What to Look for in a Fixer Upper

An old fixer upper house in the middle of a field.

Buying a fixer upper home is a great opportunity if you're looking to get more of a home for less money -- if, that is, you purchase the right fixer upper. The truth is, it could be a terrible financial loss that may be difficult to recover from. But don't be scared away from fixer uppers because of the last sentence -- it's absolutely possible to get a great deal with a home that just needs a little TLC. So let's get started on finding that perfect deal for you!

The Right Fixer Upper

When shopping for your new fixer upper home, you already know that you'll be doing some repairs, and probably a lot of updating and renovating. However, there's a limit to just how much of this you should expect, even in a fixer upper. Here's what to look for outside and inside.


Structural: Look for cracks in the foundation and anywhere around the exterior of the home. Also inspect any outdoor sheds or utility rooms as they may also denote an issue with the ground around them.

Roof: Visually inspect the roof. You don't have to climb up and inspect it, but look from the ground and look for any discolored shingles, loose shingles, or recently replaced shingles. If you see these, remember to look at the same areas inside the home to be sure there's no interior water damage that's occurred or being hidden.

Windows and Doors: Look for gaps and lopsided doors and windows as another sign

Windows and Doors: Look for gaps and lopsided doors and windows as another sign of possible structural issues. Also, check windows and doors to see if they'll need to be replaced or updated.

Exterior Shell: Inspect the siding, stucco, or other exterior components for any damage. If you see bug activity, even if it's old, be sure to get an inspection to see what damage has been done.


Floors: Flooring can be another very expensive repair. Simply adding new carpet or laminate isn't so bad -- it's what's beneath the existing flooring that may be the issue. Before buying the home, have an inspector check below it to visually see how the joists and subfloor are holding up.

Appliances: In a fixer upper it's usually a given that appliances will need to be replaced. Still, you should inspect the current appliances to see if they've had any issues, such as major water leaks or if the electrical is not functioning properly. Another thing to check is it has working laundry hookups.

Water Heater and HVAC: These are difficult to inspect yourself, but you can use your smartphone to take pictures of any identification on the unit and then go home and research online to find out more information about the products, such as the age. This will help you to see how long it may have left on its life. For instance, a water heater usually lasts between 10-15 years. To check out the HVAC system, you can look at the filter to see how well it's being cleaned and maintained. Beyond that, however, you'll have to pay a professional to look at it and tell you how well that unit is working.

Ceilings: Walk around and check ceilings for any water damage. Look carefully in case a previous homeowner has attempted to cover it with fresh paint to hide an existing leak.

Buying a fixer upper home is a great opportunity if you're looking to get more o

Electrical & Plumbing: These are major things to consider in any home, but especially in a fixer upper. These should both be inspected by a professional. However, you can do some preliminary inspections yourself to see if you want to even get a home inspector involved.

For electrical, make sure all outlets have covers and there's no burn marks. Check the electrical box for any issues that stand out as obvious concerns, such as homeowner tampering, wires sticking out, etc. Any signs of wires not covered anywhere in the home is a big sign that there's an issue that may require a lot of work, including permits and electricians.

As for plumbing, turn the water on in each sink in the home and allow them to run for several minutes. As they run, check beneath the sinks for any leaks. Fill tubs and showers to ensure that they are flowing properly and flush toilets to check the same. Any area with caulking should be inspected for mold.

Finding any issues in the above doesn't necessarily mean don't buy, but if an issue is found it should be further inspected by a professional to ensure that the damage is negligible.

Become an Investigator

Other things you can do to protect yourself include conducting a little online research. Most property records are available online these days. Look up your county property assessor's office and type the address into their records search. You should be able to find a layout of the home and description. If the description you find doesn't sound right, you have a little sleuth work to do.

For example, if the description says it's a 2 bedroom and 1 bath home with a 2 c

For example, if the description says it's a 2 bedroom and 1 bath home with a 2 car garage and you just did a walk through and it has 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, and a 1-car garage, then you know some kind of major renovation work happened and since it's not reported on the county website, it likely wasn't a permitted job and may not be up to par. This doesn't mean you should walk away necessarily, but it does mean a phone call to the homeowner and perhaps the local code enforcement office to make sure that any work was done properly and there's not some hidden nightmare awaiting you.

When It's a Wrong Fixer Upper

These final things are reasons to absolutely not buy a fixer upper you find, no matter what great deal you think you're getting. (That is, unless you have a lot of money to toss away.)

If the home is very old and not up to code with electrical or plumbing throughout the home

Current and major termite damage

The roof is in such disrepair that it's basically falling apart

There's mold throughout the home in walls and in floors. Once it's spread this badly, replacing all the surrounding wood and drywall is the only solution

Significant foundation cracking and shifting, especially in areas prone to sinkholes or ground movement

Inspecting the home yourself is the first step in making sure that you get the right fixer upper. Beyond that, if you're serious about buying it, absolutely hire a home inspector. Also, as you home shop, keep in mind that cosmetic things are easy to fix, but when it comes to a fixer upper the cosmetics may be hiding something. Remember to check behind everything to see what it may be concealing, and if you do your due diligence, you'll find the right fixer upper for you and your family.