over your head if you don’t know what to look for, so here are some things to consider first.
Was the house left dormant for a while?
Most people expect fixer-uppers to be in fairly poor condition, but a lot of time they were left empty for quite some time and this can become a health concern. Dormant houses collect dust and mold that can trigger allergies or asthma attacks. Plus, the pest population is likely to be quite extreme, so you will need to consider the cost to get rid of them. Depending on how long the house was left empty, one trip from an exterminator may not be enough to take care of the problem, but you might need one to come once a month for a few months. If you live in an area with dangerous spiders, too, that’s something you’ll want to take into consideration. Dormant houses are very attractive to black or brown widow spiders, brown recluse spiders, and other poisonous pests that you are sure to not want to share space with and oftentimes one extermination will not get rid of them, so if you move in right away you might find yourself living with some unwelcome guests.
Is the house structurally sound?
This means a lot more than just looking at the house and saying the structure looks good. Fixer-uppers usually have a lot wrong aesthetically, but the one you’re going to want to buy should at least be structurally sound, otherwise you’ll have more work than you can handle most times. Have someone come in and check the foundation. Spend the couple of hundred dollars to have a termite inspector come in, as that can incur major costs in the future if you find out later down the road that there is termite damage somewhere in the structure of your house. Cracks in the foundation might be a worry that will have to be addressed, too. At least if you know these things ahead of time you can make an informed decision about whether you feel the cost of repairs is worth it or not.
What are your time constraints versus required time to repair the house?
Fixer-uppers take a lot of time. We all know that. We also know that they cost money to buy and fix up, which means that most homeowners will have to work while making those repairs. It’s important to plan ahead of time what your own time constraints will be. Maybe you only have time to work on repairs during the weekend. Will that fit into your plans for moving in if that’s the only time you have? On the other hand, if you find you don’t have a lot of time, are you planning on hiring help? That will need to be taken into account when you figure the cost of fixing the place up. Some fixer-uppers need less work than others, so it’s important to be realistic when deciding if you can manage the necessary repairs.
What is the condition of the heating/cooling system?
This should go without saying and it should be one of your first questions. The age and quality of the heating and cooling system will be something that could potentially cost a lot of money to upgrade, especially if you find that they need to be replaced. If you know ahead of time that something is wrong, though, it’s easier to get the extra money you need than to find out last minute. Having a HVAC person come in to inspect them may cost extra, but it might also be worth it in the long run. Also ask the realtor questions to learn about the system. There can be a lot of catch-22’s that you run into when it comes to heating and cooling. For example, when my husband and I purchased our fixer-upper it was in the middle of a Kentucky summer with temperatures ranging in the 90’s. We had a heat pump for heating and cooling as well as a gas furnace in the basement. We had them expected and they both were found to be in good condition and the heat pump was only a few years old. Come winter, however, we quickly realized that we did not have heating like we were originally told because the heat pump kicked off when it got cold out. And that gas furnace in the basement? The pipe ran outside, but it wasn’t actually hooked up to anything and the previous owners had capped the pipe outside and removed the propane tank, so we had to spend $2,700 to get a new unit that would actually heat the house. So some surprises are hard to avoid, but it’s best to try to get an idea of what you’re up against early on.
How much will it cost to fix the house the way you expect to?
When it comes to home repairs, money goes a lot quicker than you might expect. When figuring out what repairs need to be done, take what the realtor and previous owners say with a grain of salt. A lot of times they’re omitting facts to get a sale. When we purchased our home, we were told there were two pipes broken. Turns out the whole plumbing system under the kitchen and two bathrooms was just about shot and had to be replaced. It wasn’t costly to do and we had expected something of the sort, so we were prepared ahead of time for the additional costs, but it’s a perfect example of not necessarily being able to trust what you’re told. An inspector can be expensive, but if you’re serious about wanting to buy the house then it’s worth the cost to know exactly what you’re up against. Many of the people who are buying fixer-uppers are working off of some sort of loan to be able to fix up the house, so remember that it’s better to overshoot your improvement costs than to underestimate them and be short on cash. The best way to go is to make a list of all the major repairs that need to be taken care of right away and then get estimates from local businesses as to how much each one of those would cost. That will give you a somewhat ballpark figure for how much you’ll need and then you can work from there to determine a final amount. That way, you’ll know what you’re getting into financially without being surprised later on to find making the repairs costs more than you originally expected.
What is your time frame to move in?
If you’re buying a house, chances are you don’t have many other options about where to live, whether you’re currently living in a house or renting. Either way, you have to figure the costs of staying at one place and owning another when figuring out how long you have before you absolutely need to move in. For us, we were renting a house and our lease was up, so we had a deadline on when we had to move in. The reason this is important is because a lot of fixer-uppers are going to need work, and by that I don’t mean repairs. Sometimes the previous owners left junk in the house (as was our case). If not, then the house will most likely need a good scrubbing before someone is really able to live in it and that can take time. Be realistic with your time frame. If you’re working a full time job around needing to clean the new house, you might not get it done within a week like you would like to. It might take three or four weeks before the house is clean enough to really be lived in. That way, you will be able to sort out some workable form of living arrangements while you work on the house.