What to know when buying a fixer-upper.
If you are in the market to buy a house and have contemplated the idea of purchasing a fixer-upper home with the intent on fixing it up and reselling it, read on for some helpful tips.
Snagging a fixer-upper in a good neighborhood for way below market price and investing some time and money into it to make is a desirable place to live sounds like the perfect idea. Often, it is. But buying a fixer-upper can be fraught with peril. So before you take the plunge, make sure you have a realistic idea of what you’re getting into.
First you’ll want to do the math. Figuring out what you should pay to buy a fixer-upper starts with a simple equation. First, add up the costs to renovate the property based on a thorough assessment of the condition of the house. Be tough with this estimate, which should include materials and labor — yours and other people’s. Next, subtract that from the home’s likely market value after renovation, drawn from comparable real estate prices in the neighborhood. Then deduct at least another 5 to 10 percent for extras you decide to add, unforeseen problems and mishaps that have to be dealt with, and inflation. What’s left should be your offer.
It’s essential that the real estate contract include an inspection clause. At best, the inspection will assure you that the house is a good investment; at worst, it will help you back out of the deal. Often with fixer-uppers, it’s something in between. The inspector will document a serious problem or two, and you can use the findings to get the seller to pay for repairs or negotiate the sale price downward.
If the house needs significant structural improvements, many real estate experts recommend avoiding it altogether. That’s because major repairs — plumbing and electrical system overhauls, foundation upgrades, and extensive roof and wall work — are usually “invisible” and hardly ever raise the value of the house enough to offset the cost of the renovation.
Make sure your project will pay you in the end. The ideal fixer-upper is that which requires mostly cosmetic improvements — paint touch ups, drywall repairs, floor refinishing — which generally cost much less than what they return in market value. New lighting fixtures, doors, window shutters, and siding, as well as updated kitchens and bathrooms, are also lucrative improvements.
Falling in between structural and cosmetic renovations are major additions needed to bring the house in line with its neighbors, such as a family room or third bedroom in a community of three-bedroom homes. Such projects usually cost as much as or more than they return in market value (the exception to this is adding a bathroom, which can be worth twice as much as its cost).
Sometimes it’s possible to fold cosmetic improvements into a structural repair to increase the value of a fixer-upper. If you’re replacing the roof, for example, you could add a skylight at the same time. Or you could install a bay window where there was dry rot in a wall. But you also don’t want to overimprove: For maximum resale value, remodeling investments should not raise the value of your house more than 10 to15 percent above the median sale price of other houses in your area, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
In places where housing costs have run up significantly and are approaching a peak, even a fixer-upper that seems reasonably priced may be too expensive. A large-scale renovation job can take many months, if not years, to complete, and if home prices fall or stay flat during that period, it’s possible to come out at the end of the project with a house that’s not nearly worth the investment.
Get ready to get your hands dirty. Whatever renovation is required, it’s usually most cost-effective when homeowners pitch in. If you’re not the hands-on type, be prepared to devote a considerable amount of time — months or even years — to closely supervising contractors. But remember that all of your financial gains could be wiped out if the project goes over budget because of mistakes or unnecessary delays
Make sure you have all your money lined up. One of the most challenging aspects of purchasing a fixer-upper is paying for the renovation. Understandably, most people don’t have much extra cash after making the down payment and paying closing costs, so coming up with additional money to cover repairs or remodeling can be difficult.
For small projects, credit card debt is an option. Interest rates are high and the interest isn’t tax deductible, but there are no up-front costs, such as appraisal and origination fees. It’s also possible to borrow against the cash value in a 401(k) retirement plan, life insurance policy, or stock portfolio. In each of these cases, there’s no credit check and the interest rates are relatively low — on par with that of a typical mortgage — but again, the interest is not tax deductible.
By far the most popular funding choice for a fixer-upper is a renovation loan, either through a home equity line of credit or a mortgage. Home equity lines can generally be borrowed against 90 percent of the equity that the homeowner will have in the house after the repairs and remodeling are completed. To illustrate: If a person buys a $250,000 fixer-upper with a down payment of $25,000, and the house will be worth $425,000 post-renovation, the homeowner will have $200,000 in equity. Even before the work is done, the borrower is eligible for a $180,000 home equity loan. The interest rate on a home equity loan is about the same as for a mortgage, but only up to about $100,000 in interest is tax deductible.