One of my favorite TV shows was a series called “Build a New Life in the Country”.
Every episode focused on a couple who decided to leave the big city and move to the country, where property was much cheaper, especially if the place needed work.
And they all did. Some were derelict houses, even abandoned barns.
Stone walls falling down? Check. Money running out halfway through the job? Check. Crumbling roof, ceiling and floors? Check, check, check. But these brave souls were determined.
What made each story gripping was the risk of failure. Some of these homeowners couldn’t build their way out of a paper bag. Yet, they’d taken on the challenge, dreaming of that better life in the country. Some hired skilled workers, but other couples tried to do the work themselves.
At a critical point in the project, the host, architect George, would appear on site and utter a dire prediction: “It will take a miracle for this work to be completed….”
And there I’d be in my living room, cheering on these intrepid builders, hoping they’d get their miracle (they usually did). But at the end of each episode, I’d wonder: What makes a sane person look at an old house and say “I think I’ll just buy this pile of bricks and bring it back to life”?
These questions came to mind recently when I came across a photo of a quaint old house near to both charming Roseneath and artsy Warkworth, two villages in the rolling hills of Northumberland, about ninety minutes’ drive from Toronto. It was listed at a mind-bogglingly low price compared to houses in the Greater Toronto Area: just $259,000.
The house sits on nearly 4 acres of land, and has, the listing says, “fantastic views”. It has some nice original features: 2 staircases from the main level to upstairs (a great feature found in some old houses), wide-plank floors, a beautiful front verandah and a circular driveway. It also has some recent improvements, such as updated furnace, some new wiring and a drilled well.
But the interior photos tell a sobering story: this house needs significant updating. New plastering, some new windows, maybe a new roof, new kitchen, etc., etc, etc. In other words, money and work. So who’d buy it?
“Well”, says my husband, peering over my shoulder at the computer screen, “$259,000 is a low starting point; could be great if someone had the money to update it.”
“Sure”, I think, daydreaming of buying that house and installing my dream kitchen.
Then the thought of all that work, all that money — and all that renovation dust in my nose, eyes and mouth – wakes me up immediately.
But my friend John, who bought a century-old house east of Toronto and is lovingly restoring and updating it, thinks the Northumberland house has potential. It could be a wonderful project for the right buyer.
“Some things obviously have been done but definitely not all and that is really the key. I would purchase this house over one that’s completely updated, as by doing the work and exploring the house you really get to know it and make it what you want and then it is your home!
“And if you do most of the work yourself and only contract out the (really skilled stuff like) electrical and roofing and not get too carried away with your renovations, $150,000 should cover everything!”
So here’s my pie-in-the-sky question: if you had a choice, would you buy a nicely renovated house that’s move-in ready? Or would you buy the house that needs a lot of work but could yield a significant financial return?
9 thoughts on “A House With Potential”
Build A New Life in the Country was one of my favourites too, Cynthia – especially George and his smiling message of potential doom 🙂 I would definitely choose an aging beauty over a new-build (and have done several times). The character-filled previous lives of a heritage house, in whatever condition, can never be simulated in an edifice of drywall and pot lights. Uncovering the ‘stories in the storeys’ makes it all worthwhile!
You’re my hero! Where do you get the patience and forbearance to do this?? (smile)
There is the most beautiful century old mansion just off my street that is for sale! The sellers have put a new roof on, at least!! I would buy it in a heartbeat and would so love to do it up, alas I haven’t the million and a half euros to buy nor the couple of million to do up! I have dreams though and one day……
Million and a half Euros? Gulp. But that’s Mallorca, right?
Living in an old house I found that every job is more than you expect. I soon learned to take the estimate of time and cost, multiply the time by three and the cost by four to come nearer the actual cost. Is it worth it? YES!! An old house has more style and character than a new one.
You sound like an expert, Georgeina! Sounds like good advice.
We thought we’d done the former, a tidy house for a good price, turns out we have a fair bit to do but it will add value. To be honest, we looked at all sorts and the one we bought was the one that we walked into and thought “this is our house”.
I think you just have to buy with your heart with your eyes open to what may come after.
A very charming old house. I smell a sequel to “A Good Home”! Hmmm…..