The real estate industry has no set definition for what constitutes a handy-man’s special or a fixer-upper. It depends a lot on the area and what the seller thinks can actually be fixed. In reality, these structures range from “an amateur can fix” to “must hire professional contractors” to “should be leveled.”
Rule of thumb when doing home repairs: it will take three times longer and cost three times more than what you originally estimated. Be prepared to be flexible with your timetable.
The price on one of these homes can be much less than the surrounding area. If you have decided that the neighborhood you want to live in is generally above your price range, this may be one way that you can get into that neighborhood. But realize that this type of home takes a lot of work, and you will either have to do it yourself or have to pay someone to do the work. The big question is the quality of the structure of the house. If the structure is poor, then renovations will be more expensive.
It’s hardly surprising that renovation can easily turn to disaster. Every renovation is made up of lots of little jobs—painting, polishing, plumbing, removing, demolishing, rewiring, rebuilding—it’s enough to send even the most organized person into a tailspin. Planning is the key to a successful home renovation. A solid plan will help you feel in control and ensure your budget doesn’t get out of hand.
Be sure that you know what you are getting into. Do-it-yourself remodeling requires an infinite amount of patience with construction rubble, a large amount of time and commitment, and the physical ability to do the work. Before you decide to look for a “needs work” home, honestly assess your abilities to do the work. Take a field trip to one of your local home repair superstores. That will give you some idea of the expenses that even do-it-yourselfers face. Many of the home repair superstores provide free classes and literature on do-it-yourself projects.
The bottom line is that you need to really know your limitations and be willing to learn new skills. Don’t overestimate your skill set. Maybe you can’t rewire the house, but you might be a whiz at putting up wallpaper. If you aren’t afraid of a little work, you can save yourself some money. However, you should also know when to call a professional.