‘The Worst House on the Block’: Here’s Why This Couple Bought a Fixer-Upper Victorian

by Garcia Chris
10 minutes read
‘The Worst House on the Block’: Here’s Why This Couple Bought a Fixer-Upper Victorian

Brytann Busick and Tim Moreno‘s new home isn’t your everyday house.

The couple recently purchased a Victorian for $360,000—a bargain in Ferndale, CA, where homes are typically listed for $624,000.

The catch? This 1873 build is more than old and run-down. It’s a complete wreck.

“We’re not just pulling out carpet or retiling,” Busick says. “We’re rebuilding.”

Over the next year and a half, Busick and Moreno plan to spend an additional $250,000 on renovations. They need to take the home down to the studs, then build a 600-square-foot addition before adding some history and character.

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Perhaps most ambitious of all, they plan to do most of the renovation work themselves—all while planning their upcoming wedding in September.

Here’s more on why they chose this arduous path to homeownership, along with the pros and cons of tackling such a massive renovation in case you’ve ever dreamed of doing one yourself.

Why first-time homebuyers are shopping for fixer-uppers

In today’s housing market, where prices and interest rates are extremely high, homing in on budget-friendly fixer-uppers can be a way for homebuyers to bridge the affordability gap.

“Expanding a search to include ‘fixer’ homes can be a powerful tool in competing with all-cash investors and combating rising interest rates,” says Max Carr, a real estate agent in California’s Orange County.

Plenty of real estate listings signal their fixer-upper status by describing a need for renovations or repairs, with the Midwest leading the pack at 6.4% of listings, followed by the Northeast at 6.3%. The South and West come in last, at 4.4% and 4% respectively.

While not everyone is up for the hassles of a fixer-upper, for Busick, it’s been a lifelong dream to renovate a Victorian home in her hometown of Ferndale, known for its beautifully restored old homes.

In fact, the entire town was designated a California Historical Landmark. Busick recalls growing up in town and admiring all the old houses.

“I remember thinking, someday, I wanted to live in one of these Victorians,” she says. “I just thought they were so amazing.”

She grew up and moved away for school and work. However, when she met her fiancé, she was happy to learn he was willing to help her accomplish her childhood dream.

“I never dreamed of being in a Victorian house, but I wanted a nice family home,” Moreno says. “Family is really important to both of us, and Ferndale is great for that environment.”

Although home prices seemed beyond their reach, one thing they had going for them was time. They didn’t need to buy right away, which was good because Ferndale doesn’t typically have many homes for sale. (Currently, there are just 13 on the market.)

“We were just kind of watching the market and trying to get a good feel for what homes were being valued at,” she says. “We were trying to learn how to spot an opportunity.”

Luckily, the young couple had some help: Busick’s dad was a recently retired contractor, so he could see things in homes that the average buyer might not notice.

“He’d tell us, ‘Well, this looks nice, but that roof needs to be redone, or this doesn’t look structurally sound, or it’s on a post and pier foundation, you probably don’t want that,’” Busick recalls.

In 2023, a “little, dumpy, derelict house” came on the market, she says. The two-bedroom, one-bathroom, 150-year-old home needed serious help.

“It was pretty sad,” she says. “It is absolutely by far, leaps and bounds, the worst house on the block.”

It looked nothing like the beautiful old homes Busick had been dreaming of, or the warm family home Moreno wanted, but they saw its potential.

“Tim and I both are not afraid of hard work,” she says. “And with my dad’s knowledge and experience, we thought, ‘Hey, maybe this is a great chance for us to learn some skills, learn how to build.’”

Brytann and Tim's house
This Victorian home was built in 1873.

(Brytann Busick)

The house was listed at $465,000, which seemed overpriced given its condition. It sat on the market for months.

“It was a reverse mortgage, a foreclosure,” Busick explains. “So eventually, the bank took it.”

At that point, the price dropped significantly.

“We started to think that we could make sense of it financially,” Moreno explains.

Between the down payment, future renovation costs, and the time it would take to fix it up, this home was a big commitment. But the more they thought about the home, the more they liked the idea.

The interior left much to be desired, but the location couldn’t be better.

“We thought it’s a great investment,” Busick says. “It’s a block from our favorite coffee shop. It’s two blocks from the local park. It would take 5 minutes to walk to the elementary school.”

They eventually landed the house for $360,000.

“It’s not as simple as, ‘Yeah, we drove by and saw it was cute and put an offer in,’” she explains. “A lot of thought, planning, and time went through thinking about this house.”

Brytann and TimBrytann and Tim
Tim Moreno and Brytann Busick in their Victorian home

(Brytann Busick)

Doing it ourselves—with some help

Transforming a fixer-upper is an HGTV fantasy, but the reality is more complicated.

“The first key to the successful renovation of a fixer home is to understand the scope and scale of the work to be done,” Carr says. “That needs to be the result of rigorous layers of due diligence. This could mean sewer-scoped camera inspections, mold tests, roof inspections, and more.”

Carr also warns that learning the skills to renovate a home takes time, and in the end, the work might not be quite as nice as you’d get with a seasoned professional.

“When you see those imperfections at the end of the work, which will be there with any nonprofessional, are they going to bother you for years or are they going to serve as a mark of personal pride in the accomplishment?” he asks.

But Moreno proudly says that his future father-in-law, a contractor for over 40 years, has been a huge help.

“I don’t think we could take on a project like this without his guidance,” he adds.

With his help, Busick adds, “we’re doing everything ourselves, aside from some of the electrical or plumbing that really takes a skilled craftsman. And maybe some of the flooring, depending on if we’re able to afford real hardwood.”

Busick and Moreno have started documenting their renovation on Instagram: @ourvictorianrenovation.

Brytann and TimBrytann and Tim
The homeowners are busy with a DIY renovation, with help from family.

(Brytann Busick)

Does buying a fixer-upper really save money?

Many homebuyers might presume purchasing a fixer-upper will save money, but with the cost of renovations and time investment, they might not save as much as they expect—even if they take the DIY route.

“You may be able to shave 20% off of the price of renovations by working directly with subcontractors,” says Carr. “But that level of coordination takes time and is always more than anticipated.”

To this end, Moreno and Busick are trying to be realistic with timing and financing. They expect the renovation to cost about $250,000 and take a year and a half. However, if things get behind, they plan to do the project in phases.

“One of the attractive things about this home is there’s a downstairs bedroom and downstairs full bath,” says Busick. “And so, if the primary suite isn’t done upstairs or we need to save up more money to keep going, we have that full bedroom, bathroom that we could live in downstairs and kind of do the project in phases.”

But what about their upcoming nuptials in September?

“Our goal is to get it watertight and have the framing done before our wedding in September,” Busick says. “Then we’ll work on getting the new roof in the winter, then work more on the finishings next year.”

They’re a few months into the project, and she’s “pumped about it, really.”

She adds, “It’s really hard and messy work, but it’s my dream come true.”

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Brytann and Tim outside their houseBrytann and Tim outside their house
This house might be in rough shape—but Moreno and Busick see a lot of potential.

(Brytann Busick)

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