The Pros and Cons of Buying a Fixer-Upper, According to The Brownstone Boys

Jordan Slocum and Barry Bordelon, The Brownstone Boys, started a new chapter together in 2018 when the NYC couple decided to purchase a 130-year-old Brooklyn brownstone. They quickly caught the fixer-upper bug and started a blog to document their salvage saga, which later grew into an online community and successful restoration business. Order their new book, For the Love of Renovating: Tips, Tricks & Inspiration for Creating Your Dream Home, find out if a fixer-upper is right for you, and gather inspiration for your next home makeover.

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March 15, 2024
Two Men Pose for Camera Inside Clawfoot Tub in Renovated Bath

The Brownstone Boys Sit in Renovated Bathroom

Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum, the Brownstone Boys, sit smiling in a vintage clawfoot tub inside their renovated New York home's bathroom.

From: HGTV Handmade

Photo by: Stephanie Diani

Stephanie Diani

When it comes to renovation, not everything you see on TV is real — especially when it comes to reviving a fixer-upper. Who better to share what it’s really like to live in a century-old home while juggling the good, the bad and the unforeseen than The Brownstone Boys, Jordan Slocum and Barry Bordelon. Their new book, For the Love of Renovating: Tips, Tricks & Inspiration for Creating Your Dream Home, unfolds the idea that homes are simply not houses: They provide comfort, connection and self-expression. But the often costly, often stressful process of owning a fixer-upper may not be for everyone. We asked the Boys about the pros and cons of buying a fixer-upper, and their list does not disappoint.

THE PROS

Pro: A Home That Reflects Your Inspirations

Designing every room in your fixer-upper will provide plenty of opportunities to create a home that is a direct reflection of you — and it helps to start with a stack of ideas. “Most of our clients source inspiration from Pinterest and Instagram, and we tell them to save anything that speaks to them as they're scrolling. We personally find a lot of inspiration from traveling, visiting new hotels and restaurants, and exploring new towns. There are so many details that can be pulled into the home from historic architecture and old buildings, like the exterior tiling of pubs in London and old cobblestone streets in San Juan. Another great way to find inspiration is to visit as many open houses as you feel. This allows you to get a feel for how people lay out different properties, which also helps with dreaming up the initial floor plan."

Two Men Stand in Living Room, One Pointing at Ceiling in New York Home

The Brownstone Boys in Their Living Room

The Brownstone Boys, Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum, provide a quick tour of their midcentury modern living room in New York.

From: HGTV Handmade

Photo by: Stephanie Diani

Stephanie Diani

Pro: Special Bonds and Stories to Tell

“One night we were eating dinner at our favorite local restaurant and we spotted this old-school door that we fell in love with. It inspired us so much that we decided to replicate it in our home. We found a one-of-a-kind door that we cut to install a vintage chicken wire glass. We painted it a bright bold color and made a custom WC (water closet) stencil inspired by the original door we'd spotted. We were able to do all of this ourselves on a budget. Every time we see it, it reminds us of that night.”

Door Opens to Bath With Wooden Window Above Vintage Clawfoot Tub

Midcentury Modern Master Bath With Clawfoot Tub

A green door opens to an updated midcentury modern bathroom with preserved wooden details. Black-and-white mosaic floor tiles line the floors, from the floating sink to the round clawfoot tub. Lots of natural light flows from the wooden framed window with warm, wooden interior shutters.

From: HGTV Handmade

Photo by: Stephanie Diani

Stephanie Diani

Pro: Customizing Every Finish and Detail

“We’re always looking for ways to infuse historical charm into a space. So for us, it's about turning a blank canvas into something with character. There are small changes like adding wall and crown moldings, changing out the trim work, and putting in new baseboards and casings that can make a huge difference. These are small projects that you could tackle yourself.”

Wooden, arched doorway leads to historic staircase in large foyer

Brownstone Boys Warm and Welcoming Foyer

The arched wooden doorway and dark, painted stairs welcomes guests who visit the Brooklyn Brownstone Boys' home.

From: HGTV Handmade

Photo by: Nick Glimenakis / Excerpted with permission from For the Love of Renovating by © Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum. Published by Union Square & Co.

Nick Glimenakis / Excerpted with permission from For the Love of Renovating by © Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum. Published by Union Square & Co.

Pro: Bigger, Better and Preferred Location

“There is a chapter in the book where we talk about all of the considerations that go into buying a home. Above all else, location should be the priority. While we're often looking for forever homes with our clients, we always talk about the importance of resale too. Understanding these dynamics goes into the purchase sale price and underscores the importance of doing a smart renovation that will be attractive to a future buyer.”

White Brick Brownstone with Black Shutters and Trim

Brownstone Boys Carriage House Exterior

The front area of the carriage house, as seen on In With The Old, Season 2.

From: HGTV Handmade

Photo by: Max Burkhalter / Magnolia Network

Max Burkhalter / Magnolia Network

Pro: Layout for Your Lifestyle

“Renovation gives you the freedom to design something to your taste and make sure that the house fits your family like a glove. It's a tough market and people have very specific needs; settling for something brand new that doesn't meet your wish list at increasingly high prices doesn't sit right with us. If you can find a fixer-upper with additional room to renovate within your budget, you'll be able to fully customize the space and get through much more of your needs and wish list.”

Midcentury Modern Dining Room With Wood Furniture Flows to Living Room

Midcentury Modern Dining Room

This midcentury modern dining room with tall white ceilings flows naturally into the living room. Both spaces are adorned with natural wooden furniture, from the dining table with a modern, wooden chandelier, to the cushioned, midcentury modern chairs on a dark area rug.

From: HGTV Handmade

Photo by: Stephanie Diani

Stephanie Diani

Pro: Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

“We’re [biased], of course, but we always think it's better to purchase a fixer-upper. This allows you to fully customize the home to fit your needs and design it your way. There are so many unique aspects that need to be accounted for and it's incredibly rare to find a house on the market that checks all the boxes.”

Contemporary Kitchen with Marble Island and Three Bar Chairs

The Brownstone Boys' Contemporary Kitchen

This gorgeous, contemporary kitchen features a marble kitchen island with seating for three.

From: HGTV Handmade

Photo by: Nick Glimenakis / Excerpted with permission from For the Love of Renovating by © Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum. Published by Union Square & Co.

Nick Glimenakis / Excerpted with permission from For the Love of Renovating by © Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum. Published by Union Square & Co.

Pro: Added Worth

Last on the pro list, but somehow equally important: bonus worth. “Create value in your home that you can use in several ways, such as reselling it for a profit, pulling out equity or creating a family heirloom to pass down to the generations.”

Two Men Stand on Second Floor of Home With Open Roof

The Brownstone Boys Look at Ceiling

Brooklyn's Brownstone Boys discuss the pros and cons of purchasing a fixer upper.

From: HGTV Handmade

Photo by: Jonathan Harwood / Excerpted with permission from For the Love of Renovating by © Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum. Published by Union Square & Co.

Jonathan Harwood / Excerpted with permission from For the Love of Renovating by © Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum. Published by Union Square & Co.

THE CONS

Con: Living in a Construction Site

If you're on the fence about buying a fixer-upper, this part of the list is worth extra consideration. “Let us start by saying, we lived through our renovation. We completely understand that there is a budget and sometimes you don't have an option but to live through it. That being said, we are usually very firm in our recommendation to clients to avoid doing this if possible. Not only can it be a huge inconvenience to your lifestyle, it can really interfere with the process. It's [also] hard not to comment on the renovation as it's happening if you're living [in] it. Contractors know this and may try to charge you more to compensate for how much harder this can make the project. The best advice we can give? Whatever the circumstances, do your best to let the contractors work within their scope without interfering with your future wish list. We know it's hard to wait, but adjusting things as work is actively happening can really interfere with the project.”

Con: High-Stress Scenarios

“If you set your expectations that things will come up, you're more prepared when they do. Most of the surprises we run into turn up during demo. There are a lot of assumptions made before demo and you're already beginning to dream up what the space will look like. It's hard to find out at this stage that things aren't what you'd imagined, like finding damage to joists in a bathroom or finding out that a wall we want to take down is structural.”

Con: Troubleshooting Surprises and Mistakes

“It can be a stressful experience dealing with surprises, working with contractors, ordering materials and making mistakes along the way. But with every surprise comes an opportunity to pivot into a new design. We ran into this with a client a few years back [who] wanted to tear down a wall separating their galley kitchen from the living room next to it. When we opened up the wall, we found seven gas lines running through it. It was a huge disappointment, but we were able to get creative and find a way to give them what they asked for. The compromise was to change our design from a completely open kitchen to a framed opening, which gave us the ability to install a beautiful built-in bookshelf. It was the silver lining of a difficult situation. And, one last word of advice [on] this topic: Plan for overage when you're ordering materials. Every renovation moves on a timeline, so any delay could impact it. You'd rather have too much than too little and fall behind."

Bright Mid-Mod Kitchen With Waterfall Edge Island and Globe Lights

Bright, Midcentury Modern Kitchen

This bright, white midcentury modern kitchen is flooded with light from the oversized window, recessed lighting and three globed pendant lights. Crisp, white walls are paired with soft gray cabinets with brass hardware, a herringbone pattern tile backsplash, waterfall edge kitchen island and two industrial-style stools.

From: HGTV Handmade

Photo by: Stephanie Diani

Stephanie Diani

Con: Give-and-Take

“There are always compromises, but it's important that you're happy with where things landed on the other side. One example of this from our own renovation is figuring out space in our primary bedroom. We had to choose between building our dream walk-in closet or losing space in the bedroom. We compromised with two reach-in closets that have ample storage, and in return have a much larger bedroom. We'll get our dream walk-in closet one day, but for now we're really happy with the compromise that we made."

Two Men Laughing Beside Large Walk-In Closet in Home

The Brownstone Boys in Their New York Home

The Brownstone Boys, Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum, provide a quick tour of their midcentury modern home in New York.

From: HGTV Handmade

Photo by: Stephanie Diani

Stephanie Diani

Excerpted with permission from For the Love of Renovating © by Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum. Published by Union Square & Co.

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