How I Flipped My Fixer Upper for Less Than $10K

published Sep 7, 2019
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After aggressively saving for two years (and moving back in with my parents!), my husband and I bought a fixer-upper in North Carolina for less than $65,000. The bones were good, the acreage better (nearly two whole acres, with an outside workshop!) but the interior and one bathroom (sans shower, yikes!) weren’t the stuff our HGTV dreams were made of. And on top of that, we only were left with a $10,000 budget to renovate.

Since we have a lot of friends and family in various construction industries, we knew it was possible—but it would take more than just a little creativity to get our new house in better shape. And while we could rely on helping hands (and our own handy abilities), we couldn’t rely on any handouts or discounted materials. It was daunting, but I truly believed that if we got creative and put in some elbow grease, we could turn our older, cheaper fixer-upper into the home of our dreams. We knew we couldn’t do everything we wanted to all at once and that our renovation would be (and still is!) ongoing—anything we couldn’t afford at the outset we decided we would get to when we had the funds saved. So before we started to even think about demo day, we sat down and decided what we needed to get our place to be livable. After deciding on our projects, we then prioritized every cent of our budget. And then we got to work.

Though it wasn’t easy, I’m happy to say we did it! With our modest nest egg, we added a half bathroom and custom-tiled shower. We retiled all our floors and had our carpets stretched and cleaned. We painted all the walls. In the end, we came in under budget and with a home that felt entirely different than the one we had bought.

Embarking on a bargain makeover for your new fixer-upper? Here, the three reno rules that helped us get our dream home on a less-than-ideal budget:

Budget with needs—not aesthetics—in mind

Unfortunately, our home originally had only one bathroom—which would not only have been annoying on a day-to-day basis, but a complete disaster if we ever had a bad takeout night. Additionally, when researching the best ways to gain value in a fixer-upper, it seemed that adding a bathroom would be the best bang for our buck. So we decided to funnel the majority of our funds into adding a tiny half bath in the mudroom. Sacrifices were made: Plumbing took up $3,000 of our budget alone and to make it all work, we had to close off the wall that led to our basement (which is now only accessible from outside). Also it’s still pretty small. But all in all, these were compromises I was more than happy to make to get the extra loo added.

Spend your money on people—not things

If there’s one thing my grandfather taught me, it’s that you should invest in people—not things. And we found that even applies when renovating a house. We knew we could always find materials, paint, and even appliances on the cheap, but that scrimping on labor would eventually bite us in the butt. The last thing we wanted was for wiring/plumbing/installation of anything to be done wrong or halfway—which would end up costing us more in the end had we just ponied up and paid for a seasoned professional at the forefront. So we looked for other ways to save: We bought our bathroom vanity, shower base, knobs, and lumber at a salvage store for around $700—at least half of what we would have paid at a big box home improvement store. We also scoured building surplus stores and local sales for everything else.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

My husband and I are handy—but we knew we couldn’t do everything ourselves. So we took a look at what needed to be done and carefully considered what we could handle and what we needed to outsource. We saved at least $1,500 by enlisting my father-in-law to help do tile work in our laundry room and bathrooms and we painted the house ourselves. For the rest, we tried to work with trusted people that offered us a friends and family discount as much as possible. My cousin handled our plumbing and my brother-in-law, an electrician, handled the wiring. Being able to save some money and help people you know out at the same time? That’s icing on the housewarming cake.

Looking to save some cash—not just in the renovation front? You can use some of these tips in other areas, too. Here, 7 money-saving lessons you can learn from home renovations.

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