5 Questions to Ask Before Investing in a Fixer-Upper

by Brandon Turner |


So should you invest in a fixer-upper? Despite a few cons, I would say yes, you should definitely consider it because of the overwhelming pros. However, before you jump into your next project, ask yourself these five questions about the deal.

5 Questions to Ask Before Investing in a Fixer-Upper

1. How bad is it?

There are many levels of severity when dealing with fixer-uppers. Some properties need just a few thousand dollars worth of paint, while others need a complete overhaul. As common sense would suggest, the less work a property needs, the less risk you’ll have that something will go wrong during the rehab.

At the same time, however, the less work a property needs, the more competition you’ll face. This is why I generally look for properties that appear to need a lot of work to the general public but that actually just need minor fixes. For example, homes that have a bad smell because of pets or cigarettes are a prime candidate for me, because smells are easy to rectify. An ugly exterior paint job or a bad roof are also fairly easy (if costly) to remedy, but they scare away more potential homeowners. So, before you buy a fixer-upper, I encourage you really look at the property and have an accurate estimate of what it’s going to take to fix it up. Don’t go into a fixer-upper blind.


2. Is it worth it?

Let me ask you a question: Is it better to buy a house for $120,000 that needs $30,000 worth of repairs, or a house that is $150,000 that is 100% finished? With all other factors being equal, the finished house clearly has the advantage. However, many investors fail to comprehend this logic and instead think “fixer-upper” automatically means “great deal.” It doesn’t!

Often, the cost of rehabbing a project will negate any discount you might get. On the other hand, if you could get that same property for $90,000 and put $30,000 into it to make it worth $150,000, now we’re talking!

3. Do I have the time?

Whether you plan to do the work yourself or not, fixer-uppers take time! You have to be present at the property often to make sure the work is being finished correctly, or maybe you’ll end up having to do the work yourself. I have a friend who bought a fixer-upper triplex with plans to live in one unit and rent the other two out, but it took him three years to fix up the two other units and get them rented! While this friend may still have a great investment on his hands, he lost close to $40,000 in potential rent over those three years because he didn’t have time to handle a fixer-upper.

4. Do I have the skills?

Most people who are looking to get started with fixer-upper rental properties plan to do the work themselves. I actually encourage this, as long as the work is on a small scale. Being able to do your own rehab can save you a ton of money and can help you get a good feel for how long projects take so you can better manage the hiring out of those projects in the future. However, if this is your plan, do you really have the skills to take on the project? If not, see the next question in this list.

5. Do I have the drive?

Or more importantly, do you have the mental skills and motivation needed to learn how to accomplish those projects? My first home was a fixer-upper, and I had never swung a hammer in my life! However, I picked up a book on home improvement and began learning on the job. I also called in a lot of favors from other people I knew and had them teach me how to do things. By the end of the project, I could install carpet, tile a bathroom, lay laminate wood flooring, solder copper pipes, and fix a leaky roof—not because I had the skill, but because I had the desire and motivation to learn.

By answering these five questions for every project you are about to take on, you can better decide whether it is the right path for you. Fixer-uppers can be a great way to supercharge your wealth creation, but they also present increased risk. Just be sure to do your due diligence on any fixer-upper you plan to buy and accurately account for the hurdles you might face. Then take action, and get a little dirty!




When we purchased this East Nashville project house earlier this spring, one of the things that first drew us to the property was this little room off the kitchen that was just BEGGING to become a built-in breakfast nook!

Here’s the before photo …

Isn’t the upgrade amazing?!

For this post, we partnered with Walls Need Love. They have beautiful options for removable wallpaper, murals and wall decals. We chose the Ida Removable Wallpaper for our nook.

I don’t normally wallpaper ceilings, but in this tight space it creates a high impact, pulled together look. I am BEYOND pleased with how this turned out. And the best part is you can install this wallpaper yourself in a weekend.

The first step for this project was to build three benches, customized for the space. Collin removed the trim in the space, framed out the base of the benches and then added the seat back last.

The next step was to build the table. We’re not going to full DIY instructions (although let us know if you’d like to hear them all in a separate post), but Collin built a farmhouse-style table, perfectly fitted for the benches. The table top is about two inches smaller than the floor space between the benches.

If there are any vents or outlets on the wall, they should be extended to outside of the bench, not covered up.

For paint, Collin used two coats of stain blocking primer and then two coats of glossy untinted acrylic paint.

The next step was to install the wallpaper.

Our best tip is to be patient. Collin started by installing one strip from the front of the ceiling all the way down the back of the wall, and then worked out from there. For a continuous pattern, you can’t make it match from every angle, so we prioritized the front facing angle. The sides of the wall to ceiling don’t match, but the pattern hides it very well.

Last, Collin installed a fresh new light fixture.

When shopping for wallpaper, always order samples. I always order way too many samples, but it’s helpful because some of the time they look different in person. Samples can also help you get an idea of scale.

Wallpaper – Ida Removable Wallpaper by Walls Need Love, Light – Luna Pendant in Black by Schoolhouse Electric.

I’m happy we went neutral in this space because I can style it with pillows, flowers and baskets to reflect each season. I am SO EXCITED to have guests stay in our new home and I hope they love it as much as we do!

My partner in crime was in town and got to see our new property for the first time. I bribed her with some cinnamon rolls to snap a few photos … always works!

I hope this post has inspired you and shown what a HUGE transformation a little wallpaper can make! It made this space so much more thoughtful looking. It would have been nice without it, but with it it’s really special!

If you’re one of those people who has been terrified of wallpaper, this next paragraph is for you. 🙂

Wallpaper in 2017 is a whole new animal. It’s nothing like vintage paper that takes forever to remove (I am still somewhat traumatized from the painted-over wallpaper in our last home). These days it’s easier than ever to install AND remove. So easy that some of the time you can do it yourself (or at least remove it yourself if you don’t want to do the install). And there are countless new options that look super modern. So give wallpaper a chance.

Thank you so much for reading! I am beyond grateful to have you here. xx – Elsie (and Collin, too!)

Credits//Author: Elsie Larson and Collin DuPree. Project Assistant: Collin DuPree. Photography: Amber Ulmer.


9 Clever Landscaping Hacks for Your Best-Ever Yard

Kill Weeds with Boiling Water

For an all-natural and virtually free way to kill weeds, all you need are a few kitchen basics. Fill a pot with water, bring it to a boil, then dump the water on any offending plants—the piping hot liquid will kill them instantly. This trick works especially well for weeds that pop up in cracks or joints on the patio or driveway, because the hot water could harm neighboring plants, but it won’t hurt the surrounding hardscape.


Use Fake Turf to Deter Dogs

Because pets use the lawn as a playground and bathroom, dog owners often end up with torn-up grass with patchy brown spots. But you can have a gorgeous lawn and keep your best friend happy too if you install lush-looking artificial grass in place of the real stuff. The turf will deter dogs from digging, conceal their bathroom area, and prevent them from tracking mud into the house. As an added bonus, homeowners with artificial grass never need to mow the lawn!


Plant Over a Septic Tank

Septic tank covers can be a real eyesore in a garden. Instead of ignoring the sewage necessity, try covering it with layer of mulch and beautiful flowers. Homeowners can easily sweep the mulch out of the way to access the tank, and nobody will know what lies beneath the landscaping.



Use Bulbs to Create Year-Round Color

Many flowering plants have brief bloom times, and some perennials have surprisingly short lifespans, so if you want constant color in your garden, you need to plant vibrant annuals or switch out perennials regularly. For a low-maintenance alternative, plant a mix of flowering bulbs, such as snowdrops and lilies, that bloom at different times. If you rely on bulbs, you’ll have to plant only once each year, and your garden will look great from spring to fall.

Prevent Flooding with a Rain Garden

Surfaces that don’t absorb rainwater, such as streets, sidewalks, and rooftops, can cause water to collect and pool, leading to flooding. You can capture the water runoff and return it to the environment by creating a rain garden, a depressed area in your yard planted with a mix of perennials and native plants. Rainwater will flow toward the garden, where it will nurture the plants and drain into the soil.


Fill Your Flower Bed with Pots

To pack your garden with color year-round, purchase pots and fill them with flowers that have different bloom times. Place the pots with blossoming plantsfront and center in your garden. As the season progresses, move the pots around to make the most of the flowers, and swap out pots when necessary.



Edge a Garden with Pine Board

Giving your garden a well-defined edge keeps things tidy and instantly increases curb appeal, but stone borders are expensive, and flexible plastic edging can be unattractive. A wooden border is a great compromise: Pretreated pine boards are readily available, inexpensive, and easy to cut. Simply outline the perimeter of the garden bed with a shovel or spade, then wedge in lengths of wood to create the edge.



Pack Planters with Peanuts

Although large, dramatic planters and pots pack a punch in any landscape, they can become inconveniently heavy when filled with soil. Fortunately, most plants don’t actually need that much soil to take root, so you can lighten the load by filling the containers halfway with packing peanuts before adding the soil. The planters will be easier to move around, and you’ll save money on soil to boot.


Plant Ground Covers on a Slope

Maintaining a steeply sloped section of lawn can be tricky, because it can be tough to mow and can easily erode from exposure to wind and water. Structural solutions like retaining walls or terracing can be expensive, and most plants don’t grow deep roots fast enough to control erosion. As a solution, try planting ground covers like English ivy, periwinkle, or dead nettle, all of which grow quickly and densely, making them ideal for holding the soil in place.


DIY: Refresh Your Bathroom With a New Sink and Vanity


Give your ol’ WC a quick update for just a couple hundred bucks and a few hours of your time.

You’re tired of your old, dated bathroom, but not yet ready to do a full-on remodel — it’s a common scenario.

Here is an easy fix that can cost you as little as $200 and about an afternoon’s worth of time: a new vanity/sink combo.

An updated sink and vanity will stand out and draw the eye to it, instead of to other bathroom elements that may be less than perfect. And if you happen to be replacing an old pedestal sink, you will instantly give yourself more storage space.

Many vanity styles are available at your local home improvement store. They come in all shapes and sizes to fit just about any bathroom, even the tiniest of rooms. Some models even have a matching mirror to help you complete the new look of your bathroom.


A new vanity can add personality to even the smallest powder room. Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

The best part is you can save a lot of money by doing the installation yourself. Here are tips to help get you started.

Selecting a vanity/sink combo

  • Consider the size of the room and the space you have available for the sink. You want to select a vanity that not only fits in the room, but also is in correct proportion to the room and the other elements within it. For example, you may not want to put a tiny vanity in a spacious bathroom with lots of light. The same is true of the opposite scenario: Be wary of putting a large vanity in a small bathroom, even if the room technically has enough space for it.
  • Select a vanity that coordinates well with the style and color scheme of not only the bathroom, but also your home overall, and any future updates that you may have planned for down the road.
  • Make certain to purchase a vanity that has no back. This will make it much easier to fit the cabinet around the plumbing, and provide easy access for the installation.
  • Don’t forget about the faucet! In most cases you will need to purchase your faucet separately. Be certain to pick one that is an “easy-install” faucet.

Installation tips

  • Allow enough time to complete the project, especially if this is the only bathroom in your home.
  • Before beginning your project, make sure you have all the tools and materials you need at hand. It’s also a good idea to check the box that the new sink/vanity came in to make sure that all fasteners and hardware are there. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a project only to find that you’re missing a screw or a drawer pull.
  • Install the new faucet into the new sink prior to installing the new vanity.
  • Plan for the removal of the old sink. For example, if the new vanity is a different size than the old, you will most likely need to touch up the wall paint in the area, and possibly even repair parts of the wall.
  • It never hurts to have a helper. You may need help with removing the old sink and putting the new one in place.

With your new vanity installed, your bathroom will look and feel newer and better, and you will have the pride of having done the job yourself.

The Worst Home Renovation Advice You Might Actually Try

Margaret Heidenry



There’s a ton of terrific, true, and essential home improvement advice out there. “Measure twice, cut once” comes to mind. Ditto “Pick remodeling projects with the best ROI.”  But “Screw contractors, do it all yourself”? Not so much.

Bottom line: There’s some very, very bad advice out there, fighting for attention along with the good. And much of this misdirection may actually be trotted out by friends and family who mean well. Unfortunately, good intentions won’t keep your home from becoming seriously messed up.

So before you pick up a hammer, make sure to check this list of the worst home renovation advice you might be tempted to try. Then slowly back away from the toolkit and think twice! Maybe even three times.

‘Tearing down a wall is no big deal’

Why you might hear this: That half-wall into the dining room is just that: half a wall. Tearing it down seems like a cheap and easy way to open up tons of space. They do it on “Property Brothers” all the time! Like, every week!

Why it’s bad advice: Some walls may not look it, but they are indeed structural, meaning they’re holding up the floors or framework above. And what’s in those walls—electric and plumbing—can make ripping into one on par with opening a vat of Maori eels.

“Water, drain, and electrical lines may be inside,” says Nancy Dalton of Seattle’s Baywolf Dalton, a design/build firm. Always have a professional determine the implications of tearing down a wall and what’s required by code—or you could be in for “significant sticker shock.”


‘Update to what’s trendy’

Why you might hear this: If a home improvement design is in vogue, it must be good—and could boost your home’s value if you’re looking to sell.

Why it’s bad advice: Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for your needs. Be open to input. Just “never let anyone talk you into a renovation that you really don’t want or don’t like,” says designer Pablo Solomon of Austin, TX.


‘A historic home needs to be modernized’

Why you might hear this: If a house is historic, it’s bound to feel stuffy and old-fashioned unless you do a 100% rehab.

Why it’s bad advice: Eliminating the historic appeal or character of a home—think tearing out original woodwork, built-ins, and claw-foot bathtubs—is one of the worst things you can do, according to Realtor® Matt Forcum with Century 21 Realty Concepts in Effingham, IL.

While completely updating an older home may appeal to certain homeowners, those changes may result in a house whose interior style doesn’t match the exterior, or that doesn’t match the character of the neighborhood. This makes it “a market outlier” and might drag down the value of the property and the speed of sale.


‘Replace your worn-out wood floors with something easy to clean’

Why you might hear this: Your hardwood floors look like a Louisville slugger after the World Series. Putting down laminate or wall-to-wall carpeting is an inexpensive fix.

Why it’s bad advice: “Unless you’ve had significant water damage, it doesn’t take much to replace hardwood flooring,” says Luis Leonzo with And ripping out old floors may actually lower the value of your house.

“The older the home, the higher the quality of hardwood, which might have cost $20 a square foot when it was built. Replacing the flooring with laminate or carpet at $1 a square foot is like reupholstering your leather couch with canvas!”


‘Use the best-quality materials—and by that, we mean the most expensive’

Why you might hear this: Hey, whatever costs the most is the very best.

Why it’s bad advice: While some pricey new countertops can improve a home’s value, outrageously expensive renovations will rarely pay off, according to Morgan Franklin of United Real Estate Lexington in Kentucky. Instead, Franklin suggests finding nice granite for $35 to $50 instead of marble that would run $100-plus a square foot.

“In the eyes of the appraiser and the next buyer, there isn’t much difference,” Franklin says. Bottom line: When considering upgrades to a home you plan to sell in the future, understand what value the market places on those upgrades.


‘Just do whatever your gut tells you’

Why you might hear this: You know what you like. Besides, it’s your home and your money.

Why it’s bad advice: Sure, in some cases you can renovate however you see fit, but it’s far wiser to understand the pros, cons, and realistic costs of each renovation you want to undertake.

Too often “people don’t research the facts as to what renovations actually will pay off in a higher resale value for their home,” says Solomon. A good place to start is to check out these renovations that really pay off.


‘You can always DIY!’

Why you might hear this: You’ve watched a ton of HGTV, right? And so you pretty much understand everything from framing to finishing.

Why it’s bad advice: This all comes down to the size of the project. Don’t shy away from a renovation you’re capable of doing yourself. But attempting one you’re not up to can turn into one giant mess. And what you think might save a few hundred dollars upfront can cost thousands if a contractor has to fix your work. When clients ask him if they can tackle projects themselves, says Joe I. Human of Designs by Human, it usually means “more work, delays, and generally subpar quality.”


6 Real Estate Secrets You Can Learn From House Flippers

You’ve seen the TV shows: Individual finds a foreclosed home in the best neighborhood in town, scoops up said home for a steal, fixes it up, and sells it for a significant profit. What those DIY and home improvement shows don’t necessarily show you, though, is how tough flipping houses for a profit can actually be.

But professional house flippers have insights that can be helpful to just about anyone who’s looking to buy or sell real estate. Here are the six secrets house flippers know that you can apply to your own real estate adventures.


1. Location always rules

It’s the age-old real estate adage: “Location matters.” For flippers and buyers alike, location is one of the more important criteria when buying. “I have learned that the best homes that sell for the most money and quickly are in areas where people want to live,” says Justin Udy, a real estate agent with Century 21 Everest Realty Group in Midvale, UT. If you’re hesitating in buying a home because of a locational factor — it backs up to a busy road, for instance — don’t buy it. Down the line, other buyers will hesitate for the same reason.

2. Consider resale as you go

Of course you want to put your own stamp on your new home, but you should also avoid superpersonalized design choices. Just because you like shag carpet doesn’t mean potential buyers will love it just as much when it comes time to sell. In addition, don’t overinvest in design upgrades. Flippers make a conscious decision not to “overupdate” their homes (for instance, adding marble tile when the comps all have ceramic), and as a buyer you should also consider your comps (otherwise known as your neighbors’ homes) when renovating your space.

Consider the upgrades and fixes that will be attractive to buyers who want to be in your neighborhood, adds interior designer and licensed real estate agent David Schneider of Schneider Kennedy Design in St. Louis, MO. “For instance, in some neighborhoods, laminate flooring is fine, while in another it is taboo,” he says.

3. Aim for instant equity

House flippers know not to buy homes at market value — they need to be well-underpriced (like a foreclosure) so the flippers have immediate equity. This allows flippers to quickly make repairs and sell without having to wait for the market to catch up to the price they want.

Homebuyers can adapt this rule for their own buying strategy. It’s not easy to find a house that’s extremely underpriced — and if you do, it’s probably not one you’d want to live in while you’re fixing it up — but you can aim to buy a lower-priced home in the neighborhood you want, live in it and make modest repairs, and then sell it years later for a profit. By that time, the market value should (hopefully) surpass your purchase price plus improvement expenditures.

4. Be diligent with inspections

Surprises usually aren’t happy news for a home flipper. A home may look OK on the surface, but professional flippers know that problems can lurk beneath what you see. Thorough inspections are key to help minimize fix-up costs — and make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into so that you can plan your budget accordingly. These inspections are essential to understanding the difference between a cosmetic fixer-upper and a serious rehab.

The same rule applies to homebuyers. When your HVAC or plumbing breaks unexpectedly because problems weren’t pointed out during an inspection, you might have to save up more cash before you can afford to make the cosmetic fixes you’d planned when you submitted the offer.

5. Have a backup plan

In other words: Always consider the worst-case scenario. For flippers, the goal is to buy, renovate, and sell, but what if the listing just sits on the market and those dreaded “carrying costs” start to add up? Sometimes a change of course is necessary when the local real estate market is soft and it doesn’t make financial sense to list your home for sale. Then what? “If the entire market turned around and no more homes were selling, ask yourself, ‘Could I lease this property and make a monthly profit?'” says Justin Udy. “A long-term exit strategy should be considered with any investment.”

6. Hire professionals

When it comes to home repairs, the old saying “You get what you pay for” rings true. Home improvements and upgrades affect both your enjoyment of your new home while you live in it and also your ability to sell it quickly (and at a good price) when you’re ready to move on.

“Seasoned professionals are worth their weight in gold,” says Udy. “Your goal is to maximize perceived value [when selling a home], so craftsmanship is important. Surround yourself with professionals. Get multiple bids and hire the person that seems to be the best for the job and most realistic — not the most expensive. I found the cheapest bid never does the best work and the most expensive just costs more. Remember, good work is not cheap and cheap work is not good. Just find someone good, professional, and competent.”

5 Spots You Should Clean in Your Kitchen Every Day



Here at The Kitchn we talk a lot about how to clean all of those special and persnickety things in your kitchen — from cleaning your knives to maintaining your cast iron skillet to cleaning the outside of your wood cabinets — but what about those cleaning tasks you should tackle daily?

There are a few things that should be cleaned daily to help you keep a tidy kitchen. Luckily they don’t take that much time at all. Here are the top five things you should be cleaning every day.


1. The Sink

The bad news is that your kitchen sink is actually one of the dirtiest places in your home, so you definitely need to be cleaning it daily. The good news is that kitchen sinks are generally pretty easy to clean. Whether you make your own cleaner with vinegar, or opt for a store-bought disinfectant, give your sink a good cleaning each night and a thorough scrubbing as needed. Plus, you can always disinfect with hot water from your tea kettle after you make tea or coffee.


2. The Counters & Stovetop

Unless you ate out for all three meals, we’re going to guess that you used your counters and stovetop at some point during the day, which means they need to be wiped down at least once each day — more if something spills or you scatter crumbs or you’re a bit imprecise with your pepper grinder. Save the thorough scrubbing for once per week, but make sure they are cleaned off every day.


3. Your Sponge

Admittedly, this could be more of a once-a-week chore, but it’s so fast to do that you might as well make it the last part of your dishes routine each night. Good Housekeeping investigated the most effective way to clean your sponge, and while soaking it in bleach (yuck!) was the winner, running it through the dish washer and zapping it in the microwave were close runners-up. So once you’ve finished your dishes each night, dampen your sponge and pop it in the microwave, or run it in the cycle with your dishwasher. No microwave or dish washer? Soaking it in white vinegar is also effective.


4. The Kitchen/Dining Table

Basically, wherever you sit down to eat your meal should be wiped down every day. If you eat at the coffee table, give that a once-over with a damp cloth. And if you work from home like I do, and are prone to eating at your desk, the same rule applies. You don’t want to leave any food crumbs that could attract ants or worse.


(Image credits: Smitten Studio; Leela Cyd; Faith Durand; Emma Christensen; IKEAGina Eykemans)