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The Difference Between a Fixer-Upper and a Wreck for Re-habbing

Updated on April 14, 2015
Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren is a one-person fixer of "TLC Needed" houses. She explains methods simply to homeowners who are not in the construction trades.

A Sad Front Porch


Often, after reading an account of a plucky person who bought a house at a rock bottom price and then turns it into a handsome property, a person will remark, “I’d like to do that!” Her thought process may be that she has plenty of energy and git-‘er-done drive, plus great ideas for kitchens and baths and colors. Nonetheless, before you leap, please look at my definitions distinguishing a “fixer-upper” house from a “wreck.” I am the Unsinkable Molly Brown of home owning who knowingly bought a WRECK, moved into it, pretended for a few months that it was a fixer-upper, and now is dealing with it realistically, one step at a time.

Painting to change color

Applying primer over deep burgundy walls in a living room.
Applying primer over deep burgundy walls in a living room. | Source

The Differences, to name a few


Does not sell at a rock bottom price.


Even though it sells at a rock bottom price, you will have paid too much for what you get


Needs TLC


Needs Tough Love


95% of the appliances and the structure are functional


So many appliances (such as water heater, toilet, furnace, washer, drier) do not work that if the local municipal codes department inspected, you would not be permitted to live there while working on it


Homeowner may repaint because she desires new colors


Homeowner repaints areas as the final mold sealing-prevention step after she has removed rotted wood and treated for mold. New colors are used.


You might replace an appliance because you desire updating, new color, or larger capacity, however, the existing oven or microwave or refrigerator works fine.


You replace appliances because they don’t work or they were so filthy, full of maggot-eaten 5-year-old food that you can’t bear the idea of using it with all that bad karma even if you ever could get it clean enough to suit yourself that it was safe. Others, you sell as scrap metal.

A Filthy Refrigerator

A basement refrigerator full of food and bugs.  It had been untouched for 4 years in an abandoned, foreclosed house.
A basement refrigerator full of food and bugs. It had been untouched for 4 years in an abandoned, foreclosed house. | Source


A good session of house-cleaning is measured in the number of rooms vacuumed and dusted


A good session of house cleaning is measured in number of square feet that have received a mold remediation treatment (step 1, 2, 3, or 4)


When you bought it, none of the windows had cracked glass


Guess what?


Even though the place is “a work in progress,” you feel comfortable having your friends there


Potential visitors must be pre-screened for allergies and weak immune systems. (My parents cannot come to this house for health reasons. At least, not yet.)


Paint chips and fabric swatches are your friends


Borax, bleach and airtight plastic tubs are your friends


You paid a designer to come give you advice


You paid an environmental health specialist to come diagnose your house


You can take showers in bathroom (of course!!! What a question)


You are experiencing a time travel lifestyle but without the PBS cameras and television fame (think 1900 House) as you wash from a tub the way your grandparents did at the turn of the 20th century (Hey – It DOES work, ya know!)


Your holiday wish list is full of personal clothing and electronic toys


Your holiday wish list is a pry-bar (a/k/a crowbar), titanium-coated drill bits, indoor-outdoor extension cord, and 5-gallon industrial buckets of white Kilz2 brand primer


If there is a little bit of dirty work to do requiring a face respirator mask, you buy one


You are buying respirator masks in contractor 20-packs


The female owner of a fixer-upper may choose to ornament her fingernails with color via a manicure and nail polish


The female wreck-rehabber does not lack for nail color. However, it usually also covers parts of her hands and it is most likely white Kilz2 primer color.


You know the cost of designer wallpaper


You know the cost of hiring a 12-yard dumpster to collect all the bad drywall and studs you are removing


You’ve discovered a few old coins and toys as you have redecorated


You have discovered so many things: mouse nests, a bird nest in a boarded-up window, and so forth, that you fully expect to find the remains of Jimmy Hoffa somewhere inside this house!


This being said,

I hope this comparison is not perceived as overly negative. I hope that the reader senses some humor while, at the same time, receiving a gentle warning about home re-habbing.

The Common Elements of a Fixer-Upper and a Wreck

Both require a dream and huge amounts of energy and time. For both, friends tell you how proud you will be when you have completed the restoration.

For both, those friends are right.

Hmmm, which should I use on my hands: nail polish or primer?
Hmmm, which should I use on my hands: nail polish or primer? | Source

Photos and text copyright 2013 Maren E. Morgan.


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    • Maren Morgan M-T profile imageAUTHOR

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 

      5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      @ Dolores, thanks! I did not know that about Mark Twain. And regarding knowing - if you don't know, you learn fast! :)

      @ Gus: I'll keep everyone posted on the progress.

      @ That Grrl: I also am intrigued by past structures and wonder about the people who lived in them.

      @ moonlake - I wish you much success and comfort in your home!

    • moonlake profile image


      5 years ago from America

      We bought a fixer upper wreck, no mold but barely any stairs. All stairs had to be redone. Bathroom was a real wreck. It's getting there. Enjoyed your hub voted up.

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 

      5 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      I go looking for wrecks to photograph. I love the old, derelict, ruins. I'm not really sure why - people have asked and I answer but... I've yet to find the answer that feels really right. Still, I do love documenting the old places while they are still here. Something of our past.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 

      5 years ago from USA

      Howdy Maren (Maren Morgan M-T) -

      I hope that you are smiling as much as I now am smiling. Nice job with this article and the photos with it. And, good luck with your continued hard work on the house.

      Gus :-)))

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I laughed out loud at some of your comparisons. Very well put. The great writer Mark Twain once said that if you want to earn the reputation as a great wit, tell the truth. Rehabbing a wrecked house is one of those idiotic dreams most sensible people avoid. You really have to know what you are doing.


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