Are fixer-uppers worth the time and the hassle?

Thu, Nov 8, 2012, 00:00

With a shortage of homes for sale in some areas, more buyers are taking on major refurbishment projects

Along with the trend in which, in some parts of Dublin, there are more buyers than sellers, there has also been an increase in the number of fixer-upper properties – where extensive refurbishment is required.

Executor sales accounted for 23 per cent of all the houses sold nationally in 2011, according to estate agent Sherry Fitz-Gerald.

This has introduced a new breed of househunter to the market – the reluctant doer-upper.

One such househunter, Eamon Drea, a father of two, wanted to buy a property in walk-in condition but says that finished houses were in such short supply that “viewings were like wakes. Many had up to 100 cars outside and ushers inside to take you through the layout.

“Before you have even completed the viewing an offer has been made and accepted.”

Then there’s the experience of father of two Gerry O’Flaherty of O’Flaherty Landscapes who is not afraid to get his hands dirty.

He wanted a property where he could flex his green fingers. He also wanted a separate garage and off-street parking for his van and trailer.

He spent a year househunting and found a detached doer-upper with a south-westerly facing garden in Offington, an American-style 1960s estate in Sutton, Co Dublin, with borderless front lawns.

“The house hadn’t been touched since,” says O’Flaherty. “It was in bits.”

Set on one-third of an acre the house had potential. Straight away he discounted a fourth bedroom downstairs and turned it into a TV room for his two kids; Isobel (14) and Erin (8).

The family decided to live in the house while they did the bare minimum necessary to make it habitable for 21st century living. The house was rewired, rooms replastered and painted, and a new kitchen fitted. Built-in wardrobes were installed in all three upstairs bedrooms. The work was completed in about four weeks.

O’Flaherty’s builder, brother-in-law Noel Kelly, was also key to making the ambitious four-week deadline for completion.

O’Flaherty paid around €550,000 for the house and the building work cost about €50,000.

That included the installation of a fitted kitchen that cost €15,000 and €5,000 that was spent installing a downstairs toilet and refurbishing the family bathroom.

It also covered insulating the outside walls but not the attic.

“That will be part of phase two,” O’Flaherty says.

There is loads of room to extend and he plans to add a sunroom to the rear and an en suite bathroom to the main bedroom some time in the future but the budget isn’t there to do it now.

The kitchen was fitted last weekend and the family had no cooking facilities for the duration.

Does he think there is value in buying a doer-upper?

It wasn’t a question of value, rather a lack of available housing stock, O’Flaherty explains.

“There wasn’t a huge amount of houses for sale in this area.

There’s value because you’re going to have to spend money anyway whatever house you buy. Realistically, you could spend up to €150,000 on the house.

“Buying a doer-upper means I can design the house to suit my family’s needs.”

Expert advice tips from an old hand

* Always use an architect. The Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland (01-676 1703, has a list of qualified architects. The better you can brief your architect the better their plans will be. Tears from magazines are very helpful.

* Sign a building contract to tie down price. Before you agree a price with your builder have a full set of drawings; with plans and elevations and a specification document drawn-up by your architect. It should include plastering, insulation and all other technical data that supports what is in the drawings.

* Where to find a builder? Usually a neighbour who has done a job on the same style of house can advise on what to do and not to do. Ask them what their builder was like and what he or she cost.

* A builder has to have insurances. Find out if he is a member of the Construction Industry Federation ( or Homebond ( Before committing, ask to see references from architects and previous jobs. Make contact with both.

* There are always extras. The biggest cost is when people change their minds. Keep a financial contingency plan worth about 5 to 10 per cent of the job.

* If you can, take a few months to live in the property before you renovate. You will get to know what you like and don’t like, and where the light falls on your home.

* Most jobs overrun. If a builder says four to five months then add on another month without telling him that.