6 Questions to Ask When You’re Buying a Fixer Upper

camino cabra

“Fixer Upper” I recently sold on Camino Cabra. 2 blocks to Canyon Road, but affordable, this was a perfect fit for my buyers.

We all love transformations, don’t we? Our favorite stories are those “ugly ducking to a swan” tales. Movies that show the librarian in the thick glasses becoming a gorgeous siren are crazy popular. Think “My Fair Lady.”

It’s no surprise that everyone’s great homeowner dream is finding the diamond in the rough in that perfect Santa Fe location, buying it for a song and then rehabbing it into a million dollar payoff. That’s what we all want, right?

But the process of buying a Santa Fe fixer upper can be filled with pitfalls. Here are six quick questions to ask when you’re considering buying your own potential diamond in the rough:

1.  Is the house located in the Santa Fe Historic District?

Hopefully your Realtor has lots of integrity and isn’t just intent on making a sale without counseling you wisely. On occasion, this is NOT the case. I’ve run into a few investors, after closing, who discovered that they can’t just start making changes to their property. Santa Fe has very strictly defined historic districts, and you absolutely CANNOT make changes of any kind without the approval of city officials. Find the map here.

You cannot so much as add a fence or paint your front door with approval. Should the home you purchase be in a historic district, add the cost of an architect into your renovation budget. You’ll need to hire one to help you come up with plans, and hiring one who knows their way around a historic meeting will also serve you well.

Or just call me with more questions. I live in the West San Francisco District. I’ve fought this fight.

2.  Am I ready for the stress of a Santa Fe Fixer Upper?

Santa Fe is a charming town in about 100 different ways, but that laid back approach will drive you slightly crazy when it’s time to work on your own property. There are dozens of reputable contractors in town, so be sure you talk to friends and your Realtor to get names of folks who will actually show up when you set appointments. Permits are tricky only because they sometimes take a while to obtain. Be sure you hire someone up to the job. Like every other city in the world, there are pitfalls to hiring a contractor from a yellow pages ad.

Give me a call if you need help navigating this process as well.

3.  Have I calculated in hidden costs?

Just as Santa Fe is a charming town, adobe and flat-roofed homes have their own special charm. They also present unique challenges. Be sure to add in a cushion for hidden costs so that should you uncover a large rock supporting your floor joists (that actually happened in a house I lived in), you have money to address the issue. Or at least a contractor that knows not to disturb said rock.

4.  Am I overpaying given the rehab costs?

Twice this year I’ve had homeowners call me or my contractor boyfriend about houses that needed rehab. When I checked the MLS to see what they spent, it became immediately apparent that they spent far too much for the original property given their remodeling plans. After receiving an estimate for the upgrades, they both threw up their hands and opted to leave the property as is.

Do some research and have a contractor come in BEFORE closing. Remodels aren’t cheap in the City Different. No one wants you to feel like you’ve been had.

5.  Do I have the time for a remodel?

If your plan is to live in your Santa Fe home, are you going to need this property redo completed within a specific time frame? If you want to use it as a vacation rental, will the work be finished before the high summer season?

Santa Fe construction crews, if you’ve hired the right contractor, work relatively quickly. However, I’ve found that when compared to a crew in a place like Austin or Houston, where the weather is not a consideration and the atmosphere not so laid back, folks tend to get impatient with the pace of work. Set a realistic calendar with your contractor and perhaps offer incentives if the work is completed in a timely manner.

6.  Do I REALLY want to do this?

Santa Fe home prices are not inexpensive, but frequently, one will save time and money by simply buying a home that doesn’t require significant work. If you’re patient, thorough, able to do some part of the work yourself, and brave, buying a fixer upper need not be completely daunting. But remember that this is a city with many regulations (hence the historic district warnings) and an easy going lifestyle. That all sounds very inviting until you’re a homeowner pressing to get a remodel permitted, supplied and completed.

Need more guidance? I really do know how to navigate this process. And I live with a contractor who’s been working in Santa Fe for over 35 years. I’d love to give you any insight I can. Just give us a call before you close!

Bunny Terry 505.504.1101

20 Vereda Serena Santa Fe, NM 87508