The truth about buying a fixer upper

October marks the 6th month that Brian and I have lived in our fixer upper home. In those short 6 months we have learned a lot of lessons about buying a fixer upper. There are things I didn’t think about before buying a house that needed major work, and things that were also a pleasant surprise. So whether you are considering buying a fixer upper house or are in one and can relate, this post is for you!

Now I am not a real estate agent, and I am not an expert in construction or finances, but my perspective comes from a millennial first time home buyer who is an expert in interior design.

1. Time equals money

It has not been any secret that i’ve been trying to revamp my 1970’s house on a tiny budget. Like TINY. After spending less than $400 on my kitchen, I felt like a champ. The rest of my projects have has similar success; I’ve kept budgets low and had great results. However, the time I’ve sacrificed was something I didn’t fully consider. For example, it took 6 full days to finish our kitchen, which does not seem like much, but this was days spent inside, putting sweat equity into the house instead of doing anything else.

My advice to you when looking at a house that needs work – be realistic about how much time you have, but more than that, if you can’t afford to outsource work (a painter, laborer, contractor, etc) then be realistic about how much time it’s going to take you to finish the job. Ask yourself, is it worth it to hire someone who can get it done in a day, or is it worth it to give up a few weekends to save some money? Many times I’ve wanted to throw my paint brush down and call a painter, because I just wanted or needed to be doing something else on my list of to-do’s, but ultimately I signed up for this, so I’ve kept trucking on!

2. Underestimating the amount of work

This is huge. HUUUGE! I remember walking through our house with the realtor, seeing the sea of wood paneling and brown trim and saying “No biggie, we will just paint it!” That was before Brian and I spent 3 days painting one room of wood paneling and wanting to just slam our heads into the wall.

This happened again when I started painting the trim in my entryway..I started one day and quickly realized after spending 2 hours taping and prepping that this wouldn’t be a simple thing I knocked out in one day. You know yourself, your schedule, and your work ethic better than anyone else – so when you see a project in a new house and think it will only take a day, or an hour, my advice is to triple that amount of time (I can’t count how many times we had to run to the store for supplies or how many times I had to stop to clean up spilled paint) and if you are okay with that tripled time – then go for it! Which brings me to my next point.

3. Things will not be done overnight. Or in a month.

I have busted my butt, worked on my house daily, and in 6 months was able to flip 5 rooms in my house. I like to say most of my makeovers are beautiful bandaids for now – because I didn’t overhaul the floors or move any walls, just cosmetically uplifted the rooms. And just with cosmetic makeovers, it has taken me 6 months of non-stop work to get 5 out of 10 rooms in my house finished.

Like I stated above, one day I started the trim in my entryway. Everything is primed, and guess what? Two months later, things are still just primed. My entryway is adorned in blue painters tape and ugly white primer. But life got in the way; we traveled, got sick, wanted a weekend out and not inside slaving away in the house. I finally made a goal to have it done by the end of the month, knowing that it will take more than one afternoon, and accepting that it’s taken me this long.

When I bought the house, I had a mission to have it flipped by the end of 2018. It’s not going to be close to that, unless I win the lottery soon! So ask yourself – can you be realistic with a timeline? Can you live in half finished rooms, ugly spaces, and works in progress? If you can’t live in a construction zone for a good while, then a fixer upper IS NOT for you.

4. Things change, and you will too. Adaption is KEY.

Take me back to April 2018, closing day on my house, and I had a completely different vision for it. I thought my style was 100% Mid-Century Modern with a splash of boho. Then I moved in, and they house was even quirkier and more 1970’s than I knew how to handle! Things changed. Paint colors came out different than expected, but with my budget, I had to learn to live with them – and love them now!
As you work on your house, trends will change. Always stay true to who you are, and don’t just style your home to be on trend, but be okay with a shift in perspective. Once I was in the house, I realized more important to me than a trendy home was comfort and coziness. I became a plant lady (who knew that was possible!) and fell in love with the concept of Hygge and bohemian interiors. My style shifted, and now my house is one eclectic mash up (and I love it so!).

Can you adapt? Maybe the light fixtures you pictured aren’t sold anymore, or the shiplap wall you always wanted doesn’t really excite you anymore – that’s okay. We grow, our plans change, and your house is a mere outward expression of who you are. For example..Wilbur (my dog) decided that the stairwell was going to be his hangout – so instead of ripping the treads up and concreting the steps, we kept the carpet for him for now. Things change, and you just have to go with the flow!

5. Burnout is real.

After a few months of working hard on my house, I lost my spark. I still had so many ideas and excitement, but I was TIRED. Really tired. I took a month off and just did little things, like framed some pictures, and weeded my yard. I pinned a lot of inspiration to my Pinterest but I didn’t force myself to complete anything. Sometimes you just need a break, and you have to be okay with giving yourself one.

The most important thing about taking a break though? Not letting it be permanent. Do you know how many homes I’ve been in as a professional designer where homeowners started a project – and didn’t finish..and years went by! It happens more often than not I’ve discovered. I have never been one to leave something unfinished, but it’s easy to ignore that unpainted strip on the wall or the light fixture that sits in the box for months. My advice? Give yourself a break – but schedule it. Give yourself a few weekends off from working on the house – do something fun. Stop thinking about home decor and fixing things in your fixer upper. Instead enjoy life, and inspiration and energy will come back to you. Get back on that horse with a fresh mind and love for your home in your heart!


It’s not all bad, actually I’ve found the pro’s outweigh the con’s!

So here are all the reasons you will LOVE buying a fixer-upper ♥


1. Customization

The best thing about buying this house that wasn’t “finished” was that I could put my stamp on it. The house has character, unlike many new track-homes (those have their perks, but getting real character only comes with age!)  Customization might just be painting cabinets or ripping out new floors, but this means you can really make a house your own.

2. Sweat Equity is real.

If you are buying a fixer-upper, then chances are high that you bought it for a good price. No one buys a fixer-upper because it’s in move-in condition and ready to be shown off. You buy it because it has other qualities that make it worth it. For instance, the inside of the house I bought was outdated, but functioning. The location was ideal and the lot was huge. Knowing this, we knew that whatever money we put into the house, we would be seeing back. Real estate is always an investment (most of the time!) so when you’re on hour 3 of painting over ugly mustard walls, or scrapping popcorn off the ceiling, just remember that sweat = equity.

3. Your house is your canvas.

You don’t have to have a 4-year design degree to enjoy or even be good at design. After two years of listening to me and noticing things I talk about, my boyfriend has started using terms like “vintage charm” and “Hygge” when we talk about our makeovers. He is a man of logic and if he can catch on to what good design is and what’s a hard “no” than anyone can! With that said, redoing a house, whether you’re just doing cosmetic updates, decorating small nooks, or stripping the house to the studs, is a creative process. I am an artist at heart, so for me, having a 2,200 sq. ft. canvas was a dream come true! The best thing is – it’s your house. So if you want every room to be a different shade of blue, you can. Or if you want the whole home to be in a style that you love, go for it.

4. You will learn skills you never thought you’d know!

I never had a desire to work with power tools or to spend time researching the best methods of staining, but once I started working on my own house, I did just that. In these past 6 months, I’ve learned so many things – a lot of what-to-do’s and just as many what-not-to-do’s. They key is to not get too caught up on mistakes made – like paint colors that you don’t love or a design choice that you are second guessing. Fix it, play around with decor, and move on. If you are doing a lot of the work yourself, you will memorize the isles at Home Depot…or is that just me?

4. It is a growing experience.

Brian and I had never done more than hand each other light-bulbs to screw in. So when we bought this house in May, we quickly learned how to work together when updating the house. AKA he learned that I like to paint alone, and I learned that he can change a light fixture out faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. We have had days of house work end in fights, in tears, and in laughing fits on the floor. Wilbur has rubbed up against more wet walls of paint than he even realizes, and I have spent hours at the store searching for deals for my house. Either way, i’m so happy we took on a fixer-upper because of this. It’s bonded Brian and I, taught us to work together, and really made us appreciate this home. It’s a home we created; we can tell the story of our first house, of the trials and tribulations, and ultimately, it’s a home that we share our life together in and grow daily.

buying a fixer upper

So let me ask you know – are you prepared for a fixer-upper?


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  1. I’m an architect and, when I worked in Italy my daily job was helping people with the fixer-upper.
    I love to read your pro and cons and totally agreed with you! Especially if you want to DIY, a lot of job! Hours and hours of search, and (dirty) jobs, but, in the end, it worth the time!

    1. Wow, working in Italy sounds amazing! It is a lot of work, I think if I bought another home, I would still buy a fixer-upper because in the end you can put your heart and soul into it and make it your own!

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