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Published on April 30th, 2018

Is a fixer-upper right for you?

‘Renovator’s delight’. ‘Unlimited opportunity’. There are certain catch phrases in real estate copy which mean the same thing: here’s a house that’s going to need some work.

For some people, a property in dilapidated condition means nothing but hard work. For others, they represent a world of possibilities. But before you take on that fixer-upper, consider whether it really will work out for you.

Here are three of the main things to consider before committing yourself to a renovation project. It might be the most satisfying and rewarding thing you’ve ever done. It might also prove to be too much.

Affordability

A fixer-upper tends to be priced lower than a newer house in the same suburb, meaning that it serves as a good entry point for those on a lower budget. For many, a shabby kitchen or peeling paintwork is a small price to pay to be in the catchment zone for that desirable school, or to shorten your commute to work.

That said, a fixer-upper may also require some serious money to get it up to scratch. Cosmetic issues can be lived with, but if that house has salt damp in the walls or a roof that lets in the rain, you’ll need to address those problems. Sometimes, the footings or stumps need replacing, which drives the bill up dramatically.

Before you buy, therefore, get a thorough building inspection addressing all the issues. Armed with that information, you can obtain a ballpark quote on how much it will cost to fix the things that really do need to be fixed to make the home liveable. Distinguish between the nice-to-haves (a new kitchen) and the need-to-haves (safe wiring so you can use the existing kitchen).

Character

Fixer-uppers are often older homes, which means that they have a lot of character. Period features can’t be replicated, only reproduced. An old house with a beautiful stained glass window or a lacework verandah offers something unique and worth preserving. That will reward the hard work necessary for the house to become liveable once more, and recreate something that you cannot get from a new build.

However, those old houses are also more likely to have restrictions on alterations or additions. If the property is on a heritage list, you may be required to use original materials to restore the facade, for example. That second storey you have planned may also not be allowed. Before you buy a fixer upper, therefore, it’s wise to check what restrictions there are on its rebuild so that you can be confident that your plans can come to fruition.

Logistics

Minor renovations and cosmetic changes can be done while you stay in the home. Restoring the footings, or replacing the roof, will require you to live elsewhere. If you’re planning to live in the house while you restore it, you may need to consider other alternatives. That also means considering the extra costs of a short term rental, or financing the build while you still live in your previous home.

If your fixer-upper is a character home, you may also need to find specialist tradespeople with experience in working in older materials. An extensive renovation is a daunting task for an owner-builder, unless you have a lot of previous experience doing up houses. Consider hiring a project manager with experience in overseeing the renovation, who will coordinate the various tradespeople and keep the project on track.

If you have the time and the patience to work through the issues a fixer-upper throws up, though, you may find it very rewarding. A dilapidated house is something of a blank slate: if you have to rip out the entire kitchen anyway, why not use the chance to pursue the room of your dreams? And if you do want to try laying flooring yourself, what better place to start than a room that has no existing floor?

All in all, a fixer-upper can offer the chance to create the true home of your dreams. As long as you truly understand what that will take, and allow a margin of error in both your money and time budgets, it may be the best decision you ever make.

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