You’ve seen the TV shows that romanticize buying a fixer-upper. Sure, there may be a few unexpected challenges, but how hard can it be?

After all, on TV they’re able to flip the houses in about a month — and they look amazing.

But let’s address what you don’t see behind the scenes. Practically unlimited budgets (despite what they tell you), large construction crews working around the clock and cutting corners to make deadlines.

Read on to learn the difference between cosmetic and structural renovations, what to look for when you view a fixer-upper and when you need to hire a professional.



Cosmetic renovations make the home look attractive. For example, when you see before and after photos of a painted staircase restored to the beautiful natural wood underneath, it’s a cosmetic renovation. There was nothing wrong with the stairs from a safety standpoint.

Other examples of cosmetic renovations include new flooring, painting, a new front door, etc. These renovations are typically affordable and don’t usually take long to complete. Typically, they don’t need permits from your homeowners association or city (exterior cosmetic projects may need permits if you have an HOA or a historic home).

A fixer-upper home that needs mostly cosmetic renovations will be a much less expensive project than a home that requires structural renovation.



Structural renovations include any changes to the layout or foundation of the house, like knocking down a wall, rebuilding a chimney or adding a front porch. Structural renovations are usually costly and in the case of a fixer-upper, are often necessary to make the home safe for occupancy.

Unlike cosmetic renovations, all structural renovations will need a permit and will likely require an inspection when the work is complete. If you’re experienced and confident in your skill set, some structural projects, like removing a non-load bearing interior wall, could be completed yourself.

In a fixer-upper home, it’s not uncommon for a structural renovation project to unearth another issue (not always major). For this reason, it’s recommended that structural renovation projects are assessed and completed by a licensed professional contractor.



It’s important to have an understanding of the difference between cosmetic and structural renovations. If possible, take a savvy family member or friend with you to view fixer-upper properties. It’s not uncommon for property owners to cover up major structural issues with a cosmetic fix, especially if the home was a rental prior to going on the market.

If you’re unsure if the home has any major structural issues, you’ll get a chance to find out during the home inspection. After making an offer and before closing, you’ll hire a home inspector who will visually look at the house from the roof to the foundation. As your home is likely the biggest investment you’ll make in your lifetime, this isn’t a step to skimp on.

Do your research, ask friends and family and ensure you hire a qualified and experienced inspector. You can be with them during the home inspection and are allowed to ask questions during the process.

The inspector will put together a report that includes information on the following:

  • heating/cooling system
  • plumbing and electric
  • insulation
  • walls, floors and ceilings
  • windows and doors
  • foundation
  • basement (if applicable)
  • structural components

It’s important to note that if the home is a foreclosure, you may not be able to get an inspection. This is something to ask about — and a major decision you’ll have to make. Is the fantastic price on the home worth the risk of a serious structural issue that could cost more money down the line? Only you can decide.

inspecting a fixer upper


Looking at houses is exciting, especially for first-time buyers. When you tour a home for the first time, it’s easy to put on rose-colored glasses and see abundant potential in the property. And while a house may have the space for the renovations that would make it the perfect home — what will they cost?

Knocking down walls, adding more power outlets, remodeling full bathrooms and a kitchen are not cheap — which is why you need to take an objective approach to every house. Don’t get caught up in the “charm” of the house or latch on to one specific feature if other necessities are lacking.

When you view a house for the first time, you need to consider the full scope of work that needs to be done to make it livable, and the work that would make it perfect. Is the home in such a state of disrepair that it would have to be gutted before you could move in? And if this is the case, is that within your budget? And where will you stay while the work is being done?

A fixer-upper is much easier if there are only a few projects that need to be completed to make it livable. You’re then able to move in and complete non-urgent projects on your own schedule. It also allows you to truly get a feel for the home before making major decisions (like knocking down a wall).

Our top tips for viewing a fixer-upper:

  • Take photos and videos of the space
  • Ask questions about the age of of the furnace, water heater, appliances, etc.
  • Check that the plumbing and electrical work is up to code
  • Know the difference between cosmetic and structural renovations
  • If the home is a foreclosure: can you get a home inspection?
  • Ask why the home is being sold and know how long it has been on the market. Has it been under contract since it was listed? Why did it fall through?

About Elite Custom Builders | Residential Renovator in West Virginia

At Elite Custom Builders, we aren’t strangers to major fixer-upper projects. Many homes in the Clarksburg, Bridgeport and Morgantown, WV, area are older, waiting for loving owners to restore their original beauty with new modern conveniences.

If you’re considering purchasing a fixer-upper in Bridgeport or have recently purchased one that is proving to be more challenging than anticipated, get in touch.


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