Avoid a Fixer Upper Fail by Examing 12 Crucial Features Before Buying

Buying a fixer-upper can either be a dream or a financial nightmare. 

If your heart is set on a handyman’s special, you must pay close attention to what needs fixing and how much that repair work will cost. 

Some problems are deal breakers for novice DIYers, while others can lower the price on an otherwise wonderful home. 

12 Details to Check when Buying a Fixer-Upper

Here are 12 crucial details to examine before making an offer on a fixer-upper, divided into the massive red flags to avoid and the green flags that will help you get a great home for less. 

6 Fixer Upper Problems that are too big for DIYers

First, the bad. Unless you have extensive home repair experience or deep pockets for contract work, you should avoid homes with significant problems. Avoid homes with:

  • Structural Damage
  • Wood Problems
  • Safety Issues
  • Electrical Hazards
  • Dangerous Chemicals
  • Leaks/Water Damage

Structural Damage

Significant structural damage is a “Don’t buy this house!” problem. Some structural damage is so bad that the house is beyond repair. Unless you are shopping for land, this is a pretty hefty problem. 

When buying a fixer-upper, hire an inspector to examine the structure. They will look for cracks in the foundation, unevenness, issues with grading, and other potential structural issues. 

Most structural problems can’t be solved with simple DIY enthusiasm, but if you don’t fix them, you limit the resale potential and risk the home’s stability. 

Wood Issues

Most homes have solid wood frames, so inspecting the wood’s condition before buying is vital. 

Look for insect damage or rot, two massive issues that can quickly turn a DIY dream into a nightmare

Insect Damage

Hiring a pest inspector during the due diligence period is vital. They’ll look for carpenter ants, termites, wasps, and other damaging pests. 

An active termite infestation can cause thousands of dollars in damage, while eradication can eat up your DIY budget. 

The fixer-upper I purchased had termite damage from twenty years ago, but the previous owner provided evidence of eradication and certificates of yearly preventative treatment. The pest inspector found no evidence of a recent infestation. We decided to purchase the home and continue treatments, and we didn’t have any pest problems. 

We would not have bought if the infestation was active. 


Insects aren’t the only thing that can destroy wood. Wood rot can cause massive problems as well. 

Wood rot on the frame could lead to devastating structural issues, and it’s not an easy (or cheap) fix.

And it’s not just the rot. Wood doesn’t just rot for no reason. Typically, it’s caused by moisture, meaning there’s a leak somewhere or the house lacks proper insulation. To fix it, you must find the rot, but you also have to identify and fix the root cause. 

Safety Issues

Families with young children who plan to live in their fixer-upper should pay special attention to safety hazards. Check for structural hazards such as weak floors, loose fixtures, and random holes. 

Some safety hazards should make homes a hard pass whether you have kids or not. Here are the biggest potential problems you should look for when buying a fixer-upper. 

Electrical/Fire Hazards

Unless you’re an electrician or willing to shell out big bucks to fix electrical problems, you should pass on homes with glaring electrical hazards. 

Faulty wiring causes fires.  

Have your inspector check the grounding and the wiring to the best extent possible. Some older homes may need a complete rewire, which could cost a small fortune. 

DIYers without electrical experience shouldn’t do the work themselves. Electrical work is dangerous. You could shock yourself or worse. In addition, you could risk burning the building down if you do the job incorrectly. 

Toxins and Chemicals

If you have young children, you must get the lead paint test. Many older homes have lead paint, but it’s only dangerous when ingested. 

However, lead isn’t the only toxin to worry about. Some older homes have asbestos, radon, or black mold, which can cause long-term health problems to anyone exposed.

Homeowners can mitigate many of these problems, but depending on the scale of the job, it might be a costly fix. 

Leaks/Water Damage

You must inspect every portion of the house for water damage during the due diligence period. Leaky pipes abound in old homes. 

When I purchased my fixer-upper, I found water damage in the living room ceiling and wall. Upon inspection, we discovered a faulty pipe in the upstairs bathroom – a problem I knew I could handle. 

But water damage could come from anywhere. Roofs, HVACs, water heaters, structural damage, and plumbing problems are all potential sources of water damage. When not resolved, water damage breeds mold, harming the home’s structural integrity. 

You must be aware of all the water damage and its source before fully committing to a purchase. 

6 Easy Fixes You Love To Find in a Fixer Home

The best part of buying a fixer-upper is finding cosmetic flaws and easy fixes. Many homebuyers expect perfection, calling homes “fixer uppers” when a few minor repairs would transform a dingy dungeon into a marvelous home. 

Be on the lookout for hidden gems with these minor flaws. 

Bad Carpet

Nasty carpet destroys a home’s value. It’s offputting to buyers looking for a turn-key house, but a dream for DIYers scoping a good deal. 

Many “handyman’s dream” homes have awful carpeting. It’s dated, stained, and harbors atrocious smells, but don’t let that deter you. Replacing a carpet is an easy, low-cost fix that changes the feel of an entire room. 

Horrific Paint/Wallpaper

Dated wall decor makes a house look far worse than it is. Everyone has different tastes, so don’t pass on a home over tacky, dated wallpaper. 

Wallpaper removal requires effort, but it’s not a complex task. Most DIYers can remove it themselves with a bit of hard work. 

The great thing about horrific wallpaper is that it’s a cosmetic issue. If that’s the biggest problem with the house, you’re getting a great deal. 

Dated Everything

Don’t ignore homes with old features. Renovating a dated room for modern use is half the fun. 

You may find all sorts of ancient-looking decor, like 1970s shag carpets and 1950s electrical ovens. The rooms will be boxed in rather than open, as it was improper to have guests see the kitchen in bygone eras. 

Replace the antiques and open that house up for modern use. Returning an old house to its original glory while adding state-of-the-art conveniences is the best part of purchasing a fixer-upper. 

Minor Problems

You shouldn’t buy a fixer-upper if you’re passing over minor problems. 

Old homes have problems, and those labeled “handyman’s specials” have even more. While house hunting, you’ll find creaky stairs, leaky faucets, sticky windows, battered doors, and various other problems. 

Don’t pass on houses with minor defects – that’s the entire point of a fixer-upper! But hire an inspector to know whether a problem is major or minor so you can sign the papers with open eyes about what you’re getting yourself into. 

What’s Missing?

For those of you who have been in the fixer-upper game before, what other significant things should you check out before committing to one? 

What do you wish you would have done differently?

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