9 Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Fixer-Upper

So the new house isn't perfect—it needs a little fixing up. A house that needs some TLC might seem like a bargain, especially if it's your first home, but are you the right person to strap on the tool belt and give that house an overhaul? Consider the experience of Mark Brock. A fan of fixer-uppers, he bought his first in the mid-1970s, a circa 1935 house in Columbia, South Carolina, that was rich in history but short on modern conveniences. “Very little had been done to it, but it was in good shape and structurally sound,” he says. It turned out to be a good investment of his time, money, and sweat equity. But it takes a certain mindset—and budget—to see this type of project through. How can you tell if you've got a diamond in the rough worth excavating? Well, first you have to closely examine both the house and yourself. Here are some questions you need to consider when you’re thinking of buying a fixer-upper.

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  1. Making the Decision

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    Thinking of buying a fixer-upper? Sure, buying a home that needs renovation can be a great idea, but be prepared for a time-consuming commitment. Before you take the plunge, ask yourself whether you’re ready to take on the daunting task. Be prepared to spend your weekends sanding and staining, and your weeknights priming and painting!

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  2. Is the House Ugly?

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    What kinds of problems does your house have? If they're cosmetic—those little details that make a house prettier, like painting or replacing the bathroom sink—that's one thing. Look for houses with tiny glitches, “things that won’t cost a lot of money and won’t require a lot of contractors,” says Ilona Bray, author of Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home.

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  3. Does the House Have Structural Damage?

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    If the problems, however, are structural, you might want to pass, especially if you’re new to home repair. Structural problems like foundation troubles, termites, and plumbing are typically discovered during a home inspection. Fixing these will be expensive and time-consuming—so think hard before you close on a house that's not structurally sound.

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  4. Do You Have the Time?

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    If you’re the kind of person who wants to go to the gym after work and likes to have weekends free to go to the movies, then face it: You’re not a candidate for a fixer-upper. Fixer-uppers are time drains, and they disrupt your life.

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  5. Where Will You Live?

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    If you have an alternate place to stay while the work is being done, renovations on a new home may not be such a big issue. Of course, if you’re a DIY diehard and love the process of turning one thing into another, then the disruption might not bother you as much as it might someone who likes things neat and clean and finished.

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  6. Can You Hire the Right Pro?

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    If you’re hiring a contractor, you'll need time to do some research before asking for bids. Get at least three estimates for any work you’ll need done, ask for references, and if possible visit examples of their work. Ask your realtor or your neighbors who they used and what they thought of the work.

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  7. Is It in the Budget?

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    If you're pooling every last penny for that down payment, you won't have much left over for home renovations, so you might be better off buying a house that’s livable as is. Even if you do have money set aside for renovations, make sure to add another 20 percent on top of any estimates you get. There will always be extra expenses, no matter how carefully you plan.

    Related: 7 Real Estate Deal Breakers to Avoid

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  8. Will It Test Your Relationship?

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    Buying a house is stressful. Throw in a renovation on top of that, and the strain can be too much for some couples. A lot of new couples move into fixer-uppers, says Bray. “That can be tough on a relationship if you’re trying to figure out these difficult things that have big implications for your finances and how you want to spend your life.”

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  9. Do You Have a Support Team?

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    If you’re single and still want to fix up an older home, make sure you have a network of helpers and never do the work alone. But count on folks with expertise. “Nothing could start a family feud faster than getting free help and someone accidentally breaks something or does something wrong," says Jennifer Musselman, author of Own It! The Ups and Downs of Homebuying for Women Who Go It Alone.

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  10. Are Your Expectations Realistic?

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    If you watch home renovation shows, don't think that your experience will be like those dramatic and quick transformations. Remember, that’s not really reality TV, and you might end up a disaster episode. But if you plan ahead with your time, money, and resources, your hard work could really pay off.

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  11. For More...

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