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Buying a Fixer-Upper: 5 Things To Consider


Back in 2011, Landon and I decided to make the leap into homeownership. We bought a 2-bedroom, 2-bath townhouse, which (at the time) was the perfect size for us. It was in an awesome location--near our jobs, shopping, and the beach--but it wasn't in awesome condition. The townhouse was definitely a fixer-upper, but for the selling price, we knew we'd save enough money to be able to do plenty of repairs and upgrades.


Since we bought a bank-owned foreclosure, we knew that the property hadn't been lived in for quite some time. It was musty and in desperate need of a serious deep clean, but the bones of the structure were good.

Over the last three years, Landon and I have wrestled our 1980's townhouse into the 21st century, nearly single-handedly as we are die-hard DIY-ers.

There have been arguments. There have been broken bones (Landon fell off a ladder when we were de-popcorning the downstairs ceiling and broke his hand). There have been many, many late nights, early mornings, and long weekends where we never thought we'd see the end to a project.

We're still not 100% finished with all of the things we want to fix in our house, but our list is getting shorter.

And you know what? I would definitely consider buying another fixer upper for our next house. (Go ahead, call me crazy. I love the process, and knowing that I made a personal investment in my home.)

If you're looking to purchase a house, but it needs a little (or a lot of) work, here are five things to seriously consider before signing that contract:

1. You're basically taking on an additional part-time job.
Some lucky people among us may have the ability to take off work for ten or twelve weeks and power through all of the renovation jobs that come with a fixer-upper. Then, there are the rest of us schmucks, who work 9-to-5 jobs with 2-week vacation packages. Most of us with fixer-uppers are going to be hitting Lowe's after work, on the weekends, and on our days off. We'll be hanging from ladders well past midnight when we should be sleeping. We'll be comparing paint samples at Home Depot on our lunch breaks.

Renovation work is time-consuming, so expect your life to look something like this: sleep, work, lunch/ think about the projects you could be doing, work, eating dinner over the sink, then renovation work until you can't take anymore and pass out. Repeat.

2.Don't expect instant gratification.
Unless you have a ton of money sitting around, renovations happen as the funds come in.

Basically, money + patience = renovated house.

I hate waiting around for anything (i.e. Landon and I usually open our Christmas presents in early December because we're so excited), but there's no real way around the waiting in home improvement. Physically, mentally, and fiscally, there's only so much the average homeowner can do after work and over the weekends.

Even if you have the money to hire a contractor or two to share the workload, he or she will not be able to magically fix problems. Parts have to be ordered, crews have to be hired, and details must be worked out.

3. Projects never, ever go as planned.
I cannot tell you the number of times Landon and I have thought, "This project is going to be suuuuuuper easy," only to be working on the project three weeks later. Our first big project was the downstairs half bathroom, which we gutted. We figured it was an easy fix, something that would take a long weekend--at most.

At the end of the long weekend, we had barely gotten through the demo work, as we'd discovered some issues with the sheetrock that needed to be fixed before we could go any further.

 Life often gets in the way of renovation work. Sometimes, it's something that we did wrong. As DIY-ers, we are often flying by the seat of our pants with only a YouTube video as a co-pilot.

Be prepared for the project to take twice as long, cost twice as much, and be twice as much effort as you first expected.

4. Know when to call in the professionals.
I love doing the renovation work myself. It saves us money, and we get to do a lot more projects since our bottom line stays low. However, there have been times that we've gotten in way over our heads and just could not fix something (see the flood of 2013 for an example. There's NO WAY that we were able to repair that on our own).

Have a special emergency bank account with a couple thousand dollars in it. Consider purchasing a home warranty so you'll have a list of professionals to help if something goes wrong.

Because trust me, something WILL go wrong. You will realize that YouTube has failed you, that you are not (and never will be) a plumber, that crying will not fix the rotten boards you just found under the tiling, and that whoever invented popcorn ceilings should get a stiff beating.

When you get to that point, it's time to call in the professionals. It may cost more than you wanted, but what's better: a half-finished bathroom, or a slight set back in the money department?

5. Always keep an eye on the prize.
It's easy to get lost in the day-to-day minutiae of home renovation.

To keep me motivated, and to remind me why I'm putting in all of those long days and nights, I keep a project board with a collage of pictures, magazine articles, and clippings that have influenced that particular room or project. Before each project, I use a piece of foam board to organize my paint samples, tiles, color schemes, whatever. That way, when I'm particularly bored or sick of a project, I look at my project board, and BAM! I see what the end will look like and I'm ready to peel some more wallpaper.

You could do the same thing with a Pinterest board, a 3-ring binder, or a notebook. Sometimes all that stands between you and walking away from your project is a little motivation.