Home Renovation: Planning to Buy a Fixer-Upper?

You’ll want to pay close attention to these important areas


If you enjoy watching home-improvement shows, you’ve probably seen a few that involve somebody buying an old or rundown house and then trying to fix it up. And while it often looks at first like it’s going to be impossible for their budget, by the end of the episode (after some “surprise” twists and turns) they have a beautiful new home. It’s just that easy, right?


It actually is that easy, as long as you have the backing of a television studio and quick access to all sorts of pros and experts. But if you’re not lucky enough to get picked to go on one of these shows, and you still intend to buy a fixer-upper, it’s important to know what kind of work is ahead of you. These are the details you will want to focus on before you decide to take the plunge.


The home’s location


Though it has become a cliché when talking about real estate, location is still one of the most important things to think about when buying any property, including a fixer-upper. If your goal is to make substantial improvements and then sell it, if it’s in an undesirable area, there is a good change you won’t get a solid return on your investment. If you plan to make this your home, you will of course want to live in a good neighborhood, so be sure to look at things like crime statistics and local school ratings. 


The costs of every repair and upgrade


Getting a home for a dirt-cheap price sounds great, but unless you have a good idea of what you’ll need to spend to improve it, you could be in for a rude awakening. The costs you need to consider include:

  • Contracting work
  • Supplies, if you plan to do some or all of the work yourself
  • Permits




A fixer-upper may look OK on the surface, but there could be some serious underlying issues that might add a significant amount of money to the project. This is why an inspection is always worth the cost, but aside from a basic one, it will also pay to have these areas looked at by specialists:

  • Sewer line
  • Roof
  • Plumbing
  • HVAC
  • Electrical system
  • Chimney
  • Foundation


Your skills as a remodeler


A lot of people get into trouble with big remodeling projects because they overestimate their own skills. This is why it’s important to be realistic about what you can and can’t do. If you’re pretty handy, there are probably many things you can do yourself, such as fixing broken windows, painting, or laying tile. But when it comes to bigger tasks – particularly when the plumbing or electrical system is involved – you will want to leave that up to the pros. 


Another thing to think about, even if you are able to do everything yourself, is the timeframe. If you’ll be tackling different tasks after you get off work or on the weekends, it will take a long time for everything to get finished, which may end up just causing you and everyone in your home a lot of needless stress. 


Involve a contractor


Instead of waiting until after you buy a fixer-upper, it may make more sense to bring in a contractor ahead of time. With a good one by your side, you can get honest input from an expert, which will be especially important during the inspections. A contractor can give you immediate estimates for any recommendations inspectors make. In addition, you can talk about your plans and what you envision, and a contractor can let you know how much he or she expects you would need to pay. This information can then seal the deal or end up being a deal-breaker.  


In addition to considering starting with a contractor, you should also look for one that has experience with older houses or has completed some major remodeling projects. Be sure to see examples of the work they have done, and also check references, and read testimonials and reviews.


Know your renovation budget


Once you have an idea of how much the entire project will cost, go ahead and add 15 to 20 percent. Why so much? Well, even with a standard remodel, things can come up that are unexpected. And when a house is old or has been left in a state of disrepair for years, you should really expect the unexpected. While you may not need that extra cushion, if any problems arise that involve you having to write an extra check or two, you will be prepared. But, if what you can afford is only a hair over the entire estimate, going ahead with the project may not be worth it.  

If you have your eye on a fixer-upper property and want some advice or guidance, get in touch with Tandem Contracting. When it comes to kitchens, bathrooms, decks, or any other components of a home, we’re the experts. Let us know what you envision for the project and we can give you a good idea of how much everything will cost and how long the work will take. And if you want to see some examples of the work we have done on homes in northern New Jersey, check out our gallery. To speak to a contractor, you can call us at 973-864-3100 or fill out our online contact form.

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