Five Crucial Tips for Surviving a Fixer-Upper

by Candice Whitlow (photo above: Candi’s very own fixer-upper!)

So, you’ve bought a fixer upper? Congratulations! Like me, you have an eye for the beauty that is hiding beneath the rough surface. You can see that underneath the overgrown landscape, the paint-blistered siding, and the collapsed front porch is a showstopper of a home! Through all the haunted house qualities you picture a manicured yard with the perfect flowers and shrubs, framing your bright, freshly-painted home. And how about a front porch with rocking chairs and maybe a swing to enjoy that perfect summer night? It’s your dream home, and you’re not above getting your hands dirty to make that dream come true!
While buying a fixer upper is well worth it (trust me — I speak from experience!), it can sometimes become overwhelming for someone who has never been through this process. Don’t worry! It’s not uncommon to feel a little (or at times, a LOT of) buyer’s remorse. A fixer upper can be challenging. You may have walked into the house before you purchased it and started making grand plans. After putting in the initial offer you immediately took to Pinterest, pinning away at design ideas and paint colors. But then once you signed on the dotted line and became the keeper of the keys, you suddenly noticed things you didn’t notice before. You question your first judgment by asking that one panic attack inducing question “What was I thinking, I can’t do this?!”
Well, I’m here to tell you that you CAN do this, and I am about to give five survival tips that are crucial to keeping your dream alive.


The house at the very top of this article is our c. 1920s work-in-progess house today. Just above — how it looked when we first bought it!


Prioritize Your Projects

It’s really easy to want to dive right in and start trying to do it all at once. Don’t fall into this trap. It will only lead to the disappointment that nothing is getting completed. Of course anything structural should come first, and then follow up with any plumbing and electrical issues that need to be resolved. Remember, functionality first and cosmetics later.

What a typical day at home looks like.


Expect the Unexpected

Just after you’ve gotten all your ducks in a row, have a budget worked out, and have your next project planned the unexpected problem ALWAYS seems to reveal itself. I had an experience like this last winter. I had totally gutted the only bathroom in my house to remodel it, and within the same week of doing so, my furnace broke and needed a costly repair. (This also happened the same winter Missouri had record breaking low temperatures. Yikes!) Unfortunately, the unexpected tends to show up at the worst times — but if you prepare for the worst and hope for the best it won’t hit you as hard.

My husband, Jake — the champ!


Learn to Make A Killer PB+J

Working on a fixer-upper can turn your home upside down. For a while, you won’t have the same creature comforts you would have in a completed home. And if it’s “all hands on deck” to get things done, who has time to cook? A loaf of bread and some sandwich fixings can take you a long way on the nights where everyone is covered in dirt and plaster. Sometimes these projects can go late into the night. In my opinion, these are when the best memories are made. My husband I have spent so many nights blasting The White Stripes (music selection is entirely up to you) and working together on a project. The rest of the world is quiet and it’s a time where you can really focus.

Just another weekend in paradise…


Find Perfection in the Imperfections

After a while, you will learn to appreciate the imperfections in your home. Sure, those hardwood floors could use refinishing, but consider how much the dining room will experience wear and tear from holidays and gatherings around the family dinner table. The more you entrench yourself in the historical aspects of the home, the more you will appreciate those certain characteristics.

SIGH. The smallest accomplishments deserve the biggest rewards!


Don’t Let it Overwhelm You

Sometimes, you just have to step away from the projects for a night and take a break. That’s not only okay, but I consider it mandatory every once in a while. You might just have to wash the dirt off and eat a real dinner, or maybe you want to order a pizza and veg out on the couch for an evening. My personal favorite activity is to watch The Money Pit, a comedy starring Tom Hanks, which shows his trials of turning his fixer-upper into a dream home. In fact, I’m going to say that this movie is a must-watch for anyone with a fixer-upper! I guarantee your home repair woes will seem simple after watching!
Now, do you feel a little bit better about taking on a fixer upper?
Good! Stay tuned for my future posts, where we’ll grab some tools together and dive in!


As CIRCA’s resident old house restoration expert, Candi has lived her whole life in fixer-uppers. Her love for old houses stems from growing up in Doniphan MO, where there is an old house on every corner and the roots of her family tree run deep. She currently manages her father’s company, BARCO Construction and Design. Candi is on the board of the Doniphan Neighborhood Assistance Program and has worked closely with the City of Doniphan Historic Preservation Commission, documenting the city’s historic downtown buildings. She devotes most of her spare time to restoring her 1920s cottage-style bungalow that she shares with her husband Jake and their two dogs Rowdy and Mac.


  • Jaime

    How do you survive a home that was at the top of your budget and didn’t realize it was such a fixer upper??


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