fixer upper

Some houses make great fixer-uppers. Others are hopeless cases.

Buying a fixer-upper is a tricky thing to accomplish successfully. On one hand, some DIY and investment of both time and money can get you a dream house that you’d normally never be able to afford, in the neighborhood highest on your wish-list, with more space/amenities/charm than you’d dare to hope for. On the other, sometimes the house is an irredeemable money pit, and you end up regretting the purchase. Both situations are common, and it can be hard to differentiate between cases before you get yourself into your fixer-upper. The following are some frequent complaints about “handyman specials” or houses that “need some TLC.”


It smells bad.

Oh man, can this ever be a turn-off. Whether it’s cooking smells (rancid frying oil, anyone?), cigarette smoke baked into the walls, or general must from abandonment, it can be very tempting to walk away from a stinky house. Where do you draw the line? If the smells don’t lead to anything insidious, you’re probably fine. Extensive cleaning and airing-out can do wonders for purifying the air. If the previous owner was a heavy indoor smoker, you may need to professionally clean (or replace) the carpet and repaint the walls along with a LOT of open windows, but this, too, can eventually be overcome. When you should run in the other direction is when the smell leads to something bad, like a wet smell being a sign of mildew or mold, or when you simply cannot handle the degree of odor.


There’s trash everywhere.

How big a problem this is, is basically up to you, because the problem is right in your face. Are you okay loading up a few truckfuls of garbage, or renting one of those giant dumpsters? This doesn’t need to be a deal-breaker. However, trash can cover up bigger issues. Even if it isn’t, with huge messes, dump fees can really eat into your bank account. You should also run screaming from homes that have toxic spills or contamination.


It’s hideous.

Aesthetic issues are among the easiest to fix in a home. Bright orange shag carpeting in the bedroom? Ripping it up is relatively cheap, and new flooring is something you can budget into your reno expenses. Paint colors should never, ever sway your opinion, as that is the quickest fix of all. You’ll take some before/after pictures and laugh about it later. On the other hand, if you hate EVERYTHING – the tile in the bathroom AND the kitchen, the countertops, elements of the floor plan, weird features… you may be getting in over your head and you should acknowledge that this just may not be the home for you.

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