Confessions Of A Fixer-Upper: The Good, The Bad And The Costly

Hanna KielarUPDATED: March 22, 2023

With television networks like HGTV having a cult following of over 44.5 million viewers, it’s no secret that we’re enamored by transformation.

With these house transformation shows, in just an hour or even half-hour, we witness the before, during and after of a home renovation; in reality, it might be weeks or even months of work shown on fast-forward. Not to mention, we watch our favorite shows convert the “worst house in the best neighborhood” without any setbacks or strife.

We sat down with homeowners Hannah and Benn Orr to discuss the realities of fixer-uppers and what really goes on during the moments depicted on TV.

Good Bones, Better Neighborhood

Michigan residents Hannah and Ben Orr are currently three weeks into renovating their fixer-upper home. As second-time home buyers, the couple decided to roll up their sleeves and take a chance on a home that needed a little TLC.

Built in 1967, the home is not quite historic, but holds significance on its block. It was built as the first model house in the neighborhood, and most of the features of the home were part of the original design and construction, never altered.

“We’re keeping a lot of original aspects and putting them back into the remodel,” explained Hannah. “It excites me that we get to make it our own while still using part of the history, keeping the touches of the previous family, as well.”

The Orrs fell in love with both the bones and location of the home, joking that it was “the worst house in one of the better neighborhoods,” and they were more than happy to take on the responsibility of renovating the home.

“More and more homes are being built the farther out you go, while there are also homes that are being torn down because people can’t keep up with them,” Hannah explained. “It excites me to put the money and work into fixing up a house that otherwise would’ve just continued to get worse and worse until foreclosure and maybe even teardown.”

Financing Your Project

Hannah mentioned how it might be difficult finding a lender that will finance your fixer-upper, based on its condition and the findings from the appraisal inspection.

One option you could pursue would be getting a traditional mortgage on your home to finance the purchase of the home at its current value, then take out a personal loan to finance the renovations in your fixer-upper home.

At the end of the day, it’s best to speak to a Home Loan Expert about the best option to finance your fixer-upper.

Expecting The Unexpected

Months of research and careful budgeting went into the Orrs’ decision to purchase and renovate a fixer-upper home, with plans to completely renovate the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room, including refinishing the hardwood floors, tearing down wallpaper, painting and landscaping.

“I think one of the big things for us was that we were prepared,” explained Hannah. “We researched how much on average everything would cost and then we over-estimated everything, because we wanted to be surprised if there was extra money.”

Even with the preparation, the pair revealed that there are still surprises that have popped up during renovation.

One of the things they found was a cracked foundation in part of the house. While they expected to find an issue with the foundation (findings came back from the inspection), they found the crack to be more severe than anticipated. However, since they overestimated the cost of the foundation repair, their budget didn’t suffer from their new findings.

“When you’re prepared and you understand how much money it’s going to cost going into it, you save for things like that,” explained Hannah, referring to the foundation crack. “We had extra money saved to potentially have to fix something like that, so we were prepared.”

Time Is Money

Besides budgeting money, the Orrs found that time was a factor as well. Ben, an associate designer at General Motors, has taken on the demolition of the kitchen, as well as a few other renovations. He comes home from an eight- or nine-hour work day and launches right into the remodeling process.

“You come home to exactly what you left with in the morning,” Ben explained.

Along with their research on price points, they also researched what they should DIY and when they needed to call in the professionals. Ben, a quick learner when it comes to handy work, has consulted various professionals throughout his renovation process – a plumber, hardwood flooring professionals – to help make his decision to DIY.

“It really comes down to where you’re able to do it yourself and where you need someone to come in and help out,” explained Ben. “My ultimate learning experience was finding where you can and can’t DIY.”

As far as their ultimate time goal for finishing renovations, the couple hopes to have most of the rooms in the house functional in two years, focusing first on the kitchen, a portion of the bathroom and a few bedrooms. However, they hope to be able to move into their new home in a month and a half.

“I think one of the biggest struggles is even if you are really good visually, it’s still really hard at certain points to feel like it’s getting anywhere,” said Hannah. “When you first walk in and picture how you want the house to be designed compared to where you’re actually in the midst of it, trying to clean it and demo it, it feels like you’re never going to get to that point.”

“ – and it doesn’t finish in an hour like the TV shows,” Ben added.

Worth The Wait

The Orrs encourage homeowners to do their research before making the decision to purchase a fixer-upper.

“You need to prepare yourself for the price of everything. Research how much something is going to be and then overestimate what you’re going to spend,” said Hannah. “Money and time are always going to be an issue, but if you’re prepared and willing to work through every moment of your time, than a fixer-upper will be worth it.”

On the flipside, Ben encourages homeowners to not be afraid to take risks.

“You have to know going in that there are going to be things that are going to go wrong and that aren’t going to work out exactly how you planned them. But ultimately, it’s all part of the experience. You do what you can and have some fun with it, and at the end, you’re able to look back and say this house is mine and I made it the way I wanted to, regardless of the fallbacks and pitfalls and stuff that goes wrong. I can look back on this and say I did this.”

Like most major purchases in life, buying a fixer-upper home shouldn’t be taken lightly. Make sure you take the time to do your research to find out if you can afford the renovation costs and whether or not you have the time to put in the work it will require.

For more stories on fixer-uppers, check out our feature on Andy and Lauren Williams.

Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto℠, RocketHQ℠, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.