A “doer upper” can be an affordable first home, or provide a budget-friendly opportunity to secure a larger block or greater location. But older homes can dish up plenty of surprises, so be sure to go into the purchase with your eyes wide open.
Homes in need of major repairs or restoration can sometimes sell for well below average market value – in some cases, only commanding land value. Home buyers can then use the money saved on the purchase price to pay for renovations.
That’s the theory at least. The catch is that fixer uppers can come with problems that aren’t always picked up in a pre-purchase building inspection. As a home owner Nicola Woods discovered, if you’re planning to buy a renovator’s delight it pays to be sure your budget, and your patience, can handle the curve balls that older homes may throw your way.
An affordable way to buy a dream homee
When Woods came across her renovator’s delight it was love at first sight. “I knew I was going to buy the property the minute I saw it listed online – visiting the place was just a formality,” she jokes.
The 100-year old cottage in the NSW Hunter Valley proved every bit as charming as Woods expected. Like many older buildings the house had withstood the test of time, but it required a massive overhaul to turn it into a comfortable family home.
“I had always dreamed of owning an old character home with fireplaces and high ceilings, and the only way I could afford a house like that was to buy a renovator’s delight,” explains Woods. “In fact, I paid a lot for the place.” She soon discovered why.
Rooms started to reveal some secrets
With three young children in tow, the Woods family planned to live in the cottage while they completed the renovations, breaking down the project into separate, manageable stages.
The starting point was to extend and modernise the tiny bathroom.
“That was when I first realised that old homes can have plenty of secrets,” notes Woods. As soon as the lino came up, the Woods’ discovered the previous owners had patched the bathroom floor using particle board, and years of moisture seepage meant the whole floor was at the point of collapse. “We had to rebuild the entire floor from scratch, something we hadn’t factored into the budget,” notes Woods.
Unexpected costs might occur
Next came the biggest stage of the renovations, building an extension of three new bedrooms. This too was where the century-old home threw up an unexpected challenge.
“It turned out the flooring in the original section of the house was far from level – varying at some points by heights up to seven centimetres. Marrying the old floorboards with the new wasn’t easy, and we had the carpenter on site for far longer than we budgeted,” says Woods.
The biggest shock came when the kitchen was renovated. “The old wiring was really dodgy,” explains Woods. “So we completely gutted the room including taking down the old interior walls.”
It was then the family made a frightening discovery. The chimney flute from the living room fireplace was against the old timber wall frame, leaving the timbers badly charred. “We were quite shaken by what we found,” recalls Woods. “It was amazing the house hadn’t burned down at some stage.”
Long story short, the timbers didn’t just have to be replaced, they also had to be reset at a safe distance from the flue, adding to the cost of the new kitchen.
Was a renovator’s delight worth it?
It took several years to complete the cottage renovations. But with three children – and the arrival of a new baby during that time, Woods believes the family felt the need to have breaks from renovating “to preserve our sanity”.
So, was buying a renovator’s delight worthwhile? “Absolutely!” declares Woods. “It was the only way we could afford to own a true character home.”
Nonetheless, Woods cautions buyers to plan for the unexpected. “You just never know what you’re going to find with an older home. So it’s good to consider having a slush fund to cover any costs you haven’t budgeted for.”
Any regrets? “There were times when I wished we had purchased a new home. It would have been so much easier,” admits Woods. “But I really love my home. Sure, we paid for renovations, which meant the old place wasn’t so cheap after all, however the end result is a truly unique family home with a wealth of history.”
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