What does “TLC” mean in a listing? You’ll often see the phrase “needs TLC” in real estate listings, but it doesn’t mean the ’90s rap group or the TV channel. The slang definition of TLC, or “tender, loving care,” is “this home needs work”—and odds are high it needs a lot of work before you, or anyone, will love living there. And that, of course, could jack up your spending on what might initially appear to be a bargain home.

What does ‘TLC’ mean?

“‘TLC’ is when a home needs an extensive amount of remodeling,” says Lloyd Nichols, a Realtor® in Fort Myers, FL. And we’re not talking about slapping down a fresh coat of paint, but major work that will take time and a chunk of money.


A new roof will cost an average of $6,600, according to HomeAdvisor.com, whereas an AC system will cost about $5,238. More than likely, your TLC fixer-upper will need more than one repair done.

Nichols estimates that buyers could spend an extra “$20,000 and up” on repairs. A larger house, or one that shows signs of serious wear, may need even more expensive TLC.

“Hot buttons for most buyers will be the foundation, roof, [HVAC] system, and plumbing,” says Nick Moomaw, owner of TLC Home Inspections, in Marble Falls, TX. “They’re the ones that are potentially the most expensive to repair.”

Should you avoid TLC homes?

Buying a home advertised as needing a little TLC shouldn’t be taken lightly. Although TLC is more of a slang word than legal description, real estate brokers typically don’t add the definition to houses that need only a bit of freshening up. They know that buyers search for “TLC” when they are looking for great real estate deals, so they save that definition for properties that require a bit more courage—and cash—to buy and fix up.

Not everyone should buy a TLC, or fixer, home. If you’re not handy, you may not think of your TLC bargain with either tender or loving care when you have to replace the toilet, or maybe the entire bathroom floor, when you find out what condition it is really in. “Loving” may not be a good description when you’re on a ladder looking at leaky skylights, either. No matter how carefully you inspect a home and have it inspected, the home won’t show all of its defects at once. If it’s been let go in some areas, the maintenance is probably behind in other areas, too.

You should definitely avoid buying TLC homes if you don’t have the time or money to make all of the repairs. All of the repairs on TLC homes typically take at least twice as long and cost twice as much as you hope. If you can barely afford to buy the home, let alone apply that tender, loving care, consider passing on a TLC sale.

Be aware that some TLC houses may be difficult to finance, especially if “needs TLC” is a charitable definition of a home’s condition. Some houses need more tough love than tender, loving care. Banks are reluctant to approve mortgages on “TLC” homes that are not livable or have serious problems.

Is a TLC home sold as is?

The meaning of the term “as is” in real estate can be misunderstood. Simply saying a house needs TLC in the listing does not mean it meets the definition of being sold as is, or change the legalities of hidden defects or other issues with a house.

Ask your real estate broker or a lawyer if you’re not sure how a house is being sold and what your rights are in your state.

Why TLC homes are worth it—sometimes

Why would anyone want a TLC house if it comes with all of that hassle? Because with tender, loving care, these ugly ducklings can be bargains. Even if you factor in the extra money you’ll have to pour into renovations, you may ultimately be getting a deal on a TLC—particularly if you’re handy around the house and can take care of some of the renovations yourself (which explains another euphemism you may see in such listings, “contractor’s delight”). Experts say that as long as the home’s foundation, roof, and structure are sound, a TLC property can be a solid investment.

“You can do extremely well,” says Nichols. “You can even flip it.”

Nonetheless, if you were hoping for a home that’s “move-in ready” (translation: no renovations required), you should steer clear of those TLC listings—or, at the very least, make your TLC offer contingent on a thorough home inspection. That way, you can assess the damage before you commit to buying a TLC house that you may or may not learn to love.