An appraiser’s take on the fixer upper craze

Fixer upper appraisal considerations

fixer upperThe fixer upper home is all the rage these days. With the popularity of the HGTV show “Fixer Upper” starring Chip and Joanna Gaines, it seems everyone wants to get in on the action. This show seems to be popular because of the endless possibilities you have to take the worst house in a good neighborhood, that you’ve bought for a deep discount, and turning it into your dream home to live in or even to sell.

Joanna Gaines does have a good eye for design and decorating, which I think adds to the popularity of the show. I think she has covered about every possible use of shiplap that there is.

Since this has become such a popular way of purchasing a home recently I thought I would add my two cents as a real estate appraiser. By taking into consideration the value of the home and renovations buyers can make sure that their dream home doesn’t turn into a nightmare because they’ve bought a money pit that they’ll never get their money out of.

Appraisal guidelines to consider when buying a fixer upper

Today I thought I would give those interested in purchasing a fixer upper some appraisal guidelines to take into consideration, so let’s get started.

1) Consider all of the costs involved- In appraising, cost does not equal value. Just because you spend $50,000 in rehabbing a home does not mean the value of the home increases by the same amount. In addition to the cost of actual repairs and renovations, you have other costs too like demolition, taxes, insurance, loan interest, real estate commissions, etc.

Some costs add to the value of the home while others do not. The cost to increase living area or convert existing space into something that is demanded in the market will give you a better return on your money. Turning a one bath home into two by converting a large unused closet will help to increase the marketability and value of the home.

2) If you are tearing down walls be cognizant of functionality- Altering the floor plan layout of a house should be done cautiously. Appraisers take into consideration the functionality of a home.

If you start tearing down walls to reconfigure the home you want to make sure to keep the floor plan functional. Converting a three bedroom home into a LARGE master suite with a walk-in closet may sound good, especially since all the kids have moved out and you don’t need the extra rooms, but you need to think twice.

I appraised a house similar to this in the past and the value did not come in at exactly what the owners thought it would. The cost of construction far outweighed the value of the home because of the decreased functionality. One bedroom homes do not sell as well as those with three or more.

3) Be aware of the theory of conformity- The theory of conformity basically states that homes are moreappraisal-conformity-and-value valuable when they fit in with other homes in the neighborhood. If you get all funky with the design and the home is not accepted by buyers then it will have a lower value.

You want to keep this in mind when renovating the interior as well. Adding super expensive finishes to a home in a modest neighborhood will not bring as much value as they would if you were in a neighborhood of more expensive homes.

You can get a good idea of what is expected by looking at the interior of other homes for sale in the neighborhood either in person or through online pictures.

4) Price it to the market- Whether you buy a fixer upper to live in or sell you need to make sure you are not investing more into it than you could get out of it. If you are selling it you want to make sure you don’t price it out of the market by paying too much for it up front and investing too much in renovations.

You also want to make sure that if you are going to stay in it to live that you don’t put more into it than you could sell it for if you have to. I’ve heard numerous stories of people who have bought a home to fix up just for themselves but due to life situations, they had to sell. You don’t want to be caught in a situation where you cannot get the money you invested back out of the home if you need to sell.

5) Get an appraisal to know where you stand- A subject to appraisal can help you know what your home will be worth after improvements are made. This will help you work backward and know what you will need to purchase the home for to make the numbers work out or it can help you adjust the cost of renovations so that you’re not upside down in the deal.

Buying a fixer upper can be fun and profitable If you do your homework up front and know what you are getting into you can maximize your enjoyment and profitability.


Do you have any other questions or something else to add about fixer upper homes? Leave me a comment below and let’s keep the conversation going. As always, thanks for reading.

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  1. I would like to know appraisers viewpoint on a specific kind of fixer. I am purchasing a 1950s era former church building with a small residence attached. It’s been empty for several years, and the roof has been leaking into the sanctuary, so that area is severely damaged. Also the baseboard heating has been ripped out. The town is not a particularly pricey town, but it is in New Jersey where all home prices are significant. This home’s square footage is high, but because of the peculiarities of a church building, I am a musician so having a large Sanctuary space is very valuable to me, for rehearsals and even home concert performances, but it won’t appeal to many. I intend to make it like a new york-style Loft. How do I figure out the right value for its current state?

    • I would contact a local appraiser and ask them for an appraisal like you talk about. It would be an “as-is” appraisal which would consider the home in its current state.

  2. Hi there. My husband and I own a house in Temple Texas in which we do not currently reside. It is in desperate need of repair but it is a very sweet little two bedroom one bath that was built in the twenties or thirties. It has amazing built-ins in the bathroom in the dining room and I guess you could say the style is somewhere between a Victorian style and craftsman style. We have a friend living in it currently house sitting and doing slide repairs but it needs major work. It needs an entire new roof and in the ceiling needs major repairs but it has beautiful original wood floors which are apparently are still in surprisingly good shape considering the condition of the old nasty carpet that was pulled up recently and under the old disgusting wallpaper is Joanna’s favorite, shiplap. The time has come where we you must sell it as quickly as possible however I have no clue how to go about finding a good appraiser in the area. Having watched every episode of fixer upper at least twice I had the impression that chip was also an appraiser in addition to his other skills but after reading what you’ve written that is apparently not true. I’ve never posted comments before but I’m not Super 7 with the smartphones so if you could just email me back privately I would be very grateful. It’s very possible I may not find this website again so if your reply can only be seen on this website will you please email me the website address so that I may get the information as soon as possible preferably in the next couple of days as time is no longer a luxury we can afford. We need to get this house up to code and on the market by the beginning of the year . I appreciate any assistance anyone gives me in this matter.

    • I didn’t edit my talk-to-text very well. Slide repairs was meant to read slight repairs and Super 7 was meant to read super savvy lol

    • You can find an appraiser in your area by going to the Appraisal Institute website and search for one in your area. Here is the link:
      You could also probably Google your state’s real estate appraisal board. They may have a list of all appraisers in your state. Good luck!

  3. A fixer-upper home may not be your first choice by the first glance—it would look boring, bland, unexciting, lifeless without any potential and at worse, may look like it would not be the right placed to raise a family or become your own personal space. However, a real estate investor has the marketing skills needed and the right creativity and imagination to see the potential of what was once thought as a stale and drab of a house.

    • Good points, Mark. It takes a lot of vision to see a diamond in the rough. Most people cannot see pass the warts but if they are able to they can get a great deal and renovate the home to their liking.

  4. I’ve never seen the show “Fixer Upper” but I’ve seen “Flip That House”. When I would watch that show, I would get soooo irritated that they would come in show with an agent at the end saying they were going to list house for $X and then they would subtract the price paid, costs to repair, and suggest that is the profit without accounting for financing costs, closing costs, agent commissions, and actual sales price. One time I saw the show and they checked back in with an “investor” and he was not able to sell the flip so he was living in it. LOL.

  5. Nice job Tom. Love me some Fixer Upper. I completely agree about a functional floorplan. I usually tell people to NOT decrease bedroom count. Well, at times it can make sense to go from a tiny 4-bedroom to a 3-bedroom with larger-sized rooms, but otherwise sometimes people do things like take a 4-bedroom down to a 2-bedroom. Nooooo!!!

    I really like this show and the couple seems authentic. I think that’s why so many people like them. They like to make money, but the image of money isn’t something they seem to worship. On a small note though I notice Chip seems hung up on price per sq ft when valuing properties. Let’s make sure to look at actual similar sales when establishing an after-repair value.

    • Same here Ryan, I like their authenticity. I guess Chip has drank the price per square foot Koolaid like everyone else. 😀 I still think they need to utilize the services of an appraiser and bring them in every once in a while to educate the public on things they need to know and how to maximize value. They’ve overused non-appraisers and have duped the public into thinking that various improvements add very specific and accurate dollar amounts to their house when in reality, not every improvement you make will give back more value than the cost AND it is impossible to be as accurate as they let on.

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