You step inside excitedly as your real estate agent opens up the door to your potential dream home - and your jaw drops. Spiderwebs, dust and dirt, unpainted walls, and missing doors… But don’t let this nightmarish scene scare you away. Buying an undeveloped or unrenovated apartment can be the perfect opportunity to design the home of your dreams, and even save a bit of money in the process. Look beyond intimidating first impressions and try to see the potential: the apartment is in the perfect neighbourhood, in a beautiful Altbau building, and the neighbours are quiet and friendly. Now you have the chance to create something truly spectacular. Although it can be a daunting task, have no fear: with these smart tips, you can get your renovation project safely on track.
If you already know that you want to purchase a fixer-upper, whether to save money or have more creative control, you will want to plan your budget meticulously before you even begin looking for a project. Make sure you leave room for unexpected repair costs that you may encounter during the renovation. The best way to prevent extra expenses is to first have multiple contractors look over the property and give you estimates for how much the repairs will cost you in total. Going with the cheapest option is not necessarily the best idea, however. The estimated price is not binding, and could always change. Speaking to an expert, such as an architect or renovation consultant, could help give you a more accurate estimate for your prospective budget. Regardless, you should be sure that your budget is large enough to encompass unforeseen extra costs.
Minor or Major Fixes
There are certain things that you should be aware of before you buy a property that needs developing or major renovation. Some properties, such as an undeveloped loft apartment, will require complete remodeling, including installing plumbing and electricity. This is a huge task, but it also gives you far more flexibility to design the flat exactly how you see fit. Other properties may just need minor cosmetic fixes. The most important things you should consider are the features you can’t change: location, for example. If the apartment is not in an ideal location for you, then perhaps you should reconsider the project. You want to be sure that your hard work will pay off, and you’ll have an exceptional home at the end.
Once you’ve chosen your ideal location, you have to decide how much work you’re willing to put into the project. When looking for your fixer-upper, keep an eye out for what changes will be necessary, and keep them in mind when making your decision. Relatively easy fixes include:
- Patching walls, stripping wallpaper, and painting
- Refinishing floors, or laying tile
- Installing light fixtures
- Replacing baseboards or adding trim
- Fixing broken windows
- Replacing bathroom subfloors due to leaky toilet seals
- Replacing doors
- Changing out receptacles and light switches
- Rejuvenating the balcony Harder or more expensive fixes could include adding an underfloor heating system, replacing windows, remodeling bathrooms, or completely restructuring the layout of the apartment.
Restoring a classic Altbau apartment to its former elegance can be gratifying work, and many have distinctive historical details and original features which are worth preserving. You should also keep in mind that some Altbau apartments are historically protected, and may have certain development limitations or specific maintenance obligations. Check to see if your apartment is listed under ‘Denkmalschutz’ or ‘Milieuschutz’ and research potential restrictions before you begin renovation work.
The perfect fixer-upper could be the home that nobody wants right now, but everybody will want in the future. Unrenovated apartments make for excellent investments, and if you have the time and patience to do the necessary work, the end result will undoubtedly be rewarding.
If you're interested in renovating an apartment and designing your own home, we have many available properties around Berlin. This unrenovated flat in Schöneberg, for example, or this undeveloped loft apartment in Wilmersdorf.