How To Inspect a Fixer Upper

Inspect Fixer Uppers carefully

Most people want a great buy on a home and, in today's down-trending Real Estate market, there are some buys out there if a person is very careful. I am focusing on inspecting a potential fixer upper for purchase and later resale by you, for profit.

You do have to be knowledgeable about the Real Estate appraisal process, location of the home, and of course the price. There are several ways to purchase a fixer upper -- a foreclosure sale, auction, or estate sale, among others.

Once you found a possible home for fixing up, you need to really focus your inspection on the infrastructure of the home (e.g roof, furnace, electrical, plumbing, and foundation). While you can never eliminate all the surprises, you find, as you "fix" up your new property, that you can keep these to a minimum with a proper inspection.

Step 1

Drive the neighborhood, and get an idea of the value of homes in the area. Check with Real Estate agents, city/county records, etc. so you have a good idea of what your future sale price will be for your flip.

Step 2

As you walk up to a potential home, scan the roof area of the home. Do you see a "wavy" roof, missing shingles, green mold on the shingles, and/or edges of shingles curling up? Walk around the sides of the home and look at the edge of the roof as it rises to a peak. Do you see more than one layer of shingles?

  • Wavy roof: This indicates possibly weak sheeting under shingles and/or weak rafters caused by either the weight of too many layers of roofing or, more likely, water damage to the rafters.
  • Green mold: Generally caused by roof not being in direct sunlight and unable to dry out after rain.
  • Edges of shingles turning up: Caused by insufficient venting of the attic space, which allows heat to radiate out to the shingles and causing them to turn up.
  • More than one layer of shingles: Most building codes will allow one additional layer of new shingles over the original layer. If you see more than two layers, then there is too much weight on the rafters and sheeting, which means a total re-roof job is in your future.

Step 3

While you are walking around the outside of the house, check out the electrical service that is coming to your home. Is it at least 100 amp three wire service (see following)? Is the overall condition of the meter base and wire attachments in good shape? Is there an AC unit outside? Is it rusted or looking to be very old?

Most homes built from the '70's on have a minimum of 100 amp service, 3 wire service. 3 wire service provides 220 volt capability, which electric ranges and dryers require. If the home has electric heat, then a minimum of 150 amps. (200 amp is better and is usually the case in all electric homes.)

Is the home served by city water, natural gas for heating, cable TV wiring, etc.? Lets you know what utilities are available to the home.

Step 4

Look over the condition of the siding. Are there boards or siding pieces missing? Push gently on wood siding to see if there is potential termite damage or dry rot. If the wood gives when you push, then you have a problem.

Is the foundation brick, concrete block, or slab type? You're better off to stay with concrete block. Brick foundations are not usually found in homes built from the '70's on. Brick mortar tends to loosen over the years and fall out. These gaps in the bricks allow outside vermin to enter the home.

You do not want to consider a home with a slab foundation because there's too much cost involved in repairing plumbing leaks. If the home is on a slab, the plumbing is either run through the concrete flooring or overhead in the attic. When you have a plumbing leak, you have expensive repairs ahead as the concrete has to be chipped out to provide access to the plumbing. If the plumbing runs through the attic AND is not insulated, should leaks develop, the home's ceiling will be impacted and drywall chunks may fall from the ceiling.

Step 5

Enter the home and visibly scan for damaged dry wall and stains on ceiling or walls, which could mean water damage, weak floors, uneven floors, and other physical damage. Check the outlets in the home: are they the 3-prong type? If not, they will need to be upgraded.

  • Look for your furnace room and check out any labels you see on the furnace. You're looking for an installation date to give you an idea of the age of the unit. Is the furnace all electric, all natural gas, propane gas, or boiler unit? Is the furnace easy to access for furnace repair and maintenance (i.e. filters easy to change)? No walls or pipes obstructing access to the furnace motor, burner, etc.
  • Check out the electrical panel. They need to be all circuit breakers. Check the main breaker handle as the service amperage should be stamped on the breaker handle. This will identify whether the service is 100 amp, etc.
  • Check out the water heater. Look for rust or corrosion on the sides, particularly near the bottom of the unit. Check the size (gallon capacity). Should be at least 30 gallon or more. 40 gallon or more is great.

Step 6

If the utilities are on, check all the electrical and plumbing fixtures to see if they work. If no utilities are turned on, you can only visually check these items for any signs of plumbing leaks, smoked electrical outlets, etc.

  • Put on a pair of coveralls and go into the crawl space (if one exists), and check the inside of the foundations for termite mud tunnels on the foundation walls. Check floor joists for dry rot. Take an awl with you and jab the joists and main beams in several spots to check for termites and dry rot. If the awl sinks in easily, then you may have an expensive problem ahead.
  • Check the general condition of the crawl space. Is it tight or difficult to get into? Are scraps of wood or other trash in the area? If so, it will need to be cleaned up as that is excellent termite food. Most important, is the crawl space damp or outright wet? If so, you have drainage problems and probably poor venting in the crawl space.
  • Check out any plumbing pipes and electrical wire run in the crawl space. Is the plumbing copper, galvanized, PVC or CPVC, PEX pipe? Do you see any crust or build up on the plumbing joints which may indicate leaks? Are the pipes wrapped with insulation?

    Are the electrical wires laying on the ground or mounted in or on the joists? Are the electrical junction boxes, if any, covered with metal or plastic covers?

Step 7

Next step is to go into the attic. Be extremely careful when walking on rafters. It is very easy to slip and put your foot through a ceiling panel and hurt yourself. Also have a flashlight with you.

  • Check on the insulation in the attic. Is there insulation? If so, is the insulation deep enough? (7 or 8 inches of blown or batt insulation). Check the underside of the roof sheeting looking for any signs of water leakage. Check the rafters for excessive bowing, indicating weakness.

    Also look for roof vents and count how many you have. Vents help remove heat in the summer from the attic space, increasing the life of roofing shingles.

  • Check the underside of the sheeting, upon which the outside shingles are mounted. You're looking for any signs of rot or water damage.

The above steps are not all-inclusive. They are simply the major points to be inspected on your first walk-through of your flip. If you perform the above steps, you will be able to realistically determine the costs of rehabbing the property and minimize any costly, surprising structural problems. You can never totally eliminate structural surprises, but you will be able to minimize them with this type of close inspection.

Ron has been a licensed Real Estate Salesperson, Licensed electrician, Director of Finance for a local non-profit, Systems consultant for Ameritech and Digital Equipment Corporation. View more detail at:

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Some very sound advice for inspecting any prospective home, not just a flip property or a fixer-upper. Thanks for this.

By S. E. Smith

Very useful. Thank you.

By Mary Norton