MMDH: Design Tips for Buying a Fixer Upper
You’ve heard this before: your best bet in buying a fixer upper is to find the ugliest house on the block that you can see extreme potential in. Our dream house that we invested in seven years ago was near that; not necessarily the worst looking house on the block, but one of the most dated and beat down by a long shot. While it had a lot of professional landscaping and great bones, the poor place had not been kept up with for the past 5-10 years, and it was showing its age. For whatever reason, we looked past the dated interior and worn exterior to something that we dreamt of calling our forever home for years.
When starting the hunt for a dream home that you know you want to put a bit of money into to make it your own, the more houses you look at before getting a contractor and/or designer on board, the better. We spent two years online and checking out open houses before we even looked into getting a realtor. You will start to get a feel for what you really want in a new home, even if they are homes out of your price point (completed versions of what you are looking for). This also gives you a good idea of what is overpriced and what is right where it should be for negotiation purposes.
A massive question when buying a fixer upper is, “what will I have to spend on renovations, once the paperwork is signed? I would say that any solid general contractor would be open for a consult, although they are not going to have a good idea of renovation costs until you have a house or two in mind….even then, you will not get a hard number until you get architectural drawings completed, and even then, you will need a 5%-10% contingency to hold on to in case of unforeseen conditions OR added ‘wants' throughout the process.
So much of the construction costs on any project has to do with the inner workings of the specific home you find: plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc. Always keep this in mind when you are on the hunt. If you can find a house with a newer furnace and/or AC unit, 1-10 year old roof, general layout you like, solid core interior doors (not hollow when you knock on them), and/or functioning double pane windows (you’ll know they are decent if you put your hand on them on a cold day and they are not freezing or drafty); you are on the right path to the more costs effective aesthetic updates. It is difficult to dive into a renovation project, knowing that half of your costs are going into the mechanics of the home that you will never see. You will want to focus on the cosmetic updates that will ultimately transform the home into what you want it to look and feel like!
If you are contemplating a renovation, start asking around for solid contractors in your immediate area. As you get closer to a project, reach out to positive referrals, get on their radar and feel them out on if you would want to work with them long term. Ideally, the bulk of their work would be within a 15-20 minute radius, so you are on top of their priority list throughout your project. Keep following along with the blog for a future entry on my top 5 tips for selecting a general contractor!
As a renovation budget rule of thumb, if you are looking to gut a kitchen and refresh finishes and fixtures throughout your house, you are likely looking at a minimum of $100K (geographical region, overall project scope, labor, and material will all vary). My husband always thought I was over exaggerating when we were looking at houses and I walked into each of them and said, "this one will take at least $100K to upgrade". I wasn’t exaggerating, especially if you are planning to use a contractor who is reliable and responsive, as well as products that will stand the test of time - you pay for what you get in the GC and building product world.
On a smaller scale, it is great to think through each house you look at and separate out projects. I typically say that $5K gets a single trade paid for on a full house refresh. For example: painting the full interior of a home is about $5K (exact scope vs. price will vary), new solid core interior doors and hardware in a full home is about $5K (depends on number of doors), a new exterior front door and window unit is about $5K… the list goes on. This holds true to a lot when you are budgeting things out for non-renovation projects.
Set your budget immediately and know your parameters. Again, future post on project budgeting and bidding to come, as there is so much to say on this topic!
Don’t hesitate to buy a house that needs a bit of TLC before you can label it as you “forever home”. It is alway smart to bring professionals in to help you manage the process, whether it is a great general contractor, a design-savvy architect, and/or a thoughtful designer. You will always benefit from building a team early on in the process. While you spend a bit more on services, you know you are getting the job done right the first time.