There’s a lot to consider when you’re house-hunting, but one of the biggest questions might be this: Do you want a home that you could move into today, or do you want to fix up and customize your home to your liking? To help you make that decision, we’ve put together a guide outlining the definitions of a move-in ready home and a fixer-upper, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each. 

What Is a Move-In Ready Home?

In general, move-in ready—or turnkey—means that the property is in a state fit for immediate occupancy, although different people could have different ideas about what exactly that means. One person could consider a house that needs fresh interior paint to be move-in ready, while somebody else might not. More broadly, the term is used to describe a house that doesn’t need major renovations before the owners can move in. For example, most people would probably agree that a house that needs to be gutted and rewired is NOT move-in ready.  

Pros of Move-In Ready Homes

  • Keep the Ball Rolling: With a move-in ready property, you can start the next chapter of your life immediately. This is great if you’re on a tight schedule and don’t have time for renovations. And after house-hunting, loan approval, home inspections, and everything else, it may just be that the last thing you might want on your hands is a massive project. 
  • Get What You Want Upfront: Because turnkey homes are “finished,” they’re more likely to already have the features that you want—like updated flooring, modern appliances, or a specific floor plan.
  • Fewer Surprises: The key definition of a move-in ready home is that it’s safe to live in. While you obviously still need to conduct proper home inspections, a move-in ready home is less likely to give you a nasty surprise like a foundation issue.
  • Less Stress: Moving in and of itself is already stressful—moving into a home that requires tons of additional work will add more stress on top of that. With a move-in ready home, you can reduce that anxiety.
  • Stick to Your Budget: Since you probably won’t have to factor in major renovations (and the surprises that often come with them), it’s much easier to set a budget and stick to it with a turnkey home. 
  • Loan Qualification: Move-in ready homes are considered a less risky investment than fixer-uppers, so you may have an easier time qualifying for a loan. 

Cons of Move-In Ready Homes

  • Breaking the Bank: Unfortunately, convenience comes at a price. Just like going to a restaurant is more expensive than cooking at home, a move-in ready home will often be pricier than a fixer-upper. Depending on what you want and where you are, you may want to brace yourself for sticker shock.
  • Customization Limits: While there’s a lot you can do cosmetically to customize your new home, making a major change to a turnkey home (for example, adding a bathroom) may be more costly and disruptive than it’s worth. 
  • Cookie Cutter: Many move-in ready homes are new builds in neighborhoods filled with other new builds. If that’s the case, your new home may look strikingly similar to your neighbors’.
  • Fierce Competition: The advantages of a move-in ready home are appealing to a lot of homebuyers. That competition means that you may have a more challenging time securing a move-in ready home. You may find yourself driving the price out of budget in a bidding war, or having to deal with the sting of getting outbid on your dream home. 
  • Error 404, House Not Found: Depending on your house-style preferences and what’s available in your area, a move-in ready home that perfectly fits your vision simply may not exist. For example, a move-in ready vintage Craftsman is a much bigger ask than a move-in ready new-build Colonial.

What Is a Fixer-Upper?

Even if you couldn’t define a fixer-upper off the top of your head, you likely know one when you see it. Fixer-upper homes are usually considered technically livable, but often need major maintenance work. Every fixer-upper is different, though. Some fixes might be relatively easy (like replacing outdated appliances or ripping up carpet) while others might need major work to address issues like structural damage or biohazards (like mold or asbestos). 

Pros of Fixer-Upper Homes

  • Better Value: Because someone hasn’t already poured time and money into a fixer-upper, they’re often available at lower prices than turnkey homes. You might be able to get a much bigger house for the same amount you’d pay for a smaller move-in ready home. Fixer-uppers can also be your ticket into a neighborhood that you couldn’t afford a move-in ready home in.   
  • Personalize It: Once the paperwork is signed and a fixer-upper is yours, you can tailor it to suit your needs and style. Don’t like the master bath? Remodel it. Wish you had a deck in the backyard? Build one. 
  • You’re in Charge: With a move-in ready home, you’re subject to the last owner’s (or the construction company’s) interests. With a fixer-upper, you’re the one who decides where to invest your funds, what materials to use, what contractors to hire, and everything in between.
  • Lower Property Taxes: Property taxes are calculated based on a property’s original purchase price, purchasing a less expensive fixer-upper could mean paying less in taxes, at least initially.
  • Investment Opportunity: If you do it right, a fixer-upper is an investment. Transforming a pumpkin into a property that’s move-in ready can pay off if you decide to sell later.

Cons of Fixer-Upper Homes

  • Unpleasant Surprises: What could possibly go wrong? A lot! Even with home inspections, you never truly know what you’re getting into, and demolition may reveal significant issues (like structural problems, age-related damage, and poorly done updates from previous owners), especially in an older house.   
  • Budget Challenges: Because the likelihood of a nasty surprise or two is so high, the “fixing” part of a fixer-upper can be difficult to budget for. You may have budgeted for replacing the kitchen floor, but if you find asbestos in the subfloor, you now have to swallow the cost of removal and disposal, too.  
  • Risky Business: Some lenders might see a fixer-upper as a risky investment, meaning that you could have a harder time finding someone to finance your dream, or that you could get stuck with a more expensive loan.
  • Construction Zone: Renovations—especially major renovations—take time. Sometimes months. Sometimes even years. During that time, you’ll either have to secure temporary housing or live in the middle of a construction zone.

When buying a home, everyone’s situation is unique. A fixer-upper could be the perfect choice for one person, but a terrible choice for another. Same with a move-in ready home. Always take your budget, preferences, and lifestyle needs into consideration, and don’t be afraid to consult with your real estate agent.

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