A dream yard, by Sunset
A dream yard, by Sunset

One of the challenges my husband and I face when looking at our budget to buy a house is the “fixer-upper” status of the homes in our price range. Our price range is based between a 2.5 to 3 times our income calculation that puts us in the ranges of $250,000 to $300,000 comfortably. Living in Southern California, this price range will get us a smallish-sized fixer upper in an okay neighborhood. With that said, viewing homes within this price range is very discouraging. Imagining them “fixed up” is difficult, if not impossible since we’ve never owned our own home. One place where I acquire some terrific ideas is Sunset Magazine. A lot of my ideas come from here, and they aren’t a sponsored link or anything, I swear!

Here are just a few examples of fabulous fixer-upper ideas:

  • Losing the lawn. I’ve written a post about this before and Sunset Magazine has a variety of ideas on what to plant instead of a lawn to minimize water usage. They also show the difference between a boring green expanse of lawn and a colorful variety of textures and heights using drought tolerant plants.
  • What to do once you’ve lost that lawn. In the Phoenix -metro area of Arizona, many homes have replaced their lawns with gravel. Not a luscious landscape to gaze upon. Sunset Magazine shows what you can do instead of just throwing down the gravel. Mix it up a bit with large pavers and drought tolerant plants.
  • Extending the porch. I’m lucky to live in a temperate climate. Most of the year I can hang outdoors on my patio and enjoy a brewsky. Sunset shows how to take a small porch and turn it into living space incorporating a living area and outdoor fireplace.
  • Teeny -Tiny lawn ideas. There is always the possibility of my husband and I purchasing a tiny home on a tiny piece of property. Expanding the overhang of a porch, adding the right plants in the right place can make a small yard seem like a haven.
  • Private front lawns. We have been having a problem lately with a particular neighbor coming over almost everyday. We are just too nice to tell him to get lost. Sometimes, making your front lawn unapproachable is the best option. Sunset has creative ideas for that as well, like adding multiple walls covered in foliage making the home less approachable by strangers.
  • Deep-set lawns. A huge yard is great, but if you’re not sure what to do with all that space it can be problematic. Creatively using the space wisely is important, some ideas include adding overhangs, patio areas, and garden areas to make it a functional yard like the photo in this post.

These are just a few ideas I gleaned from their before and after yard make-overs.  Here is the link to their entire slide show. Of course, purchasing a fixer-upper and turning it into a gem takes a lot of hard work and elbow grease,…..oh yeah, and money. Yet, these inspiring photos make me think twice about the whole “fixer upper” aspect of purchasing a home.

Have you turned a house into a home? How long did it take you to create your “dream home”? Did you have to refinance or take out a HELOC to do it? What advice would you give someone thinking of purchasing a “fixer upper”?


  1. Money Beagle Reply

    The work never, ever ends! Having a home is great and a source of many joyful times, but there’s always something to do and I don’t know many people who are ever truly ‘done’. I personally love having a to-do list and knowing that we’re doing what you said, making sure that our house stays our home.
    .-= Money Beagle´s last blog ..Net Worth Review: March 2010 =-.

    • @Money Beagle- Thanks for the comment from the perspective of a home owner. I can see where the work is never done and that there would always be something to fix or make better. My husband is really handy and likes working on things, so hopefully he won’t mind a fixer-upper if that’s the route we decide to take. 🙂

  2. Mr Credit Card Reply

    Money Beagle is right – the work never ends. Why can’t there be a perfect house? I am absolutely useless at DIY..

    How many Mr Credit Card does it take to fix a lightbulb? Answer: Mr Credit Card will call his neighbor to fix my lightbulb!!! You can pull this joke on me and I have no problems with that..

    all I can say is good luck for the next 10 years of “fixing stuff”!! there is always a project!

    • @Mr. Credit Card -I can see where owning a home can be quite challenging if you can’t even change a light bulb! 😉 This is where I sometimes think that buying land then building a home would be great. At least once it’s built, there wouldn’t be much “fixing” to do on it for a few years, just regular maintenance. Right?

  3. youngandthrifty Reply

    I can 100% relate!!! I’m in the midst of looking at places and have become really really depressed. The only places (houses, not condos) that we are afford are about 50 year old + and then we’d have to add renovation costs… though I think the feeling of having your OWN place that you own, that you can call ‘home’ will be amazing.
    Good luck on the house hunting and fixing up!
    .-= youngandthrifty´s last blog ..youngandthrifty Net Worth Update: March 2010 =-.

    • @Young and Thrifty – You must live in California! Most of the homes in my area were built in the early 50’s or 60’s, so they are pretty much all fixer-uppers. It can be quite depressing! Hopefully these ideas give you hope 🙂

  4. We were in the same price range, honestly. The difficulty came as we were also disappointed in the fixer-uppers available to us at those prices. We wound up paying more than we intended, but we have some land. For us, this is a “forever home.” We didn’t want a place that needed another loan to make it “ours.” So mostly what we’re doing is fairly cosmetic, and we’re doing it at a pace determined by our budget.
    .-= RainyDaySaver´s last blog ..Saturday Link Love: Spring Is in the Air Edition =-.

    • @RainyDaySaver – At least cosmetic fixes are immediately appreciated! And our price range may have to be bumped up a bit as well. But I’m thinking that if we have to bump our price up, maybe building a home may be the way to go. At least we could end up with what we want, and not a forever fixer!

  5. Stay at Home Mom CFO Reply

    We bought our very own “money pit” as our first house, it still had the old oil lamps on some walls(no electricity!!), holes in the 110 year old floors, leaks, a claw-footed bathtub with only 3 claws… It was so awesome when it was finally done but OMG, like others have pointed out, it does never end. It it was only truly “finally done” because we sold it – otherwise we would have never stopped “working on it”. That being said, once the kids are a little older, I’d do it again in a second.

  6. @Stay at Home Mom CFO
    That’s amazing that the home still had the old oil lamps. I can see that with a home this old, a lot of work would need to be done. But it sounds like you enjoyed the end result since you’re willing to do it again!

  7. @Mr Credit Card
    I’m guessing that myself. My neighbor that tore down his house, is living in his tent (still), and is continuing to finish his new house, probably didn’t think he’d be living in his tent for almost a year! What dedication. I’m not so sure I could do that 🙂

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.