Thursday, September 18, 2014

Should You Tackle A Fixer Upper?

Homes that need care and repair are in plentiful supply since the last recession. These troubled homes can be a great bargain. However, most real estate professionals steer clear of these damaged homes because the unknowns carry high risk. Should you consider buying one of these fixer-uppers? Here's how to decide.

  • Can you deal with the unknown? If you are comfortable knowing that there can be hidden damage in your fixer-upper and that it is impossible to calculate how much things will cost going in, then you might not regret the decision.

  • Are you construction savvy and handy with repairs? If so, it will make things easier and you'll be able to determine what contractors to hire.

  • Can you handle stress well? If you have a balanced attitude knowing that your fixer-upper will produce some surprises and take longer (and cost more) to complete than you think, you may survive the experience.

  • If you decide to buy a damaged home, follow these tips to reduce the problems you'll have to deal with.

  • Spend time finding out what is wrong before you buy. Just getting a home inspection will not do in this case; you will need to take the home inspection report and follow each "clue" or issue using thorough investigation and experts to determine the extent of the problems. For example, if the inspector flags an area of moisture or mold on a wall, you should have a contractor perform thermal imaging using an infrared moisture detector. This will improve your chances of finding everything that is wrong and being able to budget accordingly.

  • After listing the issues, determine what you can do and what you will need a pro to do. Code will dictate finding a licensed contractor for systems installation and repair such as HVAC, electrical, and plumbing. You can work on almost everything else. Consider getting professionals for the items you're not comfortable with - they will save you money because they will spend less time on the job versus you stopping and starting every time you realize you are missing something.

  • Become a great negotiator. Repair costs on a fixer upper take on a life of their own if you don't push for price breaks. Contractors know you are trying to save money and most will give you the best deal they can, but you should still ask without being obnoxious.

  • Over budget for repairs. This way you might be pleasantly surprised.

When I was an inspector I helped dozens of people consider problem homes. I was amazed at what folks were willing to purchase knowing how many problems existed. One of the worst ones was a home with a "creek" running through the crawlspace and missing supporting structure at the foundation causing the floors to slope, the windows to crack, and the roof to leak. When I returned to the area 2 years later, the home's foundation and structure had been completely re-built and the owner said it is her dream home now.

Lisa is an aerospace engineer and building contractor residing in Hayesville, North Carolina. Prior to her engineering position, Lisa inspected homes for home buyers, sellers, owners, and mortgage companies. Lisa loves flying and building aircraft. Lisa is the first woman to build and fly a Pulsar XP 2-person experimental aircraft. She built 2 aircraft and the major portion of a helicopter between 1995 and 2008. Lisa enjoys writing about flying, home improvement, and goal setting. She loves to inspire others to reach for their dreams.
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