Your shopping cart is empty.

Looking for a Fixer-Upper to Remodel! Where do I start?

February 22, 2018

I have secured financing with a FannieMae HomeStyle Loan to find a new home to completely remodel and live in; my question is where to start? I have put my current house on the market and plan on using the equity and HomeStyle Loan to find another small to moderate-sized home to completely remodel. I have established a realistic budget, which I consider healthy, but do I find a house first and then contact a designer/builder? Or should I meet with someone before I purchase a new home to get an idea of what is or is not doable?

I'm excited about the process, but want to make sure I go about it the right way! I'd appreciate any advice!

Comments (25)

  • benjesbride_misses_sophie

    In my area many home buyers bring designers with them to viewings. Personally, I have an amazing GC who worked on our current house. Next time we buy, I'll have him meet us at any house we seriously consider to discuss ideas.

    Steve thanked benjesbride_misses_sophie
  • PRO
    Arbor Hill Interiors

    My first step would be to find an interior designer in your area to guide you to the best house for you. I have recently worked with a client in Atlanta Ga. They were downsizing and wanted to move to Pennsylvania in the Bucks County Area. I helped them with alot of factors which determined their needs and likes for their particular style. A designer also is invaluable in helping with the overall layout that the client will eventually need. Such things as: light source through the house, flow of the rooms, scale to redo areas and sections of roof areas to inhance the exterior. Hope this helps

    Aleece, Arborhill Interiors

    Steve thanked Arbor Hill Interiors
  • PRO
    Kristin Petro Interiors, Inc.

    They gave you a loan without knowing the property or seeing the remodel plans?? I have never heard of such a thing! When we were financing a home to remodel, we had to show our completed plans, have our contractor secured, had our budget set in stone, etc. Is this a new thing??

  • Steve

    I guess I should clarify by saying I have been preapproved for an amount. I will still have to show them the plans and have the "as-completed home" appraised before I begin anything.

  • imstillchloecat

    Have you lived through a remodel before? It's not fun. It's not easy. It always costs 3x as much and takes 10x longer than you think it will.

  • PRO

    I don't like to sound harsh, but if you have no idea where to even start with such a project, you probably should not be doing it!!!

    It's one thing to buy a house and know that you would like to make some changes (new kitchen, new bath) and have some knowledge of what these things cost, but a full "fixer-upper" a la HGTV should come with a warning like car ads - "done on closed course, professional drivers".

    Even minor remodeling - heck even just getting painting done - is expensive and time-consuming. Yes, it's still time-consuming even if one hires people to do the work, as they must constantly be supervised. Yes, supervised even if there is a GC as HE must also be supervised by you.

    I've remodeled two homes over the years - my present one has been done 3 times - and I know whereof I speak.

  • PRO
    Cheryl DeMarco Architect

    The "Home Style" Renovation loan thru Fannie Mae will enable a qualified buyer the ability to purchase a home that needs repairs. It can also be used on your existing home to make renovations. The loan balance would be the completed value, not the present value. It is a really nice loan product for those looking to renovate. You must be "pre-qualified" for a certain value. That is very important in today's market as there is not very many properties on the market. Anyone who is pre-qualified has a better chance to get their offer accepted.

    Steve thanked Cheryl DeMarco Architect
  • suezbell

    First, select the community in your price range in which you might want to live -- drive through the neighborhood(s) at different times and days, including a rainy day, and see what it's like and know what is in that neighborhood and nearby (or far away) -- work, shopping, schools, medical bus routes, etc.,

    -- and don't forget sounds and smells, too.

    [(For a time as a child my family lived near a "steel plant" and we could hear the hammer striking metal throughout the night.) (A friend of mine built her home as a new poultry processing plant was about to be built and only later found out it's usually downwind of that thing.)] When you find the community that would work for you, then look for a home in that area. Don't neglect to look in counties adjoining where you work -- pay attention to the length of the commute during the times you would be driving to work.

    Know where the nearest fire department is located-- that can affect home owner's insurance costs. A few feet over a county line can affect car insurance rates and property tax rates and which schools any children you have might be attending. Know these things.

    Meantime, do some research about potential hidden pitfalls. A failing or failed roof means a lot more problems below.

    If the lot drains rainwater toward the home on any side -- that's a problem.

    Know what sides of the home are north, east, south and west and what views you'll have from within the home.

    If you're going to live in the home a while -- while your family grows -- is there room for and do the building codes permit you to add an addition to the home later.

    When you do find a home that interests you, get a qualified inspector that you pay and represents YOU to look for those hidden pitfalls you might not have caught.

    Have a real estate lawyer do a title search of the property so you know any easements and leans, etc.; AND at closing, when all the documents are signed to finalize the sale/purchase of the home, buy homeowners' title insurance -- relatively inexpensive and totally worthwhile since it protects your investment in the home.

    Good hunting; let us know what you find.

    Edit to add. A recent DIY sub reddit post showed some of the pitfalls you can encounter. Water damage was among the most troubling. Check out that sub and what is available in the way of You Tube video on the subject.

    Steve thanked suezbell
  • worthy

    Unless one is looking to enter the renovation business, I fail to understand why anyone would specifically look for a house to completely remodel.

    I regularly shopped for houses priced close to land value. But that was because we were infill building as a business.

    When the house we're living in sells--last offer was just 6.66% off our target price--we're open to everything from repaint to teardown.

  • leslieap10

    Meet with someone, and ask your realtor for their advice. A decent realtor will know what you're doing and be able to advise well.

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    Having remodeled homes in the past, the first thing that came to mind was a psychiatrist.

  • rockybird

    I’m going to be the dissenter and say this isnt such a crazy plan. There is no guarantee that you’d otherwise find a home that doesnt require renovating.

    I will say though that it is a lot of work and as many contractors are booked up right now, keep in mind any home you buy, you may need to live in for awhile until your plans are finalized and a contractor is available.

    That being said, my number one priority would be location. I’d look for a home in an area that I’d love to live in but otherwise couldnt afford. If I couldnt get exactly in that area, I’d look on the border of the neighborhood. This will hopefully help increase equity in your home when it is finished and place you in a neighborhood where you will hopefully be happy in. I’d look for a house that is somewhat liveable while under renovation. Next, you need an architect and/or interior designer to help. I would start searching now, because they are also all very busy and you may want to establish a relationship early. I’d ask if you could buy some of their time to tour any homes you are seriously considering. Possibly most important is to locate a contractor who you trust. You need one who does quality work and is reliable. Lastly, I’d look for a home WORTHY of remodeling. I’d look for one that I was really drawn to, but also one that had some architectural integrity. I would weigh whether the home is unattractive and in such bad condition that the better investment for it is for someone else to buy it as a demo. I’d really search hard for a home that people would consider worth renovating and not bulldozing. Good luck!!!

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Well...there's lot of good comments above to take to heart, particularly from those who have experience in remodeling.

    Let me add some thoughts from experience. First, forget everything you've ever seen on HGTV about how much fun, glamor and reward there is in remodeling and how it always turns out beautifully decorated, furnished, with tons of little vases, flowers and used books. Remodeling isn't like that at all.

    Existing houses, especially older and cheaper houses, have tons of challenges more often than not. On HGTV, they never, ever show any of the truly important and costly issues: poor site work and drainage; cracked, spawling and failing foundations (especially basements); rotted out and termite infested walls; failing second floor and roof structures; inadequate electrical service; code violations for wiring circuits; failing HVAC systems; clogged or plugged sanitary and waste lines--this sort of major stuff which no one finds until opening up the house to start construction. In the trade, these are called "ooops", and existing houses are full of them. They cannot be detected, in many cases, until remodel construction begins.

    Forget all the soiled carpets, broken tiles, stained wood floors, missing toilet, rusted faucets, rusty refrigerator, etc. Forget all the stuff you can see in a walk through. The major money is in the paragraph above. A experienced professional looks for the stuff in the paragraph above. Most consumers look for the stuff in this paragraph.

    If you've never remodeled an existing house, the best advice I can give you is to surround yourself with experienced professionals who have done this for a living for decades--an experienced architect and an experienced general contractor is where you should start.

    Don't let your excitement and enthusiasm outweigh your good judgment and due diligence. Look (carefully) before you leap. And never leap without the help of professionals who have done this before.

    Good luck on your project.

  • PRO
    Sophie Wheeler

    TV isn’t real. A “healthy” budget derived from watching free produce placement and free labor shows with fictitious drama is likely to be more of a pretty sickly budget.


  • worthy

    I gave a quote to a highly-paid professional for major renos to a wonderful century home he had just bought but not moved into. I said it would take 3-4 months and I couldn't do it if he were living in the home. "Shi*! No way, man!"

    About four months later he very politely called and asked if I could finish up what another contractor had started. "Shi*! No way man." (Well, that's what I thought anyway.)

  • PRO
    Kristin Petro Interiors, Inc.

    A few months ago, we finished our renovation of our "fixer upper". We intended to do what you wanted to do...get a construction loan and use the equity of our old house to pay what the loan wouldn't cover. I'm a professional designer with many wholesale accounts, for everything from cabinets to countertops to plumbing to lighting fixtures. My husband is a contractor and carpenter for thirty years. We found a house and were able to get it for under market value (The homeowner did not want to sell it to a builder. He was offered more, but sold it to us for less because we told him we were going to remodel it.) It was a ranch and we intended to add a topper to it. It would go from 1100 sqft to 2200 sqft. We designed the inside and out ourselves and used an architect we've worked with for years to draft up the final plans for permit. All of these perks cut our costs by about 30-40%. Sounds like a slam dunk, right? Not so fast...

    First, the paperwork just to get the loan. It took months to finalize it, and during that time, we couldn't demo the house. So we paid two mortgages on it while nothing happened. At one point, I was so frustrated I tried selling the property to someone else.

    Second, the appraisal of the plans. This appraisal came in well over $100k under what we knew this home should be valued. And there's nothing you can do about that. A low appraisal meant that we had to bring over tens of thousands of dollars to the closing, just to get the loan for the rest. They did not care about the equity in our current house. It only factored into our approval, not the amount we received. Do NOT assume you will get everything you need from the bank.

    Third, the documents required for each draw. Our experience gave us the ability to price the cost of this construction to the dime. We were able to get our quotes and estimates up front, because we knew our contractors and vendors and had our materials selected early. I cannot underestimate the amount of work, communication, time and diligence this required. Thankfully, one of my employees is a notary, so this also helped a lot when it came time to put in for the draws. Also, you have to pay for many things up front, and then get reimbursed at the draw. So you MUST have the cash to do this.

    Fourth, the timeline. Our contractors were mostly people we have worked with for years. And even with this history, we had to wait weeks for some of them to be available. Delays happen, even with an experienced crew.

    Fifth, sh*t happens. Again and again. Even professionals are not immune to problems that will always come up. Materials arrived damaged, were backordered, were not constructed to specifications, etc. We knew how to handle these issues efficiently, but no amount of experience can prevent mistakes made by people other than you.

    In the end, we passed every inspection on the first try and have a great house. The final appraisal came in $50k over the cost of the house and renovation. We made money. Yay. But remember how I said we were able to complete this remodel for 30-40% less than the average person? If you are not the contractor, do NOT think you will make any money on this endeavor.

    For me, I can now finally say I'm happy I didn't sell it before we got started. I hope this helps! Before and After below...

    Steve thanked Kristin Petro Interiors, Inc.
  • PRO
    JudyG Designs

    You already have begun the processs by being pre-approved by a lender.

    "Getting pre-approved for a mortgage enables you to move quickly when you find the perfect place. When you make an offer, it won't be contingent on obtaining financing, which can save you valuable time. In a competitive market, this lets the seller know that your offer is serious – and could prevent you from losing the home to another potential buyer who already has financing arranged."

    Read more: Pre-Qualified Vs. Pre-Approved - What's The Difference? https://www.investopedia.com/articles/basics/07/prequalified-approved.asp#ixzz57vr3XLEg
    Follow us: Investopedia on Facebook

    The old adage “location, location” always applies.

  • PRO
    GN Builders L.L.C

    Establish a relationship with a GC before you go out hunting for a house. Most GC's know "more or less" state requirements, what information you need, what questions to ask when dealing with zoning, etc.

    This way when you find something you like, you can bring him in, he will check the structural integrity of the foundation, floor joist framing, etc. He will advise what you can do to the house as addition goes, interior remodeling, etc and see what would be the best way to do what you need in the house without breaking your bank...

    After you got all that information, you can go and negotiate the price.

    Steve thanked GN Builders L.L.C
  • Steve

    Thanks for all the advice! I know it's not an easy process, but I have been considering finding a home to remodel for myself for years now and while I know it will not be easy, I'm looking forward to find a house to put my own touches on. I am meeting with an "all encompassing" designer/architect/builder today to get an idea of what my budget could do. I've spoken with my realtor and friends and this design firm comes highly recommended. I plan on taking my time and not jumping into anything without having a good idea of what I'm doing. It's just me that will be living in the house so I don't have to worry about finding a place in the meantime for a family. Basically, I have the lifestyle to give the reno the attention it needs.

    Also wanted to just go on record and say that I don't have cable so I don't get to watch much HGTV.

  • Jamie

    I hate to defend HGTV, because, yes, often they do make remodeling seem glamorous and easy but they most definitely do show the failing HVACs, rewires, failing plumbing, mold, foundation issues, etc. They may not highlight issues on every episode of every show and they may often gloss over these problems, but they most definitely do address them.

    Steve thanked Jamie
  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    I have never seen an HGTV show where, before purchasing a house, they do an inspection and focus attention on the truly expensive and important components which affect the condition of an existing house. It's true, on some shows, sometimes, they have a conversation with the new owners with an "ooops scene", informing the owners, "we've discovered that X and Y need to be replaced". These are always good scenes because the owners have been coached to have strong reactions with camera appealing facial expressions and appropriate phrases they utter. But the point is, when these are filmed they are always after the fact--after the owners have purchased the house and reconstruction has begun. But the parts I like best about HGTV is that once reconstruction is finished, they always fill the house with new furniture, furnishings, knick-nacks and do-dads which must cost as much or more than the actual reconstruction. Those costs are never, ever mentioned.

  • cpaul1

    The biggest thing is finding the right property (and by that, I mean a property that has the potential to fix and be great, and will be worth fixing up ... meaning the location and the price point of the neighborhood will stand up to the money you're going to spend on it). You don't want to do what Fixer Upper does where you find yourself with a house that is way out of line with the price of the other homes and in a bad neighborhood. So if you're not someone who has that knowledge or skill set, then get someone to help you right from the beginning to make the two biggest decisions .... the house and the budget. If you don't have an overall plan that makes sense, then don't buy it.

    Steve thanked cpaul1
  • PRO
    Sophie Wheeler

    If you don’t get the house for .25 on the $1, your ambitious scope is going to be a money loser, with more cash required up front by you. How flippers make money is buying gramma houses and de stodgying them. They don’t do a complete rewire, or replumb, or anything to any of the systems, unless disaster strikes and they can’t avoid it. They also don’t pull a lot of permits, or look too close at licenses and other documentation that above board contractors must maintain. Quick and dirty cosmetic, and bought low. That’s the recipe.

    Buying a home to live in would not be the same approach. I would hope.

    Steve thanked Sophie Wheeler
  • PRO
    CAP Construction, LLC

    Are you looking to do major remodeling or just cosmetic changes? Major fixer uppers might be cheap to buy but can get very expensive to remodel when hidden issues are uncovered. I would view some houses and find ones you like first, then bring the contractor with you for the second showing. Have a good idea of what you want to do in the home so you can get more accurate estimates from the contractor. Most people tell their contractor that they want cheap,cheap,cheap but change their mind when they actually start looking at products and options available. This will only result in change orders that drive what you thought was a reasonable estimate way up. You're contractor will more than likely going to need to get approved by the bank before you can secure the loan and begin work. If you have a whole house fixer upper with a lot of work, make sure your contractor has experience doing a whole house remodel and not just cosmetic changes. There's a big difference in the level of expertise required.

    Steve thanked CAP Construction, LLC
  • suezbell

    If you can find a tract of land in an area you like on which there is already a small, relatively inexpensive house (yeah, I know ... there may be no such thing) that is at least livable -- a tract of land that also has enough room and a suitable building site on it to build another home later, that might be an investment worth considering.

    Steve thanked suezbell

Need help with an existing Houzz order? Call 1-800-368-4268 (Mon-Sun).