Buying a fixer-upper in Santa Cruz County has always been tempting. Currently, median home values have risen from a low of $522k in 2011 to $791k in November 2016. And they’re heading higher. With this type of growth, a fixer-upper is one way to enter a pricey market and build wealth.

Reality checks, though, are crucial. Big losses are a real possibility here, and the guidance of a competent realtor is essential. You’ll want to be confident in four key areas before buying a fixer-upper.

Emotional Impact

Many people assume pouring money into never-ending problems is the biggest concern with fixer-uppers. However, your emotional well-being is another factor. Honestly evaluate your margin:

  • Are you dealing with stressful circumstances already? A renovation may involve exasperating complications and delays.
  • Will you need to live in the home while it’s being renovated? Count on added stress.
  • How’s your schedule? Renovating can be as time-consuming as a second job.

Financial Issues

If you can take on a fixer-upper and stay sane, the next step is to evaluate your financial readiness.

  • Take a long, denial-free look at your finances. Set a realistic limit, and resolve to stick to it.
  • Build a 20 percent cushion into your budget to cover surprises. Even the best inspector can’t see through sheetrock.
  • Count on hiring experts. You may have a talented weekend DIY’er in the family, but there’s no substitute for a professional’s experience.
  • Look into renovation loans, such as the 203k. They’re backed by the Federal Reserve, and offer lower interest rates.
  • Research the county’s permit costs and requirements, especially for any major work. They can be prohibitively expensive.

Keep Your Eyes Open

Still along for the ride? Now it’s time to decide exactly what you want—and what to look out for.

Beautiful Santa Cruz County offers town and country living, in ocean and mountain habitats. Each area has advantages and challenges. To understand what will work for you, list your must-haves and deal-breakers.


You may feel you know your must-haves well enough already. However, it’s surprisingly easy to drift from what you want. Your list will remind you that you value convenience, for example, when you’re swooning over the perfect home that’s miles from anywhere.


For a warm-up exercise on deal-breakers, consider watching The Money Pit—the 1986 comedy about a couple who forge through a hilariously unrealistic renovation. And, be aware of other unfixable issues:

  • No matter how promising a fixer-upper looks, you can’t renovate it out of a flood zone or earthquake damage-prone area.
  • If you’re looking at remote mountain properties, be certain they have alternate evacuation routes in case of fire.
  • Check that the floor plan will work for your lifestyle.
  • If you have children, make sure the home is sufficiently distant from busy roads.
  • Bringing your horse? The County of Santa Cruz does not allow homeowners to keep large animals on less than one acre.


Other factors are negotiable. Commuter traffic at certain times of day might not bother you. Maybe you can delay putting in the pool you hoped to find. A reverse floor plan may be workable, as long as there’s a space for your home office. Keep an open mind.

Your Search

Good work! You’ve assessed your emotional margin, organized your finances, and figured out exactly what you want and are willing to compromise on. Probably, this has helped you narrow down your search to a general area of Santa Cruz County.

Now, find your fixer-upper in the best neighborhood you can afford. You want to be able to renovate as much as possible, and it’s hard to recoup money spent on upgrading a home beyond its surroundings.

Evaluating a Fixer-Upper

Next, assess the cost of renovating the property that’s sparked your interest. Hire an inspector and a reputable contractor, and note our county’s unique issues:

  • Homes near the ocean may sustain damage from salt air corrosion.
  • In the forest, insect damage and damp rot may need mitigating.
  • In urbanized areas, inspect for compromised lateral sewer lines.

Tall trees should not be positioned to fall onto structures during seasonal high winds. If they are, have them inspected. Steep hillsides should be secured by healthy root systems, retaining walls, or even paving.

These issues don’t mean you should reject a home, but they may involve more expense to remedy than you realize. Tree work, for example, can cost thousands. Doing your homework will spare you headaches and loss.

If an inspection reveals structural issues, hire a structural engineer. He or she will give you a written estimate of the repair costs. You’ll also find out how extensive the problem is, and if it can be addressed.

If all lights are still green, move on to the last step.


At last, you’re ready to make your offer. Request a discount to cover any issues the inspections reveal. And, consider a “hassle factor” discount if the home will be temporarily unlivable.

If all goes well with your offer, congratulations! Prepare for a season of joyous upheaval, excitement, and discovery—followed by a sigh of contentment as you settle into your dream home. You’ve found your fixer-upper and kept your sanity!

Buying a fixer-upper could be the best move you ever made. Give us a call at (831)818-4321, or contact us here. We’d love to help!