Many people think of “fixer-uppers” as tackling a gut renovation of a historic Bed-Stuy brownstone or Ditmas Park Victorian, but fixer-uppers come in all shapes and sizes. So if you’re looking to purchase an apartment, consider a co-op or condo in need of work. The majority of buyers do not want to take on projects as minor as small repairs, paint and floors. Even in our current more buyer-driven real estate market, it’s no surprise that the most stylishly renovated homes are still seeing high demand. And who doesn’t want a move-in ready, Instagram-worthy home?
If you can see past dated cabinets, vinyl tile, poor layout and even sad staging, you might be able to score a better deal, build equity and achieve your dream home. If you have the enterprise but lack vision, work with an experienced real estate agent who can help you see past the crud, estimate costs and connect you with renovation professionals. As it happens, our real estate team is made up of experienced renovators, so here are a few fixer-upper apartment tips.
Whether you’re buying with cash or financing, you need a budget. Work with a qualified lender to determine your maximum purchasing power and how much cash you’ll have left after your down payment and closing costs. Establishing whether you have $5,000 or $100,000 for renovations will help determine how much work you can do—from a flooring and paint refresh to a full fresh start. If you can’t live in the unit during renovations, be sure to plan and budget for alternate housing (including extra takeout while you wait for your new kitchen or a nice gift for the friend who lets you crash).
An experienced real estate agent knows how to scour hundreds of listings to find a unit with real potential.
A sponsor unit is still owned by the original owner or the corporation that first converted the building into co-ops. These are sometimes in original condition or renovated with minimal basic finishes. This is a chance to start fresh or add your own personal touches if some of the more major work has already been done. As an added benefit, sponsor units do not require co-op board approval and will often allow for less than a 20% down payment.
These two words could be your best friends if you’re on the fixer-upper hunt. These units are not necessarily being sold by the heirs to a deceased owner. “Estate condition” more often refers to the condition—ranging from total wreck to in dire need of style and function updates.
Units that have been actively on the market more than 90 days without much interest might be suffering from dated finishes—or even just poor staging—and could be a good opportunity to grab a great apartment if you’re the buyer who is able to visualize the potential. A word of caution: Not every fixer upper has potential. Look for a good existing layout (or one that can be easily changed). Moving plumbing and electric are two big-ticket items, and very often it is difficult, if not impossible, to move toilets and sinks in an apartment. Ask to see the building’s renovation policy and any history of renovations in the building before making an offer or signing the contract.
You might find a negotiable fixer-upper in a neighborhood you thought was out of your price range, and you can make upgrades over time. Some “move-in ready” units might have inexpensive or outmoded finishes, but have natural light, great views, a highly desirable location, potential to create a second or third bedroom, or original details. A unique or redeeming factor is a must and will add to future resale value.
Whether you’re handy or need to hire everything out, every renovation takes time and money, and makes a mess. So just embrace the temporary madness. Minimize stress by making a solid plan before putting a hammer through a wall. Make a list of everything you think you want to do and spend some time surfing Pinterest for design ideas. Then, get multiple bids and decide where you’re willing to compromise and cut down your wish list. Choose finishes—tile, paint colors, light fixtures, etc.—before you start work. Because unexpected issues come up with every renovation, front-end planning will help you manage changes during work. Are renovation pains worth it? Yes! You have potential to build instant equity while creating a customized apartment and achieving your dream home. Whether you’re ready to dip your paintbrush or tear down walls, there’s a renovation project to fit every budget and level of enthusiasm.