Among the common recommendations to help first home buyers get an affordable house is the idea of buying a do-up.
The idea goes that you buy a shabby house that costs less, then use your elbow grease instead of money to turn it into a liveable home.
It's a great idea in theory, but it can seriously backfire in reality. Get the wrong place and it will end up costing you more than if you'd just found a property that was already up to your standards.
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Luckily, there are good litmus tests you can use to see if a particular house is the right one for you.
The first place to start is identifying how many of the issues are simply aesthetic, or if there's a deeper structural problem.
Anything that's just an issue of looks will be much easier to fix, and the stakes are lower if you get it wrong.
For example, you might be a dab hand at retailing – but it's an entirely different prospect to be tiling a kitchen splash back than a shower, where water can leak through and cause your house to rot away beneath your feet.
But if it's an aesthetic issue, even one you've got no experience with, don't be afraid to roll up your sleeves and take on areas of home renovations that you've never tried before.
YouTube is full of DIY instructional videos from trade professionals. It's a rather sweet, soothing part of the internet; grizzled older men, in a slow monotone, walking you through the best technique to paint a wall.
Painting, plastering, tiling, all sorts of skills can be learned there.
It's a world of difference when you try these things with a bit of knowledge behind you. Tour a few open homes and you'll soon see the difference between "ah, just slap some paint on", and a "do it once, do it right" mindset.
Those differences can often be reflected in the price as well.
The kitset market can be another area that saves you. Want to overhaul the kitchen? If you're good with a hammer and measuring tape, there are lots of online options to help you.
Many companies will ask you to do the measuring, then send you pre-cut cabinetry that you can install yourself.
Just make sure you're extremely precise with the measuring. I've heard horror stories of people messing it up and having to start over, because they took a slap-dash approach with the measuring tape.
An easier version is to install a new bench top. Even easier again is new paint, which can include tile paint. Why re tile when you could simply paint them and get the look you're after?
All of this is not to undersell the work of professionals, though.
A key part of your research will include being honest with yourself about how much professional help there's likely to be.
While some are tempted to skip the builder's report during the house-buying process, I'm never a fan of that in general.
Saving yourself a few hundred dollars feels worthwhile, until you see the cases where issues are found later and cost tens, or even hundreds, of thousands to fix.
This is even more important when you're considering a fixer-upper.
A good builder can identify electrical issues, piling problems, damp in the bathroom walls, all of which you'll likely need a professional to help you fix.
Some builders will give you an estimate of how much it will cost to fix, and in other cases you'll need to get those quotes yourself.
Factor these quotes into your purchase price, plus 10 per cent. It's easy to hope that a job will come in under-budget, but the reality is that it's likely to go the other way.
Then there's the dreaded consenting process.
Thankfully, there's a full list of issues likely to need a consent on the building.govt.nz website. It includes things likely to surprise some people, including installing a woodburner, structural issues such as re-piling, decks higher than 1.5 metres, plumbing work, or retaining walls higher than 1.5 metres.
Consents can be a time-consuming and consuming process, not to mention yet one more cost, so it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with the areas likely to trip you up.
For those who are willing to put the time and effort in, a do-up can certainly save you cash and help you find that elusive "affordable home".
Just remember that the time and effort doesn't just come when you're doing the actual DIY itself.
It's in arming yourself with the knowledge to assess a house properly, and making sure you're not paying top dollar for a lemon.
This column is general information only, and not individual financial advice.
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