3 Things to Look for When Buying a Fixer Upper

Let me preface this post by saying I am by no means an expert, but I wanted to give you my two cents about what to look for when you're buying a fixer upper! Ryan and I spent a lot of time combing through real estate listings and trying to make the best decision when it came to buying our fixer upper of a house last April. These were the factors that I kept coming back to over and over again, and evaluated for each property we looked at.

Location (...Location, Location!)

Location of a fixer upper

If you have ever searched for a home (or met a realtor for that matter), I'm SURE you're familiar with location being THE most important factor when it comes to buying a home. You can change a lot of things about a house, but you sure as hell can't pick it up and move it, so you'd better be sure that you loveeee the location you choose! A few major location factors to consider are your commute to work, proximity to things you like to do or to where your friends live, and what area of town you actually like! 

School zone is also important for a couple of reasons. Obviously, if you have kids you don't want them going to a school that has terrible ratings. But even if you're offspring-free, if you choose a house within a bad school zone, it will make reselling tough. That was our biggest concern, since we have NO kid plans anytime soon. One of the areas close to the house we bought is great - but zoned for one of THE worst high schools in town. That was a deal breaker for us. By looking just a couple miles away from that area, we still stayed in the same general area that we loved, but were able to get into a much more desirable school zone. Win-win! 

Price per square foot (How Low Can You Go?)

Price per square foot

This little number may not matter to you quite as much if you have no plans of ever selling your home, but if you do then you'll probably live and die by it! Ideally, you want to aim for a price per square foot that is as LOW as possible, and definitely under what other homes in the area are selling for. As a little frame of reference, when we bought our house, others in the area were selling for roughly $120/square foot. Our house was $78/square foot. That is quite the difference, and allowed us room to put money into renovating the house and still feel confident that we could sell it for more than our investment. Again, you might not care about this number as much if your fixer upper will be your "forever home" (Ryan hates that term, haha) but if you're trying to flip your house or move EVER, it's a great number to pay attention to! 

Potential (Within a Strict Renovation Budget) 

Yep, that was indeed our kitchen! All the praise hands that it no longer looks ANYTHING like that! ;)Β 

Yep, that was indeed our kitchen! All the praise hands that it no longer looks ANYTHING like that! ;) 

Ah, potential. That little thing you need to see in your fixer upper to make all of the work and headaches worth it. Let me tell you a little story. In almost every house we looked at, I saw potential. Behind the forest green carpets, pink walls, and vinyl countertops, I just knew every house we laid eyes on could be an amazing home with some TLC. Here's the thing - the dollar amount of TLC that these homes required varied greatly. There was a house we saw early on that was in the cutest neighborhood, and something about it really spoke to me when we walked in. Maybe it was the bathroom directly in the entryway, or the completely chopped up floor plan, or the Master bedroom that was too small to even fit our bed. Do you see where I'm going here? Although that house did indeed have potential... it was more like potential-that-will-take-$100K-to-unveil. We had a very specific renovation budget in mind when we started house hunting, and trust me, it sure wasn't $100K.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is - it's great to see the potential in houses that you look at (I mean, if you couldn't you wouldn't be searching for a fixer upper!), but be realistic about the amount of work and cold hard cash it'll take for that potential to become reality. 


I hope this gave you a little insight for the next time you're on the hunt for a fixer upper of a home. I'd love to hear what made you pull the trigger on your latest fixer upper, or what factors YOU deem most important!