With So Much Demand, Home Buyers & Sellers Look To Fixer-Uppers

May 1, 2019

If you’ve bought or sold a house recently, or just seen the forest of for sale signs around town, you know the Milwaukee real estate market is hot right now. Demand is outstripping supply in many parts of town. 

READ: 'Milwaukee Magazine' 2019 Real Estate Guide Demonstrates The City's Cresting Housing Market

With prices reflecting this phenomenon, there are many buyers who are looking at fixer-uppers — houses that are priced a little lower and could use some improvements to feel more like home. At the same time, the question for sellers is: how much work do you put in before you put your home on the market?

Credit National Association of Realtors

"It’s an unusual market where a lot of the people looking to purchase really are hoping to have those fixes done before they get there. So, it’s the sellers that kind of need to look at what they need to do to get the house sellable," notes Amy Curler, chair of Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors.

Another factor in the shortage of housing stock is the fact that there are not as many new, move-in ready homes being built.

"New home building is at one of its lowest paces in a number of years because so many tradespeople left the industry after the big recession, and they're not coming back," says Ron Klassen, owner of Klassen Remodeling and Design.

If you are looking to buy a house that needs some work, he suggests consulting with a remodeler to get a more accurate picture of what it may take to get the house to match the vision in your mind.

"You're probably going to be a little surprised at what it might cost you," notes Klassen. "You could try to take it on yourself, but there's some issues — do you really have the time, do you have the capability?"

If you are a potential seller in the housing market, having a realtor involved can also give additional insight as to whether the home improvements could actually deliver a quick return of investment.

"You don't want to be the most expensive house on the block. So, if no one else in that neighborhood has granite, or the really nice, fancy garage door, hardwood, etc. — you kind of have to suit the neighborhood as well — you're not going to get the return on your investment."

One helpful tool to determine which projects should be priorities is the Remodeling Impact Report.

Klassen and Cruler offer a few suggestions of some easy and inexpensive fixes around the home:

  • A fresh coat of paint: "The biggest, number one thing is paint. Just getting a good, clean coat of paint on the walls brightens and freshens everything up," explains Curler.
  • De-clutter: "Everybody can do that — it really makes a big difference," says Curler.
  • Changing the front door: "That makes a huge difference on your drive by appearance and also for sound and quality inside the house," says Curler.
  • Front landscaping
  • Improved lighting: "One of the things we see in older kitchens is the lighting is pathetic. It was one in the middle of the room and one light over the sink and that's all you had," notes Klassen. "So, to add a few of these pseudo-recessed LED fixtures is not an expensive thing but it really brightens up the space."

Even if a fixer upper is a buyer's only option due to financial restrictions, Curler argues that it's the best investment for your money.

"It's the American dream," she says. "It is the best investment for your money, but it's also about quality of life. People tend to take care of them better than, for instance, a rental. So, your lifestyle is better in a neighborhood in a family home or first time home."

Klassen adds, "On the other side of it, if you renovate you get to make it your own."