The Dirty Secret About Most ‘Fixer Uppers’

Posted
By Brett Arends | Aug 23, 2019
For Sale Signs Multiply With Weakening Housing MarketMark Wilson/Getty Images

Before you try to become your own dime-store Chip or Joanna Gaines, go back and check the math again on that “fixer upper.”

Then maybe check it a third time.

That’s the message of a new survey, which found that despite the glamor and plethora of TV programs devoted to home renovation, such as the Gaines’, most amateur fixer-uppers end up being a big waste of time and money. Once you factor in all the costs involved, the renovation project often turned out no cheaper than just buying a home in move-in condition.

“Even though the majority of fixer-upper homeowners thought they could save money, they actually spent about the same or more than their move-in ready counterparts,” reported Porch.com, a home improvement website, which sponsored the survey.

Interestingly, the findings seemingly go against the interests of the survey’s sponsor. Porch.com makes money connecting homeowners with contractors. The company has an incentive to encourage us all to do as much fixing-up as we can. Porch.com could not immediately be reached for comment.

Their survey of 1,069 U.S. homeowners found that those who had bought a home that was move-in ready spent an average of $250,000.

Those who bought a “fixer upper” spent an average of about $50,000 less. But then they typically spent that amount, or more, on the renovations, the survey found.

OK, so it may not be apples to apples. Buying your own home and renovating it gives you a greater chance to tailor it to your own dreams and needs. But the costs were comparable nonetheless. And those who just bought a home that was ready saved themselves a lot of extra pain.

The biggest problem with fixer uppers? The danger of running over budget.

More than two-fifths of those who bought fixer uppers ended up blowing way past their budget. On average they ended up spending about $76,000 on renovations, or 60% more than those who were able to stick to the allotted amount.

Among those who bust the budget, there was no common culprit either. For some it was the costs of repairing the roof. For others it was the costs of fixing the basement. New kitchens were about as likely to cause pain as new bathrooms. Ditto new flooring and new driveways, replacing the plumbing and replacing the electricals. Installing new heating, ventilation and air conditioning proved the most likely project to turn your wallet inside out, but not by a wide margin. You never know what’s going to turn your dream home into a “money pit” until it does.

About two-fifths of those who bust their budget said they wouldn’t buy their current home again.

Professional house restorers Chip and Joanna Gaines have become a cultural phenomenon thanks to their program, “Fixer Upper,” filmed in their hometown of Waco, Texas. The couple, who have five children, renovate old houses on behalf of home buyers moving to the city.

Regular fans of the program notice the pair always manage to bring the project home for the amount allotted, even when the projects are hit by sudden, unexpected problems. But the most recent survey suggest that’s what it’s like when you’re a professional — and on TV