A young couple doing up their hallway . The man is painting the demo rail on the stairs covered in a dust sheet whilst his wife is sanding down a period door on a workbench .

Watching home renovation shows on TV can be a great way to kill time. I should know as they’ve become my guilty pleasure in the past few years. But after watching episode after episode of homes being turned from run-down shacks into homes most of us only dream about, I began to wonder if it’s really as easy as these shows make it seem.

Before you embark on a fixer-upper journey of your own, here are a few things you need to know.

Problems Are Almost a Given for Fixer-Uppers

“Fixer-uppers are a mixed bag, and depending on how old the home is, that bag can be full of a lot of unpleasant surprises,” says Mark Scott, CEO of MARK IV Builders.

While TV shows often make it seem like it’s easy to fix up a home on a tight budget, that’s not always the case.

“Structural issues and other things can often throw a budget totally out of whack,” Scott said. “And if you picked a bargain remodeler, good luck getting them to finish a job that is out of their league. Many don’t have the gumption for challenging structural changes or problems that arise.”

Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s show Fixer Upper, do deserve a little credit, as they’ve said on their show that they recommend home buyers have an extra $5,000 to $10,000 set aside in case problems arise during the project.

Time

Another major consideration before you attempt to take on a fixer-upper is how much time it will take.

While most TV shows can overhaul a home in a one-hour episode, they don’t often talk about how much time it actually takes. A few shows will mention the time frame, often between 30 and 60 days, but this is not realistic for homeowners who attempt fixer-uppers in real life.

“Truthfully, you want a remodeler who will be honest about the time frame. You don’t want them to rush and hastily skip over details, but you also need them to commit and actively work toward a fixed completion date,” Scott said.

In reality, a fixer-upper project can take months or even a year to complete. During that time, you may or may not be able to live in the house. This can leave you with limited living space if you are able to stay in the house. In the worst-case scenario, you may be paying a mortgage on the fixer-upper and paying rent or a second mortgage while you live off-site.

Personally, when I committed to buying a home that was under construction a few years ago, I ran into this very issue. The project was supposed to be completed by June 1 and ended up not being done until mid-October.

Financing a Fixer-Upper Is Complicated

Finally, financing a fixer-upper is much more complicated and complex than getting a mortgage on a home that’s not in need of major repairs and updates.

Most lenders aren’t going to finance a fixer-upper with a traditional mortgage. After all, they aren’t going to approve a loan for more than the home’s current value.

Turning to a home equity loan won’t work either since you won’t have any equity built up on a new purchase.

This is where other solutions need to be considered, like an FHA 203(k) loan (Quicken Loans doesn’t offer this type of financing) or a personal loan in order to purchase the home. Once the home is in qualifying condition, you could always refinance into a traditional mortgage.

The bottom line is, if you decide to go ahead with a fixer-upper, be prepared for any situation you can think of. The truth is, taking on a fixer-upper is not as easy as it seems on TV.

Have you purchased a fixer-upper? What were some of the challenges you faced, and did it match the experiences you’ve seen on TV? Let us know in the comments below!

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This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. I have two fixer uppers. One I rent out and the one I live in. The one I live in was to be “flipped”
    but the real estate market changed and I decided to stay where I am. I have lived here 12 years and this week I will have a new D/R fixture installed. Since I am on social security and widowed I proceed very slowly. Finding good contractors is the biggest problem.

  2. Quicken Loans are worst to deal with regarding your “fixer upper”. After some water damage my home became a “fixer upper”. Getting the repairs done have only been an issue because Quicken wont release the insurance funds. I think before considering a fixer upper a individual should really consider there financial resource. Make sure that your financial backer explains all their requirement before you agree to use them as a resource, God I wish someone had told me this!

    1. I’m very sorry you had a negative experience with us. I’m going to have someone reach out and see if we can get this turned around for you. Thanks for reaching out!

      Kevin Graham

  3. A Fixer upper could be a real headache for first time investor and a big opportunity for the experience investor. Its hard to get good contractors and hard to get them to do what they say they will do. Watch for refrences of previous jobs they have done in the past. Its a challenge can be risky and sometimes hard to get them financed.

  4. i would like to know more about fixing up a home like how do I go about fine someone to do the work. A person that will not take avention.

    1. We don’t really recommend contractors, Bonita. What you need to do is look at reviews, asking them when you interview for sample work photos and references. Talk to them and make sure you’re going to get everything they’re going to do in writing with a clear cost estimate and timeframe. They can always run into problems when they go to actually complete the work, but they should be able to give you a ballpark estimates as well as examples of things that could go wrong. When you interview these people, it just comes down to who you trust.

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

  5. If you are able to stay in your home while remodeling, remember to add the cost of eating out, if your kitchen will be out of service for some time. This is an expense that is easily overlooked and adds up quickly.

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