Thinking of Buying a Fixer in the High Desert?

January 20, 2022

Prices are soaring – could a lower-priced home that needs some TLC be a good fit for you? Let’s take a look at types of fixers, what kinds of homes are available in the desert, and what to expect when buying a fixer.

Types of Fixers

Cosmetic / Light Fixer: aka an “ugly” house. These fixers are outdated in design but technically functional. The toilet may be seafoam green, but it get’s the job done. It’s not pretty but it has good bones. You get the gist. These are common in the high desert & usually priced around the area’s average. These can easily be purchased with a loan.

2222 Fortuna Ave

2222 Fortuna is a great example of a cosmetic fixer. This home’s finishes are outdated but useable. This home would likely qualify for an FHA loan. Listing info provided by Darren Smith, Landsmith Residential RE

Regular Fixer: These may be outdated and need more substantial updates like roof, foundation, or electrical. These can usually be purchased with a conventional loan (more money down) but won’t typically meet the more stringent standards for an FHA loan (less money down).

3224 Shawnee Trail

3224 Shawnee is a great example of a regular fixer. You can get a conventional loan on a home like this but not likely an FHA loan due to the condition of the roof and the trip hazard of the hot tub on the floor, among other things. Listing info provided by Faisal Alserri, Sharon Rose Realty, Inc.

Heavy Fixer: These need repairs on all or most major systems and are sometimes sold for land value. They may have boarded up windows, deteriorated roofs, fire damage, etc. These types of homes can only be purchased with cash.

55500 Mass Ave

55500 Mass is a great example of a heavy fixer with it’s boarded up windows & failing roof. This type of home needs to be a cash purchase. Listing & info provided by Jaime Real, VIP Real Estate Firm

Types of Desert Homes

Banks don’t loan on land, they lend on the fixtures (homes) permanently attached to the land. If you’re getting a loan or you plan on renting your property then take a pass on trailers, yurts, quonset huts, and cabins (cabins aren’t permitted for full time living but some may meet qualifications for the permit process). You can get a loan on a permanently attached manufactured home which happens to come with a bonus cabin. Homes generally need to be habitable with working heat, no exposed wires, and no broken windows, though guidelines are more strict for an FHA loan (see Investopedia’s handy FHA minimum property standards page). You can also get a loan on a duplex or multi-unit property, though the loan will be structured differently to account for potential income.


The Quonset hut on Trentwood Dr is cool looking but it’s not a habitable space by lender’s standards so it would need to be purchased with cash. 5021 Center Ave is another great tiny home that is not technically a single family home thus needs to be cash. Listing & info provided by Jesse Carroll, Cherie Miller & Assoc. and Adam Nounnan, BHG DESERT LIFESTYLE PROPERTIES.

Are there deals on fixers?

Traditionally fixers were priced as bargain basement deals with enough buffer in the price to account for the risk of taking on the project. A home with a renovated value of $500k would be priced at $400k even though it only needed $30k in work, with the $70k of added value being sweat equity earned by the renovation. This was a time when when home values were volatile & interest rates were much higher, making the venture risky and expensive.

We’re in a different world today. Interest rates hit historic lows in recent years and buyers have shown up en masse. HGTV makes renovating a home seem like an adventure, while many people now work from home & would welcome a new project. Record low supply paired with record high demand has given us record high prices, leaving the traditionally lower-priced fixers as one of the hottest markets in California. Most fixers these days sell at or very slightly under average home prices, making that inherent sweat equity a thing of the past.

320 Day St in SF

320 Day St in San Francisco has 0 bedrooms and 1 bath. This fixer was asking $995,000 and went to auction, getting bid up in $10k increments to its final sales price of $1,970,000. So you tell me, are low-priced fixers really a bargain? Listing & info provided by Todd & Kimberley Wiley, Compass

The big win in today’s market isn’t getting a bargain on a house, but getting your offer accepted on a house. That’s not to say deals aren’t out there, but you may need to re-evaluate what a “deal” means. Prices in many areas are going up so fast that a home’s value can rise by thousands of dollars between offer day and closing day – we think that sounds like an incredible deal!

Contact us to chat deals, fixers, and everything in between.


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