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Spotting a Diamond in the Rough: Finding the Perfect Fixer Upper


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The greater Philadelphia area real estate offerings cover the full gamut of home styles. From farmhouses to rowhomes, townhouses to Tudors, there’s something for every kind of buyer. Some, however, might require a little more work than others. If you’re in the market for a fixer-upper or a property to put your own stamp on, there are a few things you should consider first. To start your search for “the one” off on the right foot, we’ve enlisted the help of four of the area’s top real estate agents.

Here’s what they say are the best ways to be sure your buy is worth a little extra TLC:

Know the neighborhood.

You won’t know if all the renovation effort is truly worth it until you know the ins and outs of the neighborhood. “This is key,” says Coldwell Banker Preferred – Old City affiliated agent Ashley Lauren Farnschlader. “To stay in-the-know, partner with an agent who is up-to-date on local happenings and development.” Working with a knowledgeable agent will not only help you find a home that falls in line with your lifestyle, it will also keep you informed about the home’s future value.

Assemble a team of experts.

It takes two flints to start a fire and a whole team of experts to find a dynamite fixer-upper. Farnschlader insists assembling your team early on (even before you begin hunting!) will make a world of difference in finding your dream home. “Most buyers put the cart before the horse and only look for a contractor and renovation money after they’ve bought a property,” she says. “Working with a good contractor prior to the purchase will give you invaluable insight into an accurate estimate for renovations.” Don’t forget to also speak with a lender if you’re not planning on paying for upgrades out-of-pocket. “Knowing your financing options is crucial to making an informed purchase decision,” Farnschlader urges.

Look for amenities that always impress.

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Whether you’re buying a fixer upper for yourself or as an investment property, there are certain perks that always add value. “Look for homes that have newer roofs, windows, natural lighting, HVAC, a large lot and good bones, but are in need of a paint job, flooring, decorating and cosmetic repairs,” says Coldwell Banker Preferred – Blue Bell affiliated agent Christy Bennett. “You always want to steer clear of biting off more repairs than you can chew.” The easiest way to gauge if you can make those repairs yourself? Get a home inspection early on!

Pay attention to the small details.

While taking in the big picture, it might be easy to miss some small, yet equally important, red flags. “Most people look at only the big-ticket items but forget that a busy street will always be a busy street,” says Coldwell Banker Preferred – Wayne affiliated agent Samantha Giardinelli. “The biggest red flags are details that you cannot change.”

Bank on Philly’s charm.

According to Coldwell Banker Preferred – Center City affiliated agent Andrew Gismondi, you should try to always maintain a strong appreciation of the original details offered in Philly’s homes. “There are a ton of Victorian-style homes that were built from 1910-1935, and they are beautiful,” he says. “These characteristics hold their value, never go out of style and cannot be replicated by today’s builders because construction materials and expertise have changed over the past 90 years. They are always worth being salvaged and brought back to life.”

Location, location, location.

The old adage may seem overplayed, but Giardinelli insists it’s true. “People will overlook almost any misgiving of a house if it’s in their desired location or school district,” she says. “They are invaluable assets.”


Ready to make your move? For more information about buying or selling a home in the communities of the Greater Philadelphia area and the Delaware Valley, visit Coldwell Banker Preferred online.