We all know that fixing up an older home can be a trickier can of worms than certain HGTV shows might lead you to believe. But just how hard is it? And is the work you put into a "fixer-upper" house always worth it?
Recently, u/PFThrowawayx3x asked if "fixer-upper" homes are still worth it, and people came out of the woodwork to share their own struggles living with constant construction and renovations and to say whether or not their sweat equity paid off. Here's some of what they had to say:
1. "My first house was a fix 'n' flip foreclosure (that was vacant for a year before I got it), and while the aesthetics were decent (new appliances, granite countertops, carpet, etc.), I ended up dropping about $52,000 into it over four years. All that being said, there was a healthy six figures of equity cashed out when I sold, so it was worth it, though there were a lot of 'Fuck, that's another $3,000 electrical/plumbing repair expense I wasn't expecting' moments along the way."
2. "One of the biggest things I learned getting my 'handyman's dream' is that if you want to survive, you need a part of it that's comfortable between projects. Relaxing, cooking, showering, or sleeping in the same room as an unfinished renovation project is functionally impossible for normal humans. You can technically do it, but just save your sanity and don't."
3. "Fixer-upper homes are worth it so long as you know the quality of work that’s being done on your home. The number of houses I toured that were 'recently renovated' that had just awful work done was appalling. Every couple thinks they’re professional renovators/contractors nowadays, and it shows."
4. "My husband is so optimistic about his time and energy to fix the house. Two years in, and the majority of the fixes have been done by me or by someone I’ve hired. I’m a teensy bit mad and resentful, but we have had a conversation about him not being realistic or actually thinking what it will be like to work on the house every free moment and not be able to rest."
5. "I had a house like that, but I also lucked out with having the magic three friends: a plumber, an electrician, and a painter. A lot could be solved with having the materials, doing the prep work, getting a case of beer, and making a phone call. Nothing I couldn't do myself, but I don't do electrics or plumbing, for insurance reasons."
6. "My wife and I have bought multiple homes over the last decade. Finally got to our current project. I didn't have time to do anything myself, and we overspent by $40,000 redoing the project. Sucks, but we could afford it. The goal for us was to buy the worst house on the street and fix it up. We did, but we overspent."
7. "My first house was the crappiest house on the block. I spent every weekend for five years working on projects on that house. In no way did I get my investment in time and expenses back. It did appreciate, just like all the houses around me. But I think I could have done almost nothing and it would have sold for about the same. The new owner let it go to shit. I even got a nasty letter from the city telling me to clean it up, two years after I sold it. Perhaps he is smarter than I am?"
8. "I bought a fixer-upper in 2012 when the market was at its lowest; got it for less than half its current value. Over the last 11 years, I've probably dropped over $60,000 into projects to fix the house up, with most of that for materials and me doing the work, aside from repaving the driveway and pouring a stamped concrete patio. And there are still rooms I haven't touched yet, like the dining room with peeling wallpaper (previous owners ripped one sheet of wallpaper down in each room when they were foreclosed on). Not long after buying the house, I got married, and we had three kids in four years, so the house went on the back burner. But I've also learned a ton and have the tools and skills to tackle a lot of jobs I was clueless about 11 years ago. Not to mention, when I'm doing the work, I'm more inclined to get nicer material. This will be our forever home, so the return on investment is our happiness."
9. "My wife and I jumped headfirst into a 110-year-old home and had no idea what we were getting into. Literally every repair is a huge pain in the ass because of settling and a century of hack jobs. We've been lucky in the whole scheme of things, but there have definitely been some challenges."
10. "Thought I got 'a good deal.' Now it sits halfway finished. Ended up needing the entire roof (rafters and all) repaired or replaced. Nearly $30,000 later, and an extra loan to pay for it...we're tapped out. The driveway needs to be ripped out and regraded. That's probably another $30,000 adventure that I don't want to deal with. So now we sit with a halfway finished house and a loan payment we never wanted. Can a fixer-upper be a good investment? Yeah. Can it quickly become the bane of your existence? Also yes."
11. "Cosmetic-only fixer-upper is probably the sweet spot. We spent $520,000 on a house in 2021 and have pulled up the carpets, refinished the floors, painted, switched out all the light fixtures, landscaped, etc. (all done ourselves and no special knowledge needed). We could sell it for over $700,000 today. Outside of the carpets — which were gross, so we did them right away — everything else was livable, and we did it over the past year."
12. "We never thought it would be so difficult to find a contractor to remodel our house, especially with a $100,000 budget and most updates being cosmetic. It took months to even get someone to come out and look at the job. Those who did either wanted thousands for an estimate or laughed at the budget, and for things we took care of while we were waiting (windows, HVAC), the lead times took up to six to eight months. We are finally supposed to start the remodel this summer, 18 months after we bought our house, and have already been warned to start thinking about what we can live without or plan to go get more money from the bank. The 3% fixed mortgage rate we have locked in is making it easier to swallow, but HGTV is selling a whole lot of lies to viewers with how easy they make it seem."
13. "Fixer-uppers are high-maintenance relationships. If you have a lot of time, money, and inclination, then you may enjoy it. If you want to spend your free time doing other things, then it’s not for you. It’s important to be realistic about your skills and interest."
14. "We came upon a foreclosure that had the bare minimum done on it to make it move-in ready. We saved thousands knowing that we would have to put in less money renovating ourselves over time than buying one that had already had the work done. If you aren’t comfortable with doing some work yourself, buying a fixer-upper may not be for you. I worked in building maintenance and landscaping before, so I had some skills already that I felt I could apply."
15. "I've purchased the fixer-upper, and it always costs two to three times what you think it will, even with reasonably priced help. My favorite handyperson said something I'll never forget: 'The more you look, the more you find.' We weren't looking at cosmetics, either!"
16. "I worked my butt off on my fixer-upper and found my limitations. I still have two showers that should be upgraded, but everything else in the bathrooms was replaced by me. Stuff like that exists throughout the house. I fixed the gutters but don't trust myself to replace the sliding door on the deck, LOL."
17. "I’m not a fixer-upper person (I have other things I’d rather do), so the fixer-upper house I got has been a pain in my ass. But new builds were farther away and, like, two to three times more expensive than what I wanted to spend. If it was only $50,000 more for a new build, I would have done that."
18. "I bought a fixer-upper home only one time! It was a money pit. Whenever I called someone out to fix the latest crises, I got used to hearing 'Oh, shit' because when fixing problem A, he found problem B. In four years, I spent well over $40,000, and the issues never stopped."
19. "I bought a fixer-upper with my then-girlfriend at a good price. Poured in a lot of sweat equity before our first kid was born three years later. Lived there another two years (five total) before moving to a new house in 2018. Between the cosmetic and appliance updates and timing (read: luck), the value of the house nearly doubled. This made it a lot easier to afford a slightly larger house in a much quieter neighborhood with better schools — all of these were what was truly important to us. Now, with two small kids, it's tough to put in time for big projects. We make it work, but kids chew up both time and budget."
20. "I've already spent over $70,000 on my fixer-upper that I bought less than a year ago. I'm still about another $70,000 away from all the major upgrades I need to do (damn you, expensive roof)."
21. "I’m in the middle of a 'fixer' right now. It’s just me, basically, except for mechanicals, HVAC, plumbing, and electric. This is a ton of work! I’m a carpenter by trade, so I have a good idea of what I am doing, and it’s still tough. Drywall, trim painting, all of it is hard when you don’t do it every day. I’m in the middle of the kitchen. I have done them before, and it’s been a total pain in the ass, with old house floors and walls out of plumb, but I got this."
22. "We are currently living in a fixer-upper. It's been 11 years. We still haven't renovated. If you can't afford to do it IMMEDIATELY and BEFORE you move in, don't do it. We do love the history of the house (it was built in 1928), but my god, it's a disaster. We had two kids in daycare and couldn't afford to renovate right away, and now it's expensive, and we would need to be able to afford to pay rent on a second home while the renovation occurred — uprooting our lives and our school-age kids. Now the eldest is 13, and I don't think we will be able to do it before she moves out. If I had it to do over again, I would renovate immediately even though it would have been awful and we would have been broke for several years. But at the time, there wasn't much on the market at all and we had little choice."
23. "I bought a fixer-upper because it was all we could afford. Fifteen years later of living in a near-constant renovation zone and doing bits and pieces nearly every weekend, it’s nearly done because we are selling it. We also found 100 years' worth of questionable repairs and renovations, hidden knob and tube wiring, lead pipes and paint, and flooring that had to be tested for asbestos. We are now buying a new build and can’t freaking wait to live somewhere that is actually square and doesn’t have surprises hidden in the walls. We also likely spent more than we will get back in repairs and renovations. While I am somewhat handy, you still need professionals for a lot of things."
24. "I thought buying a fixer-upper would be a smart idea to save cash. Plus, I'm fairly handy, so savings right off the bat! It also didn't help that at the time, so many flippers were buying properties, doing the bare minimum to make them nice, and trying to sell them for double. It has not been cheaper. If you go on HomeAdvisor and check to see how much X costs, double or sometimes triple it if you want the cost that contractors will actually charge you. And for the work I can handle? It turns out that when you buy a home, you have a lot of upkeep on its own, plus yard work. It takes forever to finish anything around the house, and I'd rather just pay someone else to do it than sacrifice the little free time I have doing the work."
"I would never recommend that someone buy a fixer-upper to save money. I would recommend it to someone who wants their house in a very specific way, so if you plan to have your marble kitchen island and mosaic backsplash with the apron sink, then pick the fixer-upper instead to start with a lower entry price."
25. "A fixer-upper is what we did. I’m now an amateur electrician, plumber, drywaller, framer, and everything in between. We only got our house because it was too scary for anyone else to buy. We have since turned it into our dream house. We added an apartment by giving up a bedroom and a bathroom (we’ve added back a bathroom since then), and we turned the basement into a workshop. The home value has more than doubled in the last eight years, and the apartment pays the mortgage. The attitude that a fixer-upper can only have hidden problems isn’t a healthy one. It’s true that there ARE hidden problems, but it can also have tons of hidden potential that a new build certainly won’t have."
26. "Even if you are handy, will you have or make the time for repairs? My husband and I purchased a house built in 1870. He is a project superintendent for a high-end construction firm. He hasn’t touched a thing in the house since we bought it three years ago. He just doesn’t have the time…I’m left to do what I know how to do and what I can learn, but it isn’t what we thought it would be."
27. "My daughter and her husband bought a fixer-upper sight unseen a couple of years ago during the huge COVID boom (no inspection, bought it before it was listed). It was the only way to get into the market in the particular area they wanted to be in. They paid $300,000, which would've bought them a 'new build' about 30 to 40 miles out in the exurbs. My wife and I thought there was no way they could fix it up themselves. Well, two years later, their house is incredible — a different house — and they did 95% of it themselves. And of course the house is now probably worth $500,000, at least."
28. "I did this. The price difference wasn't enough to make up for it, in my opinion. Do you really want to spend all your time doing home stuff? Plus, mistakes are expensive. And mistakes were made. Even just updating is expensive and time-consuming. I have done this too. Painting, replacing cabinets, etc., is more upheaval in your life than you would imagine. On the other hand, I did learn a lot."
29. And finally, "A wise old man once told me that ALL homes are fixer-uppers when you look back and add up all the repairs, maintenance, upgrades, redecorations, and minor remodeling that we tend to do over time. He wasn’t wrong."
Have you ever owned or lived in a "fixer-upper"? Tell us all about your experience in the comments!
Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.