Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How Do You Know if You're Ready for a Fixer-Upper?

Calling all homeowners/experienced renovators!

Today, I'd like to borrow from the wealth of readers' collective knowledge and ask some questions of the homeowners out there.

If you don't know, Adam and I rent our charming little 2-bedroom apartment here in Philadelphia. We are getting married in about a month and, as is the case with any lifelong commitment, we're contemplating maybe buying a house in the next year or two. Apparently, big life changes come in pairs.

We're really keen on the idea of buying an older home that 'needs work,' but of course that phrase can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. There seems to be a significant range of houses currently on the market that are labeled "fixer-uppers".
Take a look:
(images from a variety of homes currently available via Trulia)

I mean, are we up to the challenge of a home that "needs work"? 
Do I have the patience to handle a full-scale reno?

So, now I'd like to ask the audience:
  • Were you willing to buy a "fixer-upper"? How did you know it (fixer-upper vs. brand-spankin' new)  was right for you?
  • How do you determine your total project budget?
  • When is it a good idea to involve an architect?
  • How do you determine the order of projects you tackle?
  • When should you bring in professional help?
  • How do you keep the peace in a household that looks like a warzone?
Your guidance, warnings, advice, blessings, horror stories, etc. are all welcome and greatly appreciated!


  1. Call me crazy, but those images all look dreamy!

    My husband and I have always had a fixer upper. We love old houses and don't mind doing much of the work ourselves. If there is something major we want to do that involves an expert, we save and/or barter. It is so rewarding!!!

  2. Go for it!!!!! Nothing better than charm. We are on our filth fixer upper. Electric is the place to start first and heating.

  3. I am salivating over that beautiful fixer upper. For me it all comes down to character. I would rather mark my stamp on a fixer upper that has a lot of character than buy a new home without for the ease. When you finish with the fixer upper and you see your hard work come to an end and have an amazing result, it's all worth it. Good luck.

  4. I have no words of wisdom to offer, but we're in the same boat! I think most people have to purchase a fixer-upper on some level for their first house. It's hard to understand which things are really hard/impossible to fix, and which are a bit easier...

  5. Well, I'm one to always go for the fixer upper. I will never buy a "new" house again. There are just so many positives involved with restoring a beautiful old house to it's former glory. That being said...the only advice I can give do it a piece at a time. Try to keep it designated to a room or 2 at a time...that way the whole house isn't destroyed and you can't get away from the craziness. Just my 2 cents.

  6. We've always bought "fixer uppers" but nothing that required gutting. Mostly our houses were very dated and required new paint, roof, etc. I like fixer uppers b/c for one, their usually older, 40-50 years, and they just don't build them like that anymore. Second, the newer homes in our area seem to all have the same feel, not a lot of character. I would take the updating slowly, if you try to do it all at one time you'll get to scattered and may want to re-do what you just did. Pick a room at a time. This is all my opinion, hoped I helped and good luck!

  7. We totally bought a 1955 fixer upper. We spent 2-3 years working on it (and we are still not done). It takes a lot out of you and could be draining, but it makes you look at your house differently. There are things that we know we built with our own hands and it means a lot. We chose a fixer upper b/c we wanted a house with character. We would do it again if we had to, under the condition that I don't live in it at the time. We spent a year without a kitchen (ran out of money). I say GO FOR IT! You get exactly what you want and with your taste and style I'm sure it will be amazing. Here's a recent post I did about my house before

  8. I'm not going to leave a long comment, but I'd be happy to discuss this with you in person. Having both personal and professional experience I'd say I have an opinion or two.

    Oh, and personally I don't think the expense of an architect is necessary unless you are planning an addition or are really really keen on doing a historically precise renovation.

  9. My husband and I used to restore and sell old homes before the housing market tanked. I'd be glad to answer any specific questions you have. And yes, living in the ongoing reno is tough !

  10. I say if your husband is game go for it! I would love to buy a fixer upper, but know the limitations of my husband. He is not a do-it-yourself kind of guy, nor does he care as much about aesthetics as I do. I could just see me lugging around everything, getting frustrated and him choosing to play tennis...not a great mix. So I do what I can to our 1935 home that was gutting and renovated before we moved in. It's not to my taste, but at least I don't worry about the kitchen being unmanageable or the bathrooms disgusting. I'm changing little things slowly, which is all I can handle. But if your husband likes to dive into design projects then buy that home falling apart. You are so young and just imagine how proud you would be with the end result...a gorgeous home catered to your likes and needs! Good luck with your decision. I pick the home that is in the second to last image...those windows are stunning!

  11. Go for the fixer upper! Just decide what level of fixing you're comfortable with. We like to do a lot of more surfacey type fixes: int./ ext. paint, landscaping, kitchen remodel, flooring. But we shy away from more major stuff. For our kitchen I'm involving an architect. On our first house I did not, and while it turned out well (IMO) I think w/ this house I wanted my super talented friend/ architect's eye to work out the details/ dimensions, and see any possibilities I might be missing. Our budget is smallish so I wanted to bring her in to help me make the smartest choices. p.s. I gave you an award :)

  12. We bought a fixer upper as well. 5 years later still fixing but only because it is a rather large home and it does become expensive. Is itt cheaper to buy new? I don't know but even if we did I would still fix a lot of the crap that contractors are putting into some of the new models. Like carpet and generic fixtures. I like the fixer upper best.

  13. You should go for it. I've just bought a small flat but would like to move up to a fixer upper one day. Buy the one with the beautiful staircase, it's amazing.


I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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