“Buy the worst house on the best street”
This is a long read because there is so much to consider when weighing up if a fixer-upper is for you. Of course, every property is different, so I’ve tried to summarize the big questions we asked ourselves, and how to identify your priorities and compromises.
I found the decision-making process completely overwhelming at points, but ultimately we saw it as a golden opportunity to get a house that was perfect for us after a
little bit lot of hard work!
Do your research
We started house hunting in August 2019. Like any eager wannabe homeowner, I had been monitoring the market in the areas we liked for years. I had Rightmove alerts set up and was always checking Zoopla for how much houses had sold for.
This gave me a pretty good idea of what types of houses would be in our budget in the locations we liked.
When we bought, the market was really competitive, we’d turn up to house viewings and there would be 5 other couples there looking around at the same time.
I wanted to have the confidence to be able to act quickly should we find the house of our dreams and not feel like we wanted to do some more research on the area.
I also searched for renovation blogs and hashtags on Instagram to get an idea of what the realities of living in a budget DIY renovation looked like. It was reassuring to learn that there’s a big and positive online community of people who are doing the same thing.
Can you afford it?
The big question! We decided we could probably afford it if we got the house for significantly below the asking price which – based on research – we thought was too high anyway.
Ross and his dad (who is a building project manager – very handy to know!) worked out a spreadsheet of all the work it could possibly need, with a pessimistic costing estimate beside it, and a hearty contingency fund. We knew we would be doing 90% of the work ourselves, and very, very slowly!
Armed with a mortgage in principle and this financial wost case scenario, we went in with a cheeky offer way below the asking price. When that was rejected we went up in £5K increments to our best offer.
These offers were all rejected, so we walked away – devastated! This situation made it clear to us that we did really want the house, and would be gutted if it was snapped up by someone else. So 6 weeks later we went back with our absolute max offer and really laid it on thick that we were first-time buyers, living in rented accommodation, and we wanted to make this house our family home. After a lot more haggling, it was finally ours!
What are your compromises?
We had a decent budget to buy our first house, but to find a property with everything we wanted we knew we would have to make some compromises.
We each made a list of our ultimate house no-nos, things we wouldn’t compromise on and scored them on how strongly we felt about each point out of 5. This way we could see where our compromises aligned, and where there might be some wiggle room should it come to it.
We both said that we were comfortable with a renovation if everything else (location, layout, potential) was perfect – and it was for this house.
In a weird way, a renovation project is one massive compromise rather than lots of little ones. Every other house we saw was too dark, no garden, downstairs bathroom, and top of our budget so we couldn’t alter anything if we wanted to.
Also; they might have damp, the roof might fall in – and we’d have no money to fix it. But with a fixer-upper, yes it’s going to be chaos for a few years, but we know every single inch of this house now, and we’re making it completely our own as we go.
How much work does it need?
Unless you’re a renovation expert, I strongly suggest you take someone with experience to your fixer-upper viewing. The number of times I say, “I would never have taken on this house if it wasn’t for Ross’ dad’s expertise and contacts” – there’s no way we would have been able to do this on budget without his knowledge.
There are so many things to consider with this question that are specific to the house you’re viewing. We knew it would be a back to brick and floorboards situation for us, full rewiring and full replumbing – because it hadn’t been touched in so long.
The biggest thing to give you an idea of the extent of the work needed is the survey. We were worried about the roof and a large crack/possible subsidence in the front of the house. Either of these things would have been the end of the road with the house purchase because our budget was that tight and we knew the sellers wouldn’t budge on price any more. Luckily these things weren’t an issue, and nothing out of the ordinary came back from the survey.
How much DIY can you do?
When we came to view this house, we hadn’t really discussed the realities of a fixer-upper. Neither of us is shy about giving DIY a go, getting stuck in and our hands dirty, but that’s a long way from renovating an entire house.
Ross and his Dad flipped a Victorian terraced house about 10 years ago – so Ross had some experience and intel from that and was up for doing it again!
This was another big factor in whether we could take the house on. We didn’t have the budget to pay professionals to do all the work, we would have to do the majority ourselves. Thank goodness Google and YouTube are free!
Our attitude has always been – we’ll give it a go ourselves first, and if we balls it up, we’ll call in the pros. Because if you’re going to call in the pros anyway, you might as well give DIY a go first – you might save some money.
Do you take risks?
Because it is a risk! We viewed about 10 perfectly lovely houses that we could have moved straight into, given a lick of paint, and that would have been great. But with our budget, there was always a compromise – and when you’ve saved up HARD for your first home, after 12 years of renting and houseshares – you want it to be just right.
A fixer-upper is absolutely not for everyone. There are moments when we think, “what the hell have we done, there were so many easier options!” There is dust, there is mess, you wont be able to find anything, relaxing is sometimes not an option. And of course it’s a financial risk – can you afford it if things go wrong? No matter how carefully you plan, there are going to be unforeseen costs. It’s definitely not the simple option.
After days of deliberation, it came to a point where we just said ‘f*ck it!’ We went all in, put all our cards on the table, and committed to playing the long game hoping to get the house of our dreams at some point.
What’s your gut saying?
It sounds a bit woo-woo, but listen to what your gut is saying about the fixer-upper and don’t ignore it.
We both got a big fat YES gut feeling when we walked into this house that it was the one for us. And thinking about it, that has been such a huge reassurance during all the difficult moments that this was the right decision for us and it will absolutely all be worth it in the end.