With the sheer number of television shows dedicated to home renovation and flipping houses, it’s no wonder that more and more people are interested in purchasing a fixer-upper themselves. In many cases, buying a house that needs a lot of work and a big investment can pay off in a short time—but all buyers, no matter how experienced they are, take a big risk when they sign on the dotted line.
If you’re thinking about purchasing a fixer-upper either to live in or to renovate it and put it on the market, read these warning signs and make sure the house you’re eyeing is free from any major defects before you take the plunge.
Hazardous materials and building supplies
Many older homes contain both asbestos and lead paint, which are known to have the potential to cause serious health problems in people who are exposed to those substances. Removing these substances—particularly asbestos—can be very expensive and time-consuming and requires the services of qualified professionals. Before you purchase a fixer-upper, make sure that these renovations are within your budget if the home is known to have hazardous materials in its structure.
Water damage in homes can range in severity for minor pipe leaks to full-blown flooded basements or bathrooms. Use your best judgment when purchasing a home with water damage, but note that flooded basements can require expensive renovations and may be susceptible to more flood damage in the future. In addition, you should also consider having wood frames and floorboards throughout the home inspected if the flood damage occurred on the main floor or second floor, as the water damage can cause the wood to rot and become a potentially dangerous hazard.
A house with structural problems is a house you should probably avoid—unless you’re willing to shell out major money to fix it. Structural issues mean a house is literally on its way toward completely collapsing or falling over, making it both extremely dangerous and a candidate for condemnation. In addition, unless you get an absolute steal on the asking price, you’ll be unlikely to recoup the money you put into fixing a home’s foundation and structure. Common signs of structural problems including cracks in the brick exterior and parts of the home that aren’t level, especially in the corners.
Repairing and replacing a roof is pretty standard for most fixer-upper homes, but before you dive in, it’s important to check just how damaged the roof actually is. If the damage is limited to the shingles or tiles, it shouldn’t be an issue to replace them all with newer materials that are better designed to withstand the elements. However, if the damage goes beyond the roof itself and has entered the attic, insulation, and walls, the problem cost of fixing it may increase significantly.
Neither you nor your potential buyers will be interested in living in a home without reliable electricity and power in every room and every outlet. Unfortunately, older homes and homes in dire need of repair often have outdated and even broken electrical systems and wiring. Before you purchase a fixer-upper with wiring issues, make sure you know what type of work needs to be done. If the wiring is several decades old, it may need to be completely replaced, but homes with newer installations may only need repairs in certain rooms or on certain outlets.
Heating and central air
Unless the home you’re looking at is located in a perfect climate where the weather is never hot or cold, you need reliable air conditioning. Like wiring issues, older homes often have significant issues with their HVAC, furnace, or central air units—and replacing those isn’t cheap. Before singing on the dotted line, do your best to find out the exact age of the unit and whether it’s feasible to apply a quick fix to any issues or whether you need to install a brand new system.
Unattractive lawn and landscaping
Whipping a lawn into shape can range from a simple weekend project to something that takes weeks or longer—especially if you want to add an outdoor entertaining area. One major factor to consider when landscaping a barren and ugly lawn is whether it has a tendency to flood or if there any harmful/toxic chemicals that get into the soil due to runoff. A beaten-down lawn with otherwise healthy soil and no major issues lurking underneath the bare patches shouldn’t dissuade you from making an investment, but a lawn that needs to be completely dug up just to get to the root of the issues should be a big red flag.
Outdated or drafty doors and windows
No matter how many coats of paint you put on a home’s exterior, it still won’t live up to its curbside potential if the doors and windows are cracked, fogged, warped, or just plain unappealing. Replacing all outside doors and windows is a major budgetary concern for fixer-upper homes, as you may be able to hold off on replacing certain smaller or less prominent windows, such as those in bathrooms or those on the back side of the home. However, the upfront cost of replacing aging doors and windows with more energy-efficient models can be a big selling point for your home and save you or your prospective buyer big money down the road.
Major renovation costs
Some homes are built using floor-plans that simply aren’t in demand in 2015. Long, narrow hallways, confined spaces, sectioned-off kitchens, and cramped bathrooms are all relics of a home design era from decades ago, but they’re common in many fixer-upper homes. In many cases, it can be difficult to sell a fixer-upper no matter how much work you put into it if the floorplan is simply unappealing to buyers. Always factor in the cost of completely renovating the interior of the home. Knocking down walls, expanding bedrooms and bathrooms, renovating the kitchen, and converting an unused bedroom into an office or man cave can quickly add a major bullet point to the home’s appeal, but you should always make sure you’ll be in good shape to recoup the cost once the work is finished.