As with many couples, your dream is to own a home. You may discover that a home that has what you want -- ideal house size, features and location -- may cost far more than you can afford. One way to get around this and get what you want is to buy a cheaper house that needs some repair: a "fixer-upper." You can then fix it up to your exact specifications, which should also increase its value, creating what's known as "sweat equity."
Assess the time, effort and money you can put in to bring a house up to livable standards. If you've got handyman skills, you may be able to do much of the job yourself. You'll spend only on materials but you may need a lot of time. If you've got no such skills, think about how much money you'll have to pay construction professionals. You can develop some of the abilities you need to make repairs by attending classes, reading books and helping friends with their home-improvement tasks.
Find out how to judge the construction on a home and how much repair it may need. You can gain this knowledge by watching home-improvement programs, reading books and periodicals on construction, and taking classes at a local college. Courses on basic repairs, construction techniques and real-estate appraisal should be especially valuable. Practice your skills by visiting open houses and figuring out what type of repairs a home may need.
Contact a real estate agent and explain that you want to buy fixer-uppers. Tell her the types of repairs you're willing to do. Cosmetic repairs are easier to fix but may not affect a house's selling price all that much. More serious deficiencies will lead to bigger drops in a house's asking price, but are going to be a lot more hassle to repair. Tour potential properties in bad weather so any problems become apparent. Strong winds can pry off loose shingles, heavy rain shows where the roof leaks and cold snaps reveal freezing rooms that are not insulated. Ask your agent for her potential estimates on the cost of any fixes.
Hire a home inspector to look over the house you want. Look for one with construction experience so he can give you an accurate estimate of time, money and work involved in any repairs you'll have to make. Get recommendations from friends or organizations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors. Do not use inspectors recommended by your agent or seller, because they may have conflicts of interest in making the recommendation.
Make an offer on the house you want. Reduce what you would normally offer by the amount of money it'll take to perform the needed repairs. Some sellers may be willing to make the repairs rather than lower the price. If you take them up on their offer, spell out when, how and what materials constitute an acceptable repair, and that such repairs must be approved by you or the deal falls through.
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