If you are looking for a home on a budget, you may have heard your Realtor exclaim over a serious fixer-upper: “but this house has great bones!” Intuitively, you know that this is a positive thing and probably indicative of the home being structurally sound, but let’s talk specifics: what constitutes “good bones” in a house? Can a house have “bad bones?” Is calcium involved? Just kidding. 

A house with “good bones” may not look like a winner at first sight. In fact, it’s usually used to make a visually unattractive house more palatable. I’m reminded of something an agent told me when I bought my first home: “You can paint the walls and redo the kitchen; that’s just aesthetics.” A house with good bones needs only minor- to moderate updating to make it shine. Another name for this kind of house would be “a diamond in the rough.”

First of all, does the house have a good layout? That is one of the biggest criteria for choosing a house, because - short of demolition - it’s pretty much impossible to change. A nice, open floorplan where spaces that “go” together are in close proximity is a thumbs-up. For example, the kitchen and dining space should be adjacent, and there shouldn’t be a need to to walk through multiple room to find the guest bathroom, for example. If the house has two stories and the bedrooms are split, most owners with families will prefer the master suite to be on the lower floor for safety. 

Furthermore, a house with good bones may need some repairs, but all the “big stuff” is intact. That means the roof, the foundation, the plumbing, and the electrical are all intact and working as they should. These are big-money fixes that you want to stay well away from. For instance, a kitchen reno (in the case of a really ugly space) runs about $20k, and will leave you with a room that’s exactly how you like it. Foundation repairs can cost twice that, if they are fixable at all. 

Lastly, a home with good bones will appear well-lit and spacious, rather than cramped and dark. This goes back to the layout issue. It is hard to block in new windows or remove walls, but if an unattractive house feels roomy and has good sun exposure, that’s something with which you can work. 

In short, a house with “good bones” may need work, but it’s a realistic kind of work. A house with “bad bones” may look pretty, but will ultimately turn into a money pit as disaster after disaster befalls you with structural elements or interior defects. Good bones win out every time.