Reston is one of those places where people buy a home and then live in it for 50 years. While many houses on the market in Reston have been renovated, at least in the last 15 years, chances are you'll fall in love with a home that needs some work. Since fixer uppers tend to sell for less than a renovated home, the thought of buying one is attractive. I help clients work through the pros and cons of buying a fixer upper every day. And here's what I tell them.
Buying a fixer upper
First, you need to be honest about how much of a project you can take on. If you really don't have the time or desire to do the work yourself, don't buy a house based on doing the work yourself. That's a good way to end up living another 15 years with a kitchen from 1970.
Before you buy, try to get an estimate of how much the renovations will cost you. Talk to friends who have done similar renovations. Or try this free estimator (it's basic, but it's a place to start) You may find that they add up to the difference between the fixer upper and a renovated home. Of course, for someone who'd like to have work done exactly how they'd like it, that might not matter.
When to consider a fixer upper
- You've always wanted a specific type of kitchen, bathroom, deck, etc (maybe you dream of Viking appliances and granite counters). This is a great opportunity to spend a little less on the purchase of your home and funnel that extra money into getting what you really want.
- When the repairs are actually very superficial. It can be hard to imagine how wonderful your living room is if it's painted a color you hate or has unappealing wall paper. But paint is a simple fix and it will change the look of your whole house.
- When the structure is good, and things just need an overhaul. If the kitchen layout works for you and the cabinets are in good condition, getting new appliances, counters, and painting is easy...and well worth the effort to freshen the house.
- If this is your dream house in your dream neighborhood. If you really love this house, then you should live in it!
Know when to walk away (or at least consider it)
There are some fixer upper scenarios that you really shouldn't take on.
- A bad roof or ancient heating/air conditioning systems: Both of these are very expensive repairs. If the house you want needs a new ones, negotiate that you're your price.
- Foundation issues: If you've got a bad foundation, it is very time consuming to fix it. Your home inspection will turn up any problems and if it does, consider very carefully if you love the house enough to deal with the headache.
- Old electrical systems: Older homes can have faulty wiring and electrical panels that could pose a risk of electrical fire. Your home inspection will reveal whether this is an issue to consider.
My advice: avoid structural issues that will cause you headaches for years--and may make it difficult to sell your house later. But other than that, if you really are handy or you have a great contractor, fixer uppers are a great investment.