How I Chose My First Fixer Upper Home: What to Look For

January 20, 2016

As I approach the one year anniversary of living in my first fixer upper, I wanted to share some tidbits of wisdom I have learned so far. For those of you considering a fixer upper home, I completely encourage you to take the leap. However, there are definitely some things to consider before purchasing a home in need of some TLC. By sharing my experience, I hope to make the process a little smoother for you. I would like to share with you how I went about selecting my first fixer upper.

Please keep in mind I am no expert, but if I can survive living in a fixer upper (while renovating it, working from home and chasing after a one year old), so can you.

how to choose a fixer upper

1. Begin with a Total Budget

Before beginning your search for that diamond in the rough, you need to have a budget set in place. Using a mortgage calculator, we formulated a total budget of what we were willing to pay for and invest in our home.  Say you only wanted to invest a total of $ 220,000 into a property. If the property is listed for $150,000 , you know you will not be willing to invest in over $70,000 of renovations. This is a great point of reference when hunting for your first fixer upper.

Once we placed an offer on our fixer upper and  the home inspection was complete, we consulted with a contractor who went down our list of concerns and desired projects. He was able to give us a pretty accurate estimate of renovation costs. From there, we decided the home was a good choice as we would be able to stay within our total budget even after renovation costs. Take warning though, that you will need to account for a little wiggle room in your reno budget(because there are always surprises once you begin.)  We definitely ran into some unexpected issues even after a thorough home inspection.

living room before and after 3

2. Desireable Floor Plan

Without question, we knew we wanted an open floor plan (and preferred a one story layout). For renovation first-timers, I highly suggest finding a home with a floor plan that you can live with. Of course, you can knock down walls and reconfigure layouts, but if you are looking for the most economical and easy type of “fixer upper”, you want to try to avoid structural projects as they can be quite costly and require third party labor from a qualified contractor. As a newbie, I recommend you  leave structural reconfiguration to the pros.

renovating your first home

3. Prioritize Projects 

To stay within your budget (and maintain your sanity),you need to prioritize renovation projects.  What are the must-haves and deal breakers? What are areas you can overlook/compromise? For me, I knew the main living areas (living room, kitchen and dining room) were the most important spaces of our home. We started with these areas because we were willing to invest the most in those given rooms.

Two days after we moved into our fixer upper, we hired a contractor to remove the popcorn ceilings and paint the beams in our vaulted living room. We didnt mind investing in outside help for this project because this room was the most important to us (not to mention the vaulted ceilings were a safety concern). Because we invested so much into the main living areas, we have had to skimp/delay projects on other rooms like the bathrooms and bedrooms (this is where we had to stick to only cheap, DIY upgrades).

diy bathroom makeover

Not only should you prioritize projects according to budget, I would also suggest prioritizing based on your skill set and comfort level. Are there certain projects you don’t feel comfortable doing yourself? If so, it would be advisable to invest extra to get help from an experienced professional. It is better to spend extra on third party help, than doing shoddy work yourself and actually decreasing the value of your home. We outsourced electrical, siding, decking and even some painting jobs because they were outside our comfort level.

light and airy dining room transformation

4. Seeing the Potential

So this is probably the most emotional component of my process, but I had to see the potential in my fixer upper. As soon as I saw the MLS listing pictures of our fixer upper, I thought….there must be something wrong with this house. Why is the asking price so low? I was truly inspired by the potential of the home.

Not only did I feel the home was at a very reasonable asking price, I immediately saw all of it’s potential. It had many of the architectural features  I was looking for (hardwood floors, vaulted ceilings, kitchen with an island, private lot) and it felt like really just a matter of updating it with some fresh paint, hardware and lighting…it seemed like a very straightforward process. Of course the home inspection proved that their were some unforeseen issue including electrical, siding and decking , but after calculating the costs, we decided those issues were not deal-breakers. The home not only had potential, it had “good bones” and it resonated  with us. Purchasing your first fixer upper can be stressful and nerve wracking but the potential we envisioned in the home carried us through the tough times.


5. Good Bones

Elaborating on our home inspection a bit more, our inspector’s report actually had us freaked out about the home. You see, I hired a very thorough inspector to complete the inspection of our fixer upper, and the list of issues with the home was considerable (electrical issues, rot around some of the windows, siding and flashing concerns, settling foundation)….it took the wind from our sails. However, after consulting with multiple contractors, who visited the home to review the issues, they told us the basic structure and bones of the home were sound. All of the issues listed in the home were to be expected of a 30-year-old home. Don’t let the long list of  repairs deter you from buying the  fixer upper you love. As long as it has “good bones”, you should be ok. Yes, your honey-do list may be a mile long, but that doesn’t mean it is a bad home. As long as you can complete the necessary projects and stay within your budget, I say go for it. This leads me to my next point….

gray and turquoise bedroom

6.  Never-ending “to-do” list

For those of you who watch HGTV’s hit show Fixer Upper, I am sure you’ve heard the opening lines Do you have the Guts to Take on a Fixer Upper? Well, I don’t know that it takes “guts” to tackle a fixer upper, but it most certainly requires a certain frame of mind. Transitioning from brand new construction, to a fixer upper myself, I expected it to be a challenge….an inconvenience of sorts when your home is being torn apart during renovations. What took a while to acclimate to is the feeling that there will always be something on the “to-do” list. In addition to cosmetic projects that never seem to end, owning a home in and of itself is a lot of maintenance- especially if you have an older home.  I often find myself saying “it’s always something”. Do you have the proper mentality to take on a home that will never be 100% finished?

grey transitional living room

Having said that, I want to reassure you that  transforming a home yourself is one of the most rewarding experiences ever. I love finishing a DIY project, having a glass of wine (or 2 ) and just admiring the accomplishments of having completed a task with my own two hands. I think the process of having a vision and actually committing to and executing it has not only matured me, but given me more confidence in everyday life. Not to mention,  I love how much character our home has…and you will never be able to find another one like it ( you cannot say that about a new construction, builder grade home). I got to choose the lighting, the hardware, the paint colors…it is like having a custom home for a fraction of the price and I love it!

grey walls foyer

Those of you considering tackling your first home rennovation, I hope this article not only educated you, but inspired you. Purchasing a fixer upper is not all rainbows and butterflies, actually it it mentally and physically taxing, but so rewarding once you begin to see progress.

Now get out there and design some good vibes. Please don’t forget to Pin!!!

what to look for when buying a fixer upper home

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More about Designing Vibes

    1. Erica, I think you may be my soulmate! Your fixer upper is absolutely breathtaking! My husband and I just took on a fixer upper this past fall and man is it never ending! I would seriously LOVE to connect with you and possibly collaborate! I’m always looking for fun, creative DIY home improvement mommies to befriend! Check out my blog so you’re not so creeped out!

        1. Very lovely! What is the wall color in the living room?

    1. You did an amazing job! I love the color in the bedroom! Do mind me asking what it is called? Thank you!

      1. Hi Lisa! Thank you so much. The master bedroom color is actually one of the only rooms we have not painted….it was from the previous owners and I am not sure what it is. I am so sorry I could not be of more help.

    1. Love the wall color, Passive! What is the name of the white you chose for the trim? I’m looking for a clean white without any distinctive undertones and I’m loving your trim color!

      1. Thanks, Toni. The trim color I went with is just a door and trim paint from sherwin williams in ultra white. So essentially, it is as white of a white that they offer. Hope this helps!

    1. Love everything about your home! I’m going for this look, very white, clean with just a pop of color. In fact work crew are here right now, painting! My question I need slip covers for my 9ft sofa loose pillow back, three seat t-cushion sofa! Any suggestions! Everything I find is for fitted! Thank you!

      1. Hi Carleen! Thank you so much for stopping by. My sofas and chairs are from ikea and the slipcovers came with them. Maybe you could look at Pottery Barn or Ballards and see if they have any slipcovers. I am not sure. Sorry I could not be of more help!

    1. This is fabulous. Well done! My husband and I are right in the thick of our first fixer upper. We’re in the scary, “everything is torn apart- will we be able to do this?? ” stage (add to that the pressure of the lease in our current house ending in a month and Baby #4 due in 2 months- eek!!). 😉 I see you have several comments about paint colors- hope you don’t mind one more. I love the gray in your kitchen. Would you mind sharing the color? Off to browse the rest of your blog! (I really should be pulling a million nails from where I ripped out lath and plaster this afternoon…) 😉

      1. Hi Angie! Congrats on baby #4. I actually just gave birth to baby #2 this week. The color in my kitchen is Sherwin Williams “Passive”. Hope this helps!!!

    1. Your house is gorgeous! We’re thinking about a fixer upper. Can I ask how long it took for these renovations?

      1. Hi Amanda! We were able to get the major projects completed within 3 months, but we hired a handyman to help us initially. For a year now, we have been doing the smaller projects on our own as we find the time. Good luck with everything!

    1. Hi! Love this! What is the color in your entryway? I love the contrast with the color on the living room walls, yet how it looks cohesive!

      1. Thanks, Jacki. It is actually the same color as the living room…Sherwin Williams “Passive”. Just goes to show how much lighting really does impact paint colors. 🙂

        1. Thanks so much for the reply! Your home is gorgeous. Great work! Great Style!

    1. Hello, my name is Sheila, I am not usually so forward, but I just want to say how lovely you are.
      I can not believe you do home improvements, you remind me of one of the Kardashians. Plus on top of that, your advice is sound, well written and understandable.
      Thank you for enlightening me bright and early in the morning.
      Grateful YAYA!

      1. Sheila, Thank you so much for stopping by!!! I think that is the sweetest thing ive ever heard. 🙂 You just made my day. Much Love, Erica xoxo

    1. Are the kitchen cabinets also SW ultra white?

    1. Love what you’ve done. I was thinking about California Shutters, but I like how your curtains look, but I need ones that close all the way for privacy. I’m obsessed with cup pulls and I see you removed yours in the kitchen and I like how yours looks.

      1. Hi Jean! If you want privacy, you could always combine curtains with roman or bamboo shades. I too loved the cup pulls, but I was craving a more contemporary look. I was initially torn, but I am glad I switched them up. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Your home is beautiful. I truly admire your taste in colors and style. You’ve inspired me to take the plunge and do somethings with our home. Good luck with your continued projects…they really never end.

    1. I love what you’ve done! I’m in the process of doing the same. I LOVE your lantern pendants in your entry. Where did you find them? I’m having trouble finding a good entry light for less than $500!

    1. Your home is beautiful – although I could be biased because you have quite a few pieces (rugs, light fixtures, etc) that are the same as mine LOL! I’m interested in the kitchen hardware – it is similar to what I’ve been looking for – would you be willing to share the source and item/line name? Thanks!

      1. Sounds like you have great taste. lol If you are referring to the cabinet hardware, I either got it from Lowes or Home Depot (so sorry I cannot remember which). Hope this helps and thanks for stopping by! 🙂

    1. Is the living room ceiling white along with the beams or is the color of the walls? in some photos it looks white and in others it looks a different color than the beams. It all looks beautiful.

      1. Hi Donna. The ceiling and beams are both white. The only difference is their sheen. Beams are high gloss and ceiling is flat. Thanks so much for stopping by! 🙂

    1. Your home turned out great but I would like to know your thoughts on marble countertops please. I keep hearing not to use them in kitchens but just love the look. Thanks!

      1. I do not have marble countertops, so I cannot truly give you an informed opinion. However, I have heard they are very high-maintence. If I had the budget to replace my countertops, I would go with a quartz (as it is the most durable) that resembles marble.

    1. As the song goes ….I love em bones em bones em bones of your house… Lovely renovation…Ours is in progress once again… Fun is an ongoing project that first takes place in the mind thinking…then putting to action…

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