Young woman working on home improvement project.

DIY Stories: The Ups And Downs Of Fixing Up A House Yourself

Morgan McBride5 minute read
April 04, 2022

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Fixing up a house yourself is a great way to build a beautiful, custom home, at a lower cost than hiring pros or buying a move-in ready house. Plus, you can feel extra proud about crafting your home with your own hands. But fixer-uppers are not for the faint of heart. While the payoff can be fantastic, there is a lot of risk of projects taking a very long time, going way over budget, or quickly escalating beyond your DIY abilities. Home buyers have to balance the risk and reward, as well as their own skill sets and availability, when choosing to purchase a fixer-upper.

Considering fixing up a house yourself? We talked to three DIYers about the ups and downs of renovating a house. Read on to learn from their experiences.

What Is A Fixer-Upper, Anyway?

“Fixer-upper” is a term generally used to describe a home in need of repairs or updating. Fixer-uppers are often appealing to home buyers who are willing to put in some physical work in exchange for a lower purchase price. They are great for buyers with some existing DIY skills, an eagerness to learn, and plenty of free time. But fixer-uppers can have unexpected problems that lead to long, expensive – or worst of all, incomplete – renovations.

The Benefits Of A Fixer-Upper

There are many positives to doing things yourself, like saving money, controlling the project’s look and feel at all times, and the satisfaction of a job well done. Buying a fixer-upper house can allow you to get the home of your dreams on the property of your dreams – a pretty awesome combination.

When Liberty Brammer of b4andafters.com and her husband were house hunting for a farmhouse, they were reluctant to purchase a fixer-upper. But, when they saw that turnkey farmhouses in their area were more than double in price compared to fixer-uppers, they decided to take the plunge. “We realized that we could invest $40K to renovate, and end up ahead in the long run if we were willing to do the work.” Smart renovations can lead to instant equity in the right homes.

Adam Beasley of the upcoming deer camp renovation show “Renovation Hunters” helps families renovate their hunting cabins. They start with existing family homes and update and upgrade them into dream cabins. According to Beasley, “It's all about preserving the memories of people coming together in a place that has meaning. So no thought ever went into starting over with a new place for them.” If you have an existing home, upgrading it yourself can be the perfect way to turn it into a dream home.

Sean McBride, a DIY blogger at CharlestonCrafted.com, bought a fixer-upper home in his 20s. “We were young and eager to learn DIY and home improvement. Plus, buying a fixer-upper was the best way to get a home in our dream location near the beach.” If you are heading into a fixer-upper and plan to do the work yourself, it’s important that you have enough time to devote to the major project - or risk it taking a very long time to complete.

The Potential Downfalls Of A Fixer-Upper

There are many things that might go wrong in a fixer-upper – things like unexpected cracks in the foundation, walls that cannot easily be removed, running out of money to complete the project, or extended deadlines. Home buyers must plan for the unexpected by overestimating costs and steeling themselves for problems that will inevitably pop up as you renovate.

When you go into the process of renovating a fixer-upper, especially with older homes, you need a large contingency fund for unexpected issues and developments. Even if parts of your fixer-upper seem salvageable, be prepared for hidden surprises. You may want to plan to get a personal loan for home improvements from a provider like Rocket LoansSM to cover unforeseen renovation costs.

The Brammers planned to only do cosmetic updates to their farmhouse fixer-upper’s kitchen, but were surprised to find issues with the plaster walls that meant the whole kitchen needed to be gutted. That was an unexpected major expense. Then, when Brammer and her husband removed an old, damaged bathtub, they were shocked to find a giant hole in the floor underneath. These surprise expenses can add up quickly and often extend the time period of the total renovation.

Beware when purchasing a fixer - upper that’s historically been used as a vacation home. Renovating these houses led to some unforeseen problems for Beasley and the “Renovation Hunters” team. “These locations we've renovated are only used a few times out of the year,” he says. “So maintenance is reserved for big problems or when they are there using the space.” Homes with deferred maintenance can have big problems - hidden or not. If you are unsure about the condition of a home, consider having an inspection before committing to a renovation.

Remember that changes in the economy as a whole can impact renovation costs, especially renovations taking place over a long period of time. McBride encountered this with the recent rising lumber costs. “Lumber costs have increased significantly in the past 2 years,” he says. “I never would have anticipated such a large increase and it has changed what we can budget to do in our home.” These big price increases might mean you need to reevaluate your priorities and cut projects that no longer make financial sense.

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Know When To Call In A Professional

In every reno, it’s probably fair to assume the homeowners can’t do every single project by themselves. There are certain projects that you need certain permits or licenses to perform, and many tasks will require you to evaluate a project against your skillset.

Brammer and her husband leaned heavily on YouTube when learning new skills to use in their home’s renovation. “If after watching a video, my husband still thought it was too hard, then we would ask the handyman to do it.” It’s good to have a handyman - or two - on call, in case you need them in a pinch.

The Renovation Hunters team used general contractors to manage their renovations as a part of the show. While the team did some projects, any projects that were just too big or dangerous to DIY, like replacing the roof, were left to the professionals. It’s definitely not worth the risk to attempt dangerous tasks that you aren’t trained or equipped to do on your own.

When considering whether you should DIY or hire out a task, McBride suggests you look beyond the bottom line. While hiring a professional can be very costly, it can sometimes actually save you time and money. “Take into account any one-time-use tools you might need to purchase, supplies you need to buy, and extra time you need to learn to do a task,” he says. “Comparing that to the cost of the professional might suddenly not look so expensive.” Doing it yourself won’t always be the cheapest or fastest option - run the numbers to see what makes the most sense for your project.

In Conclusion

Fixer-upper homes can be a great opportunity for homeowners who are willing to trade hard work for a better deal on the home of their dreams. If you have experience DIYing, are willing to learn, plan and prepare for delays and budget increases, and are OK with hiring experts when needed, buying a fixer-upper might be perfect for you.

Continue reading about home renovation projects on the Rocket Loans Learning Center.

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Morgan McBride

Morgan McBride is a DIY-lover and home decor enthusiast living in Charleston, South Carolina. She has been blogging at CharlestonCrafted.com alongside her husband since 2012, where they empower their readers to craft their current home into their dream home through the power of DIY.