Buy, Fix and Sell: Part 1 of 5 - How to Buy, Fix-Up and Sell Your Home

Tips for buying, renovating and selling a home for profit

Man painting floor
••• Christopher Hope-Fitch/Moment/Getty Images

Is remodeling a house by yourself possible?

I didn't know much about modeling houses when I started out remodeling my first home. In fact, I was clueless. I sold houses; I didn't fix them. So I bought a Reader's Digest Handyman Repair book, which explained the kind of tools to buy and gave detailed instructions on all kinds of repairs such as unclogging a sink, replacing a receptacle, patching up a hole in the wall -- even framing a closet.

I learned that remodeling a home on your own is possible, with a little research and some hard work. 

Getting Started

  • Buy books on home remodeling / maintenance.
  • Talk to contractors and handyperson specialists.
  • Tour recently remodeled homes for clues and ideas.
  • Go to home improvement shows.

My First Remodeling Projects

Uncovered and refinished the oak floors
This was not a job I did myself the first time around. I hired professionals, and here is what I learned:

  1. Think before moving furniture so exits are not blocked by stacked furniture.
  2. Rolled carpeting is very heavy to lift.
  3. If you throw carpet out the window, you will scratch the window ledges. It is better to leave a path to the door.
  4. Finishes vary and impact the price of finishing floors.
  5. Oil-based polyurethane has an amber hue and is very durable.
  6. Water-based polyurethane is clear and easy to clean up.
  7. Polyurethane finishes require three coats minimum.

    Laid ceramic tiles
    To avoid cutting tiles, I laid out a pattern for the front porch entry that utilized full-sized tiles. Around the ceramic perimeter, I installed peel-and-stick carpet tile, which I cut with a regular pair of scissors. Then I covered a kitchen counter in ceramic. This is what I learned about ceramic:

    1. Shopping for sale prices can save a lot of money
    2. It costs less to mix your own mortar and grout.
    3. Never mix more mortar than you can spread in 30 minutes.
    4. Adding latex to thinset will help to strengthen the bond.
    5. Always wash tools promptly and dry them.
    6. The back of a toothbrush helps to smooth uniform grout lines; if you use your fingers, they'll be raw.
    7. Buy big sponges, rinse often and squeeze dry when wiping grout film.
    8. If you are cutting only a few tiles, you'll save money if you take your tiles to the store to be cut. I recommend this over renting a wet saw.

    Installed ceiling fans
    Ceiling fans are easy to install. The biggest decision you will face is whether to mount the ceiling fan against the ceiling or drop it from a stem. Here is what I learned:

    1. Always turn off the electricity to the house from the main switch. Don't rely on a circuit breaker, turn it all off.
    2. Buy an electrical tester. Testers cost about $10. Your life? Priceless. Always make sure that there is no current running through the wires.
    3. Black wires are hot, white wires are cold, copper wires are neutral.
    4. Needle-nose pliers can twist wire nuts if your fingers are too sore.
    5. Always make sure your wires are secure and tight inside wire nuts.
    1. Just because screws and plates come in the box doesn't mean you can't use what is already in place in the ceiling.
    2. Remove your existing light fixture before buying a fan so you can be certain the new mounting hardware is large enough to cover the hole in the ceiling.

    Painted bedrooms and bathroom
    Stains from cigarette smoke and water on walls or ceilings bleed through fresh paint. First, cover areas with a stain blocker. Here is what I learned about painting:

    1. Do not use a paint tray. Instead, buy a 5-gallon bucket and paint screen. This way you won't ever step in the paint.
    2. Mix together all your cans of paint of the same color, and pour the paint back into the cans. This ensures uniform paint color.
    3. Buy quality paint brushes. You can't spend too much money on paint brushes.
    4. Thoroughly clean brushes with a wire brush immediately after use, and let dry and before storing. They will last a lifetime.
    1. Lightly sand between coats -- use 150-grit or higher. This removes burrs, defects and any grain that rises.
    2. Always do two coats of paint.
    3. Paint under bright lights so you can see drips.
    4. Test all paint colors first.
    5. Buy high quality paint.
    6. Take an extra day to fix painting "mistakes" where paint has dripped or dribbled on other surfaces.
    7. Wear old "painting" clothing, preferably white, cover your hair and wear latex gloves.

    The Payoff

    I bought the house and sold it for a profit one year later. I wasn't planning on selling it, but it had too much equity to sit on. Besides, I had my eye on a bigger house just up the street a mile or so. 

    NEXT . . . Buy, Fix-up & Sell: Part 2 of 5


    At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.