Considering a Fixer-Upper? 15 Ways to Avoid a Money Pit

Learn how to find a great deal on the perfect fixer-upper -- and how to avoid being fleeced.

Fixer-uppers are back in style.

During the housing boom (prior to the housing crash), few homebuyers wanted to bother with renovation projects. New homes and those in move-in condition were the ideal. That’s still true for many buyers. But others are finding that a well-done remodeling job can save them a lot of money.

Fixer-uppers are getting attention because:

  • Home prices are high in many cities, and a fixer-upper may be the only affordable choice in decent neighborhoods.
  • Home decorating and improvement TV shows inspire many buyers to use remodeling to get a home that’s perfectly suited to them.
  • Lovers of period homes always want to restore older structures.

However, the wrong remodeling project can become a money pit that strips your bank account right down to the studs. Here are 15 ways to identify the fixer-uppers worth your time and money:

1. Make cool calculations

Young African American couple.Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

Bring an analytical eye when shopping for a home to renovate. Put your emotions in the back seat while you assess each home’s possibilities.

2. Love the floor plan

House drawingsRomanR / Shutterstock.com

Look for a floor plan you can live with. Moving load-bearing walls is an expensive proposition and generally to be avoided. how to identify load-bearing walls.

3. Start with the basement

Stairs to basementAnnebelphotos / Shutterstock.com

Inspect a home thoroughly, inside and out. Check inside and outside the basement or foundation for exposed wires and pipes, cracks in the foundation or water pooling around the home.

“The biggest problems in a house typically arise as a result of poor stability in the structure or foundation,” contractor Tyson Kunz .

The National Association of Realtors’ more details on inspecting foundations.

4. Inspect the roof

Roof with mossTake a shot / Shutterstock.com

Get a home inspector or trusted roofing specialist to tell you if the home needs a new roof, which can cost $20,000 to $40,000 and up.

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Runaway water can wreak havoc on any home, and a leaky roof is its quickest way in. If the home has an asphalt roof, look for cracked, curled and missing shingles. Gutters, downspouts and leader pipes should also be in place to collect rainwater and channel it away from the house.

5. Scrutinize bathrooms

Bathroom suiteSimon Annable / Shutterstock.com

Bathrooms deserve special attention because leaks cause rot and structural damage.

6. Avoid ancient plumbing and wiring

Rusty pipeTamara Iva / Shutterstock.com

The presence of these elderly building materials is a sign of trouble:

  • Galvanized steel pipes: Sediment can build up in the pipes, and they may leak and corrode.
  • Aluminum wiring: It’s a potential fire hazard.

Replacing a home’s plumbing and wiring are budget-killers involving thousands — if not tens of thousands — of dollars.

7. Back away from funky smells

Bad smellDean Drobot / Shutterstock.com

If your nose wrinkles when you enter a home, that’s a sign of problems. A home that emits bad smells may have a dangerous gas leak, sewer or septic problems, or mold — all of which require expensive remedies. Save your money for improvements you can enjoy.

Musty and dank smells come from mildew or mold. Mold is not always visible and may be inside walls. Don’t assume you won’t find mold in a dry, arid climate. It can be caused by condensation inside walls.

8. Watch for rot

Rotten woodakoro / Shutterstock.com

Rotting wood is another red flag. Use a pencil to push on trim and the wood around windows, and look for soft or crumbling wood.

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