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Are you thinking of buying a fixer upper? We just did! We aren’t builders in any way, but we did know that there are a few items that we definitely needed to inspect and look out for when buying our fixer-upper. Here are the things you should look for:
12 Details to Check when Buying a Fixer-Upper
Major structural damage falls into the category of “Don’t buy this house!” bad. Some structural damage is so bad that the entire house will need to be destroyed! Unless you are shopping for land, this is a pretty hefty problem.
When buying a fixer-upper, you definitely want an inspector to come in and check out the structure of the home. They will look for cracks in the foundation, unevenness, issues with grading, and other potential structural issues. Most of these things can’t be solved with simple DIY enthusiasm.
Pretty much every house I’ve ever seen has a wooden frame of some sort, and it’s incredibly important to make sure this wood is in good condition before you buy. The major issues you will see with wood are termites and rot. These things can either be bad or “Don’t buy this house bad” depending upon how far the problem has spread.
I highly recommend hiring a pest inspector prior to finalizing the purchase on any fixer-upper. An active infestation can cause thousands of dollars of damage and can be costly to eradicate. The house we are buying does have some slight termite damage from about twenty years ago, but the infestation was eradicated quickly and there are no further signs of an active infestation. We will continue to have the house treated and inspected on a yearly basis to ensure they don’t come back. We will also slowly replace the damaged pieces.
Rotting wood is the second big wood problem you need to look for when buying a fixer-upper. Wood rot is generally caused by moisture, so if there is rot on the inside structure, you know that water is coming in from somewhere (generally not a good thing). Wood rot on the frame of the house could lead to devastating structural issues. You can check out this blog post on wood rot for more information on how to find (and treat!) it.
Buying a fixer-upper can be a super fun challenge, but we don’t want to do something that’s potentially dangerous. Therefore, you really need to check for safety concerns before you buy. Check for structural hazards such as weak floors, loose fixtures, and random old holes that are problematic.
Remember that not all of these issues are serious concerns. Sometimes the holes were put in on purpose for old heating systems, and don’t cause damage to the house. Sometimes floors just need to be updated. An inspector will know for sure which problems are passes and which are things you can fix.
Electrical hazards are the most concerning safety hazard. Not only can they shock you, but they can also cause fires. Have your inspector check the grounding and the wiring to the best extent possible. Some older homes may need a complete rewire, which can get incredibly expensive. It’s also not something that you should try doing yourself unless you are a trained electrician.
Toxins and Chemicals
Toxins and chemicals are also a safety concern, though they usually can be mitigated. If you have little kids, make sure that you get the lead paint test. Most older houses do have lead paint, but as long as no one eats it or inhales it you should be perfectly safe. You should also check for radon gas and black mold, as exposure to both can be incredibly toxic. These problems can usually be mitigated, but you definitely want to know what you are getting into before you buy.
You need to inspect every portion of the house for water damage because you never know where there might be a leaky pipe. There is some slight water damage on the living room wall in the house we are buying, and we identified its source as the second bathroom that was incorrectly added. We surveyed the extent of the damage, and it didn’t look like the water damage led to any problems with the wood. These are things that you definitely need to be aware of before you buy!
And by good, I mean things that actually aren’t a huge deal but will make others pass on the home. There are tons of small issues that will prevent people who don’t want to do anything from buying a house, but that will make it a fixer-uppers dream!
Ugly carpet is kind of a big deal in central Pennsylvania. Pretty much every house we looked at had some type of ugly, stinky carpet. But the bad carpet isn’t a big deal! Replacing a carpet is an easy, low-cost way to greatly improve the feel of an entire room. You can even change the carpet to hardwood or vinyl. It will basically be a clean slate for you.
Wall décor is another cosmetic issue that can make a house look terrible. Everyone has different tastes, and the majority of people selling homes in central PA have horrible taste in wallpaper. I wish they had awful taste in paint, as that’s far easier to fix! But ugly wallpaper isn’t a deal-breaker. It’s harder to remove, but it’s not a major problem with the home. Don’t look past a fixer-upper because the walls are ugly.
The fun part of buying a fixer-upper is renovating a dated room for modern use! You may run into all sorts of old features such as seventies shag carpet, fifties appliances, and closed-off rooms (I read somewhere that it was improper to have guests see your kitchen back in the day, is that true?). Making an older home shine with modern glory is the absolute best part of buying a fixer-upper. I’m excited to make that happen!
If you want to pass on a home because of minor issues, you probably shouldn’t be buying a fixer upper. There are tons of small things that can be wrong with any house, labeled DIY or not. Some have creaky stairs, leaky faucets, or windows that stick. Others have small holes in the drywall or missing outlet covers. Homes with a lot of these issues may fall under a fixer-upper, but they are easy to fix so don’t look past a home because of these defects. It will be fun to stretch out your DIY muscles with these easy smaller tasks!
For those of you who have been in the fixer-upper game before, what are some other major things that you should check out before committing to a fixer-upper? What do you wish you would have done differently?
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.