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Depending on how you view the idea of a “Fixer Upper” it undeniably has become a popular alternative to buying move-in ready homes. With the rise in popularity of home renovation shows on HGTV like Property Brothers and Fixer Upper, it’s easy to see why people flock to this idea. You can create a home that is modern and personalized to you for what should be a relatively good price. Of course, there are the nightmarish stories of renovation projects that lead to a money pit or a disappointing contractor, but giving a house some TLC can work out for you and a home inspector can help.

Is a Fixer Upper Right For You?

Unfortunately, we are not Chip and Joanna Gaines and a home renovation does not last only an hour. It can be a long process and one that has you living in a construction zone. So here are a few questions to ask yourself to see if you’re up to the task:

Can you afford a 20% down payment on a move-in ready house?

Do you have the patience for a home renovation?

Are you willing to do some renovation work yourself?

If you don’t have the 20% down payment, this doesn’t mean it should be the go-to option. If you answered “No” to all three questions, a Fixer Upper definitely isn’t for you. Instead, a good alternative for you is to wait to get the 20% or failing that, be prepared to pay the added cost like mortgage insurance.

Buy A Home For The Bones

So, if you’ve determined that taking on a fixer upper is right for you, then let’s talk about picking the right home. You should only be aiming at renovating for cosmetic purposes, so here are the things you should be looking for in a house.

  1. Structure – Will it stand up?
  2. Foundation – Is the basement dry? Does it have cracks?
  3. Roof, cladding – Will it keep water out and heat in?
  4. Electrical – Is there enough power? And is it properly wired?
  5. Plumbing – Are there any leaks? How’s the water pressure?
  6. Heating – How old is the furnace? What type of furnace is it?
  7. Doors and Windows – Are the doors and windows relatively new, or barring that, in a good condition? These cost more than you think, so get an estimate before buying.

Here’s where a home inspection can save you time and thousands of dollars. With older homes that need work, you want to make sure the items on the above list are in good shape. A home inspection will help in steering clear of a potential disaster!

If the structure and foundation of the house need work, walk away! The rest on the list are more manageable in terms of fixing, but even then, if you can avoid it, do it and forgo the headache.

In terms of finding a good home inspector, we recommend hiring an independent home inspector. Unless you personally know and trust your realtor, their recommendation might not be in your best interest. You should also be present during the inspection for your own knowledge, and a good home inspector will provide a detailed report with pictures of their findings. The report can help you decide if the home is worth the renovations or it’s too much work.


Finding A Contractor

Finding good contractors is one of the most important steps for updating a house. Though it seems old-fashioned, word of mouth can be one of the safest ways to come by a contractor.

Ask a trusted family member or friend for a recommendation and how the contractor performed. For example, my uncle renovated his home a few years ago and I asked who the contractor was — The house looked gorgeous! To my surprise, he didn’t recommend the contractor, who had incorrect permits, was tardy on numerous occasions, and delayed projects consistently.

Whether you can get a recommendation or not, you can still do your own research and find a good contractor online. It’s highly recommended that you ensure they’re licensed, which can be done by calling your local Department of Consumer Affairs.

You should also check with the Better Business Bureau for any filed complaints. A contractor not showing up, doing poor work, or quitting half through the project can cost time and money, so do your homework and pick the right one!


DIY vs Contractors

So, if you find a house with good “bones” the next step is the renovation process. Now, there are plenty of things you can do yourself to update your home, but there are things that should be left to the experts.

As a good rule of thumb, anything in the above list that needs work should be done by a contractor; these are the most important elements to your home, so you don’t want to chance a DIY mishap.

Also, anything that is potentially dangerous, or life threating should be done by a contractor! It might seem easy enough to fix your own roof or to perform electrical work. However, is it worth a trip the hospital if you fall or electrocute yourself?

The DIY you should and can do is demolition and cleanup. If you’re willing to do work, you can save big on labor costs. You don’t need to be an expert to rip up carpet, remove title from your bathroom, or take down some drywall. After renovations, you can save money by painting rooms yourself, installing crown molding, staining kitchen cabinets, or installing your own backsplash.

In terms cosmetics, you can DIY a lot in your home but one thing to consider is time, money, and skill. Ask yourself if a project will end up costing you more money for supplies than if you had just paid a professional, how much time you want to spend on a project, and if your skill level is up to the challenge.


To schedule a home inspection with a certified home inspector, contact Illinois Property Inspections by phone at 224.585.7835 or by email at [email protected].