How to Spot a Fixer-Upper

How to Spot a Fixer-Upper

Buying and renovating a  fixer-upper  property – one that’s a little dated or run-down – is a time-honoured tradition for bargain-hunting buyers looking to maximise their return on  investment

Finding the right property is integral to the success of this strategy – a poorly chosen project could easily cost far more to renovate than it could ever recoup in a sale. 

Before purchasing a property, it is important to spend time looking at what is available in one’s desired area and analyse the market thoroughly. Buyers are advised to engage with reputable estate agents in the area and brief them on their requirements in order to find their ideal property.   

Cape Town Regional Sales Manager for the Rawson Property Group provides a list of elements to look out for when finding a fixer-upper which is worth the investment and time.


Mott explains that the location of the property is crucial to a lucrative turn-around sale once the house is renovated. This is a factor that cannot be changed and affects the value of the property.

“If a house is in a bad neighbourhood, an inconvenient position, or too close to an undesirable structure like a cell phone tower or ugly apartment block, you can do the most spectacular renovation and still struggle to make a favourable sale, he said.  

Ideal locations include homes which are:  

  • Within popular school catchment areas 
  • Close to central business districts  
  • Located in a trendy neighbourhood with convenient access to freeways and other amenities.  
  • A north facing aspect, mature trees on the property and attractive views are an added bonus. 

Mott adds that not all trendy or popular neighbourhoods will have ‘fixer-uppers’ on the market. You often find elderly people moving out of up-and-coming suburbs who are selling homes that make perfect renovation projects, he said.   


Having the ideal location doesn’t always make a property a good  fixer-upper. Mott explains that a sound structure is essential in order to keep renovation costs down. 

“Homes with serious structural faults, like unstable foundations orweathered roof beams for example, can take a huge amount of money and expertise to repair,” he says.  

Mott adds that if a structure has issues with its foundations, investors cannot expect a quick turnover in sale. “This is seldom worthwhile for buyers hoping to resell for a profit in the short to medium term. If you’re not sure about the structural condition of a property, I’d highly recommend getting an expert inspection performed. This is not the kind of issue you want to discover halfway through a renovation.”

  3. LAYOUT  

A solid structure is certainly an important part, but Mott says layout also can’t be ignored.

“It’s a mistake to assume you can solve every design flaw by knocking down a few walls and opening up the layout. If the kitchen or bathrooms are in a weird location, or the bedrooms are all in the coldest, darkest part of the home, it’s going to be difficult to solve that problem in a cost-effective manner,” explains Mott.

Mott recommends looking for homes with convenient room “clusters” – a comfortable bedroom wing, a central kitchen, dining and living area with logically placed entrances, garden access and bathrooms. “This enables you to remove a few, non-loadbearing walls to open things up if necessary, and you won’t end up with a family bathroom in the middle of your living space,” he says. 


Building work is notorious for being unpredictable, but Mott says it is vital to at least understand the renovation cost ballpark you’re playing in before buying a fixer-upper. He advises that investors set budgets for individual items or sections of the home, for example; set a price per m2 for flooring and stick to it. Investors are advised to choose home fixtures and finishes with their budget in mind.  

“To make a profit on a fixer-upper, the purchase price plus the total renovation cost needs to be low enough that you can recoup your investment – with a healthy profit – not too far down the line. If you don’t fully understand the renovation costs, it’s all too easy to end up with a money-drain rather than a money-spinner,” Mott explains  

First time house flippers are advised to consult with a construction expert before making a purchase possible.  

If you are planning on contracting all the building workout, make sure you have chosen a reliable contractor with great contactable references. Don’t choose a builder based on the lowest “thumb suck” pricing, you will regret it in the long run,” said Mott.  

Mott advises investors to assign a portion of their renovation costs to the garden or green areas as this is often overlooked and can be a deal breaker if the building is beautifully renovated and the external areas are left unattended. Mott adds some adds of wisdom for those looking to purchasing a fixer upper. “It’s all about going in with your eyes wide open. Naïve optimism has no place in a fixer-upper project, but if you do your homework and make sure you know what you’re getting into, renovating run-down homes can be a rewarding and profitable strategy for property investment,” explains Mott. 

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