Brand new home or fixer-upper?

We’ve all seen those real estate shows on TV – heck, I used to host one! – that take us through various properties that we, the viewing audience, critique while sitting on our couches. How hard could it be to buy and fix up a property? Turns out it’s not for everyone, so before you find yourself knee-deep in drywall dust with no end in sight, you need to be realistic about you expect to find in a new house, and how much you’re willing to do to make it a home.

First of all, be honest with your budget and expectations. If you are dead set on a neighbourhood but your budget is tight, you may be forced to contend with properties that aren’t as up to date as you might like. Are you actually willing to do the work? Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so there’s no reason that you have to renovate everything all at once. If the budget allows you to finish the basement for now, then maybe that’s what the focus should be. If the kitchen is functional, then leave it for another day. If your long-term plan means staying put for 7-10 years, you’ll have the time to make the changes to the home as you need them.

The question you need to ask yourself is, “Do I WANT to renovate?” Are you the kind of person that can deal with contractors and inconvenience? Are you able to make quick decisions?

Look at your lifestyle. Do you have lots of things on the go? Do you or your partner work long hours? Do you have active kids? Do you work from home? If the answer is yes to even two of these, then you need to evaluate how a remodel will impact your family.

The simple fact of the matter is that renovations in general go longer than planned, and unless all the luck in the world is on your side, they can often run over budget. They require lots of planning, and lots of inconvenience. What kind of renovations can you see yourself doing? If it’s updating a bathroom or a kitchen - one that no reconfigurations are needed - that may be one thing. But if getting that open concept home you desire means moving load-bearing walls and re-plumbing and re-wiring – well, that can be another thing altogether.

Some think that they can save some money by cutting corners - perhaps using less expensive finishes, or even trying to do some of the renovations themselves. I’m here to tell you that that can often cost you more in the long run. Installing laminate throughout the home in a neighbourhood where hardwood is the standard could hit you in the pocketbook when you go to sell. Trying to save money by not pulling the necessary permits can result in issues with your municipality, and the possibility of having to remove and redo everything.

Sounds like I’m trying to scare you, doesn’t it? That’s not the case. This is a question of knowing what you can realistically take on as a project. Renovating could be right up your alley, but purchasing a new or renovated home may be the perfect fit for you and your current lifestyle.

Or, you may find that the perfect answer is a property that falls somewhere in between: fine for now, but with the ability to tweak and make changes incrementally as time goes by.

With everything else going on in life, sometimes just picking out a new area rug or couch is all one wants to deal with. It’s stressful enough just buying and selling - add in having to live in a construction zone and there could be a lot of frayed nerves in your household!

Sarah Daniels is a top selling realtor in Greater Vancouver, who has been licensed since 2003. She appears regularly as a real estate expert on shows like “The Marilyn Denis Show on CTV”, as well as local radio and television. Sarah has written two books; “Welcome Home: Insider Secrets to Buying or Selling Your Property" and "Buying and Selling A Home For Canadians For Dummies". She also developed and co-hosted the show “Urban Suburban” on HGTV Canada. She works at Macdonald Realty Ltd., in White Rock, BC.

Sarah Daniels is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.

Make sure you’re covered with the best insurance plan for your home and auto.