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How To Save Money When Buying a Fixer Upper

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

My husband and I bought a 119-year-old bed & breakfast early in 2020. (To read the ridiculous details behind the purchase, you can read this blog.) We have been in renovation mode since July, trying to save money where we can, or rather, spend money wisely. Here are some tips for saving money when buying a fixer upper:

Negotiate Based on Inspections Since we wanted to know what we were taking on we used the inspection as a time to walk the place with a contractor. Once we had the inspection report, we were able to tell the contractor what we wanted done, as well as what needed to be done. He furnished quotes, and we negotiated the price down by a total of $50,000. If any big ticket item, like the roof, HVAC, electrical, or plumbing, needs work in the near term, it doesn’t hurt to ask the seller to fix it or ask for a discount on the price.

Get Multiple Quotes Our first quote on the kitchen was $47,000, the second one was $35,000, and the third was $28,000. Although price should not be the only factor you consider when choosing a contractor, it is a big factor, especially if you’re reading this blog. We’ve continued the multiple quote process for the floors, structure, fence, and landscaping. It’s clear that there is a correlation between how much someone needs work and the price they quote. If you look hard enough, you can find someone happy to do the work for a better price than others.

Ask for a Discount Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a recent guest on the Adulting Is Easy podcast, said she loves to ask the question, “Is that the best you can do for me?” We’ve asked pretty much every company doing work for us a variation of this question. They almost always find a way to get the price down. The structure company came down $2,000 when we asked.

Scope Down the Project If the contractor is not able to come down on price, it might be time to do some scoping. We changed out the type of crown molding in our kitchen to save a few hundred bucks. We have switched out plants and trees in our landscape plan. If you can get the same look and feel with different materials of similar quality, why not save the money?

Price Match You probably do this at Walmart, but you may not have thought it could apply to a home remodel. This one goes along with asking for multiple quotes. In the case of our landscape plan, we got two quotes for plants, and the prices differed by 20%. We told the second landscaper we would work with him if he matched the other one’s plant prices and he agreed.

Award a Larger Job Our fence company and our landscaper have somewhat of a partnership. They both gave us better pricing because we chose BOTH of them. This makes sense because the fence crew doesn’t want to work with a team they don’t know when stumps and other debris need to be cleared from the fence line. Furthermore, the landscaper agreed to do the landscaping for a lower price if we also awarded him the yard demo.

Pay Cash Even on relatively expensive projects, you can offer to pay cash to see if you can get a better price. We did this with a recent AC repair. We also did this with the landscaping plan. In one instance we saved 10%, in the other we saved 25%. Again, it doesn’t hurt to ask if there is a cash price.

Request Furniture Lenders don’t typically allow you to include furniture on the purchase contract because they are financing a property and using that real estate as collateral. They are not in the business of loaning money for furniture. So, we told our realtor which pieces we liked, and the seller left those and much more behind. Between the value of the furniture and not having to furnish the rental units at all, we are so glad we made this request.

Sell Items You Don’t Want or Need We ended up keeping about half of the furniture that the seller left, and maybe a quarter of what we owned before. That means we sold a lot of furniture: two bedroom sets, a dining room set, two couches, one lounge chair, a coffee and end table, a desk, a secretary desk, a dresser, a buffet, and three beds. We sold a lot of other miscellaneous things too: a wood stove, five plant pots, hundreds of pieces of edging, two fountains, dozens of steppingstones, a toolbox, and more. We used OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, and CraigsList. All told, we ended up with a few thousand dollars to spend on furniture and decorating the home the way we wanted it.

Buy Things Used (and Negotiate)

As I said above, the furniture and decorations were going to be a wash in terms of dollars, which I was totally OK with. We leveraged our OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, and CraigsList prowess to buy two bistro sets, two armoires, a bed frame, two nightstands, and an antique dresser. We leveraged my mom’s consignment prowess for a pie safe, chest of drawers, and a small dresser. If we would have bought what we wanted new (or even if we bought it all from consignment stores), we would have spent double what we did so far. Furthermore, we have saved a lot of money by simply showing up and negotiating when we arrived on site to buy the item. Only probably 10% of people have tried to negotiate with us.

Live There Is it fun to trek through a torn-up yard every day? No. It is fun when the workers in the kitchen blast country music in the middle of a work call you’re taking upstairs? No. Would it be fun to write a rent check every month? Also no. We’re in the business of receiving rent checks. Since we have a small rental unit in the back, it made sense for us to live on the property during the renovation. We’re saving a few thousand dollars in rent. We’re also able to supervise the projects and correct mistakes before they become costly or permanent.

Hopefully you find one or two gems in this list of ways to save money when buying a renovating a fixer upper. Let us know what you think or if you have any to add @AdultingIsEasy or

Side note: Our home renovation has been thoroughly documented at

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