Real Estate: Fixer upper or tear down — it’s in the eye of the beholder

Sabrina Belleci / Special to the Sun

One of the first questions that a real estate agent asks a buyer is, “are you willing to look at fixer uppers or do you want something that is move-in ready?” The vast majority of people purchasing a vacation home are not interested in taking on a major remodeling project or building from scratch. It’s one thing to do minor cosmetic work like paint and carpet or replace a few appliances. But moving walls, redesigning staircases, adding a garage, building additions and other major adventures are not within the scope of most second homeowners.

While Incline Village is a master planned community that does not mean all of the single-family residences were constructed during the same era. Looking at the older construction, we have a lot of properties in our community from the 1960s through 1980s and some could best be described as vintage. There are places that exhibit nice architecture, have a good floor plan and could just use some updating. Other homes cry out for a bulldozer and a new set of plans.

Before we are deluged by comments from readers, there are a lot of charming older homes and cabins on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. Many of these blend in beautifully with the environment and actually fit better than some of the oversized properties built during the dot com and real estate booms. When well maintained or nicely restored, they exude that Tahoe charm which owners and visitors alike are very fond of.

Some older neighborhoods such as the Millcreek and Woods subdivisions have predominantly large level lots. When looking at original homes in these neighborhoods, especially those built before 1979 when there were major changes to the building code, many buyers debate, “is this place a fixer-upper or a tear down?” With such large lots and potentially substantial amounts of impervious coverage, the concept of tearing down and building a new home that is energy efficient and structurally more sound does have a great deal of merit.

In most parts of the country tearing down an older home and building a new one is a pretty straightforward process. However, with the complicated and sometimes convoluted land coverage regulations in the Tahoe basin, building a new structure from the ground up can often be a daunting task. An entire industry of TRPA consultants has grown up around the need for property owners and builders to be able to understand and comply with the complex regulations.

Homes built in the 1960s and early 1970s that are still in original condition will likely have single pane windows, minimal insulation and were built with different standards versus today. Whether it is worthwhile to do a major remodeling project on a home constructed during that time will depend on a number of factors. Having a good contractor who can walk through the property and evaluate the pluses and minuses will go a long way towards making a sound decision. Some older homes have great bones and lend themselves to a remodeling project, which would cost far less than a tear down and rebuild.

You may hear a property referred to as a “livable fixer upper.” This refers to a place that while dated and in need of some repairs, is perfectly fine to live in while you work on your remodeling ideas. It is always best to live in a property for at least a few months whenever possible before you do major remodeling work. Very often your original ideas will change after living in a place and getting a feel for the traffic flow, sunlight and other intangibles that are difficult to visualize when you are out shopping for properties.

Sabrina Belleci is broker/owner of RE/MAX GOLD.

Sabrina Belleci

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