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Should You Buy a Fixer Upper?

fixer-upper-homesThe thought of buying a fixer-upper in the Bay Area fills some buyers with dread; of course, others relish the challenge. The trick to coming out ahead is choosing the right fixer upper and making sure it is checked by a number of specialized home inspectors.

One of the best things about buying a fixer upper is that the purchase will not be contingent on the market temperature in the Bay Area, because any time is a good time to buy a home that needs work — especially when you pay less for the home than others nearby.

Buying a fixer upper has many clear advantages:

  • Lower price
  • Less competition from other buyers
  • Potential to make a profit on resale
  • Gain valuable knowledge about repairs
  • The personal satisfaction that comes from finishing the project

If you make an offer at the right price, you can easily make money as soon as the transaction closes.

What is the Perfect Fixer Upper?

The ideal home is one that everyone will want to buy when fixed up, but few can see the potential due to the current imperfections. This includes worn-out carpeting, a sagging ceiling or paint that is peeling from the walls. While these issues can be easy to fix, most buyers cannot see past them, particularly first-time buyers, who usually want a home in the Bay Area that is move-in ready.

Features to Look For

If you think buying a fixer upper is the right move, you need to do your homework and make sure you buy the right home in the Bay Area. Here are some important features to look for:


Location is everything, so you probably do not want a fixer upper on a busy street or across the road from commercial property. Look at the homes in the neighborhood and see if they have signs of obvious deferred maintenance, or if the neighborhood seems to be mostly owner-occupied.

Home configuration

The best fixer upper will appeal to the most buyers down the road. Most buyers want a 3-bedroom home with at least 2 bathrooms. While this does not mean it is a bad idea to buy a 2-bedroom home, three or four bedrooms is still better.

Home layout

If the home has a poor layout, remember that it may be impractical or cost-prohibitive to start moving walls. Buyers with younger children will not want bedrooms at opposite ends of the home, and most buyers want a kitchen with more than one entrance.

Home condition

Of course, you should also consider the home’s condition. Some buyers are not intimidated by major rehab work, but you should consider your expertise and whether you really want to tackle a major project before the home is livable.

Fixes that are Easy on the Budget

As you tour the home, take note of all issues that must be fixed, including those revealed by a
home inspection. Easy fixes that won’t break the bank include:

  • Stripping wallpaper, patching walls or painting
  • Refinishing floors, laying carpet, tile or laminate
  • Replacing or adding baseboards and trim
  • Adding new light fixtures
  • Replacing subfloors caused by leaky toilet seals
  • Installing or refacing kitchen cabinets
  • Replacing doors
  • Painting the home’s exterior
  • Adding a deck or patio

Expensive fixes include replacing HVAC systems, fixing the foundation, reroofing that involves a tear-off, replacing electrical, plumbing or sewer lines, pouring concrete for steps or a driveway, a complete kitchen or bathroom remodel and adding a garage or new addition.

Important Inspections for a Home Inspection

It is always a good idea to get a home inspection before going through with a real estate transaction in the Bay Area. When you buy a fixer upper, however, you may want to consider other types of inspections. In some cases, the seller can be asked to pay for the cost of the inspection.

buying-a-fixer-upperRoof Certification:
It is a good idea to get a roof certification at the seller’s expense, if you can.
Home Warranty:
Not all sellers will be willing to pay for a home warranty, but many will.
Pest Inspection:
Not all states have issues with pests, but your purchase offer should be contingent on a passed pest inspection, along with seller-paid repairs for any damage caused by ants, beetles or termites.
Sewer Line Inspection:
Sewer lines age along with the home, and some homes still have clay pipes and other old sewer lines that can be very expensive to replace.
Engineering Report:
An engineer will determine if the home is likely to slide off its hill, for example, and notice other issues that can be detrimental.

No one can say if buying a fixer upper in the Bay Area is the right move for you. Consider your expertise and willingness to accept a challenge — along with the potential pitfalls — and make sure you do the work necessary to protect yourself as best as possible.