Long ago I read somewhere that it is best to buy houses that need some amount of rework rather than those in tip-top condition. The reasons given were:

  1. There is less competition from other buyers so can be be bought more easily

  2. Less money required from mortgage lender which is the loan on interest

Once such a home has been bought, a person would spend money on it to bring it into good condition (which is subjective), possibly over number of few years. Usually this would (atleast) involve cleaning up the place, mowing the gardens, new paint, new wallpaper and new carpet at the very least.

In other words, find a run down house and then make it beautiful. Can get house for cheaper and then work to renovate it gradually.

Now my question is simple. Since such houses are going to be old and possibly not well maintained for some time, what are the main risks in buying such houses and what should one look out for so we don't end up with a rather expensive mistake and regret it?

  • This question is too broad and very opinion based. The main issue is that even a brand new build can be the biggest lemon in history, not to mention, a house that has been standing since the 1800's may continue to do so far far far longer than any one house built in the last 20 years. I mean ..... if your new (or old house) was built on a sinkhole.... it can vanish overnight.
    – noybman
    Jun 21, 2019 at 0:55
  • I am talking about general rule, in UK specifically.
    – quantum231
    Jun 21, 2019 at 1:35
  • It doesn't matter much where in the world it is though. You've already nailed a main risk in the content of your question, cost. The other top issue being loss of life or limb. Either of these things can become a reality on a home of any age, and any one thing can cause it. Many times the most expensive things are ones you never see, but they popup!
    – noybman
    Jun 21, 2019 at 2:18
  • There's a real art to doing that. Read some Robert Allen. Also learn the words "dirty house", "broken house" and "scraper". Jun 21, 2019 at 2:19
  • "some amount of rework" - everything you mentioned is cosmetic and needs done every 5y or less anyway. You want a house with cosmetic issues so you can get $5k off. And you need an inspector to verify that's all that's wrong. Because, considering that if you had to ask this question you are probably ill prepared to work on (or perceive the problems of) the heating, electrical, and water systems, the foundation and the roof, and all moving parts of the house such as doors, windows and cabinets. - You are required to believe in Murphy's Law and have seen The Money Pit.
    – Mazura
    Jun 21, 2019 at 18:59

3 Answers 3


It depends entirely on the way in which the house is run down.

Hire a reputable house inspector to thoroughly examine it. It won't be 100% reliable, but the report will give you a good idea of what is wrong and what is still okay with the house. For instance you might see things like:

  • You'll need to replace the furnace within a year or two.
  • The roof shingles/tiles should be good for another 10 years.
  • The foundation has recently cracked and part of the structure is sagging.

The first one means you know you'll need to spend some money soon, so consider that amount as part of the purchase price of the house.

The second one means you'll have a big expense down the line, so spread that amount out over time.

The third means that you are going to have leaks, with dampness or flooding, and that the building itself might no longer be structurally sound. Repairing this might end up being more expensive than tearing it down and rebuilding.

If there are problems of that last type, stay away.

If all the problems found are of the first and second type, with predictable cost, and if all the obvious problems you can see yourself are cosmetic, then if you still think it's worth the adjusted total price, go for it.

There will of course be other problems with severity between these, and there will be seemingly small problems that turn out to be cans of worms, so you'll have to use your own judgement. There will always be risk. Nothing is certain.

It also makes a huge difference whether you are going to do the repairs yourself or hire someone. You can buy a lot of pipes and fittings for a few hundred pounds, but hiring a plumbing company to do the upgrades could cost you tens of thousands.


I think worst option is buying buildings made between 50s and 90s of XX century: those are leacky and usually ment to last less than a century.

Building from XIX and first XX cent. are ok: big walls quite well insulated but you'll only have to pay attention to toxic materials: lead pipes (usually drain), asbestos tiling and also you should re-do windows and doors and a good thing is full electric rewire.

Older buildings are good, but you'll have issues with the department of cultural heritage when trying even minimal modifications (ex: you should keep old leaky windows just because are 'historic')

  • I agree somewhat, but older buildings were not built to modern insulation requirements and often only rely on thick walls for insulation. You will only come up against serious government planning regulations if your building is listed or in a conservation area, otherwise most council planning departments are fairly lenient provided you don't want to do something totally outlandish. Depending on what you want to do, it may only be a case of complying with buildings regs. and you won't need planning - check!! Jun 21, 2019 at 12:05

Keep in mind, that the only way this really works is if you invest your time and effort into fixing it up. Paying other people to fix it up negates almost all of the increase in equity. The things you list are things that people commonly want to change anyway, so that is not going to really help you get a better deal in my opinion.

Storytime: I bought my first house at 9% under ask, but I knew it was in rough shape; 5 months later and the drain, waste, vent system and electrical system were replaced, I had gutted three rooms and replaced the rotten and/or termite ate wood, refloored (down to the joists), insulated, drywall, painted and finished. I added a bathroom and completely redid the kitchen and existing bathroom. My labor and time were investments into the house; so long as you are of the same mind, you’ll do fine.

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