It's not every day I get a good laugh, but I did last week while at Calm Salon for an overdue 3-hour Keratin treatment. Tucked in for the long haul (don't ask; my hair is extremely high-maintenance), I had one interesting conversation after another with the ladies of Piedmont as they came and went in turn. (Think Forest Gump on the bus bench).
"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get."
Towards the end of my marathon appointment, the salon owner and I swapped stories about our college-age kids. My son is headed to New Zealand for a summer semester abroad, while her daughter is planning on staying in NYC to continue working at her cool internship . . . (our kids' lives are a lot more interesting than ours ever were).
"My daughter keeps sending me photos of all of these beautiful apartments," she said with exasperation, and then continued, "Those are great, IF I were renting an apartment in Manhattan . . . what she needs to be looking for, is a 'dump'!"
What parent can't relate?
With 25% of all grown children returning home to live with their parents, there's been a definite shift in how we handle these budding young adults. Whether it's inviting them back into the plush surroundings they called home, or helping them to pay their monthly overhead, quite often their first apartments are far nicer than anything we ever inhabited along the way. (Remember sleeping on a futon and making shelves out of grocery crates and discarded boards? I do.) With all due respect to the millions of millennials, (and yes, I'm dating myself), in my day, once we left the nest, we were expected to learn how to fly . . .
Right now, my older son, Case, is living in Raleigh, NC, primarily because the cost of living is far more affordable there and because, that's where he's gainfully employed (and by "gainfully," I mean he doesn't call home for money). While there may come a point when his Dad and I become willing to step in and help with a down payment on some future starter home, I doubt it's going to be anytime soon. There's a lot of valuable growth that happens in our twenties and I want Case to experience it all (the good, the bad, and the dumpy).
As for purchasing the "dump" as a strategic investment, this is often easier said than done. With most "fixers" receiving multiple bids, you can quickly see your improvement budget completely consumed in the race to get the house. It should come as no surprise that there are usually plenty of folks willing to take these projects on, some for resale purposes and others to keep for themselves, but ALL of them will drive the purchase price UP! So this is where you need to be wise and spend a little time and a few bucks discovering what's what before becoming emotionally invested.
When Cliff and I bought our first fixer in San Francisco (well before HGTV), the DIY generation hadn't emerged yet and these "diamonds in the rough" were discounted as a result. Often they sat on the market for months as the list price was repeatedly reduced before some courageous (or naive) Buyer stepped in. That's when Cliff and I usually entered the picture.
So were we 'courageous' or 'naive?' (We were both.)
Unfortunately, discounts for such properties are rare nowadays. In fact, recent sales would suggest that such properties, depending on location, often demand a premium for the privilege of restoration. There's now an entire industry dedicated to the search, rescue, and resale of these neglected properties and for good reason - whether frustrating or fun, home ownership remains a solid, core value, and one that most Americans aspire to. While my own history would suggest that I'm a fan of "fixers," they DO require careful calculation, patience, and deep pockets. In short, you may pay a premium for potential!
And that's okay as long as you've got the money to do the repairs (no one wants to buy a distressed home and live in it indefinitely), but take heed and make sure the surrounding properties hold up the investment value, OR as the old adage directs us: "location, location, location!" ("Emerging" neighborhoods may still provide a good value for such "finds" but it makes no sense (or cents) to pour money into a neighborhood that's in decline.)
And while you starry-eyed future renovators may not want to hear this, I would be remiss if I didn't say that sometimes, the "fixer" doesn't math out for several years - depending on the condition, your remodeling experience, and the costs of improvements. Professionals know that warming drawers, while nice, may not be a smart ROI (return on investment); ditto for pools and spas. Moreover, once you open the walls, the unknowns can quickly torpedo whatever budget you thought would easily suffice. In fact, count on unwelcome surprises (like nuts in perfectly good chocolate)!
BUT if you are the kind of person who relishes putting your own stamp on a home, who doesn't like paying for other people's choices, and who considers the "fixer" an exciting adventure, by all means, give it a go. Once done, the home will truly reflect your tastes (or your designer's). Either way, it'll be yours.
Who knows, you may bite down on something really sweet!
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.