True story: When Mike and I were looking at houses back in 2007, we walked into a house with our Realtor, looked around and made more or less the following comments:
"The floors all need to be replaced." "The bathrooms need to be redone." "All of the lighting needs to be updated." "That kitchen is awful." "Who in their right mind did the tile around the fireplace?" "It needs to be painted from top to bottom." "There's no landscaping at all in the back."
Then we looked at each other, shrugged, turned to our Realtor and said, "We'd like to make an offer."
He almost fell over in shock and asked, "Are you SURE?"
Were we sure? Well, we thought the house overall had good bones: we liked the layout, and most of what needed to be fixed was cosmetic. It had plenty of space for our little family of three (Meredith was just a baby). We liked the location: it had easy access to major roads which would make Mike's commute more bearable. We liked the neighborhood: it had plenty of amenities like swimming pools, and there was a good elementary school within walking distance.
So we looked around the house, both thinking that it looked like the aftermath of an episode of "Trading Spaces" gone wrong, and said "YES. We'll take it!"
It wasn't exactly a fixer upper in that it needed a massive addition or the roof was caving in, but it had plenty of problems. In 5.5 years of ownership, we've replaced the roof, the air conditioner, the water heater and part of the fence, all out of necessity. A mishap with the washing machine flooded most of the house a few months after we moved in, so nearly all of the baseboards had to be ripped out and replaced too. Stuff happens. It's part of the "joy" of owning a home.
As for the "fun" fixer-upper stuff, well, we're both generally handy people, and we enjoy working on a house together, so we considered ourselves prime candidates for a fixer-upper. Even so, I have to admit that it's not been easy managing jobs and children and trying to DIY it.
Our little helpers:
Meredith as a toddler, helping with the fireplace remodel.
Meredith at 3.5, helping us demolish tile in the bathroom.
Alex last Christmas, helping Mike install wood floors throughout the house:
Alex earlier this summer, helping Mike with the backyard fence:
We've noticed over the years that those nice folks at HGTV do a great job of making renovation look easy. They send in some designers and carpenters, and in a mere 30 minutes, we the viewers watch a room or a house go for bad to beautiful! They throw out suggestions like, "Don't throw out that old dining room set - paint it and recover the chair cushions for a whole new look!" Do you have any idea how high the PITA (pain in the a$$) factor is for redoing furniture if you don't have the proper tools? It's pretty high, as one of our good friends found out recently. Do you know how long it takes to install new door frames in a house? We don't know either because we're still working on it, but we're pretty sure it takes twice as long if you have little helpers underfoot like we do.
In other words, unless you're an experienced pro, DIY renovation takes a lot longer than it appears to on television. It is also usually filled with far more mishaps than HGTV shows!
So are you thinking about buying a fixer-upper?
The nice people over at Credit Sesame came up with a funny but informative flow chart to help you decide. (Click image to enlarge, or click the Credit Sesame link above)
We'd also add that if you're considering a fixer upper, give some serious thought to the home's location: if you sink a bunch of time and money into fixing the house, will you get it back? Or are you over-renovating for the surrounding area? If the home is in a very desirable area, buying a renovating may make great sense, but only if you and your significant other can make it through the renovation process without killing each other!
As for us, so far we've managed to do quite a bit of work on this house, and we're still happily married. As an added bonus, the kids are getting a great lesson in how to build and renovate, and perhaps someday - a VERY long time from now - we'll be able to trust them with power tools. Maybe then we can get a really big fixer upper!