Is it worth putting in some work on the houses or should I just run away? How much fix up is too much?
There isn't an exact science about how much is too much. It's all very personal and very dependent on the ability (financial, emotional, and hammer-swinging) of the person doing the work.
The only obvious truth is that the cost of the home plus the cost to improve it should be less than the value of the home after it's improved. In other words, if you can buy a different home in the neighborhood for less than the cost to buy & fix up this one, you should just buy the already fixed up one instead. Unless (and there seems to always be a caveat), the home you want to fix up is perfect in some other way and can't be match by any other - lot size/location is the most common reason.
Another thing to consider is capital. You can spend $50,000 more on a home and only have to come out of pocket with a couple thousand dollars for the additional down payment; the remainder can be financed (assuming you qualify for the increased mortgage). However, your fix-up costs will most likely need to be paid for with cash.
Ideally you can find a home that looks a little run down, which keeps the home on the market longer and depresses its list price, but which only needs inexpensive, cosmetic fixing up. Flooring, paint, and fixtures fall into this category, as well as giving the landscaping some TLC without having to entirely re-landscape the yard.
Countertops and cabinetry go a long way towards freshening up the kitchen and bathrooms. But this can sometimes cause a domino effect - your vision for the right cabinets will be best complimented with new appliances, countertops, flooring, and an update to the ceiling - now we're talking real dollars!
That's a long answer. The short answer to your short question is: it depends. You can get a great deal on a home if you're willing to do the work, and the harder the work the better the deal. But you need to be able to do the work as inexpensively as possible (the goal after all was to save money), and you need to have the cash available to do it.
Does that help at all?
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