If your heart is set on a neighborhood that lets you bike to work and raise urban chickens, you might not be able to get a dreamy, move-in-ready abode with all new upgrades. Instead, target fixer-uppers, or remodels, or teardowns. You might wish to consider a house with “good bones,” as they say, meaning there’s potential in there somewhere. If the house doesn’t even have that, a teardown might be in order.
You can often find fixer-uppers in the foreclosure arena. But beware. “Purchasing an REO/short sale or auction property when the asset is sold ‘as is’ necessitates a network of professionals to understand the condition and to project rehab costs,” offers Kelczewski. “Contractors, electricians, plumbers, even structural engineers may be required in order to adequately analyze a property.”
You’ll also need to devote some time, or sweat equity, to save money when you buy a fixer-upper. “It is important to have a sense of how much work would be needed to get the house in the shape you would want it to be. You would need to get estimates for the work — the final cost will probably be higher than the estimates — and try to determine how long it will take to get permits approved and contractors in the door … [and] it will probably take longer than everyone tells you,” says David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, NY. “But when you are pulling your hair out because you are cooking dinner in a half-finished kitchen, remember all of the money that you saved when you bought.”
Pro tip: If you spot major problems, such as mold, water damage, or cracks in the foundation, pass on the property. “Obvious signs of dereliction are harbingers of deterioration,” suggests Kelczewski.