When Bard Wickkiser first laid eyes on an empty Greenmount Avenue rowhouse on the edge of Guilford, he knew he had something special.
For months, Wickkiser searched Charles Village and the areas nearby, looking for an older home that was sound but needed some tender loving care.
"The house sat on the market for over a year and no one bought it," said Wickkiser. "I did a lot of homework and a lot of sniffing around before I found this. I thought someone had moved the decimal point on the price or maybe a `1' was missing. It seemed unfathomable that it was being offered at this price."
The asking price for the 1925 rowhouse, including the original walnut doors, brass hardware, original bath fixtures and wood-burning fireplace, was $73,900 - "as is." Wickkiser estimates he will put about $2,500 plus a lot of sweat equity into the home to fix it up.
"I was looking at houses in the $85,000 price range that were train wrecks," said Wickkiser. "I think the conception is you buy something for $50,000 to $80,000 and sink $20,000 in right away. But there are a lot of properties you can move into and not have to do anything major right away."
That's if buying a home in "as is" condition is right for you. Real estate agents say homes sold "as is" can be tempting, but it isn't for everyone.
A true "as is" home means the seller will not pay to fix any defects, either known or discovered during a home inspection. Those homes are often in estate sales, or have been rental properties, or were inherited. They are frequently called "fixer-uppers."
Sometimes the term applies to a property that is being sold in such a sought-after neighborhood that the seller doesn't feel compelled to do anything for the buyer.
But most of the time it means the buyer will not be moving into a home in pristine condition.
But if cleaning, painting and home repairs do not scare you off, then an "as is" house could be a good way to get a bargain in an otherwise very hot real estate market.
By obtaining good professional advice, you can reduce the risk of your bargain turning into a money pit.
"The homebuyer should be smart and build a team with the right real estate agent and home inspector up front before they start shopping," said Melvin Knight, an agent with the Wyndhurst at Roland Park office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.
"I have an intense construction background and can help buyers know what they are getting into. We do a mini-inspection before we do a contract and there are a lot of Realtors that can do this. But not every agent is into that. If you're just starting out, you need to shop around for a Realtor with that type of experience."
There are many loan programs available from various sources today that can make buying an "as is" home more possible financially.
One of the most popular renovation loans is the government-backed FHA 203(k) program, which allows homebuyers to purchase a house and at the same time finance 100 percent of the costs needed to improve it.
With the FHA 203(k), buyers can borrow up to 110 percent of the post-renovation value of the house and include the costs for all the repairs in the mortgage.
Repairs can include structural damage, roof repair or the updating of the plumbing, heating and electrical systems. But money can also be borrowed for extras such as renovating the kitchen, adding a deck or replacing flooring.
If the house is in a historic district, or is considered historic property, there are federal, state and local tax credit programs available as well.
James Reeves and Marc Epstein used a combination of these programs when they bought a historic rowhouse in Mount Vernon.
Just out of college, they weren't searching for a major renovation project as their first home-owning experience. But things fell into place.
"In this area it was surprising to even find a house because Mount Vernon is so hot right now," Reeves said. "The first time I saw this house I thought it really looked bad. I was overwhelmed at first, but I realized a lot of the repairs were not very serious ones. That was an advantage because it looked so bad it scared a lot of people away."
Reeves and Epstein used an FHA 203(k) loan as their mortgage product. They purchased the house for $65,000 and put in an additional $79,000 for renovations. Part of the renovation money, $11,000, was budgeted for surprises they may encounter while finishing the rowhouse.
Because the rowhouse is in Mount Vernon, a National Register Historic District, they can take advantage of the city and state historic tax credit programs. The house also happens to be historically significant, having been built in 1790 by Elisha Tyson, a Quaker abolitionist and philanthropist.
The city program, called the Property Tax Credit for Historic Restorations and Rehabilitations, keeps the assessed tax of the remodeled property at the same level it was before the renovation for the next 10 years.