Deciding if an Area Fixer-Upper is the Right Deal for You

The town fixer-uppers:

You know them when you see them—especially when going through the town listings, where their photos probably lack quite the allure of the others. You can also spot them by some cautiously-phrased tipoff language. They are “handyman specials” that are offered “as-is” or that “need attention.” A perplexingly low asking price is a dead giveaway, too. Most often, if, considering the features listed, the number is too good to be true, you’re looking at a fixer-upper.

If you are house hunting, are they worth looking into? Or if you own one, should you do the fixing-up? How do you make a rational decision?

First, about whether to get to work before you offer your own local fixer-upper to the world:

It’s true that a fixer-upper can be a serious magnet for prospective buyers, particularly when those buyers aren’t averse to putting in some old-fashioned elbow grease. If you are able to accept the kind of low sales price that will make yours a standout from competitors, it’s bound to attract a lot of interest from budget-minded householders—as well as professional house-flippers and contractors who work on their own account.

The rule of thumb for owners readying a property for sale is to investigate whether smaller replacement projects—the kind that add curb appeal and/or kitchen glamor—are likely to boost value above the cost of the undertaking. Most reports on the subject find that large-scale projects seldom return even 80% of their cost, although when chosen strategically, per the NAR® “…they can improve the market position of the property in relation to the competition.” (Translation: move it out of the ‘fixer-upper’ category).

From a non-professional buyer’s point of view, though, the question is whether the fixer-upper route is a better choice than the costlier entries. If you have little interest in extensive DIY projects or decorating overhauls, you already know the answer: skip the town fixer-uppers. You have to be enthusiastic to make one of those worth the undertaking. You needn’t bother with any of the super bargains with listings that admit “needs some TLC.”

If you are on the fence, the answer may well lie in a careful appraisal of what will be needed to bring the candidate up to neighborhood standards. If you are an experienced DIYer, there are software packages available that can help you estimate expenses. If not, our local contractors will be able to provide an itemized ballpark estimate for such a project. If the combined cost of purchase and upgrades still create an attractive package—and you are prepared for some dislocation as major work is being done—a fixer-upper in town is worth serious consideration.

This fall, the local market has offerings with real value in every category. Call me to get the complete low-down on any and all that pique your interest!

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