7 Critical Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Fixer Upper
It really all comes down to your personality.
In a way, having an old house is like having a child—you don't know what you're in for until you're deep in the trenches, and you'll spend years vacillating between feeling completely overwhelmed and head-over-heels in love (I can say this with confidence, having purchased an old house within two months of giving birth to my first child). Beyond the very obvious questions (e.g. is the foundation stable?), there are several critical questions that any potential old-house buyer should ask themselves. And believe it or not, they have more to do with personality than anything else. (This is, after all, one of the greatest relationships you'll ever be entering into.)
Before moving into my old house, I would have considered myself more of a thinker than a doer. I've always loved to decorate, but have never been especially handy—then again, 17 years of hopping between New York City rentals hadn't allowed much opportunity for tinkering. But just as no one can prepare you for what it's like to be a parent, no one can teach you how to care for an old house—until its quirks are staring you in the face. I've found that the thrill of completing a project with my own two hands is one of the most exhilarating feelings I've ever experienced. If you're like me, you'd probably make a fantastic old-house owner.
Some relatives came to visit us shortly after we purchased our home. I recall one of them saying, "Wow, this looks like a lot of work!" My husband and I just looked at each other and smiled. Because the desire to do work—honest, satisfying, exhilarating work with our hands—is precisely what drove us to purchase the house (That relative, by the way, lives in a glass condo with a full-time maintenance staff).
Working on an old house is fantastic, but only if you have the time. If you don't have the time, then try to make the time. If you can't make the time, then you probably shouldn't buy an old house.
My husband and I both own our own businesses, which I consider to be a huge bonus in this whole old-house ownership thing. We work a lot, but we also have a great deal of flexibility with our time. When things pop up that we weren't expecting, it's rarely an issue for one of us to be home to deal with it.
In an interview I performed last year with Nicole Curtis, she leant CountryLiving.com readers some solid advice, which I'll loosely paraphrase here: To enjoy owning an old house, you must have either enough time or enough money.
Allow me to explain. If you have the money to pay other people to fix every leak and crack, then consider yourself fortunate. But the rest of us need to pick our priorities, deciding which projects we're capable of handling and which we need to save money for to pay a professional to do. Old houses generally require more maintenance than newer homes, and it's important to be realistic about how much money you're able and willing to pay other people to do for you.
Children don't raise themselves, and old houses can't survive without constant nurturing. Fortunately, I descend from a long line of homebodies (thanks, Mom!) and nothing makes me happier than spending a full day immersed in a house project. In college this made me somewhat of an outcast, but in an old house, I'm right at home.
"Hey honey, what do you want to do today?"
"Let's go to the beach!"
"Really? I was thinking we could work on stripping that ugly bathroom wallpaper. I can't stand to look at it for one more day."
"Seriously? But it's the weekend!"
Trust me, you don't want to be having this conversation every weekend. Let's face it: there are house people, and there are people who couldn't care less about stripping ugly wallpaper. If your spouse ends of resenting the house because of your obsession with it, you're going to be in trouble. On the other hand, nothing brings a couple together more than a shared house project and a bottle of wine. If you're on the same page from the beginning, it'll be a much smoother ride. And a very fun one!
You know what I mean. You walk inside, you see the overwhelming potential, and you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO HAVE IT. Once you've been bitten by the old-house bug, there's no turning back.