Finding a fixer upper can save you a lot of money in the long run or can turn into a money pit. We decided to go for a fixer-upper because it would allow us to afford the size house we wanted in the right area.
Additionally, if you get the right type of fixer upper, your hard work will pay off and you can sell it for a much higher price down the road.
We are on our third fixer-upper and have learned quite a lot when it comes to picking a good one. So, whether you are looking to flip or turn a house into your dream home, here are my best tips on picking the perfect fixer-upper.
Draw out the floor plan
Depending on the state of the home, it can be hard to look past the style, colors and even furniture to really see the potential.
You want to focus on the layout because that is what you are buying. To do this, after I see a house, I always draw out the floor plan from memory. By looking at that I can see the layout without any distractions.
Picture the house in black and white
One of my best tips when looking at a house is to try to picture each room in black and white. It can be hard to overlook some of the colors, but colors can easily be changed. In fact, you should look for bad colors or out of date colors because this is one of the least expensive things to change. It is a lot harder and more expensive to change the size of a room or the layout.
As you can see, our fixer-upper needs some color updating. We plan on painting the kitchen white, along with the trim, doors and windows to brighten the space up. White reflects light while black absorbs. All other colors are a mix of absorbing and reflecting light. By adding in white, we will reflect and bounce more light giving the whole place a different feel.
Redecorate the rooms in your mind
To really see the potential of a house, you might need to re-imagining the place with new paint colors and new furniture. It is sometimes not enough to just think of the space in black and white.
When I do this, I start to fall in love with the house that I am going to create and that is where you want to be. You see it for the potential instead of seeing it in its current state.
Here is the upstairs kids bathroom. The colors are not working but the counter top is in great condition. Additionally, the floor is also in great condition. So I start to re-imagine a different color scheme along with new fixtures. For this bathroom, I try to picture the cabinet, baseboard and door white. Now, the grey and blue tones in the tile and granite counter tops are the only main colors in the room. After that I would update the mirrors to be one big mirror. Mirrors are a great way to make any space feel bigger. Lastly, I would pick a coastal theme and paint the walls a coastal blue.
When I go through this exercise, I start to see the potential instead of everything that is wrong with it. This bathroom isn’t very pretty but has so much potential. When doing this, I always work with the color scheme of the hardest to change or most expensive to change items in every room like the floor or counter tops.
You can change a lot about a house, but you can not change the location. When it comes to resale value, location is a big factor. So, before you put in an offer you want to consider the pros and cons of the location.
Your goal is to find a house with a good location so that when you do fix it up, it will sell. If it is located in a bad area, on a busy road, etc., then even if you do improve the house, it might not sell for what you want it to.
Here are the big factors in location.
Is it in a good school district?
Spend some time, even if you don’t have kid,s looking at the school district. If the house is located in a good school district, then it is worth more.
Is the lot good?
Is the house on a quiet street? Is it a corner lot? Are there train tracks nearby? A lot is something you can never change so if there is something that would deter buyers from that lot, then it might be hard to sell even if you fix it up beautifully.
What is the price compared to other homes nearby?
A very important part of buying a fixer upper is the price. You need to make sure you are buying a house that is priced right so that once you do put in the money and work, it will increase in value accordingly. Here are two ways to look at the price
Compare by square footage
No matter how much work you put into a house, there is a certain cap on price based on the square footage. People are only willing to pay so much for a town house or an apartment or a 4-bedroom home in a specific area.
Compare by area
Use Zillow or Redfin to compare the price of the place compared to similar size places in the same area to get a sense of the price point. This will give you an idea of how much you could spend improving the house and still be able to get a return on that investment.
Check the age of large ticket items
Now that you know what a home of that size in that specific area can be worth, you next job is to find out how much you would need to put into the home. The big things you need to check are
- Furnace/Air Conditioning
- Oil/propane tanks
These are expensive to update/replace. Be sure you are factoring that into your budget. We called around and got quotes on everything that would need to be updated so we knew just how much to budget for each big project.
One of my best tips to getting a good price is when you put in an offer explain why your offer is low. We have been able to get really good deals using this tactic. We check the age of these items and then explain that because the roof is 15 years old, our offer is lower that the ask because it will need to be replaced in the next 5 years.
Our latest fixer-upper needed a new furnace/air conditioning, oil tank, and in about 5 years will need a new roof. This gave us a lot of leverage and we were able to get the house for 40k less than asking.
Is it easy to update?
After you have checked the age of the roof, furnace, etc. and have factored that into your budget. Your next step is to see how easy it is to update the aesthetics of the house.
Here are some easy updates that are inexpensive but make a huge difference:
Light switches and outlets
A lot of older homes have outdated color choices not only on walls but also on light switches and outlets. These are actually very easy to change out and can take years off a house.
Here are the old ones we had and the new white ones we put in. Small changes matter.
Changing out doorknobs is another thing that makes a big difference. You might see one hack is to spray paint them. Let me save you the time and effort and tell you that it doesn’t last. The spray paint will chip off and they will look horrible in a few months.
Just take the time and spend a few extra bucks and switch them out for a more modern color and look. We changed ours from brass to a matte black. (We will be painting the doors white)
Every house we have moved into has needed new light fixtures. I have replaced some and other times, I find some awesome DIY Hacks to improve existing ones. Here spray paint and chalk paint can go a long way.
Here is the chandelier in the dinning room. It is a brass color and I can’t wait to use a chalk spray paint on it.
We changed out a lot of the lights for a simple light that will just blend into the ceiling. These are simple to install and cost around $20 a light and look so much better than the outdated fixtures. We also found that these new lights were able to give off so much more light than the old fixtures.
For example, here is a picture of what all of the hallway lights looked like.
Here is one of the new light fixtures. You can also see how have started to paint the door trim. We also painted our daughter’s room pink at this point.
In our fixer-upper, there were no lights upstairs. It is actually an easy fix since you can do most of the work and just hire the electrician for the final part. You can read here how we installed ceiling fans and lights in the upstairs bedrooms.
Here is one bedroom where you can see before, there is no light.
Here is the new ceiling fan and light. We also painted her room pink.
When looking at a house, try to pay attention to the small details like the hardware in the kitchen or the towel racks a bathroom. These are small but can make a big difference in the look and feel of a room.
This kitchen didn’t have any hardware and adding some will definitely improve the overall look.
New Vent Covers
Vent covers are inexpensive and can really help make the place look cleaner and more modern. You just need to measure the opening, purchase the new ones and plop them in.
Our original ones were a brown/pink color and didn’t even work well so we switched them all out. I love how our new ones look but love more that they actually open and close easily.
Additionally, the vents on the wall were very worn and large, so we have started the process of changing them out for smaller ones that are similar to the size of the baseboard. You can see here, the new baseboard we are putting in. The paint mark shows how big the old vent cover was.
Paint is powerful. It can truly change a house and the best part is that it is inexpensive and relatively easy. It does take some time, but the results are always worth the effort. You can paint a lot more in a house than just the walls too, you can paint
- Window frames
- Stairways and railings
By picking the right colors, you can really brighten up a place and completely change the feel. In our current house, we are in the process of painting all the trim and doors white from an orange oak. I still can not believe how much of a difference it is making.
Here is before
And here is after
We will also be painting the kitchen cabinets white to give it a new updated look. The white will make the kitchen look brighter, modern, and bigger.
And a VERY good cleaning
I think one of the biggest things most houses need is a really REALLY good cleaning. Every time we move into our new fixer upper, I am shocked by how much cleaning helps. Sometimes, you will find that items don’t actually need to be replaced but just need some TLC.
For instance, I was very sure we would need to replace the tile floor in our kitchen. I didn’t like how it looked. Since we weren’t ready to replace it yet, I decided to deep clean the tiles and scrub the grout lines. The floor looks a completely different color now and I love it.
I also wash the walls, clean the wood, vacuum out vents and clean the floors.
Picking the Perfect Fixer-upper
The first house we bought was a fixer upper and we learned a lot of valuable lessons. My best advice is to know the upper limit price point by first comparing any house to similar houses in the area.
That will tell you how much you could put into the house and still be able to sell it for how much you put into it. Next ensure it has a good location. After that check the age of the big-ticket items in the house like a roof.
If you still want to move forward, then start thinking of how you will update and modernize the house. Try to picture the floor plan without the current colors and furniture. See the potential by re-imagining the house with new colors.
Lastly, take notice of easy updates you could do like light fixtures and vent covers. And never underestimate the power of paint, it will be your workhorse.
I hope these tips are helpful for picking the perfect fixer-upper that you can transform into your dream home or flip for a profit.
If you found this post about picking the perfect fixer-upper helpful, please share it on Pinterest or Facebook