Thinking About Buying a Fixer-Upper?

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Here are a few major points to consider before you buy a fixer-upper.

Time had stopped in a house we toured last week.

The in-house speaker system was original and installed in 1958. All the bathrooms had original tile, sinks, and tubs. The kitchen had original cabinets and only the refrigerator had been replaced. The basement had asbestos tiles on the floor and a swingin' Rat Pack style bar that took up an entire wall. 

How much do you think it would cost to fix this place up? 

Many home buyers love the character, craftsmanship, and detail found in an older home.  But before you buy a fixer-upper, seriously consider the following questions.

  • What projects can you do yourself? Is the house built prior to 1978? Do it yourself projects can quickly grow and take up more time than you planned. If the house is built prior to 1978, it's likely lead-based paint is on the walls, window trim, and doors. If you're removing walls or making any major changes on an older home, you'll need to hire professionals to do the work. Lead paint and asbestos removal is not cheap!According to Home Advisor, it can cost between $200 and $700 to hire professionals to do this type of work. 

  • Will the house need an electrical heavy up and updating for outlets & switches? Most houses today include a 200 amp electrical service. This allows homeowners to run as many circuits as needed. Older homes may have only 100 amp service which is often not enough electricity for homeowners needs today. A licensed electrician should be hired to do a heavy up which usually costs between $1500-$2500. If you're handy, you may be able to replace old outlets with GFI protected outlets but this work takes skill and you'll want to be sure to turn off the main power before doing any electrical work. 

  • What is the condition of the roof, structure & foundation? Depending on the size and condition, roof replacement can be expensive. If the roof is near the end of it's useful life, adjust your offer to reflect the cost of replacement. If there are foundation issues, seriously consider walking away! To avoid buying a house with foundation problems, spend time examining the exterior and interior walls.  Last spring, we found large, jagged cracks along the brick foundation of an older home. In the basement of the home, the wall bulged from the cracks in the wall. This is an expensive problem! If you have any questions about the foundation of a property, hire a structural engineer. 

  • Give serious consideration before you waive a home inspection. With the exception of an almost new condominium, we have never advised our buyers to waive a home inspection. We have, in competitive situations, done a pre-offer home inspection. This is done when there are multiple offers on a property and you want to write a contract offer that is not contingent on the home inspection. 

Remember, hire professionals to thoroughly evaluate a home. If the house is on well & septic or has a pool, these should be inspected by a professional. The more you can learn about your investment, the more confident you can be in moving ahead with the purchase. 

The Psychology in Real Estate

The decision-making process is more complex than you may think

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Buying a home is a big deal. It takes focus and dedication to the process to get it right. You will make a list of what you want & need in a home.

You and your partner will choose a neighborhood after considering your daily commute and other important factors.

And even when you've checked off all the "must-haves" on your list, you could be missing an important piece of the process. 

There are subtle details that can drive your decision-making process

Understanding what drives your choices will help you make a more informed decision. 

First, have a heart to heart conversation with your partner about what you see yourself doing in your home and neighborhood. For example, when I was a first time home buyer, I didn't tell Marshall that I could see us reading to our children in a family room with a fireplace. I never mentioned this because I didn't recognize how important it was to me. 

When we started touring houses and seeing homes with and without fireplaces, I realized it was time to share my dream with my husband.

Here are a few suggestions for you to consider if you are planning to buy a home. 

  • Is your real estate agent working for you 100% - Some real estate agents work for a Brokerage that encourages agents to sell their in-house listings or inventory. We've had several clients tell us nightmare stories of agents showing them houses that don't meet their needs or criteria. Remember, you have the right to be fully represented 100% of the time by your agent. After all, you are bringing the money that will finance much the transaction. Choose your agent very carefully!

  • Carefully review HOA & Condo documents - HOA documents will govern what you plant in your yard and how you paint and decorate your home. Condo documents have rules regarding the care and maintenance of the common shared areas of your building. If you have a problem with the rules, you should not purchase a condo or home. You will have a period of review, in Virginia its 3 days for condo and HOA documents. In the District its 3 business days for condo and HOA documents and in Maryland, you have 7 days to review condo documents and 5 days to review HOA documents with a few minor exceptions.

  • Don't buy a house that is at the top of your budget - You want to have enough money to make your house feel like a home. Make sure you are not stretching yourself too thin financially. Again, here's where your real estate agent can work with you to stay within your budget.

  • Have an honest discussion with your partner about your expectations & fears - This should probably be #1 on the list of things to do. What scares you about owning a home? What steps can you take to avoid manifesting those fears? What do you expect from your new home? If you're buying a used home, like most of us do, are you being realistic about the maintenance responsibilities?

If you are don't know anything about home repair, ask your buyers agent for a list of people they recommend. Your buyer agent should be a good source of information even after you purchase your home.