TV was once flooded with shows about finding an inexpensive property and turning it into a dream home or "flipping" it for a profit with just a little work here and there.
For those who are hoping to find such an opportunity with the growing number of foreclosures, experts say it is important in this market to know your handyman limitations.
"Rehabbing a house is nothing to take lightly," says Frank Montro, a Realtor with Oak Realty, Chicago.
"Often people get in over their head and walk away," he says.
Changing a faucet or changing a light switch can typically be handled, but that isn't the same as dealing with plumbing issues and rewiring a home.
If it is just cosmetic most people can handle the repairs, but when permits and regulations are involved it is best to leave the work to someone who knows the ins and outs of the system, Montro says, and contract a professional.
Preparing for the price tag
Sometimes you can be pennywise and pound foolish. Whether hiring a contractor or doing the work yourself, the price tags on rehabbing a property add up quickly. But keep in mind that it doesn't cost anything to get bids and it is acceptable to bring contractors into a property before you make an offer.
Paul Carney, owner of five affiliated Phoenix Rising companies and Fresh Horizon Realty of Chicago, says people really need to look at the work that needs to be done and get several bids. He says the bid amounts should be within 7 percent of one another.
A home inspection by a licensed professional can also provide a prospective buyer with a scope of work that needs to be done, but only for what is visible in the home.
On any major project tack on a significant amount of money not just for what you see, but what you don't see, Carney says.
Carney suggests walking the property with someone who really knows all the areas of construction before placing an offer and to be sure to walk the property again before closing because a lot of damage can be done between the offer and the closing dates.
Figuring out financing
Some people are able and willing to take their time on rehabbing a property, putting in sweat equity on the weekends and doing the work as funds are available. But, Carney says, you must keep in mind that special funding programs do not apply to someone looking to fix up a home themselves.
"They don't give money if your brother-in-law is going to be swinging the hammer," he says.
Charlie Eck, president of Lincoln Mortgage and Funding Corp. in Westmont, says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers a 203(k) program specific to acquisitions of property and repair funds for single-family properties. For more information, visit www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/203k/203kabou.cfm
"The good news is the process has sped up quite a bit, but it's still not without additional time," he says.
Eck says it is also possible to go to your local community bank for conventional loans or rehab loans.
A good lender, Eck says, will ask all the questions they hope the interested buyer has already asked himself about the home and the work necessary. This is to see if the potential buyer seeking the loan is prepared mentally to handle a rehab job, Eck says.
Finding a contractor
For those interested in buying a foreclosed home and having professionals do the fixing, Montro suggests checking with bankers for referrals to find a quality contractor.
He says it is important to hire a reputable contractor because too often he has heard of people getting burned with contractors walking away and leaving homeowners dangling.
Carney says it is important in the foreclosure market for people to do their homework and surround themselves with people they trust.
"Many professionals will tell you what you want to hear not what you have to hear," he says adding you need someone who will say 'this won't work' or 'this won't be worth it.'
If the idea is to buy a $140,000 condominium, but it requires another $40,000 of work and other units in the building are still selling for $140,000 it isn't a good investment, Carney says.
"I can't stress enough … you really need to be careful," Carney says.
Finding a reputable contractor who is available may also be a challenge, Carney says. The really talented and reputable contractors are busier now than they were at the height of the real estate boom, he says.
Eck says there are a lot of things to watch for when purchasing a foreclosure to fix up and suggests working with an experienced Realtor and real estate attorney to avoid pitfalls.
He says a reputable lender will also be looking for all the bases to be covered making sure the home meets pre-sale requirements.
"When you buy a foreclosure property it is not always the panacea people think it will be," Eck says.
This article was first published in the Chicago Tribune on June 18, 2010.