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?