Reasons People Buy Fixer-Uppers, and They're Not Flippers

By: Victoria Carter

Reasons People Buy Fixer-Uppers, and They're Not Flippers

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Written by Claudia Guthrie

It's not just about the more affordable price tag

I live in a fairly old neighborhood in Denver, filled with Tudors and bungalows built in the ’40s and ’50s. My frequent walks through the streets always leave me oohing and aahing at the gorgeous brick facades. And I’m not alone.

Old houses seem to be all the rage. @cheapoldhouses lists affordable, historic houses for sale and is an Instagram sensation with more than 1.5 million followers. We spoke to homeowners who purchased old fixer-uppers—to fix and live in, not to flip—about what drew them to forego a typical, ready-to-move-into home.

Old Houses Have a Unique Charm

Natalie Ferreira and her husband were in the process of purchasing a house in Sandusky, Ohio, when they saw a beautiful 1828 brick home on @cheapoldhouses. They changed their plans, pulled out of the house in Sandusky, and instead moved 20 miles south to Norwalk, Ohio. 

The house was filled with stained and peeling wallpaper, holes in the roof, and extensive water damage. But underneath the weathered exterior (and interior), it was undeniably beautiful. 

“Most of my life I’ve lived in apartments or relatively new houses built in the ’70s and ’80s,” Ferreira says. “But [this house has] window seats and French doors and built-in-bookcases like if you were reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and you imagine the professor’s house. It’s really cool; it’s like living in a romantic story.” 

They spent the summer restoring the bedrooms so, as Ferreira says, “the kids could move in and it not feel creepy and weird,” and they moved in their family in September. There’s still a lot of work to go, but Ferreira says the “exhausting” renovation is worth it because their home is one-of-a-kind.

“It has character,” Ferreira says. “Not just that, though; it has personality. I feel like the house is my friend. An old house has a spirit about it. You can be friends with your house and it will take care of you.”

Old Houses Are Affordable

The Ferreiras were looking to move out of New Orleans specifically to revive an old home, and the small Midwest town was the perfect place to do so. 

“You get one of these cheap and fix it up and it could be a dream home, which we couldn’t afford in New Orleans,” Ferreira says. “Historic houses there are multi-million dollar endeavors.”

Laura Fugitt owns an 1890 American foursquare home in Dade County, Missouri. She says the price was one of the biggest selling points for her and her husband — fixer-uppers are a fraction of the cost of a ready-to-move-in home, so you can put your money into the house itself, instead of a mortgage. She says if you’re willing to put in the work and do most of the restoration yourself, you can save even more. 

“You can get a really cool house with so much character for a lot cheaper than buying a new home that looks like everybody else’s,” Fugitt says.

Old Houses Connect You to History

When Nick Weith and Damian Mordecai bought an 1870 house in Gowanda, New York, they found a treasure trove inside: Old love letters and photographs from people who previously lived there, ranging from 40 to 140 years ago. 

With extensive research and help from the town historian, Weith and Mordecai can now trace the entire history of the home and the families who lived there, with the exception of a 10-year gap in the early 1900s. 

“It’s a story that’s really only ours to learn and ours to tell, and that’s really exciting,” Mordecai says. 

Jessica Smith lives in a 1925 craftsman bungalow in Jacksonville, Florida. Though she’s taken steps to make it more modern, she says its history is still palpable within the 80-year-old plaster. 

“When I walk in, sometimes I just smell that old wood and I feel like I’m living in history,” she says. “It’s a feeling I don't think you’re going to get when you build something new.”

Old Houses Let You Flex Your DIY Muscles

If you’re planning to roll up your sleeves and renovate an old home on your own, Fugitt has a tip: Know your DIY abilities. 

“So many older homes are fixer-uppers, even if they don’t look like it,” she says. “Even the best-kept homes, there’s always something that comes up. It’s kind of the nature of old homes. But if you do go with a fixer-upper like we did, it saves you a lot of money and you can figure out how to do it yourself.”

Weith and Mordecai are also fixing up their house and learning on the job. 

“It is doable as long as you’re willing to put in the work and the sweat and the tears — which will all be present,” Weith says. “I think it’s something more people should look at.”

Old Houses Are a Foundation for Creativity

Some, like Smith, might buy a cheap old house and modernize it for the 21st century. Others who are more purist can opt to keep their home as period-appropriate as possible. 

Fugitt emphasizes the importance of finding a balance between honoring the home’s history without making it feel like you’re living in a museum. 

“In old home communities it’s kind of the saying that you’re not the owner, but you’re the caretaker,” she says. “So it’s your responsibility to make sure the home’s there for the next generation because it’s so historic and there are so many memories attached. So when you’re remodeling an old home, just think about things that honor the integrity of the home, the time period of the home, the style of the home. But at the same time, it’s your home. So you get the blank slate to make your own changes to match your family’s personality, too, which is the fun part.”

No matter where you fall on the modern-to-purist spectrum, you choose what works best for you and your lifestyle.

Old Houses Make You Part of a Community

For those who have moved into a historic home, they often find two types of community: one physical, one online.

Fugitt’s house used to belong to a doctor who would see patients in an upstairs exam room. She says she still has people in the town tell her they used to go see “Doctor K” there.

Along with the local community, and partially thanks to the huge following around @cheapoldhouses, there’s a larger presence dedicated to restoring old houses that many homebuyers stumble into. 

“One of the coolest parts of this entire experience has been that we are now part of this old house community on Instagram, and it has really offered some escapism,” Mordecai says. “Social media can be pretty brutal, but people have been so positive and supportive and excited about the project.”

Kirk Rickman and Victoria Carter
TwoMoveYou Guaranteed Real Estate Systems
Century 21 Percy Fulton Ltd., Brokerage