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Fix or Flop: The True Cost of a $300K Fixer-Upper

Portland Fixer-Upper Home
A little paint (and love) can make all the difference in this fixer-upper home. But is it worth the investment?

Sometimes it’s not about the home at all. Instead, it’s all about the location, the view, or the home’s good bones. But even a home that has all three can need some serious help.

Whether it’s stripping off Granny’s bright yellow damask wallpaper or knocking down that outdated pass-through from the kitchen to the dining room, sometimes a fixer-upper is just that: a home in desperate need of fixing up.

We spotted this diamond in the rough in Portland, OR — a 1927 bungalow listed for $299,900 — and got some advice from local contractors and real estate agents on what it would take to polish it up into a home that really sparkles. Of course, these rough estimates are only for cosmetic updates. It’s important to have a home inspection before buying to reveal any underlying structural, plumbing, or electrical issues — and to read all seller disclosures carefully.

Read through the proposed updates (and cost estimates!) from the pros and then you be the judge: fixer or flop?


Living room

A little hardwood refinishing can go a long way, says Mike Jacobson, a broker with Windermere Stellar in Portland. Though the cost of refinishing the hardwoods in this home might skew a bit on the pricier side of the budget — think $3.25 per square foot, says Sean Heyworth, co-owner of Portland Houseworks — it’s one of the best investments you can make in the property.

After the floor, it’s a toss-up between addressing the popcorn ceiling or the fireplace.

“If the ceiling doesn’t have asbestos, it’s an inexpensive, easy fix,” says Heyworth, who estimates a cost of $100 to $150 to skim the ceiling of the texture and repaint the living room ceiling. (If there is asbestos, warns Heyworth, you could be looking at upward of $1,000 to remove it.)

To spruce up the fireplace, consider removing the metal insert, painting the inside black, and painting the exterior brick all-white. “I’d even add a more significant mantel as well as ‘legs’ to the side of the fireplace with trim work. It gives the fireplace more substance,” suggests Heyworth. The cost of the fireplace redo: a couple of hundred bucks.

Total estimated cost to upgrade the living room: $3.25 per square foot for the floors, $500–$1,000 for the cosmetic changes (more if there’s asbestos).



Kitchens (and bathrooms) are, without a doubt, two of the most important rooms in the home, especially for resale. With that in mind, this kitchen needs a serious overhaul, starting with the hard finishes: “The backsplash, counters, and floor all have to be ripped out,” says Heyworth.

Adds Jacobson: “I like Caesarstone for the counters in London Grey, and for the backsplash I would add in a basic 3-by-6 off-white subway tile.” Extending the hardwoods into the kitchen, repainting the cabinets, and adding doors to the upper cabinets would also be worthwhile investments.

Total estimated cost to upgrade the kitchen: Anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000, but it’s an investment you’re likely to see a return on when it comes time to sell.


Dining room

Beyond the water-damaged ceiling and worn hardwood floors, much of what needs to be done in this room it is purely cosmetic. “The ceiling needs to be patched, smoothed, and painted,” says Heyworth, “but that chandelier really has to go too.”

Swap out the chandelier for a transitional light fixture with a contemporary finish, such as antique bronze, which will cost less than $200 when purchased at a big box store. “And definitely tear down the striped wallpaper,” adds Heyworth, who suggests repainting the room in lieu of repapering it.

Total estimated cost to upgrade the dining room: Basic cosmetic changes should cost about $400.



Luckily for this homeowner, the backyard is spacious. But it’s been a bit neglected. “One part of the fence is wood and another part is metal,” says Heyworth. “It needs to be one or the other to make it flow better and to create a more consistent look.”

Plus, most homeowners want some greenery in their backyards and this one, well, it has zero. “The rock gravel needs to be hauled out, new sod needs to be laid down, flower beds replanted, and the deck needs to be restained,” adds Heyworth.

Total estimated cost to upgrade the backyard: Restaining the deck will run $750 to $1,000. Expect to dole out a couple of thousand dollars to remove the gravel and place sod in the backyard.



Like the dining room, the bedroom has some charming features — those spacious built-ins! — and merely needs a cosmetic face-lift to bring it back to life.

“The biggest thing to help this space is to redo the hardwood floors,” says Jacobson. “Painting the walls lighter would make this room seem fresh and more appealing.”

Another easy upgrade: Replace the knobs on the built-ins with crystal or faux-crystal for an affordable price.

Total estimated cost to upgrade the bedroom: $3.25 per square foot for the hardwood floor, $200 for the cosmetic changes.

Now that you know the potential cost of renovating this Portland fixer-upper home, would you buy and invest in remodeling or look for a move-in-ready home? Give us your take in the comments below!