President Barack Obama walks with daughter Sasha as First Lady Michelle Obama walks with daughter Malia as they arrive at St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. where they attend Easter Service, Sunday, March 31, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
When you buy a fixer-upper house, you can save a ton of money, or get yourself in a financial fix.
1. Decide what you can do yourself: TV remodeling shows make home improvement work look like a snap. In the real world, attempting a difficult remodeling job that you don’t know how to do will take longer than you think and can lead to less-than-professional results that won’t increase the value of your fixer-upper house. Do you really have the skills to do it? Some tasks, like stripping wallpaper and painting, are relatively easy. Others, like electrical work, can be dangerous when done by amateurs.Do you really have the time and desire to do it? Can you take time off work to renovate your fixer-upper house? If not, will you be stressed out by living in a work zone for months while you complete projects on the weekends?
2. Price the cost of repairs and remodeling before you make an estimate: Get your contractor into the house to do a walk-through, so he can give you a written cost estimate on the tasks he’s going to do. If you’re doing the work yourself, price the supplies. Either way, tack on 10% to 20% to cover unforeseen problems that often arise with a fixer-upper house.
3. Check permit costs: Ask local officials if the work you’re going to do requires a permit and how much that permit costs. Doing work without a permit may save money, but it’ll cause problems when you resell your home. Decide if you want to get the permits yourself or have the contractor arrange for them. Getting permits can be time-consuming and frustrating. Inspectors may force you to do additional work, or change the way you want to do a project, before they give you the permit. Factor the time and aggravation of permits into your plans.
4. Double-check pricing on structural work:
If your fixer-upper home needs major structural work, hire a structural engineer for $500 to $700 to inspect the home before you put in an offer so you can be confident you’ve uncovered and conservatively budgeted for the full extent of the problems. Get written estimates for repairs before you commit to buying a home with structural issues.
Don’t purchase a home that needs major structural work unless:
You’re getting it at a steep discount
You’re sure you’ve uncovered the extent of the problem
You know the problem can be fixed
You have a binding written estimate for the repairs
5. Check the cost of financing: Be sure you have enough money for a downpayment, closing costs, and repairs without draining your savings.
James Stephen “Steve” Wright was from a working-class family in Washington, DC. By the 1940s he was head of photographic operations for the Federal Works Agency. Wright recalled that “In those days, it was tough for a black man even to become a file clerk in the government . . . You had to mind your P’s and Q’s, because there were lower-level whites who resented the fact that you were doing photography at all and were waiting for you to stumble.” National Archives, 208-NP-1Y-1