So, You Bought a Fixer Upper…Now What?

Congratulations on purchasing your fixer upper home! This is an exciting time full of potential and possibility. However, the work is just beginning. Here is a comprehensive guide on the steps to take after buying a fixer upper to ensure your project goes smoothly.

Assess the Property Thoroughly

The first step is to thoroughly assess every aspect of the property. Look beyond any cosmetic flaws and really examine the bones of the home.

  • Inspect the roof. Check for leaks, damaged shingles, and proper drainage. Determine if a roof replacement or repair is needed.
  • Check the foundation. Look for cracks or signs of settling. This will affect the structural integrity of the home.
  • Examine siding and windows. Drafts from old windows and doors can make energy bills skyrocket. Note any rotting wood or broken seals.
  • Test plumbing and electric systems. Turn on all faucets, flush toilets, and open the pressure valve to check water flow. Verify all outlets are grounded and code compliant.
  • Evaluate HVAC units. Have an HVAC professional inspect the heating/cooling systems and provide maintenance or replacement estimates.
  • Assess for pest damage. Look for signs of termites, carpenter ants, rodents, or other pests. Address any infestations immediately.
  • Check permits. Ensure any previous renovations were done legally with proper permits. Unpermitted work can delay your own permits.

Being thorough at this stage will prevent unwelcome surprises later in the renovation process.

Create a Master Budget

Once you have a complete understanding of the property’s condition, it’s time to map out your budget. Factor in:

  • Purchase price
  • Inspection and appraisal fees
  • Closing costs
  • Repair estimates from contractors
  • Materials and supplies
  • Labor costs (DIY or hired)
  • Permit fees
  • Contingencies for unforeseen expenses (10-20% buffer)

Track all expenses in a master spreadsheet. Sticking to your budget will be key to finishing the project.

Interview Contractors Carefully

Vet any contractors thoroughly before hiring them.

  • Ask for referrals and follow up with previous clients.
  • Verify they are licensed, bonded, and insured.
  • Check reviews on sites like Yelp.
  • Get at least three quotes for big projects.
  • Ask lots of questions and assess their responsiveness.
  • Check portfolios of past work.
  • Ask how long projects typically take and the payment process.
  • Get everything in writing before work begins.

Taking the time to find the right contractors will save headaches down the road.

Prioritize and Stage the Renovation

With your budget set and contractors lined up, decide which projects to start and which can wait.

  • Focus first on necessities. Anything affecting livability, safety, or the home’s structural integrity should take priority.
  • Plan around permitting. Some permits can take weeks or months, so factor those timelines in. You may need to change move-in dates.
  • Start with demolition. Removing outdated parts of the home can open it up and provide motivation boosts.
  • Group similar projects. Finish all flooring at once, all bathroom renovations together, etc. This maximizes contractor time and deals.
  • Leave beautifying for last. Cosmetic upgrades like paint and landscaping come after functional renovations.

Staging the renovation strategically will make the process more manageable and prevent living in a constant construction zone.

Communicate Frequently with Contractors

Maintenance of clear communication with your contractors is paramount.

  • Provide detailed work orders indicating scope and schedule.
  • Check in frequently for progress updates and adjustments.
  • Ask questions right away if anything is unclear.
  • Make prompt decisions if needed. Indecision causes delays.
  • Pay attention to red flags like lack of supervision or poor workmanship.
  • Provide positive feedback when warranted to maintain morale.

By staying engaged with your contractors and addressing any issues promptly, the renovation will proceed more smoothly.

Be Ready for Surprises and Overages

Despite your best efforts, be mentally prepared for hiccups during the renovation.

  • Unforeseen issues crop up, especially in old homes. Expect setbacks and complications. Roll with the punches.
  • Build contingencies into timelines and budget. Do not schedule move-in dates too tightly.
  • Get quotes for repairs from multiple vendors to control costs. Negotiate rates for bulk orders.
  • If budgets run tight, assess if planned upgrades can wait. Focus funds on priorities first.
  • Maintain records and receipts for all expenses. This aids budget tracking and permits.

While diligent planning is key, it is likely surprises will arise. Adjust timelines and budget when necessary.

Celebrate Small Wins

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate progress during the lengthy renovation process.

  • Throw a pizza party after demo. Enjoy the opening up of space.
  • Do a happy dance when old carpet is ripped out. Mark milestones.
  • Thank contractors for quality work. Recognition encourages pride.
  • Take photos throughout. Capture “before and after” joy.
  • Visualize the finished home. Focus on the future potential.
  • Remind yourself of the payoff of sweat equity to stay motivated.

Completing a fixer upper requires immense time, effort, and patience. Take time to enjoy small accomplishments along the way. The gorgeous finished product will make it all worthwhile!

Frequently Asked Questions

How much should I budget for a fixer upper renovation?

Budget at least 15-20% of the home’s purchase price for renovations. Factor additional contingencies too for surprises. Get professional estimates to inform realistic budgets.

What renovations should I do first on my fixer upper?

Prioritize repairs affecting safety and livability first. This includes roof, foundation, electrical, plumbing, HVAC systems. Also demolish damaged parts early to open up space.

Should I use contractors or DIY for my fixer upper?

Consider your time, skill level and budget. Using qualified contractors saves time and ensures quality but costs more. DIY can cut costs but requires expertise and labor time.

What permits do I need for renovations?

Permits are often required for structural changes, electrical, plumbing, gas lines, HVAC, and demolitions. Always check with your local permit office to confirm requirements. Factor permit timelines into renovation schedules.

How can I stick to my renovation budget?

Track all expenses closely in a master spreadsheet. Get multiple quotes for large projects. Build in contingencies. Focus first on essential structural and system renovations before cosmetic upgrades.


Renovating a fixer upper home is an exciting adventure that allows you to add value and make the property your own. Doing ample planning, research, and preparation first is the key to maintaining budgets and sanity during the renovation. Expect the unexpected, hire quality contractors, celebrate small milestones, and keep your eye on the ultimate vision. Your dream home is within reach with diligence and patience.