The 10 Best Cities to Purchase a Fixer Upper

New data reveals the top places where home buyers can get the most bang for their buck.

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If you’re like me, you've probably thought about moving to Waco, Texas on more than one occasion while watching Fixer Upper (and not just because Chip and Joanna Gaines are miracle workers when it comes to home renovations). According to Zillow, the median listing price for a house in Waco is $169,900, which is an extremely reasonable amount considering I’ve spent most of my adult life living in major cities where home prices typically start at $500k. (And let’s not even talk about how little space that amount gets you, either.)

Fixer Upper Hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines gave the front exterior of Margie and John Bowman’s house a facelift by cleaning the brick mailbox, adding decorative wood shutters, touching up the landscaping and adding potted plants, and installing new outdoor sconces, as seen on HGTV's Fixer Upper.  (After 18) Front exterior.


Fixer Upper Hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines gave the front exterior of Margie and John Bowman’s house a facelift by cleaning the brick mailbox, adding decorative wood shutters, touching up the landscaping and adding potted plants, and installing new outdoor sconces, as seen on HGTV's Fixer Upper. (After 18) Front exterior.

Photo by: Sarah Wilson/Getty Images

Sarah Wilson/Getty Images

With many first-time homebuyers looking to save money and personalize to their liking, fixer-upper properties are more popular than ever. But they do come with some drawbacks. A recent study by Zillow Digs analyzed nearly 70,000 fixer-upper listings to see how their list prices compared to their estimated values. They found that the average fixer upper lists for only 8-percent less than market value. That translates to a savings of $11,000 for the median fixer upper.

“While an 8-percent discount in upfront savings on a fixer upper is certainly a good chunk of change, it likely won’t be enough to cover a kitchen remodel, let alone structural updates like a new roof or plumbing, which many of these properties may require,” said Svenja Gudell, Zillow chief economist, in a statement.

One of the factors you should consider if you're looking to purchase a home that needs significant work is a fixer-upper discount, which is how much a property is listed for below what it would be worth if it didn't need renovations. The difference between the discount and list price is your renovation breakeven, or the actual dollars you'll save that you can put back into the home for renovations.

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So, let's pretend you can move to any city in the country and you're in the market for a fixer upper. Here's where you should look:

1: Cleveland, Ohio

Fixer-Upper Discount: 31.9 percent

Renovation Breakeven: $22,000

2: Cincinnati, Ohio

Fixer-Upper Discount: 25.3 percent

Renovation Breakeven: $23,000

3: Pittsburgh, Pa.

Fixer-Upper Discount: 21.2 percent

Renovation Breakeven: $15,000

4: Columbus, Ohio

Fixer-Upper Discount: 18.0 percent

Renovation Breakeven: $19,000

5: St. Louis, Mo.

Fixer-Upper Discount: 16.9 percent

Renovation Breakeven: $16,000

6: Baltimore, Md.

Fixer-Upper Discount: 16.6 percent

Renovation Breakeven: $23,000

7: Chicago, Ill.

Fixer-Upper Discount: 13.8 percent

Renovation Breakeven: $19,000

8: Philadelphia, Pa.

Fixer-Upper Discount: 13.7 percent

Renovation Breakeven: $17,000

9: Virginia Beach, Va.

Fixer-Upper Discount: 13.1 percent

Renovation Breakeven: $19,000

10: San Francisco, Calif.

Fixer-Upper Discount: 9.5 percent

Renovation Breakeven: $54,000

The most surprising city on this list is San Francisco, which is notorious for its astonomical housing market. With the median home value at a whopping $1,106,400, even with a 9.5-percent discount, most will find it difficult to enter this housing market.

Another data point that's important to look at is how many fixer-upper listings are available in a particular city. What good is a discount if there are no homes available? Of the locations listed above, only Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and San Francisco are in the top 10 for highest percentage of fixer-upper listings. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif. tied with Philadelphia with the most fixer uppers available with 2.7 percent.

For those who might be curious as to what city offers the lowest discount — well, that would be Phoenix, Ariz., which offers a 0.4-percent discount and a $1,000 renovation breakeven. Other cities in the top five for lowest discount include Riverside, Calif., Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif., San Diego, Calif. and Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

While Chip and Jo may not be bringing their talents to Cleveland, Cincinnati or any of the other top cities any time soon, you can still find a great property that will give you the most financial flexibility to design your dream home.

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