Landlording & Rental Properties

The Investor’s Guide to Vetting a Fixer-Upper: What to Look For on the Exterior

Expertise: Personal Development, Business Management, Real Estate Investing Basics, Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Finance, Flipping Houses
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For the next post or two, I want to take a little more time on some specific things you can do as you are walking, viewing, and deciding on making an offer on a property. There is a lot of nuance, little things that can become big problems, and many ways to deal with them.

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Buying properties is awesome. It’s a great way to make money, and it’s also an opportunity for disaster if you miss something.

So, let’s first explore the exterior of the property.

What to Look for on the Exterior of Your Potential Property

Do I LIKE the look of the property as I pull up to it? Does it have curb appeal? Do the neighbors keep up their properties? Does it seem like a nice neighborhood to live in?

Now, there is obviously a caveat to these first few questions. The house might be the worst one on the block. The gutters might be hanging down. The paint might be peeling off or shingles might be out of place on the roof. Take a mental note and write it on your notepad or in your Evernote note for that property.

But overall, remember to ask yourself, “What can I do to fix this problem? If it’s ugly, why? Rough looking?Why?”


First, on the exterior, what kind of siding is it? Is it batten board, is it old cedar shake, is it the new hardy board type, vinyl or metal siding, or is it asbestos? Does it need paint? Can I paint it?

If you don’t know, start learning the difference. There are different ways to deal with problems on these types of materials. For instance, batten board and other basic siding like that is pretty easy to find. You can likely cut out a sheet or a side of a house and replace it.


Wood Rot/Siding/Paint

If it is just rough looking down the bottom edge of the back or side of the house, you could consider cutting out rot, replacing it with whatever non-rotting material you want to use, and then do a 1-4 hardy board or other type of trim around the bottom of the siding. These will not only complete any problem and keep it from getting wet — therefore not rotting out anymore — but it looks very nice (and you can paint body or trim color depending on style of house).

Related: The Top 5 Items to Replace or Upgrade in Every Rental Property You Buy

If you do need to paint the exterior and have also replaced anything that is bare wood, make sure once you have power washed the exterior and scraped the paint that you prime the bare spots before you paint. Use a good quality paint, and do the job right the first time. Why do it twice, when you can do it once?


With the exterior you also want to take note of the grading and what it looks like directly below the gutters and right up to the edge where the dirt/grass/rocks meet with the foundation.

Does it look like there is a loss of dirt there from erosion? Is the problem the gutters? Look at them and see how they are connected to the house (if they are). Are there a lot of pieces that connect together, or is it a seamless gutter product?

If it’s not seamless, I almost ALWAYS replace them. Gutters are super cheap, and if not correct(ed), cost lots of money in grading and foundation problems.

I’m not as good at spotting this as my foundation guy and home inspector are, but this vantage point around the house can also foreshadow what you will find inside in the crawl space or basement as far as potential foundation problems.

For the grading outside, it might simply be new gutters (and check the facia board behind as well, as likely if the gutters aren’t attached very well, you may have wood rot issues on that as well). You could need some dirt, maybe even a little landscaping, to put in there to keep dirt against the foundation. If so, the basic walls made with the $1-2 pre-made pavers are nice, as well as a landscaping timber. It doesn’t have to be expensive to make it safe for you and nice to look at for your future tenant and the neighbors. Who knows, you might even give the neighbor an idea to do something nice in their yard!


Usually you can see right away what is going on with the roof. What kind of vents does it have? Tile, flat roof, composite shingle?

What does the roof look like? Old, new, dirty? Does it have some movement to it, like it looks uneven? I like to get up and touch a few pieces of the shingles to see how they move. Usually here we have composite roofs. If they are brittle and feel like they will break, it’s old and not very useful. If it looks new and is pliable, it has more useful life. Are there shingles missing or curling up? That’s another sign to plan for a new roof.

If it is a tile roof, usually you can replace a tile on the roof and just have the roof cleaned. There is actually a whole other membrane that runs underneath the tiles as well. Just make sure that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you should have a professional change out the tile.


On the outside of the house, usually you will have the mast that holds the electrical lines (if they aren’t buried underground). For our older rental properties, nearly all of them have power lines that run from a pole to the house. Are the lines at an acceptable height above the ground where no one could touch them? Does the meter box look new, is it the correct one (and I learned this because I spent $4,500 one month replacing several of these required by the code in that city)? Is there anything rusting?


Is there an outside AC unit? Is it older/newer? What does it look like? If it’s rusted out and looking bad, it probably needs to be replaced! Does your potential property even have AC? Guess what? Running new line sets for a property that just has a furnace is expensive! And yes, I’ve learned that one the hard way as well.

Related: 5 Crucial Questions to Ask BEFORE You Buy That First Rental Property


What kind of condition is the deck in? Does it look like newer material/members? Can you power wash it if it's dirty and use a deck stain on it? Does it have the proper support underneath? We bought a property one time with a massive deck that was awesome from the outside, but a month into the rehab the contractor called me to come look at it. The previous owner had used cinder blocks, random boards, 2x4s, 4x4s — and NOTHING safe or to code on it. Ouch. Let's just say, decks are expensive. Make sure you check them out!



Have you ever had to pay for a tree to be removed? Yeah, it’s expensive too. Just observe what the yard looks like. Do tree limbs hang low? Usually you can have these limbs trimmed and removed pretty inexpensively. If there is a tree that needs to be totally removed, definitely get several estimates. It’s expensive, and you want to make sure you’ve planned for it.

Yard wise, you just want to have it look decent and be in good shape. We don’t spend much money on the lawns, but we want the house to look good. A little seed and fertilizer can be a cheap and huge game changer for the look of the property.

There are a TON of things to think about in this post. I'd love to hear lots of input on what other things you look at when you are viewing a property on the exterior, as well as if you are are new at the real estate game, what other questions you have when you are approaching a property, on the inside or out.

What do YOU look for in the exterior of a property?

Leave your comments below!

Nathan Brooks is the co-founder and CEO of Bridge Turnkey Investments, a Kansas City-based company renovating and selling more than 100 turnkey prop...
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    Tyler Herget Real Estate Agent from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I check for bowing retaining walls and encroachments on both the subject and neighboring properties. I like looking at the other homes in the neighborhood and try to observe all the people who live in the area to get a feel for it also.
    Nathan Brooks Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    This is great Tyler … definitely encroachments can become an issue. We had one involving a shared drive. Thanks!
    Adam Schneider Flipper/Rehabber from Raleigh, NC
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Nathan, I enjoyed that post. Good tips about gutters and wood rot.
    Nathan Brooks Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Thanks Adam! Much appreciated!
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I like to look at other houses immediately near it – say 2-3 on each side. I love the ugliest house on the block, as long as the rest of the block looks decent or better. I don’t love the ugliest house on the block where the next ugliest is a close second. I super don’t love it if it looks like there are drug dealers two houses down. Check out the roof, and especially the soffit and fascia. There’s a house in my town I desperately want to buy. I can almost watch the soffit and fascia rotting away. The house is abandoned, but soffit/fascia holes tell me something lives there…
    Tony C. Rental Property Investor from St. Louis, MO
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Great post Nathan! I have 2 other biggies: 1) I always make a note about the condition of the windows and 2) check for the number of cracks or for major cracks in the driveway. A lot of municipalities here in St Louis are requiring that you resurface driveways. Big ticket item if you can’t just fill em
    Nathan Brooks Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Tony … great comment. We definitely have some issues with windows sometimes, and whoa … driveways are expensive! So yes, that one can bite you if not planned for!
    Austin Hajjar from Seattle, WA
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Great stuff Nathan! I agree with Tony, I look to see if windows are the old single pane or have been upgraded. Another quick look is the garage door they are relatively inexpensive to replace but add that curb appeal.
    Nathan Brooks Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Thanks Austin … garage doors definitely can be deceiving. I know once you get in there and actually SEE if they operate, you realize you never opened/shut the garage door. Thanks!
    Jonna Weber Real Estate Agent from Boise, ID
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Nathan – your posts are so informative – especially for the new buy and hold investor. Thank you for sharing! IIf a home has some of these issues…it is not necessary to run from it, but it IS necessary to factor realistic repair/rehab costs into the equation.
    Nathan Brooks Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Thanks so much Jonna … that means a lot! I really have tried to take my self out of what I can do in my own head and put it into words. Makes me think through it and get better, and hopefully helps others think through how they can do it. You are TOTALLY on with your comment … either walk from the deal, or make sure you have a fair assessment of what the rehab will be.
    Naeem Kapasi Investor from San Antonio, TX
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Great post Nathan, as a newbie buy and hold investor who is looking for the first deal, this post is great! One question though, how do you spot a foundation issue? And if there is one, do you proceed or run away?