Moving into a fixer-upper: our handy guide

moving into a fixer upper

Moving into a fixer-upper? We envy you: just imagine, you’re going to start over with a wonderful blank canvas. Give it time and your house will be your dream project home, but you do have to live in it for months before that. So here’s all our best advice for making the ordeal easier.

Moving into a fixer-upper can be tough. My doer-upper had mice when I moved in back in 2015, which was a horrifying surprise. Then my four-year-old daughter got a splinter from walking on bare floorboards. KBB Magazine acting editor Georgina blogged memorably about the ‘disgusting carpet’ she had to rip out of her project home. And there are many other pitfalls… but before you start panicking, don’t worry. We’re here to help, so give it six months and you’ll be living in your perfect home.

moving into a fixer-upper
Your house won’t look like this when you’re moving into a fixer-upper – this is all to come. Photography: iStock.

Useful tips for making your doer upper feel like a home

Get the pros in to check for dangers before you move

Thomas Goodman, property and construction expert at My Job Quote, says:

“The first thing to check is whether your fixer-upper is structurally sound. Make sure you’ve viewed the property before buying and had a survey done to ensure there are no surprises. 

“However, there are often hidden dangers that your survey may not pick up on. Be aware that materials such as woodchip and polystyrene tiles can cover up a whole host of problems such as crumbling plaster. Damp can also be a problem in older homes. Leaving rising damp untreated can cause joists and floorboards to rot away, so check there’s a damp proof course installed.”

an electrician checking the wiring of a fuse board
Get a full check of the wiring done before you move in. Photography: iStock.

“Before you move in, check for hazards such as asbestos and dodgy electrics. It’s wise to ask an electrician to conduct a full wiring check and a gas engineer to inspect your boiler. That way you’ll stay safe when you move into and work on your new doer-upper.”

And this way, you’ll be moving into a fixer-upper with confidence.

Check out the flooring before moving into a fixer-upper

Michael Barnes, Flooring Expert at FlooringSupplies.co.uk, says: “When investing in a fixer-upper or project home, remember to look down as well as up. You’ll need an idea of just how level the sub-floors are and how that will impact your eventual choice of flooring. 

“Also, depending on the age of the property, that attractive real wood floor could cause you issues further down the line. Anything built after 1970 should have a DPM (damp proof membrane) below the concrete, but in older houses this is not always the case. This means you’ll want to install one yourself when renovating, so it’s a question worth asking before you buy.

“With old floorboards, you’ll want to do a thorough walk around to check how well they are fixed down. There’s nothing worse than buying a property and installing brand new flooring only to find that the subfloor starts to make creaking noises when walked on. That’s because it will be costly to rip it up and start again.

Michael also advises re. moving into a fixer-upper, “Don’t be tempted to cut corners by using existing underlay. Most flooring manufacturers have brilliant warranties these days, but using old existing and likely incompatible underlay may invalidate that warranty.”

a wooden floor to illustrate moving into a fixer-upper
Always look down as well as up and check out the flooring. Photography: iStock.
Consider putting everything but the essentials into storage

Firstly: if you’re planning large-scale renovations, put all but your essential stuff into storage. Sure, storage costs can mount up, but at least your belongings will be safe and won’t get covered in dust, paint and rubble. Moving into a fixer-upper is testing enough without having your possessions ruined too. In addition, you won’t have to weave your way through boxes to get to the bathroom. Anything you’re not putting in storage should be kept covered with dust sheets.

a paint pot to illustrate not wanting to get your belongings covered in paint
Put your non-essential possessions into storage or swathe them in dust sheets so they don’t get covered in paint. Photography: iStock.
Clean and air your new home after moving into a fixer-upper

A good deep clean can make a property seem more inhabitable, while airing the space will freshen it up. So as soon as you get into the property, open all the windows. Then get cleaning – or get a professional cleaner in – and soon much of the dust and unwanted smells will be removed.

a woman cleaning after moving into a fixer-upper
Give the place a good deep clean as soon as you move in, to make it feel more habitable. Photography: iStock.
Live in the property as it is for as long as you can bear it

We know, we know… but moving into a fixer-upper and living in the property for a few weeks before work starts helps you get the lay of the land. As KBB mag acting ed Georgina says, “This is because you’ll get a sense of what works, where the light falls, and what really needs to change.”

Put temporary solutions in place

You still need to live your life and eat, bathe and sleep when moving into a fixer-upper, so put temporary solutions in place:

  • If you have a bath but no shower, use a shower attachment where you push rubber adaptors onto the taps.
  • If you have bare floorboards, lay carpet tiles before you can get some proper flooring down.
  • During a kitchen renovation, you can buy a temporary sink unit on wheels. You can also buy a drawer unit on wheels for storing cutlery and crockery, and a plug-in hot plate to cook on.
  • If you can’t bear the wall colours, then buy a large bucket of white paint and get painting (or hire a painter). You might not want all-white walls in the end, but it’ll make the place seem more aesthetically neutral in the interim.
a woman deciding between paint swatches
Paint offensive-coloured walls white in the interim before deciding on the final shade later. Photography: iStock.
Put off design decisions until you’re absolutely sure what you want

Ann Marie Cousins, founder of AMC Interior Design, advises, “Moving into a fixer-upper is exciting but it can also be daunting. I would always recommend taking your time and thinking carefully about what it is you want to achieve in your new home before making any design decisions that may eat into your budget.

“If you’re looking to carry out major works while living in the property, you’re likely to feel a sense of urgency and want to get things done as quickly as possible. However, I would always recommend creating a moodboard and collating ideas, or perhaps speaking to an interior designer so you can have a clear idea of how you want the space to look. Take your time on this as it will put you in a better position when looking for quotes and making enquiries. That’s because you can be clear in your brief and set expectations from the offset.”

an interiors moodboard created before moving into a fixer-upper
Creating an interiors moodboard full of different colours and materials can help you with design decisions. Photography: iStock.
Decide which room you’re going to renovate first

If your plans are more modest and you’ve decided not to use storage, clear the packing boxes from whichever room you’re going to renovate first. Aside from anything else, they present a potential trip hazard to tradespeople. And you don’t want legal claims made against you when moving into a fixer-upper!

Which brings us on to public liability insurance

In addition to buildings and contents insurance, when you’re moving into a fixer-upper, take out public liability insurance. This will provide cover in case your renovations cause someone injury, which is more likely during the process. Your home insurance company may provide this, but be sure to tell them you need it because you’re renovating. If you don’t tell your home insurance company about the work you’re undertaking, your buildings and contents insurance probably won’t be valid.

DIY materials
Make sure you let your home insurance company know about your renovation plans beforehand. Photography: iStock.
Before undertaking any work, get at least three quotes

When you’re moving into a fixer-upper, you need to get three quotes from trades before pressing ahead with any work. The trades may also give you valuable opinions on whether the work you have in mind is viable or whether there’s a better way. So it’s worth inviting as many trades round as possible before deciding on a course of action.

a man drawing up plans before moving into a fixer-upper
Before undertaking any work, get at least three quotes. Photography: iStock.
Make one room your sanctuary

Create a sanctuary in one room where you can go to relax, away from all the dust and mess. Make it your happy place and fill it with candles, a diffuser, self-help books, a comforting blanket and a stash of treats. So if moving into a fixer-upper gets too much at times, you have a place to go.

a spa bathroom sanctuary to illustrate the importance of relaxation when you're moving into a fixer-upper
Turn one room into your sanctuary, and fill it with candles and delicious smells and treats. Photography: iStock.
Read These Three Rooms, KBB Magazine and listen to our podcast before making any big decisions

Lastly, decisions about renovations may seem overwhelming when you’re moving into a fixer-upper. However, you’ll find a wealth of information on this site, especially in our Project Planner tab, as well as in KBB magazine. So start by reading this feature. In addition, have you listened to our podcast How to Buy a Kitchen or Bathroom yet? It’s jam-packed with handy tips, so put it on whenever you have time to listen.

Want more tips for moving home? Then read our ultimate guide to moving house.

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