Thursday, July 09, 2009

How much is too much?

My little sister currently lives in a GORGEOUS 100 year old home in St. Louis. They bought for about $80K and over the past year have put blood, sweat, tears and an additional $20K into it and it is just awesome.

When my parents were first married they bought a crappy little house on Bryan Avenue in Salt Lake. By the time they started getting really bothered by the fighting neighbors and the sketchy transients they'd totally renovated the place.

My grandparents...well...they've never owned a house to which they didn't build a beautiful addition.

My aunt and uncle on my mom's side bought an investment property in the city where their kids went to college and significantly upgraded the place during the 3 years their kids needed housing.

On my dad's side I have an aunt and uncle who were professional flippers for about 5 years.


I tell you all this so you realize the type of background I come from. When buying a house this background has led me to really want to get a house that I can improve. A house that I can gain some sweat equity. I see no reason to pay for upgrades that someone else made that aren't really my taste or style.

But I also realize there are some limits to what I can and should do.


We found a bank owned property in which I see serious potential. We've driven up, peaked in windows, circled the property and spoken to the neighbors. It's in a perfect neighborhood and listed FAR under the going price. But it also probably needs some serious repair work...probably a total overhaul.


So my question for you is this: how much is too much? When does a diamond in the rough/great investment become a scary money pit/bane of your existence?

8 comments:

Cafe Johnsonia said...

Oh...I love talking about this subject.

I love the idea of fixing up a home. I just drove by my dream house last night. It needs some work and that gets me all excited.

For me, I want to make my house my own and put some blood, sweat and tears into it. While there is something to be said about buying a house that is in great shape and doesn't need any work, I think making it my own and working hard on it would bring me the most happiness. I'm sort of crazy that way. I guess it also depends on how much work the house actually needs....

Go for it.

Megs said...

Just make sure you're not expecting twins. We put an offer on an awesome fixer upper the day before we found out our one baby was really 2 babies... we were super relieved when our offer was denied.

if you've got the time (it sounds like you totally have the family support or at least know-how) then I say go for it. Someday I would love to renovate a place. You've got me all jealous.

CJ said...

If you have the know-how and you truly are willing to live in a construction zone for a while, go for it!

It wasn't right for us because I knew we'd regret all the work a fixer-upper would need since we're not terribly handy.

CageQueen said...

I think it boils down to what type of renovation skills you possess. With two busy careers, you have to account for it being a lonnng process. I mean, if the house needs major plumbing repairs, and you have no plumbing skills, I'd say pass. If it needs new tiling and that is your personal forte, I'd say go for it! While it IS good to learn how to repair things yourself, there is no guarantee you'll enjoy it enough to be able to complete it. Food for thought. Plus, will you have anyone to help you? By that I mean, anyone who wouldn't mind? House renovating is fun usually for the owner only. I didn't mean that to sound as nasty as it looks in print. I just meant that some people might help, but out of obligation. Or none might offer at all! I personally would LOVE to renovate a house. I? Have NO skills! Something tells me you guys will do just fine, and have a blast doing it. I can't wait to see what you guys pick!

Raven said...

Even though our house wasn't a "fixer upper" when we bought it, I knew that I was going to change a lot when I moved in.

I would be wary with something that was truly damaged or something that seemed "sick" only because I know that my allergies couldn't take living in a dust/work zone for too long but I can't leave well enough alone and I always see room for improvement in anything.

If you have the motivation, friends that are willing/skilled enough to help out AND you don't mind giving up a lot of your weekend time to the projects, the planning, the money it takes, then go for it; there really are few feelings in the world like looking at the place you have made and being proud of it.

Maggie said...

Looking back my advice is that you're going to put a lot of hard work into making a house your home anyway. Don't buy it unless you're totally OK with hiring a professional or feel VERY comfortable doing it yourself. Every task opens up 4 more in a house that's 100 years old.

Dan's mom said...

Is it structurally sound? How old is the roof, furnace, AC, water heater, wiring, plumbing? Is it insulated/have double pane windows (most 100 year old homes aren't - we has swadust around the pipes in our Aberdeen, WA house)?Is there water dmage or signs of mold? How long are you going to stay in the Denver area? Will you be able to finish what you start before you might need to sell? If the basic structure is sound and systems are up to date (there are some rumors that ANY house sold will soon have to meet the new energy standards) and the needed work is mostly cosmetic, then check time availble for a BIG project (think every spare moment, consult Maggie on this). If there is any major structural or system repair work needed, unless you can swing a loan to cover those costs, it might be better to pass.

Sharon said...

Do you have the time - between work, church callings, hobbies, and fun things you want to do - to actually work on the house? Do you mind living in a construction zone for weeks at a time when work/church/family obligations come first? Do you have the money to buy tools, rent equipment, buy supplies, and to hire a professional when you need help? Do you have the skills - or can learn the skills quickly?

As much as I wanted to "fix-up" a house, I knew I didn't have the time/money/skills to fix it the way it needed to be - and the way I would want to. I bought a house that only had "small projects". (You know, replace carpet, new paint, replace windows, refinish existing cabinets - the little things.) I knew I could not stand to live in a construction zone ... and I didn't want to give up every spare minute of my time to work on the house. I'd rather be riding my bike, quilting, gardening, and trying to cook. I own the house - it doesn't own me. And don't forget the additional time it takes when you own a house - instead of an apartment - lawn care, more time to clean, general maintenance etc. And things break down, wear out, and create projects all their own. (ie water pipes froze, roof leaked during one of those freak Colorado rain storms and caused drywall damage, the tacky pink counter tops had to go, bought unfinished furniture because you fell in love with it and spent 8 weeks re-finishing it in the kitchen!)

It all depends on what you have time/money/skills to do ... and are you willing to give up time/money to work on the house all the time.

I'm an engineer, so while I was looking I made up lists of everything that would have to change with approximate cost, approximate time to do it myself, and what a professional would charge to do it. (then to make sure I was realistic, I doubled the cost, and 10x the time - knowing it always costs more than you expect and you always find out halfway through a project that it's going to take more time.) I added it up and made sure that what I wanted to do, I had enough hours on the weekends/evenings to do. It helped to keep me in the "relm of the possible" instead of the "land of infinite money, time, and dreams".

And I'll never forget when a friend threw a party when their basement was finally finished - she said the job should have taken 6 months - but with 2 people, 2 jobs, and multiple church callings between them - it took 2 years. :)