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Buying a New Builder Grade House vs. an Old Fixer Upper

I never thought of writing a post about this topic before, but so many of y’all have messaged me lately that you were house hunting and felt kind of stuck on whether to buy a new house with no character or buy an older home to fix up.

A full pros/cons list of owning a fixer upper versus owning a new builder grade house. #realestate #homeimprovement #moneymatters

And since we lucky ducks got to experience both in the last few years, I thought now was the perfect time to dive in with a full pros/cons list to help you figure it out, if you’re feeling like you’re at a crossroads in the home-buying “bidness”.

Both have their highs and lows, but I can tell you straight up that I’m VERY glad we went with the new-no-character-cookie-cutter house first for financial reasons.

I mean, earlier this week we had a team of 4 electricians totally rewiring old electrical work in our 1960 house to the tune of about $6,000, so that alone might give you a peek at some of the challenges we’ve dealt with since moving in 11 months ago.

But first, remember this builder grade gem from before?

A full pros/cons list of owning a fixer upper versus owning a new builder grade house. #realestate #homeimprovement #moneymatters

Pros and Cons of Buying Our New Builder Grade House:

Pros-

  • No “surprise” fixes (and if there are surprises, your home will likely still be under a builder’s warranty that will cover most issues that arise).
  • It’s clean and easier to keep it that way.
  • Little to no worries about asbestos, mold, lead, or other health hazards.
  • Everything in the house is up to current building code to make it safer.
  • You can jump right in to start making it pretty without having to worry about electrical/plumbing/maintenance updates first.
  • It’s easy to start learning DIY projects as a beginner since it’s a blank slate.
  • There is less yard maintenance since there is usually less vegetation / fewer trees
  • It’s easier to predict your budget because there are fewer “surprises”.

A full pros/cons list of owning a fixer upper versus owning a new builder grade house. #realestate #homeimprovement #moneymatters

Cons-

  • Not as well built- not usually as “solid” as some older houses – thin walls with cheaper materials.
  • Smaller yard, less established trees/neighborhood
  • Fewer options for customization
  • Less room to negotiate on the price
  • Less charm

A full pros/cons list of owning a fixer upper versus owning a new builder grade house. #realestate #homeimprovement #moneymatters

Pros and Cons of Buying Our Older Fixer Upper:

Pros-

  • An established neighborhood with wider streets and more trees
  • A yard with established gardens – more privacy
  • Character like crown molding, old fireplaces, chair rails, cozy niches, lots of windows
  • Ability to customize as we fully makeover each room for a home that reflects “us”
  • A bigger chance to make a profit on resale
  • Solid walls and sturdy building materials
  • Easier to make decor/design look classic, timeless, and high-end
  • Owning a house with “history” is fun

A full pros/cons list of owning a fixer upper versus owning a new builder grade house. #realestate #homeimprovement #moneymatters

Cons-

  • The “fix it” list seems to never end – So far, in just the past few months, we’ve had to unclog pipes, replace the HVAC, replace the water heater, have our gas logs repaired, call in electricians to deal with hazardous old wiring, call an exterminator to resolve some bug issues (and a stray mouse that lived with us for several weeks shudder)
  • Difficult to stick to a budget
  • Time consuming to take on necessary home improvement projects
  • Safety concerns about asbestos, mold, fire hazards in old wiring is unnerving sometimes
  • Yard is more challenging to maintain
  • No matter how much we clean, some parts of our house will just always feel dirty until we rip out old tile/carpet/cabinets/sinks.
  • Not as DIY-able. We’ve had to call in professional contractors much more often for this one to make sure we don’t cause more issues for ourselves.

All in all though, we know the high risk of owning this fixer upper has great reward. It’s just going to take a lot more time, energy, and love than our last homeowning adventure.

A full pros/cons list of owning a fixer upper versus owning a new builder grade house. #realestate #homeimprovement #moneymatters

Basically…

If you’re brand new to owning a home, funds are pretty tight, and you’re not very handy, I would buy the new construction cookie cutter house time and time again. I guarantee if we had bought a fixer upper from the start, we would have been massively in debt and probably wouldn’t have learned how to handle home improvement projects quite as easily. Our first house definitely allowed us to wear our “training wheels” for a few years while we got the hang of homeownership.

And of course, this is just our experience.

I’m sure once we’re in this house for a few more years, that pro list of owning a fixer upper will grow even larger since we haven’t been in this house even a year yet. But after owning both, Robert and I have talked about how much more appealing it is to us now to own a custom home that has the character, charm, and customizable options we love with all of the new house perks. Maybe 10 years from now for house #3?

Who knows what will happen in the future, but we are still so thankful for this house, surprises and all.

Have you had any crazy fixer upper challenges? Or owned a fixer upper as your first house and lived to tell the tale? I want to hear all about it!

 

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44 Comments

  1. I completely hear you on the woes of owning fixer uppers. We have only known older fixer upper homes (think 1940’s and 1950’s) b/c I honestly don’t see new construction homes in our area that are anywhere close to our budget. We are determined to stick it out where we are for a while and make the improvements we can as we have the funds. If we move one final time, it’ll be to a home with all the charm we love, but all the major renovations already done!

    1. That’s so crazy because in our area it’s the new construction homes that our always more budget-friendly and the fixer uppers are always more. But the fixer uppers are usually sitting on larger pieces of land, so maybe that’s why. It amazes me how different real estate is from city to city.

  2. Oh my goodness, we LOVE LOVE LOVE the history, charm, and character of old houses!!!! Nothing compares to it! We have lived in both brand new, and old homes. We would choose OLD every time!! (Our house turned 100 years old last year.) I do realize that the old homes are not for the faint of heart, LOL! And, it helps when your husband is a super handyman and do-it-yourselfer, which allows you to save lots of money on the renovations. If you don’t have handyman skills (or a big budget to hire people with handyman skills), a sense of humor, flexibility, patience, and a LOVE for old homes and history, then you probably should not take on a fixer upper. However, the rewards of doing so are FAR more wonderful than I could put into words here on this blog!

    1. Haha! “If you don’t have handyman skills, a sense of humor, flexibility, patience…” YEP! Ain’t that the truth! 😉 Makes you find out what you’re made of, that’s for sure.

  3. Our second home was an old mill home 1939. No plans to ever have kids and the bomb dropped! 30 days after closing we were expecting or first child after being married for 10 years. We stayed there for another year, doing a few upgrades but decided it was too much with baby and house. We then sold and moved to the cookie cutter newer home. It was awesome! Like you said no surprises at all. Once the baby turned 4 we were ready for a yard and established hood so we sold our home and purchased a home built in 1996 with most all upgrades completed. Just needed a little paint. The yard maintenance is a ton of work but I love it! It’s our tree house. Sits on 2 acres with a creek and a wrap around porch. I think we are keeping this one.

    1. That sounds dreamy! I worry a little bit about that too. We moved into this house when our daughter turned 5 because we wanted the yard and established neighborhood, but now with a baby on the way, I sometimes wonder if we’ll be able to keep up with all of the projects it requires. We’ll see though. What you have is hard to come by!

  4. We were sure we’d purchase nothing but fixer uppers, but with small kids and discovering stuff like our old 1930s house had a field stone cess pit instead of sewer, like we and the previous owners had been paying for years, we decided to build new. We split the difference, though, and went with a custom home builder. We’re so happy we did! We get all the benefits of a new build and we were able to customize it so even though we still have a ways to go to make it what we want it, we aren’t rushed to take care of safety things and can just focus on the pretty. It is soooooo much louder than our old house, though!!! We almost put in extra insulation between the floors and I’m now wishing I’d pushed my husband harder for that.

    1. Oh no! That’s awful! We’re thinking we’ll go the custom build route on our next home one day too. Constantly worrying about what could go wrong next is not fun.

  5. We’re like you – went from a brand new builder grade home to an older fixer upper. We’ve been in our current house for 18 months and have already decided we’ll never buy anything other than a new house again. Despite an excellent prepurchase inspection report we’ve had a number of repairs that have us spending our home improvement budget on things we HAVE to do instead of things we WANT to do.

    1. I totally get it. That’s the thing I miss too- spending money on the fun decorating stuff instead of having to spend money on the functional stuff.

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