Gen Zers are willing to buy fixer-upper homes. Some already regret the decision, new report finds

Personal finance

About one in five Gen Zers, or 22%, say a lack of affordable starter homes poses as a barrier towards homeownership, according to a new report. Some believe fixer-upper homes might be the answer to the issue.

A fixer-upper is an existing house that needs varying degrees of maintenance work and is typically offered at a low purchase price, by Redfin’s definition.

More than half, 57%, of Gen Zers polled said they are willing to put an offer on a fixer-upper, according to a new report by Clever Real Estate. The site surveyed 1,000 Gen Z adults 18 and older; 126 were homeowners and the remaining 874 do not own a home.

However, some of those who went that route are already rethinking their decisions. To that point, of the 40% of Gen Z homeowners who did buy a fixer-upper, about 27% regret it, the report found. 

Given the survey’s small base of homeowners, it’s hard to say how fixer-upper regrets might play out on a larger scale. But experts say it’s not unusual for buyers of such properties to feel overwhelmed.

“A lot of them are first-time buyers; they don’t really know the true costs of homeownership and how these renovations and repairs can really be a lot,” said Jaime Dunaway-Seale, data writer at Clever Real Estate.

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Buying a fixer-upper home can mean savings in the short-term, but would-be buyers need to keep renovation costs in mind, as well as the home’s current functionality, said Marine Sargsyan, staff economist at Houzz, a home renovation and design site. For example, if your new home doesn’t have a usable bathroom, that might delay your ability to move in.

“Functionality above everything. Anything you have in your house has to function,” she said. “If it doesn’t, then see how much it’s going to cost for you to replace.” 

‘Young buyers are having to make trade-offs’

As homeownership affordability is out of reach for many Americans, a fixer-upper home could mean short-term savings.

The median cost of a fixer-upper house is about $283,000, according to a May report from StorageCafe, which analyzed data from its sister division, Point2. That is about 29% lower than a move-in ready home, saving buyers roughly $117, 000, StorageCafe found.

“Young buyers are having to make trade offs because housing prices are so expensive,” said Susan Wachter, professor of real estate and professor of finance at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Some Gen Z buyers are even willing to buy fixer-upper homes with significant disrepairs or outdated features that pose great risks. Over half, 56%, of Gen Zers in the Clever Real Estate survey said they would buy a home with asbestos, a mineral fiber that can increase the risk of developing lung diseases if exposed to it.

When shopping around for fixer-upper homes, make sure the house is safe and livable enough not to cause any health and safety issues, Sargsyan explained.

“Make sure that there is no toxin in the house,” she said.

It doesn’t take extreme deterioration for a fixer-upper to generate significant repair costs. Many of the existing homes in the U.S. were built decades ago, according to the 2022 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey found that the median age of owner-occupied homes in the U.S. is about 40 years old.

“Homebuyers have to make a compromise along the way, and often it’s the age or the condition of the home,” Jessica Lautz, deputy chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, recently told CNBC.

Functionality above everything. Anything you have in your house has to function.
Marine Sargsyan
staff economist at Houzz, a home renovation and design site

About 51% of surveyed homeowners spent $25,000 or more on home renovation projects in 2023, up from 44% in 2021, according to the 2024 U.S. Houzz & Home Study. Houzz surveyed 33,830 homeowners of ages 18 and older from January 19 to February 27.

While cash from savings continues to be the most common way homeowners fund renovation projects, or 83%, credit card use has increased, Houzz found. About 37% of homeowners paid for their repair projects with credit cards, up from 28% who did so in 2022.

Five things to watch for in a fixer-upper house

If you’re considering a fixer-upper, ask thorough questions to the home seller or real estate agent about the property, such as when the house was built, real estate experts say. If you get as far as the home inspection process, line up a home inspector who can help you compile the issues with the house.

Here are other five things to pay attention to if you’re considering buying a fixer-upper house:

  • Roof: If it’s a leaky roof, you have to figure out how much it’s going to cost you to fix, said Sargsyan. Roof repairs can be significant, and you also have to consider the damage that leak might have caused inside the home. The median cost of roofing upgrades hovers around $12,000, according to Houzz.
  • Plumbing: Find out the condition of the home’s pipes and plumbing, such as where they are, where do they go, and when was the last time they were upgraded, Sargsyan said. Older pipes are more likely to break or crack if they were installed before 1980, when cast iron or clay were typical materials, according to Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc., a building company based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
  • Electricity: Find out if the home’s wiring is in good condition, and when it was last updated. Older homes often do not have safety devices like ground fault circuit interrupters. Taking a look at the electric panel can also give you clues about the home’s wiring system, according to Loppolis Electric, Inc., an electrical contractor company in Pawling, New York. The median spend on electrical system upgrades rose to $2,000 in 2023 from $1,800 in 2020, Houzz found. “It’s important to understand the overall capacity of your electrical because you don’t want to plug in too many things and then cause an outage for yourself,” Sargsyan said. “That’s also a big consideration.”
  • Walls and stairs: Make sure the walls are safe, Sargsyan said. If there are cracks in the walls and ceilings, uneven floors, and difficulty opening and closing doors could indicate underlying problems, according to Perma Pier, a foundation repair company in Texas. And if there are stairs in the house, make sure they are safe to walk on, Sargsyan said.
  • Overall land: Understand the overall land the house was built on, she said. Look for evidence that problems with the home stem from the surrounding land, like indications the basement has flooded or cracks that indicate subsidence. “Is there going to be some sort of surprise if it rains too much, especially with the weather changes in recent years?” she said.

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