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Buying a house - would you purchase a fixer-upper?


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After renting a house that I don’t really like for over 6 years, dh and I are finally in a position to purchase. We live in a rural area where the market is very very tight. Typically, offers are made by day three that the house is on the market (many in day 1) and that is it. We also live in an area with low inventory, so not many houses on the market. 
 

Long story, but we had been planning to buy this summer but then COVID happened and dh lost his job. I thought that was that and we’d have to wait for a year plus, but we amazingly got approved on my income only (dh has a new job but we can’t include his income. He will be in the mortgage though). This all just happened today (yippee!) and we went to look at our first house today. 
 

It is quirky (not your typical style) and will need work. The work needed is basically cosmetic - new carpet and paint in two bedrooms, all three bathrooms need to be updated, need new light fixtures throughout the house. But the house is BIG (to us). We currently live in about a 1,600 square foot house and this house is over 2,600 square foot with a full basement that can be finished. Our current (rented) home is so small. But looking at other homes in our price range...we would be looking at similar size to what we live in now if the house were move in ready with no needed work. 
 

What do you think? Would you buy a house that needs work? Dh‘s new job will be over the road trucking, so I will take on much of the work myself. We do have a good friend who flips houses for a living who plans to look at this house with us tomorrow to give us his opinion on the “bones” of the house. Basically, we want to confirm that this house is solid but just needs cosmetic work. 
 

And for those of you who have put work I to homes...how do I figure out what this work might cost? The three bathrooms are very dated. The house was built in 1985 and I assume the bathrooms are the original from when the house was built. None of them are very large, but would require new vanity and shower (at least). Maybe new flooring too? 
 

So for those of you who have more experience, in a market like ours, would you consider a fixer upper?

 

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I, personally, would not, but I'm about as handy as a....um, it's late and I didn't think my analogy all the way through.  I was going to say a paper bag, but those are pretty handy.  A....not very handy plastic bag?  Maybe one that has a hole in it and is an inconvenient size?

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Although if I could just hire someone to put in new carpet and light fixtures, and all I really had to do was paint, I might be willing to do that for the savings.  I can paint, especially if I can do it before the new carpet is installed.  

Laying carpet isn't really in my wheelhouse though.  

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Just now, Terabith said:

I, personally, would not, but I'm about as handy as a....um, it's late and I didn't think my analogy all the way through.  I was going to say a paper bag, but those are pretty handy.  A....not very handy plastic bag?  Maybe one that has a hole in it and is an inconvenient size?

Lol! I’m not really handy either but I want to be (does that count?). I like the idea of being handy...but, I have a lot to learn. 

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Painting would be okay.  I have friends who swear you can learn to do anything from YouTube, but having tried and failed to change the head lamp in my car after watching a video on YouTube, I'd be a little hesitant about taking on bathroom renovations armed only with YouTube.  Do you have any handy friends you could call if you get into a pinch?  Or could you just put up with a dated bathroom?  I'm pretty good at putting up with suboptimal bathrooms.  

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Based on my own experiences with houses that need work, I would say no.  My husband is very  handy, but honestly there is just never enough time and money in the same moment to actually get stuff done. And also things are often harder than they look.  

But you  might be different. Your kids may learn how to lay floors. If they have busy school and social lives, maybe not.

ETA: OK, Arctic said it best. 

Spiraling... yeah, the time we just wanted to take down an ugly curtain rod that was loose... and ended up pulling down a massive amount of wallpaper, then moving out for a week while someone came in and redid all the drywall and painted the entire first floor of the house because with an open floor plan you can't just do part.

 

Edited by marbel
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When I was younger, and if the $$$ evened out re getting a decent house to begin with, and if it were not structural, and if I could expect to live there for a long time...yes.

But I have done my part to make the world of real estate a better place, and I'm just not up for it anymore.  

And if I had learned contentment earlier in my younger life, I would have a few million in the bank.  Not kidding.  So it is worth examining your heart to know what will make you contented.

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3 minutes ago, marbel said:

Based on my own experiences with houses that need work, I would say no.  My husband is very  handy, but honestly there is just never enough time and money in the same moment to actually get stuff done. And also things are often harder than they look.  

But you  might be different. Your kids may learn how to lay floors. If they have busy school and social lives, maybe not.

ETA: OK, Arctic said it best. 

Spiraling... yeah, the time we just wanted to take down an ugly curtain rod that was loose... and ended up pulling down a massive amount of wallpaper, then moving out for a week while someone came in and redid all the drywall and painted the entire first floor of the house because with an open floor plan you can't just do part.

 

A lot of this also depends on the market, your abilities to Do The Work, and so on.  I have friends who have made super great decisions in buying/fixing/selling in a hot market and then moving to a slower market and living completely debt-free.  

 

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Posted (edited)
9 minutes ago, CuriousMomof3 said:

I have the experience of wanting a house in a specific neighborhood that I couldn't really afford.  So we bough the one that was quirky, with out of date decor, and fixed it up.   It worked, and we have no regrets about raising our kids in the neighborhood we wanted.

I guess my question is whether it needs those updates before it's liveable, and you could move in and live with them while you fix things piece by piece, or does it need things before you could move in?

The house has five bedrooms (wow!!!), three full bathrooms, a kitchen (which has been updated), dining room, living room, and a sunroom. (All of this is just so so so much more room then we have now, so wow!!). 
 

I think we would need to re-carpet the two bedrooms that have carpeting and maybe paint all five bedrooms prior to moving in. I think I could live with the dated bathrooms, but I would want to look at doing some simple updating right away (lighting maybe?). 
 

There is no way we can afford a house this size that is move in ready. I really want a house big enough to entertain and so my kids can comfortably have their friends over (they are 16 and 12). I work from home so one of those bedrooms will be my office. 

Edited by Just Kate
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1 minute ago, CuriousMomof3 said:

We moved from the aforementioned house, which used to be about 2.5 bedrooms, and 1 bath, and is now 3.5 bedrooms and 2 baths, to my inlaws 5 bedroom house for quarantine.  I can totally understand  where you are coming from. 

 

Our current rental home is just small. The kids prefer to go to their friends’ houses, simply because there is more room. Add in that dh has worked in the oil field for 10 years, so he is typically working away from home. These past several months of quarantine with ALL of us here make our house feel especially small. 

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Posted (edited)

One concern is that I’m not great at decorating and/or choosing items for a home. I want to be though. I have this “idea” of me DIY-ing all of these things, of creating a beautiful home on a budget. But I really don’t know how to! I’m not even sure what exactly I like! Is there any hope for me???

Edited by Just Kate
I’m bad at typing on my iPhone!
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I mean, that doesn't sound like what I think of when I hear "fixer upper."  None of those things sound structural.  And those advantages are pretty significant.  Painting is easy, and your kids are old enough they could be genuinely helpful with that.  Carpet is pretty doable, especially since you don't have toddlers or preschoolers to wrangle while doing so.  Light fixtures.....that's messing with electrical system and wiring, and I'm not brave enough to do that.  How much would it cost to hire someone to do the lights?  

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4 minutes ago, Arctic Mama said:

Well that’s the easy part. Houzz and Instagram and a bunch of design blogs can aid with that, and much of it is just scaling things right and picking pleasing combinations of materials and colors.  All easily learned.  DIYing design is best done by first looking at the work of others and figuring out what you gravitate toward, then replicating the feel of it with items in your budget 🙂

Beata Heuman, Laurel Bern, Sarah Susanka, and Ben and Erin Napier are faves of mine.  There are so many good architects and designers with extensive portfolios available free online to peruse.  Start clipping!

Thank you! I guess I need to start looking and learning. Whether we end up with this particular house or another, I will likely need to figure out what style I like and how I want to decorate and do things. Our living in a rental has been a negative thing (super long story), so finally deciding to bite the bullet and purchase a home is a thrill for me. I love that interest rates are so low (I was told 2.87% today!) but hate that the market is so bare and that it moves so quickly. 
 

Dh starts his new job at over-the-road trucking at the end of July, so it would be so great if we could make an offer now and get this thing moving. But I want to make a good decision. 
 

A move in ready house is enticing. But it will be small. So I need to decide what I’m willing to do. 

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1 minute ago, Arctic Mama said:

I get it. Because we have been willing to do the work we have lived in houses much nicer than we could have afforded if they were move in ready, and customized to our needs and tastes.  Even putting 65k in this one we should still break even if we had to sell tomorrow, and I have a home I love (now 😉 ). It also has plenty of space inside and out.  Remodeling can be wonderful, but cosmetic changes just tend to be more extensive than they first seem - it’s not the world though and the trade off is often still worth it for a space of your own.

Thank you!! I really appreciate your perspective. If we decide that the structure of this house is good, we may make an offer. I am excited/nervous. I have only ever made one offer on a house before, and it was accepted and that was that (20 years ago!). Dh and I were kids and had no idea what we were doing. We still aren’t sure, but I am certainly more aware of mistakes that can be made and that makes me nervous. 

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I was so spoiled because the house we had in San Antonio was pretty much my dream house.  I loved it so much.  (Not the insane neighbor next door, but I loved that house and floor plan.)  I loved the house I grew up in, too.  

We bought the house we currently own in a gigantic hurry, more or less for our cats to have a house.  Like, it was either buy this house or rent a cheap apartment just for the cats and continue to live with my in laws.  And I love our neighborhood, and this house has enough square footage to be comfortable, but it turns out my children are TERRIFIED of the basement and even at 15 and 16 WILL NOT GO IN THE BASEMENT.  So we effectively have half the square footage we thought, because finished basement that they won't use.  I hate the layout of the upstairs.  The rooms are mostly tiny and cramped.  The kitchen has no counter space.  The dining room literally is too small for even a table and two chairs, and it's the only way to get to our bedroom, so we use the dining room as a library and don't have a kitchen table.  (Well, we set up one in the basement.  My husband uses it to work on in quarantine, which is nice, but not you know, functional for EATING.)  

I don't really like the house.  It's not functional really for anyone's needs, especially if the children will not go into the basement under any circumstances.  But the kids are pretty opposed to moving.  And inertia is a heck of a drug.  So here we are.  

But, guessing no other neighborhood would have a monolith, so there's that.

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be realistic in what work it needs.   new carpet, and paint - piece of cake.  - new lighting - does that include new wiring?   new sinks - will that include new plumbing?

are you and your dh able to do it yourself?  (be realistic for time as well as ability) - or hire it out?  how much would that be?

 

We   have friends who have "fixed" three houses (even if it took longer than planned.).  he does good work and they made a lot when they upgraded to larger homes.  now - they're building their "retirement" home.  

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The best things I have ever learned about this sort of thing:

1.  Floor plan, location, and building quality matter.  Carpet does not.  Paint does not.  Tile counters do not.  Faucets do not.  Landscaping does not (but that can come high, so pay attention.)

2.  Get the toughest inspector you can and pay attention to what s/he says before you buy.

3.  Don't fall in love with a house.  Love people.  Use things.  

4.  As far as is possible, live in the house awhile before you make decisions.  I have found that this helps me "listen to the house" and do what is right for THIS house.  Eg., I am a red-and-green Christmas decorator.  The last house I lived in demanded silver, gold, blue, sparkle.  It looked STUPID in red and green.  That is a simple example that covers wooden vs. painted baseboards, shaker vs. modern, etc.  I made *beautiful* remodels on three houses but they were all better because I lived in the house before making decisions.  You and the house are partners.

 

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41 minutes ago, Arctic Mama said:

It can and certainly does happen.  But here’s the thing, often these issues remain hidden until you open something up or modify it.  The electrical in the house worked okay, as did the plumbing.  Until we tried to turn off the water and realized the shutoff was corroded open and had to thus cut the pipe, solder on a new fitting, and THEN deal with the water damage that faulty shutoff had caused over the years that we didn’t see until we got down there.

The electrical worked okay too until we tried to replace a fixture, and it was wired incorrectly and not grounded.  And the panel was a rat’s nest disaster, and almost full at that.  With breakers that aren’t arc fault protected GFCI.  Hence a full panel update. Oh and rewiring the kitchen. And then all the plugs. And then cutting open the drywall in twenty places to pull new wire behind the existing walls to continue requiring every other badly done bit of electrical in the house.

The home we rented before this, briefly, had all sorts of problems.  But as tenants they were minor inconveniences and since we never tried to fix any of them, the extent of the damage was never known.

In general, once you started fiddling with ANYTHING, however cosmetic, the job gets bigger.  Even if it’s just drywall patching and recaulking because you put in a new countertop, or your toilet leaked because of a toddler. But if you leave it all be oftentimes you just learn to live with the switch that doesn’t work or the leaky faucet that doesn’t damage anything.  Whereas trying to do it RIGHT involves undoing the damage, plus underlying deficiencies that CAUSED the damage, plus redoing the pretty top layers that were all you ever saw in the first place.

These are mostly things that should be checked before buying the house, though. You may not catch everything, but definitely you should be checking type of wiring, electrical panel, test GFCI, look under sinks for leaks and condition of pipes, look at pipes and shutoffs outside, etc. Aluminum wiring, you need to make sure it's been adapted for safety. A wonky electrical panel is a sign to look more closely at all wiring. OP should absolutely look at some checklists online, and her friend will likely be a big help.

 

38 minutes ago, Arctic Mama said:

But her house is a time capsule and nothing has changed, so much of the discovery we did in renovating this is not something she or the other owners have delved into, and WON’T unless something breaks catastrophically.   

But most of them are things you should be very glad you did catch! The electrical in particular sounds like it was quite dangerous. 

33 minutes ago, Arctic Mama said:

Lights are super super easy if the underlying wiring is okay, which a house from the 80’s should be. And it’s easy to learn from the interweb. But licensed electricians will charge anywhere from $30-80 an hour for labor, so I’d expect a room of fixtures to be about $100-200 more to have them do it than to DIY with the same fixture, and that will be higher if it’s a higher cost of living area.  Electrical can get pricy but it all depends what you’re willing to tackle 🙂

That's funny - dh has extensive DIY experience, he even drew up plans and built a small office in our backyard from the ground up, but he will tackle very little electrical. And he's been in the industry for many years, lol. Cosmetic mistakes will cost you, plumbing mistakes will injure you, but it's the electrical mistakes that will kill you. 

I don't consider cosmetic repairs to be a fixer-upper. Don't try to move too fast or do everything at once. Start with the simplest things and learn cheaper lessons. Don't think you're going to have it all done in a couple of years, unless you have a chunk of money to throw at the three bathrooms. And really, they're bathrooms, who cares? Our back bathroom is still in all of its mid 80s glory, with beach shell wallpaper and fake blue marbling on the vanity, lol. And we've lived here over 20 years 😄

I would put up with some extremely ugly decor to gain that much space. 

Edited by katilac
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Yes.  I would gladly purchase a fixer upper.  Our last house was a fixer upper.  It had an unfinished basement, dated wallpaper everywhere, carpet in the bathroom and kitchen, shag carpet in the bedrooms.  But, it had triple the space of our previous house and the most beautiful sunroom.  We lived there for 12 years, only moving became we built our current house.  We did a lot of work over the years.  Some of what you mentioned could probably be lived with for awhile, if needed.  

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13 minutes ago, Terabith said:

And I love our neighborhood, and this house has enough square footage to be comfortable, but it turns out my children are TERRIFIED of the basement and even at 15 and 16 WILL NOT GO IN THE BASEMENT.  So we effectively have half the square footage we thought, because finished basement that they won't use.   

That's a new one for the checklist - make sure the children will go into the basement, lol 

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46 minutes ago, Just Kate said:

The house has five bedrooms (wow!!!), three full bathrooms, a kitchen (which has been updated), dining room, living room, and a sunroom. (All of this is just so so so much more room then we have now, so wow!!). 
I think we would need to re-carpet the two bedrooms that have carpeting and maybe paint all five bedrooms prior to moving in. I think I could live with the dated bathrooms, but I would want to look at doing some simple updating right away (lighting maybe?). 

To me, that stuff is just decorating not "fixer-uppering." With the exception of one house I built from scratch, I have never owned a house that needed as little as the one you're talking about, so I would jump at the chance to have a house that just needed carpet, paint, and light fixtures! My current kitchen is waaaay overdue for a complete gut job, I was hoping to get that done this summer but Covid has scrapped those plans, sigh. Replacing a kitchen is pretty dirty & disruptive (BTDT 3 times already!), so the fact that the kitchen was already updated in the house you're looking at is a huge plus. Unless you have turquoise or yellow toilets & tubs*, the bathrooms can be semi-updated pretty cheaply and easily with paint (including cabinets), a nice shower curtain, and maybe eventually new faucets & lights. But that stuff can wait — I would just get the carpet and paint done before you move in.

*(my sister once owned a house in which one bathroom had a turquoise toilet, yellow sink, and salmon-colored bathtub!)

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8 minutes ago, katilac said:

That's a new one for the checklist - make sure the children will go into the basement, lol 

It worked out pretty well, in that we had a friend who became unexpectedly homeless, and so he was able to move into our basement and lived there for seven years.  That was nice.  Lyr doesn't like the basement because it is cold.  Catherine is convinced there are ghosts or monsters or something down there.  She won't even go into the laundry room.  

My husband has found it's worked very nicely for his "work from home," because he has lots of space where nobody bothers him and a bathroom where literally nobody else ever comes to poop.  The lighting is pretty subpar, so he's borrowed my anti-depressant sun lamp.  And in trying to change out the light bulbs discovered a collection of vintage Playboys from the 1970s in the ceiling.  

Turns out people probably really DID read them for the articles!  It had some seriously high quality writing!

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OH and if it is an older house, have the electric company come check the panel for 1) load 2)load increase and 3) to see if they will even TOUCH it.  

Our previous house was in a VERY snooty and high-end neighborhood...and when we went to replace the panel, it was like a total national freak out.  No one would even touch it.  They were surprised our house hadn't burned down and they were LITERALLY afraid of dying if they touched it.  THAT wasn't cheap...and it was a little scary.  

It's worth asking.

 

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6 minutes ago, Corraleno said:

To me, that stuff is just decorating not "fixer-uppering." With the exception of one house I built from scratch, I have never owned a house that needed as little as the one you're talking about, so I would jump at the chance to have a house that just needed carpet, paint, and light fixtures! My current kitchen is waaaay overdue for a complete gut job, I was hoping to get that done this summer but Covid has scrapped those plans, sigh. Replacing a kitchen is pretty dirty & disruptive (BTDT 3 times already!), so the fact that the kitchen was already updated in the house you're looking at is a huge plus. Unless you have turquoise or yellow toilets & tubs*, the bathrooms can be semi-updated pretty cheaply and easily with paint (including cabinets), a nice shower curtain, and maybe eventually new faucets & lights. But that stuff can wait — I would just get the carpet and paint done before you move in.

*(my sister once owned a house in which one bathroom had a turquoise toilet, yellow sink, and salmon-colored bathtub!)

I had a bathroom that had an avocado green toilet, tub, and sink, and pink walls.  We painted the walls but lived with the green fixtures until we moved out of that apartment.  I have a pretty high tolerance for 70's decorating colors.  

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Yes, I mean none of that stuff is what I really think of as fixer upper.  But my DH can do plumbing and electrical and one of our best friends is an amazing contractors.  So they both crawl all over and rejected several houses bases on what they saw.  But the house we bought is from 68 with original bathrooms and ugly mismatched carpet 

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I grew up in a fixer upper, and I have zero tolerance for living in construction ever again.  Also, I am extremely slow to figure how what will look good where, although I think I do quite a good job in the end.  

When I was 3 my parents bought a house that had been built as a single family home in 1910, and turned into semi-illegal flats at some point.  It had lathe and plaster of course, and those push button electrical switched that are so charming and dangerous.  Much more dangerous was the old gas lighting system, which had just been capped but left intact throughout the house with gas still in it.  For, like, decades.  The back yard was a jungle of concrete, tall weeds, and a tiny little concrete pond full of snails.  My dad thought he would work on it nights and weekends and finish it in about 3 months.  2 years later, when we moved in, it wasn’t even close to done. 15 years later, when I moved out, it was still not completely done.  Honestly, every time DH starts talking about working on our house I quickly distract him.  Never again.  And anyway, our house is pretty much fine.  I mean, 1930s bathroom tiles look fine in a house built in 1922.  And although I’ve never been crazy about the deep red kitchen counter tops and the solid but ugly paneled oak kitchen cabinets, they work.  I have a nice living room, dining room, and master bedroom.  So it’s FINE.

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What kind of a personality are you?  My mother bought a house that needed work in 1980.  When she moved out in 2015, the only things that had been done were waterproofing the cellar shortly after we moved in and replacing the roof when there were too many buckets of water to empty after rain.  She wasn't an active, project-oriented person, and I think she was just overwhelmed.  The house and garden were in a much worse state when she moved out.

So I would think hard about how you, personally, react to big tasks and whether you are able to break them down into smaller, achievable, satisfying projects.

Edited by Laura Corin
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Haven’t read all responses but no.   Unless you could possibly afford to get a bunch done before moving in.  I’d wait for the right house even if it were going to be a while.  It’s always mor time, effort and money than you think.  Even homes you are generally happy with are tons of work.  

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We bought this house in the spring of 2016 with the idea that it would be our retirement home. We were both well into our 50's and this was the first house we'd owned that wasn't brand new and at least partially built to our specifications. And it needed some work, most of it cosmetic, and most of which we knew we'd hire out (new roof, new gutters, new garage doors). The cost of most of it was built into our negotiations on purchase price. Inside I had to clean it top to bottom and we've painted and put down new flooring. We've done a lot to the landscaping. There are still things we want to have done. Anyway -- for us it's been worth it. The neighborhood is absolutely perfect for us, and we would have hated to miss that because of not wanting to fix up the house. But here's one thing to keep in mind -- All houses have things that go wrong, and while you're fixing up and spending money on that do remember that you might have regular maintenance items that ding your budget. I'm not even talking about things you unearth while doing the fixing up, but the normal house stuff. Our bugaboo here has been plumbing issues--we had to have the main water line replaced, which required multiple plumbers working multiple days, heavy digging equipment, and was a few thousand dollars. And we've needed a plumber for a few other things we couldn't figure out how to fix ourselves. And the dishwasher that came with the house, which couldn't have been more than three or four years old, went out and needed to be replaced. If you have enough leeway in your budget for the updating and keeping up with any normal stuff that can happen, then I think a fixer upper is very do-able. If it strains your budget or your time, or either of you are the type of person who has to have things perfect and done *right now* to feel calm or even sane -- maybe not worth it.

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I certainly would go for it......but get a very good, tough inspection before you buy.   They can uncover a lot of hidden issues.

Could you paint in the bathrooms and live with the rest of not?  

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Under these conditions:

Hire a reputable engineer to do a structural inspection, to make sure the bones are good. Pick your own guy, do not use the realtor’s or seller’s recommendation to avoid conflict of interests. Also have a general inspection for appliances, HVAC systems, that sort of thing, that’s usually part of the purchase process. Mold and radon aren’t always standard with inspections but I’d have those done, too, even on my own dime.

Have the cash flow to hire out the work. Do not plan to do it all yourself. You are only one person and can only do one thing at a time. You’ll be living through renovations for years. A contractor can come in and knock things out in a day or two, and you have a professional finish. DIY jobs tend to get 98% complete and the teeny loose ends can hang out forever. Using a professional contractor for at least some of your projects will help avoid that. If you’re doing bathrooms you will need people who know what they’re doing when it comes to plumbing (waterproofing!) and electrical. 

I would do it again, but only with a bigger cash flow. 

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Just cosmetic? Yeah I would do it for a bigger home and to get out of renting.

Dh and I are mid forties. We have four kids and are on our third home we have owned. We have always bought the outdated houses that were large enough for our needs and in the location we wanted. Being able to afford the size and location meant that the home was dated. We never really hesitated about that because it could be done eventually and the function was more important. We are fixing up our current house now and I doubt we would buy a house like this again but we shouldn't need to. We have two launched and another a senior in high school. If we have to move again I will go smaller and nicer but that is because our needs are different. 

I also am a believer in home ownership. I know that is controversial but in my experience rent is so expensive and owning has paid off for us. So the combination of becoming a home owner and having a bigger house would work for me to make the change. However, I know other people see cosmetic issues as more critical than I do so if that is you maybe the issues would make it unlivable for you? If it was me, I would just live with it outdated for a while and not be in a hurry to do it all. If you are in a hurry to do it all, it will be expensive and a total pain.

As far as resale goes, my two very dated homes sold quickly. One in five days and the other in two weeks. The home I sold in 2015 still had avocado appliances in the kitchen and brown linoleum on the floor. I think they sold to people just like me. People who wanted the size and could live with the ugly for awhile. Lots of people can't afford the house with all the updated finishes. We are doing renovations on our current home and it is the first time we will have seriously fixed up beyond paint, etc. I actually worry that we won't be able to sell our house because we have upgraded it. LOL. 

As far as bathrooms we just got a quote on a small basement bathroom. It's going to be a complete tear out and start over with a basic toilet/vanity/shower stall/ new flooring/new walls/ etc. That's getting quoted around $6000. We did some work in a bigger bathroom in a previous house with nicer finishes and that was like $9000 six or seven years ago. 

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Most of what you listed is NBD and those wouldn't be a deterrent to me. 

I would say home improvement nearly always cost more than you think and takes longer than you think. 

And if at all possible have things done before you move in because doing it while you are living there is a PITA.

At this point, I'd not want to do anything extensive but little things I wouldn't mind. We built a house when we got married but finished things over the years as we could afford. It was just a starter house and very basic. When we moved in I had no kitchen cabinets. Then the house burned down 8 yrs later as we had finally got nearly everything done. We had not kept with increases to insurance enough to cover the improvements we'd made so we ended up having to do a lot of work on the rebuild too. We put the money into the bones and getting the best we could for the things harder to change (made the house bigger, put in custom hard wood flooring and tile instead of carpet) and yet again finished it as the years went along. After doing this twice we are insured to the hilt now, we would really rather not have to do this again ourselves, even though we can.

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We have bought and sold 3 cosmetic fixers.  My husband did most of the work.   

This is my opinion:

1. Whatever the work is, plan to double or triple the amount of time it will take

2. Plan to pay at least 1.5 times the amount you think it will cost

3. Plan to live in chaos for a VERY long time.  

4. You will find that you get burnt out and those things you thought needed fixing, will just sit for years while you "put up with it."

We are at a stage in life where we are done with it.  We made good money off of our efforts,. but we don't want to do it again.

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6 hours ago, Patty Joanna said:

OH and if it is an older house, have the electric company come check the panel for 1) load 2)load increase and 3) to see if they will even TOUCH it.  

Our previous house was in a VERY snooty and high-end neighborhood...and when we went to replace the panel, it was like a total national freak out.  No one would even touch it.  They were surprised our house hadn't burned down and they were LITERALLY afraid of dying if they touched it.  THAT wasn't cheap...and it was a little scary.  

It's worth asking.

 

The first time we had electrical work, the electrician was surprised to find we had those old style fuses (fuses? tubes? Old & dangerous, whatever they’re called).

We were actually able to have them replaced free of charge under a city program. 

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2 hours ago, Ottakee said:

I certainly would go for it......but get a very good, tough inspection before you buy.   They can uncover a lot of hidden issues.

Yes this.  And if you can paint and redo the floor before moving in, DO IT! 

We live in a 1100 sq ft house and I'd totally take a fixer if it meant doubling our square footage! In our current house, we've done tons of cosmetic stuff (new flooring, new paint, redone kitchen cabinets and appliances, new bathrooms - everything but the tub, painted ceilings, new light fixtures/ceiling fans, new doors, etc). Most of it was no biggie and spread over the last 14 years. Recarpeting the house while living in it was the biggest deal...that was super stressful. 

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8 hours ago, Just Kate said:

The work needed is basically cosmetic - new carpet and paint in two bedrooms, all three bathrooms need to be updated, need new light fixtures throughout the house.

 

Painting and carpeting is probably not going to cost the earth, and are probably the easiest things to do. The bathrooms could be a lot more tricky (e.g., weirdly installed pipes, water damage, etc.).

How do you define "need" in regards to light fixtures? Are the current ones simply outdated, or non existent? Electrical work can also be full of issues. 

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We bought 4 houses so far in our married life....none of them new , several of them were 50 to 75 years old, and all needed work. My husband can do anything, from new roofs, to plumbing to electrical and everything in between. Yes, I am blessed. 

We have never had a project spiral out of control, even in our very old houses. 

Have  your friend check  it out to see if it really is solid and then decide how much you want  to tackle. I am thinking without your husband’s  income in the approval from bank, that might mean some flexibility in being able to hire a contractor to do some of the more technical  work,  like electrical . You can learn how to paint and even install flooring if you are motivated enough.

 

in my mind the bigger question is how long will it take to get the work done and can you live with it in the mean time. 

 

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I was going to say exactly what @Arctic Mama said.  We bought a fixer upper with some larger cosmetic issues (kitchen, yard is bad shape, and bathroom remodels).  But what lay under the surface was much worse and a lot more expensive.  

I'd probably do it again, but I would hire a A/C and electrician to both do an extra inspection of those things if they seemed fishy at the initial home inspection.    It has been nice to make this house our own. 

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Unless the bathrooms are unusable in their present condition, the house you are describing is not a fixer-upper.  It's finishings just aren't to your taste.  

Would I buy a fixer-upper? Well, we did, twice. We bought our current house for its location and layout.  We looked at new houses but didn't want to pay a premium for 'new' with trendy finishes but poorly constructed.   Be aware that things don't always go as planned.  We are currently on month four of a two week kitchen renovation.   I have told dh that I am too old for this.  If/when we move again, I have to like the kitchen - I don't have to love it, but I don't want to do another major renovation.  We painted our dated bathrooms and replaced the 1980s big bulbs with fixtures that better matched the age of the house.  They will need attention at a future date but for now, they are functional.  

 I have no desire to buy another fixer-upper, but would consider a well-maintained house with dated finishes.  Paint and flooring are easy and relatively inexpensive fixes.  Ditto for replacing existing light fixtures.   Kitchens and bathrooms are the most expensive rooms to renovate, especially if moving plumbing, electric, or walls.  

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1 hour ago, Seasider too said:

 A contractor can come in and knock things out in a day or two, and you have a professional finish. 

Contractors knocking things out in a day or two is not part of my lived experience 😄

The only thing we ever had done that quickly was the install of shower/tub kit, I remember that being really fast (comparatively). 

I want your contractors. 

8 hours ago, Terabith said:

I had a bathroom that had an avocado green toilet, tub, and sink, and pink walls.  We painted the walls but lived with the green fixtures until we moved out of that apartment.  I have a pretty high tolerance for 70's decorating colors.  

I grew up with a pink bathroom! Toilet, tub, sink. I don't remember what color the walls were, it's possible the pink was too blinding to notice. 

We also had a green velvet sofa. The pink bathroom came with the house, but there was no such excuse for that sofa. 

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8 hours ago, Patty Joanna said:

The best things I have ever learned about this sort of thing:

1.  Floor plan, location, and building quality matter.  Carpet does not.  Paint does not.  Tile counters do not.  Faucets do not.  Landscaping does not (but that can come high, so pay attention.)

2.  Get the toughest inspector you can and pay attention to what s/he says before you buy.

3.  Don't fall in love with a house.  Love people.  Use things.  

4.  As far as is possible, live in the house awhile before you make decisions.  I have found that this helps me "listen to the house" and do what is right for THIS house.  Eg., I am a red-and-green Christmas decorator.  The last house I lived in demanded silver, gold, blue, sparkle.  It looked STUPID in red and green.  That is a simple example that covers wooden vs. painted baseboards, shaker vs. modern, etc.  I made *beautiful* remodels on three houses but they were all better because I lived in the house before making decisions.  You and the house are partners.

 

 

This is what I have learned as well. We bought a little house in a great area that needed new flooring and paint. DH did the flooring and we split the painting job. There are more "little" things that we are tackling slowly. However as Terabith said, it really depends on how much you can do on your own. If I was single buying a place, I'd have completely different parameters and would have to figure someone's labor into the cost of fixing it up.

So, my response would be "Yes, if someone in your family is able and willing to do the cosmetic stuff and - even better - has friends who could help now and then. We had to replace the roof as well (almost forgot that one) and several of dh's friends came over and it was done in a weekend. Our cost (beside the roofing material) was lunches and drinks.

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I would do it provided I knew we could cover the added expenses of a larger home.  Unless you are actually gutting rooms, I consider most of what you mentioned giving rooms a face lift, not a major renovation.  However, DH and I have overhauled two houses entirely at this point and I grew up with parents who did the same so that could skew my opinion 🙂  

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I wouldn’t, but we have an astounding comfort level for procrastinating home projects. Ask yourself if you can be happy in it the way it is now. Of course you will improve it, but if your personality is such that you can’t relax until a project is complete you may make yourself and your spouse crazy. The projects are never complete and inevitably something expensive breaks while you’re mid-project. 

I think if you can be happy making slow, steady progress and can relax in your home before it’s “finished,” it might be a good fit for you. Sometimes when people live in the home for a while first, they make different choices than they would have that first year. I wouldn’t do expensive stuff out of the gate. 
 

Money wise, home ownership is more expensive than you believe. It’s almost like parenting. You don’t get it until you’re in it. I’m watching my sister go through this now. She’s very impatient and her budget is limited. She’s driving herself nuts and not enjoying her cool new house. 

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46 minutes ago, KungFuPanda said:

I wouldn’t, but we have an astounding comfort level for procrastinating home projects. Ask yourself if you can be happy in it the way it is now. Of course you will improve it, but if your personality is such that you can’t relax until a project is complete you may make yourself and your spouse crazy. The projects are never complete and inevitably something expensive breaks while you’re mid-project. 

I think if you can be happy making slow, steady progress and can relax in your home before it’s “finished,” it might be a good fit for you. Sometimes when people live in the home for a while first, they make different choices than they would have that first year. I wouldn’t do expensive stuff out of the gate. 
 

Money wise, home ownership is more expensive than you believe. It’s almost like parenting. You don’t get it until you’re in it. I’m watching my sister go through this now. She’s very impatient and her budget is limited. She’s driving herself nuts and not enjoying her cool new house. 

LOL to the first comment. It me!

As to the second, 1000% this. Whatever you think you will spend on regular maintenance, double or triple it. THEN add on your improvements.

We've spent at least 4k a year on an old house that didn't need any major work when we moved in. Some of that has been things we've chosen to do and some of that has been things we had to do. Oh, and some has been things we chose to do that were supposed to be simple but ended up needing professional help (AKA dh installing a new thermostat that went sideways).

If it were me buying the house you described, I would go in expecting to get the painting and carpets done, knowing that we will experience some surprise fixes, and planning to live with the bathrooms for years to come (knowing that when you do redo the bathrooms, it will be a big expense). 

Congrats! Also like parenting, it makes no sense why all this trouble is worth it but somehow it is.

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We have done what you're describing without finding major issues, but just in general, owning a home has so many unforseen expenses. 

When we owned a house, it was the pre YouTube days and we learned any basic repair or upgrade from a big orange hard back book from Home Depot that had almost every possible repair scenario in it along with difficult level and extensive photos. We still have the book, called Home Improvement 1-2-3. I might almost find it easier to use than YouTube because you don't have to sort through the myriad of possible solutions.

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11 hours ago, CuriousMomof3 said:

Couldn't the same things happen in a house where you like the carpet and the paint and the bathrooms?

I am honestly asking.  I've only ever owned one house.  The people before us had hideous taste, so we could afford it, while we couldn't have afforded the identical, nicely decorated, house next door.  But the underlying issues like the ones you describe, have been really similar.  

This. Any house can be a nightmare, including brand new ones. Do your homework and decide what you can live with. 

Some of the advantages in your scenario: you are getting more room with redundant rooms, which means that if something is torn up for a little bit or just in disarray from a project, you still have unaffected living space. A month-long reno on the only full bath in the house is totally different than giving a facelift to one of 3 working bathrooms at a time! You could easily make one bedroom a temporary overflow you can move furniture into and out of while you paint, for instance, though most rooms don't have to be empty to paint. 

11 hours ago, Just Kate said:

The house has five bedrooms (wow!!!), three full bathrooms, a kitchen (which has been updated), dining room, living room, and a sunroom. (All of this is just so so so much more room then we have now, so wow!!). 

I think we would need to re-carpet the two bedrooms that have carpeting and maybe paint all five bedrooms prior to moving in. I think I could live with the dated bathrooms, but I would want to look at doing some simple updating right away (lighting maybe?). 

There is no way we can afford a house this size that is move in ready. I really want a house big enough to entertain and so my kids can comfortably have their friends over (they are 16 and 12). I work from home so one of those bedrooms will be my office. 

If the kitchen is updated, that is a very big expense out of the way. Carpet and paint is no big deal. Unless the electric is a mess (something your friend might see), electrical work is one of the least expensive things to do--it's rarely hard to add a new outlet or just swap out fixtures even if you hire it. Finding an electrician that isn't busy is harder than paying them. In our experience, it's plumbing that is the budget killer, though we have plumbers that always do things with extreme care--they tell us they have plenty of business without having to come again in a few years to redo it, lol! 

We live in a semi-fixer upper. It's between cosmetic and a fixer upper, but it's a very solid house. It's been a big blessing. When we bought it, there were more problems than were evident, but NOTHING like what Arctic Mama described. 

One thing that is odd about our house, and I wish I could change is that the builders put in a ton of firebreaks in the walls, so adding new wiring can be tricky in some rooms (others, not at all). You can't thread a wire through the wall without running into a firebreak in some portions of the house, and the owners relied on plug-in lamps wired to switches as the main lighting. We also found that at some point, someone used electrical tape vs. wire nuts for fixtures and outlets, but we've not had much trouble fixing that as we run onto it. 

10 hours ago, Just Kate said:

One concern is that I’m not great at decorating and/or choosing items for a home. I want to be though. I have this “idea” of me DIY-ing all of these things, of creating a beautiful home on a budget. But I really don’t know how to! I’m not even sure what exactly I like! Is there any hope for me???

You can always go with relatively neutral walls and floors, and then almost anything you like for curtains, furniture, bedspreads, etc. will go. You can add color from there as you figure out what you like. 

10 hours ago, Arctic Mama said:

Lights are super super easy if the underlying wiring is okay, which a house from the 80’s should be. And it’s easy to learn from the interweb. But licensed electricians will charge anywhere from $30-80 an hour for labor, so I’d expect a room of fixtures to be about $100-200 more to have them do it than to DIY with the same fixture, and that will be higher if it’s a higher cost of living area.  Electrical can get pricy but it all depends what you’re willing to tackle 🙂

Yes, this is about what I would expect.

3 hours ago, DawnM said:

We have bought and sold 3 cosmetic fixers.  My husband did most of the work.   

This is my opinion:

1. Whatever the work is, plan to double or triple the amount of time it will take

2. Plan to pay at least 1.5 times the amount you think it will cost

3. Plan to live in chaos for a VERY long time.  

4. You will find that you get burnt out and those things you thought needed fixing, will just sit for years while you "put up with it."

I agree with this too, though the chaos is going to depend on what kind of work you are doing and on how you handle it.

There is always a time cost that has to be made up someplace if you DIY, but if you expect it, it's generally fine. In our house it usually looks like a less clean house while we do ABC steps of a project. 

We are very fortunate that I learned a lot by living in a true fixer upper my whole life so I know what to expect and how to tell if things are done right. We also have a son that is going into the building trades and is at the perfect age to learn--he's strong and picks up the information quickly. Also, my dad has come to help several times (retired), and when he hasn't, he's been available by phone. Finally, we know what we are willing to do and what we prefer to hire out. 🙂

Oh, for budget-conscious choices, check out Habitat Restores in your area or other agencies that offer recycled/donated/upcycled/salvaged materials. Not every area has a good selection, but you might be surprised. Watch for rebates on things you need for your next project and buy them as budget allows. 

Always be thinking a job or two ahead because you might find that there are little things you can ahead of the mess that make the job go faster or give you more wiggle room for things to go wrong when the main event is in progress. For instance, we knew we had to replace the boards around the opening of our garage because they had water damage. We bought and painted the boards ahead of time as time allowed. When the actual project rolled around, there was some water damage underneath that made the project take longer and be a little more extensive, but the time we saved painting ahead meant that we didn't have to stop short on the project and worry about leaving unprotected wood in place because we ran out of time. My husband did have to caulk the nailheads later, and we do have to do some tiny touch to the boards now that they are installed, but it's no big deal--we can just do that in a few minutes as we have time. We actually have a bunch of trim to paint in the same colors on the porch, etc., so we'll do it when we do that. From the street, you can't tell it needs any touch up.

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11 hours ago, Just Kate said:

After renting a house that I don’t really like for over 6 years, dh and I are finally in a position to purchase. We live in a rural area where the market is very very tight. Typically, offers are made by day three that the house is on the market (many in day 1) and that is it. We also live in an area with low inventory, so not many houses on the market. 
 

Long story, but we had been planning to buy this summer but then COVID happened and dh lost his job. I thought that was that and we’d have to wait for a year plus, but we amazingly got approved on my income only (dh has a new job but we can’t include his income. He will be in the mortgage though). This all just happened today (yippee!) and we went to look at our first house today. 
 

It is quirky (not your typical style) and will need work. The work needed is basically cosmetic - new carpet and paint in two bedrooms, all three bathrooms need to be updated, need new light fixtures throughout the house. But the house is BIG (to us). We currently live in about a 1,600 square foot house and this house is over 2,600 square foot with a full basement that can be finished. Our current (rented) home is so small. But looking at other homes in our price range...we would be looking at similar size to what we live in now if the house were move in ready with no needed work. 
 

What do you think? Would you buy a house that needs work? Dh‘s new job will be over the road trucking, so I will take on much of the work myself. We do have a good friend who flips houses for a living who plans to look at this house with us tomorrow to give us his opinion on the “bones” of the house. Basically, we want to confirm that this house is solid but just needs cosmetic work. 
 

And for those of you who have put work I to homes...how do I figure out what this work might cost? The three bathrooms are very dated. The house was built in 1985 and I assume the bathrooms are the original from when the house was built. None of them are very large, but would require new vanity and shower (at least). Maybe new flooring too? 
 

So for those of you who have more experience, in a market like ours, would you consider a fixer upper?

 


Our house is a similar age and it was the same scenario - we wanted to buy an acreage for under $275k.  We looked at a build that was a year old and it was $279k.  We looked at this house and ended up buying for around $215k.  We had significantly more square footage here and a fully finishable basement rather than a basement only under half the house.  It was outdated - very little actually WRONG with it, just hadn't been updated since it had been built.

I will say we're pretty handy - we finished the basement ourselves and have changed the layout of the kitchen, removed soffits, hung drywall, etc. It has been an expensive endeavor because even "just" replacing flooring, painting, and updating extras gets expensive and moreso if you hire it done.  However, when I look back and compare? We needed the square footage far more than we needed it to be "done done."  

The only reason I would move now is location.  Pick a house based on location.  Just "cosmetic" actually was more... Not only had carpet and flooring not been updated, but neither had major appliances. Since moving in we have replaced the washer, dryer, fridge, dishwasher, stove, sink disposal, well pump, water heater, all toilets.  The tub/shower and shower in two bathrooms need to be replaced as do the vanities/fixtures.  We also need to get a new furnace and air conditioner.  So, these are not little things - just something to consider.  I am still grateful, every single day for this house and acreage... It was such an amazing deal and the value was unbeatable.  But, it has been an incredible amount of sweat and toil. 😉 Still, it was mostly fun and feels like we really accomplished something!

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No.  But I’m happy for anyone who can do it!

My past experience has been like Arctic Mama’s.  There’s a massive spiral that can happen, and I simply don’t have patience for that now.  Or time.  Or physical reserves.  And we have one kid who is reactive to outgassing, so remodeling isn’t a good idea anyway, unless he’s out of the house. Plus, I just don’t have tolerance for living in unfinished projects, which may be a failing on my part.  😊
 

We bought our current home in a tight market, like you described, OP.  We had looked and looked at fixer uppers that could have worked, and our real estate agent sent us advance notice about this house that was coming on the market.  It was just barely over my personal arbitrary price cut off, and I was resistant.  We spent a day looking at 5 miserable fixer uppers, realizing that the work and time and resources they would require would cost us $$$ and a lot of chaotic living.  And then we went to see our house.  The slight difference in price was just enough to push us into new territory, wow.  It was turn key, for us, no need even to paint - the previous owners had a similar kind of quirky but tasteful decorating sense.  We made one of four offers the first day it was on the market, and moved in a month later.  It was worth the extra $150 or so a month, by far.

If you’ve just started looking, please don’t  feel rushed.  A really good inspection and your friends who flip houses can guide you, but it’s also ok to take your time and see what else is coming on the market.  
 

Good luck!  

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I wouldn't do it now at our age, but as young newlyweds we purchased an old, totally beat up century house that needed major repairs. We spent years working on it and it was fun and educational, but it was a very tiny two bedroom house and when we were expecting our 4th child we had to do something. We realized that no matter how much money we put into the house, it would never be worth much with the neighborhood and surrounding houses. We bought another house that was a fixer upper as far as cosmetic issues and that's something very different. New carpet, paint, renovations to update style? Sure. Of course, a house built in 1985 would be new in my mind because it's much newer than any house I've ever lived in!

ETA: I should also note that I have a very handy (but procrastinating) husband who showed me houses before we were married that DID NOT HAVE COMPLETE ROOFS, so I'm easy to please. Hmmm, now that I think about it, maybe that was the plan.😲

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