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$550,000 for a fixer upper: Report says Mass. homebuyers spend the most on repairs and renovations

Ann-Elizabeth Young and husband Filipe Zamborlini after closing on a home in Salem in March 2023.
Photo by Tramaine Weekes, The Shiner Group
Ann-Elizabeth Young and husband Filipe Zamborlini after closing on a home in Salem in March 2023.

Every appliance in the kitchen was broken. The sewer line was severely damaged. There was no insulation. And raccoons had taken up residence.

This duplex home in Salem had a laundry list of issues. Filipe Zamborlini and his wife, Ann-Elizabeth Young, knew that from their inspection of the property. But they also had few other options in their price range that would fit their family. They needed the space quickly to accommodate their two daughters, and Zamborlini’s mom who could no longer live in her rental unit.

When Filipe Zamborlini and his wife bought this duplex home in Salem, the bedroom had a large hole that allowed animals to enter, the baseboard heater was exposed, windows leaked air and water, and the electrical not working properly, and the doors did not close.
Courtesy Filipe Zamborlini
When Filipe Zamborlini and his wife bought this duplex home in Salem, the bedroom had a large hole that allowed animals to enter, the baseboard heater was exposed, windows leaked air and water, and the electrical not working properly, and the doors did not close.

“Our first thoughts seeing the pictures online were, 'Who would be crazy enough to buy this home? It needs a gut job,'” said Zamborlini. After they saw other options in much worse condition — including ones that “seemed to have rivers running through their basements” — they decided fixing up the 1870s Victorian was their best option.

The family bought the home for $550,000. Then came the repairs. The immediate ones had the price tag of about $75,000.

Massachusetts buyers spend a higher percentage of their home cost on repairs and improvements in the first six months after purchasing than home buyers in other states, according to a national survey published today by Angi, a home improvement platform. On average, Massachusetts residents spend 0.46% of what their home cost on repairs. That amounts to $2,500-$3,000 added costs, given current median condo and single-family home sales.

“We surveyed over 1,000 people who bought homes in the past five years to explore homeowner attitudes and find what first-time buyers spent their money on, and the results revealed that many underestimate the ongoing financial reality of homeownership,” said Angie Hicks, Angi co-founder.

Angi

Hicks said the first projects a home owner encounters are often interior painting and appliance installation.

“But then as you get down into the next group of projects, they’re big: they’re bathroom remodeling, kitchen remodeling, floor installation, window replacement,” she explained, adding that many first-time homebuyers use home equity loans, credit cards, and sometimes family members pitching in.

Despite the hurdles, the report found first-time homeowners were more likely to attend their own inspections and be more educated about their home than veteran homebuyers. And Hicks said while first-time homeowners are spending more than they expected, they also found their enjoyment of their home increased during the first year of homeownership.

Sixty-four percent of Massachusetts homebuyers in the survey attended a home inspection either before or after closing, while another 17% didn’t attend their inspection, and 19% didn’t have one at all.

Paul Parella, a home inspector based out of Melrose, isn’t surprised by the survey results. He said about half of his inspections happen after people buy their homes because they’re forced to waive them, not knowing if the house has defects. Sometimes, he said inspectors are sometimes told they can only look over a property for 30 minutes to an hour, which is against Massachusetts regulation.

“It takes several hours, depending on the home size, to do a full home inspection,” Parella said.

He said short home inspections and walkthroughs can miss major issues.

Parella has inspected houses with structural issues, problems after fires, and mold that affected a pregnant client to the point where the family couldn’t stay in the house until the repairs were made.

“It’s the biggest purchase of most people’s lives,” he said. “And to not have that inspection, and have somebody take a look at it before you buy it, is crazy.”

When Zamborlini walked through the Salem duplex with an inspector, he learned exactly what he was getting into. A contractor estimated it would cost $150,000 to make the home livable. One of the most pressing issues in that sum was a $25,000 fix to the damaged sewer line. Zamborlini said raw sewage was going into their basement instead of the city sewer system.

When Filipe Zamborlini and Ann-Elizabeth Young bought their duplex home in Salem, water and sewage were pooling in the basement around a shattered cast iron pipe (inset). They had to get a new overhead sewer line connection to fix the health and safety code violation.
Courtesy of Filipe Zamborlini
When Filipe Zamborlini and Ann-Elizabeth Young bought their duplex home in Salem, water and sewage were pooling in the basement around a shattered cast iron pipe (inset). They had to get a new overhead sewer line connection to fix the health and safety code violation.

“The entire kitchen was nonfunctional. Every appliance in the kitchen was broken. Every single toilet was not working properly. Showers are leaking. It was not livable,” said Zamborlini, noting all the code violations.

He paid plumbers and electricians for the kitchen work, but did the demolition, carpentry, and installation himself to save costs. He and his brother-in-law spent 14-hour days rehabbing as much as possible over two weeks so the family could move-in.

The cost of the 2023 rehab was about $75,000. The family spent their savings, retirement, and accumulated $30,000 in credit card debt on the work. And the home still isn’t finished. He’s hoping a MassSaves program can help with the cost of insulating the house, since the winter was brutal without it.

Still, Zamborlini considers his family lucky. They found something that was better than other options, and they have stable, middle-class jobs.

“I’m an immigrant from Brazil. I never had any of these things. I never dreamt having what I have today. This is the top that we could afford, and we could not afford anything more than what we have,” he said.

He and his wife hope to hand the house down to their daughters, and live in a future accessory dwelling unit in the back of the property in retirement.

Copyright 2024 WGBH Radio

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Sarah Betancourt