How We Went About Buying a House to Renovate

Ohhhh boy this is a loaded post! You all love when we’re transparent about what’s happening behind the scenes, so I’m sharing the nitty gritty details of how we went about buying a house to renovate. There were some things we did right and some things that realllly went haywire.

There’s no foolproof plan when you’re buying a house, but there are plenty of tips and tricks to have in your back pocket so that you’re going into it as educated as possible. I’m sharing some tips below (plus some hard learned lessons, bleh…), and State Farm also has some really amazing resources for sound guidance on navigating buying a house or what to know before buying a fixer upper. 

For instance, we actually didn’t use a real estate agent (a bit shocking, I know!) but I explain a bit more on that below. Before I get to what we did right or wrong, I figured you needed a general overview of our situation and budget:

Gwen checking out her new house! Sugar & Cloth Casa: How We Went About Buying A House to Renovate by top Houston lifestyle blogger Ashley Rose of Sugar & Cloth #renovate #home #interiors #buying #house #fixerupper #howto

Buying A House To Renovate | Overview

  • If you’re just now tuning in to our relocation story, you can read in more detail about why we wanted to move here. The gist is that we wanted Gwen to grow up with a backyard, be closer to family, and lower our monthly financial overhead by moving our studio back into our home since we were rarely there after having our baby.
  • When we started planning out our move (tips on that here) we narrowed down the areas we liked by visiting neighborhoods, going to open houses, and getting references from friends and family.
  • Once we had a few general areas in mind, I set up notifications for HAR with several different variations of our “musts” so that I was being realistic but also filtering out the fluff.
  • Because we weren’t in a super hurry to move, we decided not to work with a real estate agent while we were casually looking. I didn’t like the idea of being pressured into seeing listings or feeling like I was wasting someone’s time because I’m pretty clear on what I like or don’t like haha! It did require more of a time commitment on our end this way, especially when it came to scheduling showings, but we enjoyed looking at listings online so it wasn’t a big issue for us.
  • We happened to stumble across the house we ended up buying and went to look at it without intentions of actually considering putting in an offer. Once we visited a few more properties after that one, we realized it just felt very “us”.
  • Though we didn’t have a real estate agent, we thankfully have several friends and family in the industry that were able to guide us so we felt comfortable putting an offer in without one. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this route because having an advocate on your side is SO worth it, but luckily we came out unscathed in that department.
  • We were able to negotiate a slightly lower offer because the seller wasn’t paying a full percentage in agent fees since we weren’t working with one.
  • After all was said and done, we bought our renovation house for $395,000. It’s actually a great deal considering the cost of living is far less outside of the city than what we’ve been paying to live downtown with a townhouse and studio so we’re actually downsizing in cost and upsizing in space with the move, which feels great!

Things We Did Right When Buying A House

  • We got prequalified for our loan first and didn’t have to sell our current house to qualify for the second. One of the biggest things I DIDN’T want to happen was for us to have to live in the thick of construction (we did that while I was super pregnant with our current house and NEVER again haha!). It really helped us stick to a firm budget this way as well.
  • When it came to negotiating our purchase offer, the owner countered and we decided to essentially put a hold on the house until we got an inspection report back so that we wouldn’t lose our earnest money if we decided to back out within 10 days based on unexpected issues.
  • Once we decided we did want to move forward with our offer after discovering a few things in the inspection, we asked the seller to cover $5,000 in closing costs (since those are paid upfront, not from your home loan) so that we had more cash up to put towards renovations rather than lowering our overall home loan by that amount.
  • We made sure to buy a house that would be worth at the very least as much (or exceed) the amount we would put into it in renovations. No one wants to buy a house and make it their own only to realize if they turned around and sold it that they’d immediately lose money! We made sure the new area had a large range of higher value homes than ours so that we didn’t price ourselves out of the neighborhood when it’s all said and done. We definitely wanted instant equity after renovating.
  • We stuck to our budget when it came to a home loan amount that left us enough cushion to not have to sell our current home in a contingency (which then slowly drifted away from other unexpected problems, but more on that below lol!).
  • We estimated in advance what our monthly house payment increase would be once home & flood insurance was factored in. Depending on the value of your house, location, taxes, etc., your monthly payment can REALLY skyrocket if you aren’t planning ahead for those additional costs.
  • Lastly, we made a decision that we would be willing to walk away from a house if it a) didn’t come together easily with finances, etc and b) if we didn’t have peace about it. We’re by no means experts in this and we definitely wanted to find comfort in following a path well meant for us rather than being so stubborn that we got ourselves into a bind.

Things We Should Have Done Differently When Buying A House to Renovate

  • Though we got an inspection and thought we did a thorough job being preventative, we didn’t do enough homework. For instance, we had no idea that inspections really hold no liability whatsoever if they don’t notice a problem, crazy! While that might not be such a big deal on a newer home, it’s a major scare when you’re buying a 40+ year old home that’s been empty like we did! Here’s a breakdown on what’s NOT included in a home inspection.
  • In hindsight, we should have scheduled a structural engineer and any other subsequent trade professionals to do a walk-through of concerning points from the inspection so that we had a clearer idea of issues. We ended up getting hit with a foundation repair and drainage system fee right after we bought the house and started demo’ing. It was NOT pretty!
  • While you can never fully anticipate what’s behind closed walls, we really didn’t cushion our renovation budget enough. Right off the bat we had over $14,000 in unexpected costs in foundation, drainage, and support beam issues. Then we realized that ALL of the electrical needed rewired because of hidden live wires behind closed walls, no junction boxes, etc. (thankfully my dad is a certified electrician and was able to step in and help us on this part!). On top of that, we thought we only had to replace some of the plumbing to update it from old galvanized pipes, only to find it all needed replaced for an additional $11k.

The cutest baby car you've ever seen! Sugar & Cloth Casa: How We Went About Buying A House to Renovate by top Houston lifestyle blogger Ashley Rose of Sugar & Cloth #renovate #home #interiors #buying #house #fixerupper #howto

All in all I feel like we’re on a really good path with the new house despite some hiccups. There are plenty more tips on home buying blunders here, but I highly recommend sitting down with someone to get financial guidance beforehand.

If you’re in the Houston area, our State Farm agent is Ryan Stegall in Champions, and he seriously knows his stuff! Plus he’s a straight shooter about something being in excess, which is exactly what you need when it comes to renovating and investing. I’ll actually be sharing more on how our finances have changed after baby and what we’ve learned working one on one with him soon, too.

If ya’ll have any other house q’s, let us know! You know I’m an open book!

This post has been sponsored by State Farm – Here to help life go right.®  Sugar & Cloth has chosen to donate 5% of all sponsored campaigns to charity, which you can read more about right here.

video by Cody Bess

Please note that we may earn a commission for some of the above affiliate links. However, products featured are independently selected and personally well-loved by us!

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  1. I totally agree with you in not having a real estate agent when finding your dream home. It could also mean an additional cost for you. What I did is I search for all housing developer and asked some of my friends for recommendation to the areas I wanted to check and I did find this top rated developer so I did check it on my own. You could read more here .

  2. Did you save up enough for the down payment plus double mortgage and renovation costs before you started looking? Financially this seems so tough to save thousands and thousands and not be able to use the equity in your current house for any of it.

    1. Hi! We did have savings…. but we didn’t anticipate the renovation taking this long! We were suppose to be out of our old townhome by the end of December 2019. It wasn’t actually months later (way past our deadline) that we were able move out, prep the townhome and list it… so it put it put us in a big stressful bind. The sell of our townhome is what’s also giving us equity for this massive renovation. Luckily, you should never pay contractors the full total bill until the work is actually complete. If a contractor tells you to give 100% upfront, that’s a HUGE warning sign. Hope this helps!

  3. What parts of Houston were you aiming for when initially looking? Which area did you land on and we’re schools for Gwen a factor when deciding?

    1. Hi Demi! We use to live in the loop but we wanted to be closer to Jared’s parents (who live in the northside). This was a huge factor since they help us by watching Gwen and we wanted to be nearby her. School is always a factor! Thankfully, the schools are great out here. We will miss living close to downtown but think it will be a great tradeoff. Plus, you get more space for your money once you are out of the loop! XOXO

  4. I can’t believe all the extra unexpected cost! That’s crazy. Glad everything is working out. Can’t wait to see it :)

  5. This is alot of great information! I will be sharing this with a friend who has considered purchasing a renovation project.

    1. Thanks, Kalen! It’s been a learning experience for us so we hoped this post is useful for everyone else who is considering a reno project!

    1. Anytime, Anne! We try to be transparent because we would be huge liars if we said renovating has been 100% fun and easy! Don’t worry. It’s always worth it in the end though!

  6. Okay this is THE cutest!! But also really good info. We are looking for a house to reno soon so I’ll pin this post for later!!