Buying a fixer-upper and doing the work smart and cheap.


So, we purchased our first home as some of you know.  For those of you who don’t, I only qualified for some loose change and found a way to beat the odds by bidding on a HUD house (basically a foreclosure that doesn’t have too much damage and therefore the bank will give you money).  I bid and no one joined me in the gamble that night and by the dawn’s early light we were home owners!  Yay!

Then came the fixing up this little cottage.  We found a handyman that did most of the work but as he was getting to the finish line he started making some mistakes, big mistakes such as not prepping the exterior of the house and now the whole house and garage are peeling…in sheets.  He made some other little mistakes and then called late one night on his way to Mexico.  Turns out his father was ill and I believe that the shoddy work toward the end had to do with him being consumed with worry over his father because, in the beginning, he was so detailed and thorough.

Oh well, I still adore him and will have him back to help me with other stuff when he returns from Mexico if my husband can get over the poor work and the fact the house needs to be peeled, power washed, primed and repainted.  I’m actually happy about this since the color had turned into a hideous Carribean blue that could be seen from other countries.  I wanted a sweet yellow cottage and now it looks like my dream will actualize.

We also have to figure out how to lay tile.  Bali watched some YouTube videos on it this morning and went off to conquer the kitchen and laundry room floors.  He will also have to finish my white picket fences, build the gates, along with repainting the outside of the house and garage, rebuild railing on the porch, finish painting kitchen and laundry room…

He finally took 5 days off work to do all this, of course, some of it can be done later and after we move in, however, the interior must be done so we can get in there.

Here’s the moral or point to this story.  In the beginning, I suggested to my husband that he take some time off work and we do all of this ourselves.  He felt he would lose a lot of money by doing this and not hiring out.  In the end, we lost a lot of money for a job not finished and a huge part of it that we will have to do over completely with more money spent and Bali will have to take off work and do it himself anyway.

Do your homework and do it yourself.

Sometimes, doing it yourself is the best idea.  Or do it yourself and hire some help but not one person to do all of it by themselves and unsupervised.  Do the work with them.  Watch YouTube videos and do the research before beginning a project.  For example, the new house paint is peeling.  I called the professionals and Googled the situation.  Turns out Leo either didn’t power wash properly, he definitely didn’t prime it with a special primer for hard to stick surfaces such as stucco, and there may have been an oil based paint on previously and you can’t slap a coat over it with a water based paint.  This knowledge and preparation would have saved $300 in paint and many man hours, not to mention my bowel issues caused by stress over it.

The YouTube videos are great for a quick tutorial on simple and not so simple jobs.  I’ve learned how to lay brick patios, paint a room, some gardening and composting, and now tile.  Sometimes, you can simplify what you learn on the YouTube lesson a bit.  For example, we laid a brick patio at our rented place and we did NOT go through all the major steps.  We spread sand and laid the bricks and then swept sand into it.  Looked great believe it or not.

So, do the research, know what you are doing going in and to make sure your handyman is doing things right.  Don’t be shy about supervising.  It’s your house after all.

You get what you pay for…and don’t pay up front.

When I buy a quilt at Walmart for $19.99, I know that it will begin to unravel after the first wash.  Buy cheap and you get cheap.  This goes for hired help.  If you want good, quality, and honest work you have to pay a little extra and it’s smart to not pay the worker all at once or even half way through (eh hem).  Of course, this may be different with professional places and that’s fine because you know they are good for it.

Just do it!  Yourself.

In the end, you may save a lot of money and stress by just doing it yourself.  Take the time off work and rebuild your families nest.  Not everything has to be done immediately.  Also, take the time to search for free or deals on supplies such as paint, wood, dirt, bricks.  You would be surprised what you can find free on Craigslist.  Most paint stores have an Oops! section for paint that was returned or not mixed to the right color.  Lumber and dirt can be found free at construction sites.  I found a ton of red brick for free at a construction site once.  Then watch a video or have a family member or friend come over and show you.  Don’t underestimate your talents.  I’m finding that many home improvements are not as hard as we think.

Yes, buy that dilapidated fixer-upper.

In today’s market, at least here in California, a one income family has few if any options.  Fixer-uppers in overlooked neighborhoods are the way to go.  Don’t be afraid of it.  When you bid on a house and they accept, you have 17 days to decide on the commitment.  In that time it is wise to get an insect and dry rot inspection and a whole house inspection.  That way you can assess the damage and if it will deplete you of your very life’s blood or just require a few hours of YouTube how to’s and some paint and tools.

Some neighborhoods aren’t fancy but you can ask if they are mostly established owners residing (this is a big and important deal).  Then look about.  Maybe some of the houses need some painting but the yards are mowed and cared for, the neighbors have some obvious homeowner pride such as tidy with flowers in front and those happy seasonal flags and chimes.  Some people just can’t afford to paint and do big projects.  Now, cars parked on the lawn and lawns that look like the wild outback with mean dogs behind a cyclone fence…maybe not.

A lot of the most expensive and charming neighborhoods in the bay area today used to be run down but prices forced people to move into the not so desired areas and fix them up.  Our house was the problem house on a nice street.  Our neighbors are thrilled that we have come along and we are doing a service to the house and the neighborhood by fixing it up.  We also win with a tiny, tiny mortgage.  Our house has good bones but needed a lot of TLC.

One last thing.  If you do get an FHA loan on a fixer, foreclosure, HUD, or other situation house, you can see if you qualify for a 203K FHA loan.  This is extra money for the rehab on the house.

It’s a fun journey and there is something so satisfying about recreating an old home for your family, breathing life back into it and just getting super creative.  Have fun, fun, fun.  Don’t get all worked up and take it too seriously.  Maybe I shouldn’t say that.  We aren’t the stainless steel and granite top kind of people after all.  I love all the old charm of the victorian, I look to see how much sunlight comes into the kitchen and how much space I will have in the yard for vegetables, fruit trees, and a sandbox (and not for the cat).

Well, I’ve had my coffee break and it’s back to packing and washing windows.



4 thoughts on “Buying a fixer-upper and doing the work smart and cheap.

  1. Oh, so sorry to hear! I want to add that Home Depot (probably Lowes, too) have free workshops for learning skills like tile.

    When we bought our house it looked good but the DIY owner made many mistakes which we discovered one by one over the years. Unpleasant. Now I don’t want to move after figuring this house out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t even begin to ever think of a faint suggestion of moving for a hundred years…maybe decades? I actually wrote this blog so long ago. I wrote a few in advance and scheduled them. We are now completely settled in the new home and just doing little things here and there.


  2. I have a friend who bought a “fixer-upper” and renovated almost all of it himself by watching YouTube. It was an amazing resource!


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