|

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!

 

Similar Posts

44 Comments

  1. Our home story is actually the opposite of yours – we just sold our 1920’s craftsman and bought a 2000 build in a subdivision. While i LOVED my 1920’s craftsman it felt like we never had time to do anything we “wanted” to the house, and spent most time trying to keep it together (like having a new roof put on while in the hospital giving birth. yeah, that happened). I’m loving our newer build, because i sure do miss that character. But much like you, i’m looking forward to not having to worry about all the little things and diving right into the “fun stuff”. Thanks for all the great reno ideas to help add some character to our new build!!!

    1. Wow! A new roof and a new baby. That had to be stressful! I hope I don’t have any of those types of surprises! Congratulations on your new house and new projects. Glad I could offer some inspiration.

  2. We bought our 1st home, a small 1950’s FL home (it had jalousie windows/doors & a carport) on a barrier island, 2 blocks from the beach for a great price. Over the past 34 yrs we did major renovations as well as a master bedroom/bathroom addition. Although it was time consuming customizing bathrooms, fixtures, lighting, flooring, etc…I’d do it again! There’s nothing cookie cutter about it and with much research, I got exactly what I wanted and saved a TON of $!!!
    Unfortunately, it’s time to downsize & we’re at the age where renos won’t cut it so a new build is our only option. The area we’re seriously considering (for the awesome resort amenities) doesn’t offer ‘custom’ homes or options? & only ‘1’ single story floor plan.? Although I ? the 1st floor of the ‘2’ story floor plan, it’s not exactly what I’d call ‘downsizing’ & ‘stairs’ at our age isn’t ideal. However, it has an upper & lower master bedroom & the 2nd story would be ideal for family, guests & storage <—(something FL homes lack big time!). I'd love to know if any of your followers downsized only to 'regret' it. Since 'cookie cutter' homes are plentiful & cost effective, I'd love to see a blog that gives tips & ideas on how to add customization details to make it your own.

    1. Did you take a look at our first home which was a standard builder grade home? We then added the details to make it our own. That’s what got us started on our home renovation kick. I will also post to see if any followers can chime in to answer your regret question.

  3. We own a ski house that was built in 1856 and we absolutely love it! Yes it requires a lot of work and repairs, but I think the space and the history you get with older houses far outweighs the cramped lifestyle of living in a cookie cutter neighborhood.

  4. I looked in your “shop the house” page to see where you got the landscape painting in your dining room but didn’t see it. Can you tell me where you got it? Thank you!

  5. We recently bought a house built in 1965. And from the get go we have had the plumber in several times. The last owner said he never had any problems! Anyway, we would STILL do it again! So much character, so much potential! There are things we will redo, kitchen, add a deck, etc…, but it will be great when we get to that point!

  6. Having renovated and lived in a 100 year old home with tons of character and a beautiful large yard for 15 years and then relocated and purchased a 5 year old home – I wouldn’t go back. As much as I love the character of older homes I now appreciate my next to new home with no worries of a damp basement, spiders and mice that no matter what we tried always seemed to find their way in, and a smaller manageable yard that doesn’t require backbreaking labour to maintain. Wouldn’t go back to a fixer upper unless i had a totally unlimited budget … then maybe.

  7. We bought our first home, a fixer-upper, in the late 1980s. HGTV-type shows were just starting, and we were sure we would have so much fun working on it, just like on the shows (we were young and apparently not too bright). Well it WAS work, and to this day, in a different home, and my husband still claims to be burned-out from all the work the first time around! A brand new house sounds like a dream.

    1. Haha! 1 year of it and I’m feeling the burn out too. So. much. work! There’s give and take in every situation though. 🙂 I did miss the charm in a new build.

  8. Lauren,

    ALL of our homes have been fixer uppers, but that’s because the price point was better! However, after this last one – Our “Cute-adorable-downsized-cottage-that-the-kids-were-gone-and-now-are-temporarily-back” home, has turned into LOTS of money being spent. I still think it’s adorable, and a lot of older homes are built better, but, MY advice this go round is to be sure to FOLLOW the home inspector around and ask lots of questions. That’s our lesson learned – hope it helps a lot with someone else who may be looking at doing the same thing!

    1. Yes! I absolutely agree. There were a couple of things our inspector missed that have been doozies. Some days I wonder if we’re nuts trying to raise a young family while trying to fix this place up, but you’re so right. It’ll be worth it.

  9. Hi there! We are currently in the middle of a new build process and live in our second fixer upper house. We have spent countless hours on fixing up our past two houses, especially our current one, and we are soooo ready to move to the new house and not have to do anything but a few DIY projects to make it “ours.” We have three children- 7, 3 and 9 months- and it has been such a challenge to do home repairs and improvements while trying our best to still spend time with them. We have done all the work ourselves and if it weren’t for family being nearby to help watch the kids while we work, I don’t think we could have accomplished everything that we have! Once we move to the new house, I will for sure miss being in a house with more character, but I definitely won’t regret having more time with the kids and not missing out on precious time with them while they’re young. Once they’ve grown and moved out, who knows- maybe we’ll decide to move to an older home again then. ? By the way, I love both of your houses, new and old! Was your last house a Ryan home? Ryan Homes is our builder and we can’t wait to move in! ?

    1. I SO know the feeling! It’s tricky either way you look at it. Our last house was built by True Homes, but we looked into Ryan Homes and really loved it! We almost went with that builder first actually. 🙂

  10. And, then there’s the “somewhat newer” home (ours is 17 years old) that is now in need of many things being replaced all over again. Mainly due to things looking dated, I’d say. Oh well, at least it’s not all at once and I still get to customize along the way! 🙂

    1. Haha! I thought of that one too, but we haven’t personally owned one of those yet. You get the best of both worlds, right?! 😉 😉 😉

  11. This is a great topic, Lauren, and I enjoyed reading the comments as well. There is one additional consideration I’d like to raise, and that is HOA (Home Owner Association). HOA seems to come with homes as of the 1980s. I highly recommend buyers of new houses get a copy of the CC&Rs and to read them thoroughly. You don’t want to be surprised with what is expected of you as homeowners in a given subdivision. You may even want to go as far as finding out about the board and its members.

    Because of our background in residential property management, we learned that CC&Rs vary widely, as does enforcement. You do NOT want to be surprised by any of it. Frankly, because of how invasive these rules and regulations can be, plus how pricey the fees generally are, we look to purchase homes built between the 1950s and 1980s…and avoid HOAs altogether.

    1. Great point! We had a very strict HOA in our last house and every little thing we did outside had to be approved. Like night and day from where we are now where we can do whatever we want.

  12. Nice post Lauren. I have a thinking that it takes 3 houses to really know exactly what you want. For my part, I’m at house number 2 (one was 1972 and the last one is 2004) and already have a huge list of things I never want to see in a house and things I require absolutely!

    1. I totally believe that! My parents and my in-laws both live in their third houses, and they consider them their forever homes. 🙂

  13. I was one of the lucky ones that inherited my first home so the financial burden of my oldie was much more manageable than if we would have had a mortgage + repairs. Being 24 year old newlyweds in a 800 sq ft 1940’s fixer upper house was uh…challenging. I’m blessed to live right down from the road from my paw paw who can fix just about anything. For years now I have bugged the mess out of him but learned so much. He’s walked us through fixing a leaking roof, changing out bad fuses, our well pump freezing, ripping up carpet and laying down new, and if he can’t do it he’ll recommend someone trustworthy who can.

    We’re actually getting ready to rip off a part of our house (the leaking roof caused serious damage) and build back a master suite, living room and kitchen. So I’ll have an oldie and a newbie! I will say through all the trouble our fixer upper has been, I wouldn’t trade it. I’ve spent valuable time learning from my grandfather, working on tough projects with my husband (nothing like home repair to find out what you’re made of!), and a big appreciation for things when they do finally work correctly. I sure am looking forward to a new kitchen that I don’t have to worry about breaking any time soon though!

    1. Most awesome comment ever! I totally agree, Ashley. There’s something so fulfilling in a fixer upper in that it teaches you so many skills and patience and valuable lessons. Your paw paw sounds like a great man.

  14. Old houses are where it is at for me! I just love old homes, they have so much history, charm, character, class, and a timeless beauty that a new home just doesn’t have. I always say, “if these walls could talk”, I can only imagine the lives that have lived in these homes and the stories it holds. We bought a 1950 sweet farmhouse and it has been so fun fixing it up and making it our own. The owners before us did some major remodeling on it, so we didn’t have much major work to do, but they styled it and fixed it up to look more modern and new and it was so sad to see that when we were looking to buy it, but we could see the potential and I was so ready to bring it back to it’s former beauty, look, and style and savor some of that old time feel.

    It does help to have a handy husband who is pretty good at DIY and we also have several family members that are quite handy as well and possess some good skills that help. Old homes are not for sissy’s though and take lots of hard work and patience, but to me, they are so worth it! They hold a beauty of a time gone by, of well worn days and the nostalgia of that does my heart good and I love that my family is carrying on that history with the house, more lives living there, more stories being made and told, and I feel that the house is happy and loves it!

    On another note, I love what yall are doing with your fixer upper home and the outside brick is just stunning! Absolutely gorgeous! We don’t have brick, but that makes me want it! It is a total transformation! I gain much inspiration from you and always enjoy your posts , keep it up! 🙂

    1. Ahhh Kim! You are the sweetest! Thank you! I know what you mean. I wonder all the time what this house used to look like and what all it has seen. Every now and then I find an old piece of wallpaper hidden somewhere behind a shelf or spy an old paint color under switch plates. I found one leftover tile on the wall tucked under one of our upper kitchen cabinets from an old backsplash that I know is older than I am. It is just so. stinking. cool! Always a new adventure.

  15. We live in a 1950’s fixer upper which (to me) doesn’t have as much charm as say, a colonial fixer upper :). If we had the funds, I would totally go new in our next house. I don’t like having to worry about ripping out drywall and wondering if there is asbestos in there or dealing with clogged exterior drain tile that was put in almost 60 years ago. And with 4 kids that I homeschool, there is very little time for projects.

    1. I hear you! I’ve never been so afraid of pipes bursting in winter before as I was this year. I can’t imagine how tough that would be homeschooling 4 kiddos. Wow!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.