before and after remodel for fixer-upper house

Remodeling a Fixer-Upper Into Your Dream Home

Look at any Bay Area real estate listings, and you will see a myriad of older homes advertised as “customizable”, “your potential dream home”, or, simply put, “fixer-upper”. While it may seem shocking to see rundown homes attached to hefty price tags, it’s our reality in the San Francisco Bay area. 

The housing market is in a boom, and real estate, particularly in the Bay Area, is at a premium. Even homes that need a substantial amount of work are selling high and fast. It is possible to turn one of these homes with “potential” into the home of your dreams.

Remodeling Considerations While Looking for a Fixer-Upper

- What to Look For in a Fixer-Upper

It’s important to keep an open mind while viewing a home that may need extensive remodeling. That being said, maintain your priorities during your real estate search.  

  • Size – Evaluate the property to ascertain if the current square footage will meet your lifestyle needs. If the house simply is not large enough, is there enough property available for an addition?
  • Location – Location is everything! Determine if the locale meets your criteria. Check the neighborhood, nearby shopping, commute times, and school districts, if applicable. 

- What to Avoid

Unless you plan to completely level the home, there are some structural issues that are best to avoid. These will be pricey and time-consuming to repair, and may not be worth the investment.

  • Foundation –The foundation is one one of the key structures of a home. Look for crumbling, gaps, buckling, water damage, or cracks in the foundation. When in doubt, call in a foundation inspector before you proceed. 
  • Roof – Replacing a roof is an expensive project. Have your inspector carefully examine the roof for damaged or missing shingles. Ask the seller’s realtor, directly, if the home has had any repairs from water damage. The seller is supposed to disclose these things, but sometimes they are not forthcoming with the entire history of the property.
  • Plumbing – Plumbing issues can be difficult to spot, but can cause extensive damage and costly repairs. Look for signs of leaks or water damage and have pipes and septic systems thoroughly inspected before closing.
foundation on fixer-upper home remodel

- Don’t Overpay

A fixer-upper often comes with a lower price tag. While this can be a benefit, make sure to evaluate all the renovation expenses before you purchase the home. Look at the post renovation market value of the home. Find similar homes in the area. Calculate your renovation costs, plus an additional 10 percent for emergencies. Subtract the number from the market value of the home and use this as a purchase budget. 

Building Codes And Your Fixer-Upper

Consider researching permits, codes, and requirements before you make an offer. Often buyers are surprised by the extent of requirements put in place by the city and county. An architect, engineer, or general contractor is often a knowledgeable resource when it comes to city and county remodeling requirements. 

The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection lists the permits needed for most construction projects. Each county will have their own codes and requirements, as well.

Learn more about the Contra Costa County residential permit process here. And, the Alameda County process here

Getting Help to Remodel a Fixer-Upper

The best resource for remodeling a fixer-upper is a residential architect who understands renovations. Look for an architect who shares your vision for your finished space. They can bring your new home up to code and design the space to your dream specifications. Not only does an architectural firm develop plans and designs, they can be the project manager for the rest of your remodel team, ensuring that the project is completed within budget and in a timely manner. 

Should You Live Through Remodeling?

Once you have closed on your fixer, worked with your architect, and are preparing to begin construction you need to figure out where you and your family will live. Typically, it is simpler to live off site during construction. If you are lucky, you can afford to stay in your current home while remodeling your new home. However, many homeowners do not have a choice.

It is possible to live through a remodel. Ideally, you could remodel one space at a time. This allows you to have a functional living space while other areas are undergoing renovation. Of course, if your space is completely gutted, or does not have functional electrical or plumbing systems, it will be impossible to live in the home during renovation. 

All these scenarios are a lot to consider at once. Even before you find your dream fixer, you can reach out to Drafting Cafe Architects. As soon as you have your new project, they can start the measurement process and move things ahead so you can realize your dream sooner. 


Get in touch with us. We would love to help you get your project off the ground