5 Crucial Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Fixer-Upper
Thinking about buying a fixer-upper? Join the club. Blame it on the popularity of renovation reality TV or just the fact that people are searching for deals, but many home buyers are willing to purchase a property in need of major repairs. One survey by Clever Real Estate found that 67% of millennial home shoppers in the United States said they would put in an offer on a home with serious flaws that need to be fixed.
Purchasing a home that needs serious remodeling, though, isn’t a decision you should make lightly. Here are five questions to ask yourself before buying a fixer-upper.
1. What’s my motivation?
Reviving a rundown home is always a challenge, no matter how many houses you’ve flipped or episodes of “Fixer Upper” you’ve seen—and that's why it’s important to assess your motivations before you dive in, says Joshua Jarvis, founder of Jarvis Team Realty in Duluth, GA.
Simply enamored by what you’ve seen on HGTV? Newsflash: “Reality TV is not reality,” says Jarvis. “I hate to shatter people’s dreams, but there’s a lot more work involved than people think.”
Flipping an outdated house in order to make a profit, though, is a sound reason to buy a fixer-upper, Jarvis says. After all, home flips in 2018 returned an average gross profit of $65,000, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
Purchasing a fixer-upper can also be a good idea if you’re looking to make a home your own without building one from scratch, or if you’re simply looking for a great deal. Indeed, people shopping for a fixer-upper can expect to spend 20% to 25% less than what they'd have to shell out for comparable homes that are move-in ready, says Dan Bawden of the National Association of Homebuilders. (Homes with serious issues—such as cracks in the foundation or a major mold infestation—can command even deeper discounts, Bawden says.)
Fixer-uppers are also good options for DIY buffs—your sweat equity will buy you bragging rights. What’s sweeter than being complimented on your kitchen and being able to say, "Thanks, I did it myself"?
2. Where am I going to live during the renovations?
Unless you’re planning to live in your new home while the renovations are underway, you’re going to need a place to stay until the house is ready. This can be a financial challenge, Bawden notes, since you have to factor in the time you'll be paying the mortgage and bills without being able to live in the home. Read: Six months of paying rent on top of your house payment can quickly eat into what you saved on your "great deal."
3. What’s my remodeling budget?
The best fixer-uppers are ones that mostly need cosmetic updates—things like kitchen and bathroom renovations, new floors, siding repair, or wallpaper removal—since major flaws can quickly eat up your remodeling budget. But, regardless of how much (or how little) work you’re going to put in, you need to have enough money to pay for the renovations.
Need help setting a budget? Have several contractors give you in-person estimates. That way you’ll have a rough but accurate idea of how much it’s all going to cost you. The caveat: You may have to pay the professional a few hundred dollars to walk through a potential home and estimate the renovation costs, but it's worth it.
4. How am I going to pay for everything?
Now that you know how much the renovations are going to cost, you have to figure out how you’re going to pay for everything. Unless you’re sitting on a mountain of cold, hard cash, you’ll need to obtain a home loan that allows you to spend a portion of money on home improvements. The good news: A home that requires major renovations can qualify for a special type of financing called a home improvement loan. There are two main types of home improvement loans.
The first is a FHA 203(k). This is a loan from the Federal Housing Administration that lets you put as little as 3.5% down. There are a couple of restrictions, though. The original foundation must remain, says Suzanne Caldeira, vice president at mortgage lending company Shamrock Financial Corp. Also, the upgrades you make cannot be “luxury” items, like adding a pool or fire pit. Third, the work must be completed within six months.
To qualify for a 203(k) loan, homeowners have to provide a bid from an approved contractor to make the upgrades they want with their loan paperwork. An appraiser reviews the home and the submitted bid, and appraises the estimated value of the home post-renovation. Once the loan is approved, the money for the renovation is put into escrow. After the work is completed—the deadline is six months—an inspector visits to determine that it's been done correctly, and then the money is released to the contractor. In the same way as with traditional FHA loans, you can pay the money back over 15 or 30 years.
The second type of home improvement loan is a Fannie Mae HomeStyle loan. It’s similar to a 203(k) loan, but it requires a down payment of at least 5%. Another difference: There's no limit to the kinds of renovations you can do, as long as everything is permanently affixed to the home and adds value.
Like a 203(k) loan borrower, you will need to hire an approved contractor and submit a bid for the project with your loan paperwork. You then have an appraiser determine what your home will be worth after the renovations. Once you've got that number, you can borrow up to 50% of that appraised value to work on the renovation. As with a 203(k) loan, the money for the renovation is held in escrow until the work is completed and inspected and is then released to the contractor. However, with the HomeStyle loan, you get 12 months to complete the renovation, instead of six. You then pay it back over a period of 15 to 30 years at either a fixed or adjustable rate.
5. Am I prepared to manage this project?
From finding the right house and negotiating a deal, to hiring contractors and securing permits, there will without a doubt be plenty of moving parts for you to oversee during this whole process. That will mean you need to ask yourself whether you have the time and the patience to manage everything.
While hiring a general contractor to oversee the renovations can help lighten the load, reviving a fixer-upper is still a huge commitment, so make sure you know what's required before you dive in.