So, you have finally found your dream house after what could be weeks or months of searching. It is an old house that needs a little work — okay, maybe a lot of work — but its character and charm are exactly what you are dreaming of in a home.
Fixer-uppers are appealing, especially if you think there is potential in a property. Bonus if you are an HGTV fan. It also seems like a great idea if you want to save money on your home purchase. Likewise, the opportunity to put personalized touches and let your creativity show in the home can be exciting.
The problem starts when you realize that not all fixer-uppers are equal and worthwhile. And if you are not careful, that fixer-upper might turn out to be a money pit that could transform your dream project into an expensive nightmare.
A fixer-upper VS a money pit: How to tell
Generally speaking, a fixer-upper is a house that is structurally sound and should only need general maintenance and cosmetic repairs. The biggest thing to remember when purchasing a fixer-upper is to look beyond the surface. A money pit, on the other hand, has many major flaws and expensive issues that require extensive professional assistance to make it more livable. As long as the general systems of a home are in good shape, your budget is best allocated to refreshing the property instead of repairing it.
If the fixer-upper you are looking to purchase is plagued with even one or more of these huge deal-breakers, it’s time to consider running the other way.
The bones or foundation that supports the entire house and what is holding it together. Without a solid foundation, it is impossible to have a structurally sound home. Serious issues with the structure are a large, expensive, and time-consuming undertaking to fix that could potentially turn your deal into an ordeal.
Therefore, it is probably the most important thing to look at when hunting for a worthwhile fixer-upper. Keep an eye out not only for large cracks, but also for bowing walls, shifting masonry, uneven floors, and even moisture in the basement or crawl space when viewing a home. Better still, bring in a structural engineer or a foundation repair professional to inspect the foundation very carefully. If there’s anything questionable about the structural integrity of the house, the expense involved in repairing the home may end up being more than you’re willing to spend.
Water is meant to be confined within the building structure, such as pipes and plumbing. When it runs unabated in crawl spaces, basements, floors, or walls, it can cause significant water damage, which is disastrous, and a giant red flag. Moisture can damage a home visibly by warping the walls. Even a slow leak will rot out drywall, and could eventually weaken structural elements such as joists and beams.
Worst is, mold can thrive, which can cause serious health implications and be costly to remediate. Be aware of any damp smell, scour the ceilings for signs of leaks, and check every inch of the basement and foundation for cracks or water.
Another simple point to remember, if the mechanical systems of a home, including plumbing, electrical system, and heating, need a complete overhaul, you might want to think twice before taking that fixer-upper. These can all be expensive to update and have finite lifespans. Plus, outdated electrical systems can be extremely hazardous and cause electrocution or fire hazards. The value of fixing those problems will far outweigh the good, potentially leaving you out of pocket.
Many fixer-uppers might need at least some level of roof repairs, such as replacing some cracked, or missing shingles. But if the roof is already sagging, there are multiple layers of shingles, or the shingles are dry, cracked, and brittle, and you find evidence of major leaks on the ceilings, then it’s a different matter. A complete roof replacement can cost you thousands of dollars, so you must know the age of the roof before buying.
Not to mention, severe damage to the roof could also cause a myriad of issues, such as damage to the sheathing, trusses, beams, and rafters, resulting in water damage, mold, or structural issues, from wood rot. Unfortunately, none of these repairs are cheap.
Lastly, be diligent with pests that can eat away at your house and budget. Especially if there is termite damage, or worse, an active case of termites, treating the home can be incredibly costly. The structural damage these wood-boring insects cause can be more problematic because it is not always visible. When checking a fixer-upper or any home, look carefully for signs of an infestation, including crumbling, damaged wood, buckling wooden or laminate floors, mounds of termite pellets, mud tubes climbing foundation walls, or discolored or drooping drywall.
If you suspect a termite infestation, make sure to enlist the help of professionals such as exterminators and structural engineers to help you understand the full extent of the damage. Catching the damage early, could mean you’ll only need to cover the cost of extermination/treatment. However, finding it late should be your cue to look for a more worthwhile fixer-upper.