The Investor’s Guide to Vetting a Fixer-Upper Interior: Kitchen, Bathrooms, Flooring & More

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WOOHOO! My third post about walking properties is HERE! Post one of this series for the exterior of a property can be found here. It covers looking at the foundation and grading, the roof, wood rot, gutters and facia, painting, yard work, and more.

My second post was the start of the interior walk through. What do you see or smell as you enter the property? You can read that post here. In it, we talk about caulking and painting, overall condition and first impressions. Does it stink? Does it have mold?

So now what? You’ve walked the bedrooms and seen condition and have gotten an overall impression of the property. Where do you go from there?

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Kitchen

What does the kitchen layout look like? Is it a good layout? Are the cabinets in good shape? A lot of times, we can put a new counter/sink/faucet and sometimes paint the cabinets with new pulls and handles. Just these few simple and inexpensive things can make the kitchen look 100% better. If not, if the layout isn’t working, think through where all the appliances go. If it’s a total tear-out, you also have the opportunity to make the kitchen function. If you don’t have an eye for this kind of thing, call out your granite guy, cabinet guy, or favorite contractor and work through it together. The more you do it, the better at laying them out you will get.

Does it need appliances? Where do they go? Especially with the fridge missing, make sure you figure out where it goes and what to do with it. This is so easy to forget when there isn’t a fridge there while you visit the first time.

Check out the stove in particular. Does it have the wall oven and the stove in the countertop? If so, make sure to triple check this. The wall oven and stovetop are more expensive than just buying your basic, decent free-standing stove.

Check the plumbing underneath the sink. If there are water problems, a lot of times you might find mold or wet floor of that sink cabinet. How does the plumbing look overall? If you see shutoff values or PVC lines in need of help, none of these are hard to fix. They just add up. Make sure you make that dip down and check under the sink.

vinyl-flooring

What is the flooring like in the kitchen? Is it vinyl? You could just replace vinyl by going over it. Does it have (bad) tile? Prepare to have it torn out, and consider the labor for that if you aren’t doing it yourself. I’ve done it. It’s not fun, and it’s not fast. It’s a total mess. Measure it out and have a ballpark for what you can get it installed for. Don’t spend crazy money on tile unless it’s LeBron James’s new mansion. (By the way, did you see those pics going around Facebook? That house he sold in Miami is insane!)

Related: My Latest Rehab: How I Profited Despite Issues by Thinking Outside the Box

We use basic tile that looks good and lasts. It’s usually $1-2 per sq ft. If there is hardwood that is being refinished in the rest of the house, I would consider laying hardwoods in the kitchen as well. I know some people will disagree because of water or wear, but it works incredibly well for me. I love the uniformity of floors, and I am always of thinking how to limit the number of different floorings going on. I prefer for all rehabs and rentals to only have 1-2 flooring options total. For floors we almost always use the same, sometimes carpet and then vinyl in bathroom and kitchen. In practice this means hardwoods in main spaces and hallways and vinyl in bathroom/kitchen. I almost never have parts of all three of those in the same house unless I have no other options.

Bathroom(s)

If there is just one bathroom, think layout, storage, the ease of getting in and out, and what the current condition is. A number of the houses we buy already have tub and shower surrounds. I love the surrounds for rehabs and rentals since they are hard to damage, easy to clean, easy to maintain, and easy to repair or replace if necessary. If the tub is already in good condition, we will usually just have the tub guys come out, and for $150 you can refinish the steel tub and make it look like new. Ours guys do a great job, it’s much easier and more cost effective than tearing it out, and it holds up well.

If at all possible, plan to have a vanity with storage. You can’t have enough places to put all your bathroom stuff, and this is a big deal, especially if there isn’t a good sized closet. If there is space, put a vanity with storage. If it is an upper end property, and more of a master-type bathroom, I try and have a double vanity. It’s what people expect, and it allows the property to sell or rent that much faster.

rehabbing-materials

Flooring

Since I just touched on the flooring in the kitchen conversation, I won’t spend much time on this now. But we always try and keep uniformity. If there are hardwoods, I always tear the carpet out and keep the hardwoods if I can. Hardwoods are easy to clean, easy to fix, and they wear well. I will put carpet if I have subfloor. If the subfloor smells, Kilz everything first, and then put down your carpet or hardwoods.

For my hardwoods, I’ve found a guy who charges under $2 per sq ft for refinish and $6 for #1 Oak install. He isn’t 100% perfect; he’s about an 85/100 — BUT he is fast, efficient, always on time, and always finishes on time — and the paint guys always know there is a bit of touch up after. We have a dark color and a mid-dark color we use (“joco bean” and “walnut”), depending on the colors of cabinets and whatever else is going on in the house.

For carpet, we have the same color in every house. It’s usually between $1,000 and $1,500 per house, with carpet and pad. Buy carpet that wears, but cheaper carpet and thicker pad is the way to go. It feels nice, wears well, and feels upgraded to the tenant/buyer.

For vinyl, we just use the commercial grade stuff so it holds up. It’s pretty inexpensive; just make sure your guys know what they are doing when they put it down. I only use this in bathrooms, kitchens, or laundry/utility-type rooms.

Windows/Doors

We try and keep the doors in the properties if we can. We sometimes have a hard time adding slap doors in older houses without a lot of correction. If you have to replace doors rather than paint/fix, then make sure you are considering how you will replace them.

If the front door is rough or old, we usually do replace those. For about $300 at Home Depot, you can have the entire pre-hung door (which is absolutely the way to go), and you can simply install it. We use the Kwikset locks and handles because you can easily change the key for these. It’s much better than having to buy a whole new lock assembly; just go out, use their little tool for it, and change the key.

For windows, I’ve recently found a local company that will do a window fully manufactured for your size for about $100 a window. Home Depot and Lowes do have windows, and I’ve had pretty good luck with them, but they are almost double or more. If you can wait a few days/week for them to be made, it’s well worth saving the money and finding a local manufacturer.

Related: The Simple Step-by-Step Guide For Rehabbing Your First Rental
I think this is enough to digest for one post. If you are working on building your walk through process, it might be worth to go back and read through all three posts again, and then begin writing out your own process on paper. Tweak what works for you, and then put it in a one-page checklist and bring it with you until you can do the same thing again and again without looking at it.

I will have one more post in this series next week, and we will focus on the interior biggies: the basement in general, potential foundation issues, and other things to look for. I’ll cover some types of foundation issues/fixes we run into here in the Midwest. We will talk through the HVAC system, the major plumbing and electrical you can see from the basement or to look for in a crawl space, and pitfalls if the property is on a slab.

Have I covered all the questions you have about home walk-throughs in these posts?  

If not, make sure to leave in the comments of this post and I will try to address those next week!

About Author

Nathan Brooks

Nathan Brooks is a dad, husband, worship leader, and real estate investor in the Kansas City market. Foodie. Coffee addict. Crossfit junkie.

6 Comments

  1. Jerry W.

    Nathan,
    Nice article. I have a flip property I was doing the work on myself and it has stalled out. I need to go back through it and write up an action plan for each room and get started on it. This article helps.

  2. Aaron B.

    Nathan, excellent article. You provide some great specific tips as well as touching on more general topics for the reader to research. I have throughly enjoyed reading this and the previous two articles. Look forward to next weeks addition. Best Regards.

  3. Good post, we have been flippin homes for 30 years (about one very 2-3 years) Our experience is that most props haven’t been touched in 20 years and everything must go. I have torn out more tile flooring than i care to remember. Buyers in the million and above range demand interiors and finishes less than 10 years old. Always we area assessing layout and flow before buying a project. Sometimes removing a wall can be simple other times not but it can mean a world of difference in livability.

  4. I live in the Seattle area and had my green bathtub reglazed white. I love that it looks brand new and that we didn’t have the mess of busting up the old tub. However, I paid $500.

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