What to Know Before Buying a Fixer-Upper


Most people probably associate the term “fixer-upper” with the famous show on HGTV. In this show, Chip and Joanna Gaines completely remodel and design dingy homes.

They turn an “absolutely not” for a home buyer into everything they wanted in a home and more. However, these two reality stars are professionals and typically know what they’re getting themselves into. Though, even the best of the best sometimes can’t tell you what underlying problems might exist. Therefore, we want to give you a few helpful hints when it comes to buying a fixer-upper. Here are some things you should consider, expect, and plan for:

While Some Things Can Be Easily Fixed, Others Cannot

A fixer-upper can drastically range in the amount of work it needs done. Some homes may need new paint, siding, floors, windows, maybe a wall knocked down, etc. However, some homes may need to become entirely new homes, or it becomes cheaper to rebuild from the ground up. For example, horrific mold problems, new sewage, or new ventilation/heating/air-conditioning are very costly projects. Multiple issues such as the ones listed in addition to your basic renovation costs can put your total reno costs well over what you may have originally thought.

Creating a Budget is Essential

Without a prepared and planned budget, it is almost definite that you will spend thousands above what you originally expected to. The price of some things will likely shock you. Additionally, the price of certain items that you’re drawn to may also catch you by surprise. Even with a set budget, the chances of you spending more than you planned for are high. It is likely that you’ll run into unexpected repairs that must be fixed. Keep in mind that this can also put a delay on your original renovation timeline. We recommend planning for an additional 15% on top of your budget in order to avoid derailing your entire fixer-upper plan.

Make Compromises

One way that you can try staying within your budget (plus that 15% cushion) is to make compromises. As previously mentioned, prices are going to surprise you. The more eye-catching and beautiful something is, the more it is going to cost. One example of a way to save money is by swapping high cost finishes for something that looks similar. Another option is to look for recycled materials. This could mean finding used materials in good condition or simply reusing materials you already have. Repaint or refinish cabinets instead of ditching them entirely.

Know When to Hire a Pro Instead of DIY

Along the lines of saving money, you can save a ton by doing a project yourself. However, there are some instances where paying a pretty penny is actually worth it. You’re already spending a fortune on these renovations – don’t you want them to look nice? Spending money on materials and the project not lasting (or looking nice) can cause you to spend more in the end. Strongly consider what projects you can actually take on yourself vs. needing to hire a pro for.

Overall, weighing whether a fixer-upper is worth it or not comes down to time and money. Are the projects so big that it’s not worth the length of time they’ll take to complete? Does it seem as if the extent of work that needs to be done will actually cost you more than completely tearing down the home and rebuilding from the ground up? Consider all your options and think about what will ultimately be best for you and your specific situation.

About the Author

Joshua Stephens is the founder and president of Moving Greater Boston and a Vice President of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Warren Residential. After graduating from UMASS Amherst with a degree in psychology in 2008, Josh dedicated five years to social service work on the North Shore before joining Berkshire Hathaway in 2013, where he found his professional calling and quickly distinguished himself as a motivated innovator capable of synthesizing the needs of buyers, sellers, investors, and developers. In just a few short years, Josh formed Moving Greater Boston and achieved over $100 million in sales after only 7 years in the business. Josh's team has been consistently recognized at both the local and national levels, receiving numerous prestigious awards for sales and customer service. Last year, the Moving Greater Boston team was awarded the coveted Chairman’s Circle Platinum award for all of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, which recognizes agents and teams that are in the top 1% for sales across a network of over 70,000 agencies. In 2017, Josh was also personally selected to serve on the Berkshire Hathaway Home Services National REthink Council, an honor bestowed upon only 15 agents among thousands of applicants. Despite his many and ongoing successes in the world of real estate, Joshua has never lost sight of his social work roots. A compassionate and principled professional who knows the value of strong communities, Josh continues his advocacy outside of the office by being actively involved in a number of local organizations and charities. In 2016, he was instrumental in conceptualizing and developing Business Networking International (BNI) Prospect Hill, an organization that connects local business professionals and aspiring entrepreneurs. As a native of Massachusetts, Joshua has an intimate knowledge of Boston real estate, while having a degree in psychology helps him to understand each of his clients' unique needs, enabling him to connect them with ideal communities, an opportunity which he considers both a priority and privilege. Rather than simply facilitating the buying and selling of property, Josh views his role as a realtor as a lifelong commitment to continually serving the best interests of the people who have put their trust in him. Josh continually strives for excellence in service, provides in-depth knowledge of the market, and blends unwavering integrity with amenable good humor to alleviate the stress of real estate transactions and assure the experience is one that lets the sensation of being in the perfect place, at the perfect time, truly resonate.