TLC for Your Fixer-Upper


When I finally had saved enough money to buy my first home, I had always known that I’d wanted to go with the “fixer-upper” route. I blame my parents for incessantly playing HGTV in the background for a substantial number of my formative years, leaving me unable to properly assess my DIY abilities and gumption before I took the homeownership leap—but, in any case, I decided to pick out a property that lacked any curb appeal or updated fixtures. After many years of saving, I didn’t just throw away good money after bad; however: I understood that a significant element of my success would be the home’s purchase price, which would free up the funds for some meaningful home improvements. 

If the Price is Right

As I researched which home I was going to go with, I realized that the most critical part of doing a fixer-upper is getting the absolute lowest price on the property. Real estate has two costs: the “hard” expenses (like wood, drywall, copper pipe, even nails), and “soft” costs (like labor, financing, engineering plans, and the purchase price). For me to have enough money to give it some TLC, I needed to keep the cost of purchasing low. Since this was my first experience, I shot for a property that was at least about 70 percent of the price of other homes on the market in the area. I also made sure to get at least four quotes from disparate contractors. 

Time is of the Essence

Now that I’m living comfortably in the first house that I purchased (and am working at expanding my “at-home” fitness business), I’ve also bought another home individually as a “flipping” investment. As my other business pays off, the only part of this “flip” process that I regret is not having enough time to spend fixing things. Life happens, but unless you make fixing up the investment home a second job, you’ll inevitably end up contracting out bits and pieces. However, since I waited to find an investment property that was priced right, I can comfortably fix what I can when I can and hire professionals for some of the more significant projects.

We Can Fix That!

When I first moved into the new place, my strategy was not to overspend in order to recoup as much as I could of the investment as soon as it was the proper time to sell the home. It’s a smaller place, and when I have the opportunity to start a family, I know that I’ll want to live in a larger home. So for my first, I figured I’d make the sort of improvements that would not only increase the value of the home but those that would improve my own quality of life—as well as the lives of the home’s future owners.

Here’s just a shortlist of some of the bigger interior projects:

  • Bathroom fan with a heater
  • Repainted the interior
  • Updating and repointing the brick on a fireplace
  • Replaced an aging water heater
  • Replaced the aging tile in the bathtub
  • Replaced kitchen countertops and cabinets

I called in the professionals to replace countertops, roofing material, and to repoint brick, but I was able to replace the rest on my own. You’d be surprised at what a combination of instructional videos, elbow grease, and coffee can get you through.

Don’t Curb Your Enthusiasm For Your Curb Appeal

Of course, when I purchased my fixer-upper, I knew that nothing was going to need a little more “TLC” than the front and back lawns: they were both dry, dull, and weedy. They immediately turned off a lot of other buyers with their dilapidated drabness, but I knew that with just a few seasons of work, I could get them glowing like emeralds again. I called a local lawn professional for some recommendations on the right fertilizer (strangely enough, the seasons have an impact on which fertilizer is best for your lawn type), and then put myself on a strict schedule for watering and mowing. I was once convinced by an overly strict “Lawn Dad,” who kept that grass as short as his buzzcut: “the shorter the grass, the nicer the grass.” However, the pros assured me that—at least as I was getting my lawn started—the longer I let my grass grow, the deeper the root system would reach.

Driveway, Walkway, Your Way

Apart from the lawn, I needed to replace the cracked and broken asphalt driveway, too. I decided on going something cost-effective and low-maintenance and went with crushed gravel. It was durable, and the company offered an assortment of colors that got my imagination racing. I went with a bolder, desert color that off-set my rapidly repairing lawn. 

Before calling it quits, I might consider going with a gravel path walkway, too, in order to guide my guests to my door better. In any case, keeping my purchase price low allowed me to give my first home the TLC it desperately needed. When I’m finally ready to take the plunge on a bigger house, I hope that I’ll have left my first home much better than I found it. 

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