cost of home improvements Living in a Fixer Upper remodeling

Living in a Fixer-Upper Advice

Demolish walls

You’re tempted by the chance to take an ugly duckling of a house and transform it into Cinderella, but before you do, here’s what we learned after buying 14 “handyman special” houses with exactly that in mind. We lived in and worked on eight of them, the other six we turned over more quickly.

If you’re involved with or plan to take on a fixer-upper house while living in it, here are some takeaways we suggest.
Know your money. Before you go house hunting know how much you can afford to pay for a house that includes estimates for the improvements you want to make.

Buy right. Invest in the smallest house needing mostly cosmetic upgrades in the best neighborhood that you can afford. Have money for unforeseen expenses that you can’t anticipate.

DIY or Do It For Me. Make a detailed plan of improvements and decide if it’s a job for a contractor or a DIY job you can do.

Make two lists. Make the decision between investing in immediate improvements or long range upgrades and create lists for both.

Be realistic. Make a projected timeline and adjust it as your work and family life evolve.

Be prepared for the unpleasant and unexpected.  Drywall dust in your cereal, bad weather, and “life happens” delays are part of living in a fixer-upper.


Gene and Katie Hamilton are authors of 20 home improvement books and creators of, a website that compares the DIY and contractor costs of hundreds of repair, decorating and remodeling projects. Their weekly column Do It Yourself or Not is syndicated by Tribune Content Agency.

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