Fixer-upper homes: How much could the repairs cost?

Jeffrey Anderson | Improvement Center Columnist | October 2, 2013

Who doesn't like a bargain - especially when it's a house, the largest purchase you may ever make? So what if it needs a few repairs? When the asking price is thousands less than comparable homes in the area, it has to be a great deal. Or does it?

A fixer-upper can be a great way to buy a house larger than you could otherwise afford or one in an ideal neighborhood, but are you being realistic about what the "fixer" part could entail? Do you have an approximate idea of the potential renovation costs, and perhaps even more important, how much your family could be inconvenienced by the various repair projects?

Common fixer-upper repairs: potential costs and inconvenience levels

Fixer-uppers can come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors -- that is, if there's enough paint remaining on the walls that you can discern a hue. However, very "lived in" or poorly maintained structures often share some common problems. Whether you plan on doing the work yourself or hiring a contractor, almost every type of repair is sure to put a dent in your wallet and may cause a disruption to your family's lifestyle. Here are a few of the most common repairs and an approximate idea of what each project could entail:


Interior and exterior painting are some of the least stressful renovation projects as they can often be undertaken as time and budget permits. Plan on a family member being home while an interior painting contractor works (if you choose not to tackle this project yourself) and be aware that furniture normally needs to be covered and/or moved. Exterior painting can often be done with little to no disruption of your family's schedule. Here are a few figures to help with your planning:

  • Figure about $.55 to $.65 per square foot of wall surface for two coats of latex applied with a roller.
  • An interior painter should be able to roll about 800 square feet of wall surface each day.
  • A coat of primer and two coats of exterior latex paint sprayed in place should run in the neighborhood of $.60 to $.70 per square foot of wall surface.
  • Two painters can paint about 1950 square feet of exterior wood siding each day using a spray rig.

Painting tip: Choose lighter interior wall colors to make future touch-ups a little easier.

New flooring

Whether due to wear or outdated styles, replacing the flooring in a very "lived in" house is often at the top of many new owners' to-do lists. New floor covering costs can vary quite a bit depending on the material chosen, but one thing they all have in common is that the room will need to be empty prior to installation taking place. In many cases, rooms can be done one at a time, and the entire project can be spread out over several months or even years. Here are a few numbers that may be helpful:

  • Mid-range to premium grade carpeting costs about $3.00 to $4.50 per square foot with rebound pad.
  • A typical carpet crew can install from 400 to 800 square feet of floor covering each day depending on how much furniture must be moved.
  • Pre-finished oak flooring runs from $6.50 to $8.00 per square foot.
  • A hardwood installer can put down from 160 to 190 square feet of wood in a day.

Flooring tip: Save a few scraps of your new flooring for future repairs.

New roofing

Roofing repairs on fixer-uppers may range from replacing a few shingles to needing a whole new roof. Easy fixes can often be done for a few hundred dollars, but a total replacement may run into the thousands. Roofing contractors normally don't need access to the interior of the house, but if extensive work is required, delaying your move-in date until repairs have been made might be a good idea. A leaking roof can cause expensive damage to personal belongings and furniture. Here are a few figures for budgeting purposes:

  • Mid-range asphalt three-tab shingles cost in the range of $150 to $170 per square (100 square feet).
  • A roofing contractor using a pneumatic nailer should be able to install from 6 to 8 squares of three tab shingles per day.
  • Architectural shingles run about $170 to $220 per square.
  • About 4 to 6 squares of architectural shingles can be installed each day using a pneumatic nailer.

Roofing tip: Always get at least three cost estimates from reputable contractors for major repairs.

Upgraded windows

The good news is that if your home needs new windows, there normally isn't any need to immediately tackle the project. The bad news is that if the existing windows are very old and inefficient, your heating and cooling costs could be unnecessarily high as long as they're installed.

It goes without saying that the more windows the house has, the higher the replacement costs might be. Unfortunately, it's usually best to replace all the windows at the same time as manufacturers can sometimes change which styles are offered. Replacement window contractors normally need access to the inside of your home and adequate working space in front of each opening. Here are a few budget numbers:

  • Replacing ten 3050 windows (that is, windows three feet wide and five feet high)with midrange vinyl units can cost in the neighborhood of $9,000 to $11,000.
  • Replacing those same ten windows with midrange wood units can range from $10,000 to $12,000.
  • A two person crew can typically replace from 10 to 16 3050 windows in a day.

Replacement window tip: Choose replacement windows that require the least amount of modifications to your existing openings, walls, and trim to keep project costs to a minimum.

While these are a few of the most common repairs that may be required in very "lived in" homes, don't overlook other issues such as outdated HVAC systems, inefficient hot water heaters, and leaking basements that could also impact your budget and schedule.

*All labor estimates and costs listed are from data available in the most recent editions of the R.S. Means Residential Cost Data guidebooks and Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value 2013 survey. The figures are based on national averages and may vary depending on materials, manufacturer, house location, and unique jobsite conditions.

About the Author

Jeffrey Anderson has a Degree in English from V.M.I., and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. He worked in Residential and Commercial construction management for 25 years before retiring to write full time. He spends his time writing, remodeling his old farmhouse, and in animal rescue.