So You Want to Take On A Fixer Upper? Here Are 3 Important Tips.

I am a huge fan of Chip and Joanna Gaines' show Fixer Upper.  I love watching them completely remake an ugly old house, ripping down walls with reckless abandon, throwing up shiplap and beams and finishing it all off in just an hour, fully furnished and including a custom table that gets longer and longer with each episode. It would be easy to "have the guts" to take on a fixer upper when you have their team taking you through it and doing the work.  They do a fabulous job.  But what if you are a novice?  Is taking on a fixer upper a smart move?  Or will you wind up bankrupt with "A Money Pit?" as in the movie by that name? ( Don't  you watch it if you decide to tackle a big project!!)

 

I have some experience with fixer uppers.  I started small with a house that really only needed some decorating updates and landscaping and gardening. I call this the Instant Gratification Level. The next house I took on needed a new kitchen, baths, flooring, lighting, a new window or two and moldings, built-in bookshelves and some architectural details.  Although it was a lot of work, it didn't involve any major structural changes.  This is the Teen Dream Level- it requires some risk, patience and expertise and it is easy to think you know it all if you successfully renovate one of these fixer uppers. Emboldened by success with that house, I next tackled an extreme fixer upper.  A gut job to the studs and an addition doubling the size of the house.  This level of project is not for the faint of heart, particularly if the subject is 250 years old!  This, my friends, is the Summit Level.  Some don't have the constitution for these homes and they are best left to the ones who are a bit crazy. If you are thinking about diving into the Fixer Upper world, I have some tips for you.

1. Start small.  Begin with the Instant Gratification Level, meaning changes can happen very quickly without much risk for exceeding your budget or expertise. For your first fixer upper, choose a house that has a good floor plan in a good location.  Pick one that is well built but is stuck in a decorating time warp. Maybe it has dated wallpaper and wall to wall carpet. Or maybe it has ugly wood cabinets that would look great with a coat of white paint or two. Shiny brass hardware and lighting can be changed easily for not a lot of money.  Overgrown bushes and beds full of weeds are easy to address and improve curb appeal in a flash.  Many of the houses that I stage would fall into this category.  Once you have some success at this level, you can move on to more challenging projects. 

Before

Before

After

After

2. Assemble a good team.  You will need a good realtor, a good painter, a good handyman, a good electrician, a good source for flooring and tile and a good landscaper.  Once you start tackling more challenging projects, you will need a good general contractor and a structural engineer, and maybe a designer and architect!  You might not find the best people right away.  Sometimes it takes some trial and error until you find the ones you want to work with even though they come with great referrals.  One of the things I look for in addition to reliability and quality work for a reasonable price is a positive attitude. I look for people who can think outside the box and find a way to do what I want rather than tell me that it can't be done.  

3. Have the Right Disposition and Attitude.  If you don't think its fun to live with strangers coming into your house at 8am, this probably isn't something you should do.  Likewise, if you are an extreme control freak, your team might not stick with you for your next project.  You have to hire pros and then let them do what they know how to do.  Understand that they are human and that there may be a few (correctible) mistakes made along the way.  I have had guys install crown molding upside down, painted rooms the wrong color (yes, there is a big difference between Moonlight White and Moonlight but don't expect your painter to know that!)  Also, there is going to be a mess and it will look worse before it looks better.  If you can't handle that, don't buy a fixer upper.  If, on the other hand, you like to work with a bunch of strangers, can relax and deal with messes, and get a thrill out of watching things being transformed before your eyes, then dive in!

To me, there is nothing more exciting than taking something that no one else wants and turning it into something beautiful.  And if you are like me, once you are bitten by the bug, you can't wait to do it again.  And again. And again...