Fixer-Upper versus New-Build

My husband and I, we talk relentlessly about our next home. We’re in a typical starter home, and our next move up the property ladder has been slowed down by the recent housing market issues.

But we still talk about it. We’ll buy a fixer-upper, and then we’ll increase the value immeasurably by DIYing our way into a high-quality home. When we sell up, we’ll make a killing in equity and buy an even bigger fixer-upper… And so on until, presumably, we fall over and get buried in a fixer-upper cemetery we’ll improve from beyond the grave.

We have two kids, and we both work full-time jobs. He regularly works 60-hour weeks or more, and I’m not far behind.

The amount of time we get to spend together as a couple is negligible as a result – and that’s not even taking into account the amount of time we spend doing up our current home, which is habitable but needs updating.

And yet we plan to sacrifice years of our lives to doing up a fixer-upper when we could buy a smaller new-build and enjoy a home that’s actually in order from the moment we move in. So are we making a rational decisions, or should we rethink our future?

Doing up a fixer-upper takes money, sure, but it also takes time. In a pinch, the money can be secured by taking out a sizeable mortgage or saving for years to build a cash cushion for the necessary expenditure. But the time is non-negotiable; you can’t build a new bathroom in minutes.

You won’t wallpaper all the rooms in an evening. When you buy a fixer-upper, regardless of whether you plan to do the work yourself or hire costly builders, you need to bear in mind the vast oceans of time you’re sacrificing. And you can’t borrow time. You can’t promise a time-bank that you’ll pay them back later; you’re not building up time-equity.

The monetary reality of some fixer-uppers is that they won’t make you that return. Assessing the potential of the home doesn’t guarantee it won’t reveal costly structural problems as you carry on, and you’re not going to be able to know one hundred percent for sure that your investment will bear the fruit you’re hoping to harvest.

This fact produces a low-level undercurrent of stress that will dog your every day until you complete the project. Again, you’re sacrificing something you can’t pay back; happiness and relaxation.

So my husband and I have decided that the next house will be a new-build. We’ll work our ridiculous hours in a home that’s still under warranty, and our children will play in a garden that’s been tamed by someone other than their dad.

We’ll relax in this house when we have those scant few free hours, and we’ll know that our investment, while probably low- or no-yield, is safe.

And when they move out and we don’t need to reserve hours every day to spend time raising our kids, then we’ll look at fixer-uppers and make sure the time and the relaxation we sacrifice are part of a much bigger supply.

Maybe a fixer-upper is the ideal solution for you. I can’t make these decisions for anyone but my family, after all. But think it through carefully and remember that the potential return is not the only consideration you need to bear in mind.

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