Ask many a home buyer about the type of house they are looking for and many will reply “We are looking for something we can fix up and live in (or resell). We like the idea of gaining some quick sweat equity.” The classic “fixer-upper” home. Unfortunately, there is a bit of fantasy in the notion, though. First of all, there are many more fixer-upper buyers than there are fixer-upper properties. Second, the current thinking in many minds is that anyone can make a killing in the Real Estate market, which is not always the case. Third, many buyers totally mis-estimate both the cost and the time involved in fixer-uppers, severely impacting (and in some cases destroying) the profit potential. Unless you are fully prepared to deal with the realities of fixer-uppers rather than the fantasies, it probably is a good idea to look elsewhere for a home.
This does not mean that there isn’t equity to be gained (or profit to be made) by purchasing the RIGHT property at the RIGHT price. The important notion is to understand that there are several factors that will make the difference between winning and losing in such a transaction.
The first factor that must be understood is that it isn’t going to be easy. The only people who think that finding, buying, fixing and selling a home is an easy task are those who have never done it. Those with any experience (even if only once) will tell you that it rarely is as simple as it appears. In general, it is best to assume that repairs will cost twice what you estimated, take double the amount of time and,when finished, the house will be worth less than expected. If you keep that in the forefront of your thinking, the chances of being burned are much less.
Foreclosure sales are often good sources for fixer-upper properties.
Start Out Small
Some of the worst examples of mistakes made by buyers of fixer-uppers are first-time buyers who bite off way more than they can chew. Examples of this are houses that have structural problems or will take an exceptionally long time to repair, or are located somewhere other than a desirable neighborhood. These can be a horrible drain on finances, time and peace of mind.
A much better strategy for the inexperienced is to purchase a home in a desirable neighborhood that is in need of cosmetic attention–new paint, carpeting, appliances, landscaping and the like. These repairs can either be handled by the homeowner or are easily contracted out, saving time, effort and money. Yes, money can be made on homes needing major renovations, even if they are in less popular neighborhoods, but these are jobs for professionals, not homeowners (and definitely not for first-time homeowners!)
The most expensive situations are often those that are the least expected–those nasty little (and often big) surprises that jump out at you. You can avoid many of these surprises, though, with a couple of easy steps taken BEFORE final commitment to a property.
1) Have the property thoroughly inspected. Have the inspector detail all obvious (as well as potential) defects in the property. NOTE: The seller may say “we are selling the house as-is, so NO inspections.” Avoid this property like the plague.
2) Run the numbers. You must know the market values for houses in the neighborhood in which you are interested that need no repairs. Running the numbers means working them backwards to see how much equity or profit may be available (or even IF there will be any) in the deal. You will need to begin by computing the realistic value of the home when all repairs are made. From that point, you will need to subtract any selling expenses you will incur (commissions and the like) as well as the full cost of repairs and, most importantly, the amount of desired profit or equity.
$120,000: Expected Sale Price, Repaired
-7,500: Selling Expenses
-17,500: Repair Expenses
-10,000: Desired Profit/Equity
$85,000: Maximum Property Purchase Price
Don’t be deluded into thinking that you’ll be able to sell for more than the market value or do the repairs for less than the estimates. If the numbers don’t fit–with a good amount of “wiggle room” for more expense or handling costs or if the property does not sell quickly–don’t waste your time or your money!
When considering a fixer-upper, whether for resale or to live in with increased equity, go into the process fully prepared so you will avoid many surprises. For your first project, only consider structurally sound homes in good neighborhoods requiring cosmetic repairs only. Have any property you are considering fully inspected and then get firm estimates for all needed repairs. Most importantly, “run the numbers” to be certain that the potential for gain is truly there. If you are satisfied on all counts, you may very well be able to be successful with your fixer-upper project!