1000 Hiland Ave. in Coraopolis. All photos courtesy of Realtor.com.

Buying a fixer-upper might not be as romantic as Chip and Joanna Gaines make it look on the Magnolia Network, but it can be a sensible option, especially for first-time homebuyers or investors.

“It depends on whether you’re handy or not, or if you have a contractor in place. And if [the property] has that essential ‘location, location, location,’ it’s a no-brainer,” says Maria Werner, a RE/MAX real estate agent. 

There are other considerations, too, says Werner, who helped a contractor friend sell a house he bought and flipped. People should check a home’s condition — a bowed foundation wall, cracked or uneven floor, or water damage could mean mold growth. In some cases, a buyer might want to consult a structural engineer.

Some homes on the market are in better shape than others, of course, but depending on funding, time and supplies, a fixer-upper can be a good choice if someone wants to remodel a property to their design specs. It helps to find a reliable contractor.

“Lean on your realtor for some suggestions,” says Werner. “Realtors generally know and have vetted people, and typically a contractor has a rapport with that realtor. As long as it’s livable, if you’re a first-time homebuyer, think about what it would take for you to live in the house. If you’re going to change things as you need to, it probably would be a good [choice].”

Inspections are important, too — some municipalities have stricter criteria than others for home inspections.

Homes in disrepair can be listed for really low prices but might sell at a higher price than expected if there are multiple offers. And if a home is purchased for a price below its assessed value, you can appeal the tax assessment, Werner says.

Here’s a sampling of fixer-uppers recently on the market in the Pittsburgh area:

1000 Hiland Ave. in Coraopolis.

Neighborhood: 1000 Hiland Ave., Coraopolis

Listing price: $199,000

Style: Victorian

Description: Two structures in need of extensive repair work are situated on this 2-acre wooded lot. The three-story main home, with several fireplaces and interesting architectural details, has 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. The carriage house has an upstairs apartment and could be rehabbed into a home for family or tenants, or a workshop space. Built in 1888, the property had been occupied by the same family ever since.

3134 Laketon Road in Penn Hills.

Neighborhood: 3134 Laketon Road., Penn Hills

Listing price: $98,800

Style: Colonial

Description: This foreclosure on a rural, half-acre lot has potential: original woodwork, built-ins, arched doorways, and 1950s tiled bathrooms. Tear up and replace the carpeting with new flooring, and remodel the kitchen, but take advantage of the cedar closet in the master bedroom and the lower level game room, workshop space and laundry area. The garage’s moss-covered roof will need attention, as will the porches and exterior steps. 

1101 Berry St. in Sheraden.

Neighborhood: 1101 Berry St., Sheraden

Listing price: $60,000

Style: Multi-family

Description: Someone has begun much of the work to rehabilitate this home on a corner lot, set up for upper and lower apartments. It’s gutted to the studs and ready for a redesign. The roof is new, as is the 200-amp electrical system, and there are water and gas utilities with separate meters. Built in 1935, the home sits back from the street on a knoll, with a neighboring house. It’ll take some investment to create kitchens, bathrooms and more — but the asking price is low.

308 Orin St. in Penn Hills.

Neighborhood: 308 Orin St., Penn Hills

Listing price: $129,900

Style: Two-story

Description: Located close to I-376 and the Monroeville business district, this home has a large front porch, a cozy side porch that needs a little upkeep, and an integral one-car garage. The front yard and backyard are fairly large, and lots of windows provide natural light inside. The hardwood floors are in great condition, and the kitchen and bathroom are move-in ready even if someone might want to update them. Built in 1942, the property has 3 bedrooms, gas heat and central air.

130 Royal St. in Spring Hill.

Neighborhood: 130 Royal St., Spring Hill

Listing price: $94,000

Style: Two-story

Description: Remodeling is already underway inside this 3-bedroom home, built in 1900, but it still needs more work on both the interior and exterior, including the creation of a full bathroom (it has a first-floor powder room). The electric, water lines and hot water tank are new; some drywall work has been completed. The staircase, window seat and hardwood floors are in good shape, but the kitchen needs to be updated. A wooded area surrounds the rear, providing privacy.

258 Carrington St. in the North Side.

Neighborhood: 258 Carrington St., North Side

Listing price: $99,999

Style: Row home

Description: This might be what Werner means when she says that “location, location, location” makes all the difference. This property in the Mexican War Streets presents a real opportunity: two homes on the same deed. Listing agent Heather Edmondson with Keller Williams notes that one home is “a blank slate in need of a total rebuild,” and the other, a 4-bedroom, 2-bath structure, needs a “total cosmetic and mechanical renovation.” The property was built in 1910.

57 Lower Road in O’Hara.

Neighborhood: 57 Lower Road., O’Hara Township

Listing price: $102,900

Style: Farmhouse

Description: Want to live in the top-rated Fox Chapel School District? This 3-bedroom, 1-bath home is situated on a secluded double wooded lot, though both the yard and home will need lots of work. The yard even has a small stream running through it. The front porch leads to a living room and an eat-in kitchen on the main level; bedrooms and bath are on the second floor. The house is ready for a buyer to bring in a contractor and design a new space.

Garfield
5153 Penn Ave. in Garfield.

Neighborhood: 5153 Penn Ave., Garfield

Listing price: $279,900

Style: Row home

Description: This 3-story row house on the Penn Avenue arts corridor has large rooms, high ceilings and details from its Romanesque Revival style architecture. It has 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a bonus room. A large rear deck provides a place to get outside for some private time. A detached garage is included in the property. LNC zoning (local neighborhood commercial) permits either retail or residential uses, or both.

2926 Arlington Ave. in Arlington.

Neighborhood: 2926 Arlington Ave., Arlington

Listing price: $83,500

Style: Cape Cod

Description: Built in 1890, this home with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths is situated on a bus line and has a nice-sized fenced yard. From the front porch, you can see the river in the distance. The eat-in kitchen leads into a dining room, and a laundry room is also located on the main level. The “bonus room” could be another bedroom, an office or even a family room, says listing agent Jacqueline Bohdan of Your Town Realty. Some remodeling has been done, but more is needed.

132 Oakview Ave. in Edgewood.

Neighborhood: 132 Oakview Ave., Edgewood

Listing price: $174,900

Style: Colonial

Description: This 3-bedroom, 1-bath home on a tree-lined street in the Woodland Hills School District has easy access to public transit and shopping. Though the yard is small, it has a front porch and a generously-sized rear deck. Inside, this home needs less work than many others. The decorative fireplace could be fitted with an insert; the home has gas heat and central air. Hardwood floors and an oak staircase add style. The galley kitchen has lots of storage.

Read more Your Move real estate stories in our archives.

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.