Diary Of An Accidental Renovator
My hubby and I never set out to become property renovators or developers. Indeed, everything we have achieved has been done in our spare time, in between full time jobs. We are, in fact, accidental renovators, who have managed to climb the property ladder in the process. If you’re starting out on the housing highway and have aspirations of one day owning the house of your dreams, then read on. Be warned though! It’s not an easy path to take. When everyone else is enjoying the sunshine, you’ll be covered in brick dust and wondering where you put the screwdriver!
We were the perfect pair to meet really. I was all about interior design, architecture and gardens – the pretty stuff, as my now hubby, Mr C calls it. I’m not being self-deprecating, that stuff matters just as much when it comes to selling a house. It’s the first impression that counts!
He was all about building and fixing things. He can plumb, re-wire and is a pretty good carpenter. Mr C has an astonishing ability to imagine a house with no internal walls and somehow create space you never knew you had. Between the two of us, we created the perfect renovating partnership. We just didn’t really know it yet.
The First House
We met in 1998 and yes I’m very aware that some of you reading this weren’t born then! Bragging is such a vulgar quality! Our eyes met and we fell in lurve just as my now husband was buying his new home in Fulham, London. It was less than three months before I gave up my rented flat in St. John’s Wood and moved in with him. Within days I was dreaming of the things I could do with paint!
It was a mid-terraced 80s property in a small quiet cul-de-sac near the Munster Road. If I remember rightly, I think it was previously owned by a lady of the night! Truthfully, it wasn’t my cup of tea at all as it had no character, but we would set about creating charm and giving it a real identity both inside and in the small garden. What it did have though, was peace and tranquility in the city, which is such a rare thing. Actually, having a garden at all and a parking space were also in it’s favour.
To say the garden was ugly would be an understatement. It was about five meters wide by ten meters deep and was laid to lawn with a concrete slab path running up the centre and leading to nowhere. That path offended every creative and artistic cell within my being and its days were numbered!
One afternoon, Mr C was going out with a friend. Just before he left he casually threw away a passing comment: “We might consider getting rid of that path at some point.” Well, I was like a moth to a flame, a gannet to a tasty morsel. I don’t think you could have counted ten seconds between Mr C shutting the front door behind him and me raising the first slab! And so began my discovery of the joys of gardening. The outside space, if there is one, is just as important as inside. Never leave it as an after thought!
We made this house work really hard for us. It originally had a sliding door out to the garden. We changed that to two French doors – bifold doors didn’t exist then! The garden was tiny, but we added a workshop/summerhouse and created a deck for entertaining. In between that was a garden oasis, using tall plants to trick the eye into thinking the garden was bigger. Open plan living was only just coming back into fashion, so we ran with it in the living/dining room, but shied away from opening up the kitchen completely.
We sold in 2005 for well over double its value. In some ways, it’s the house we wish we had kept as now it’s probably five times what we originally paid. It just wasn’t possible at that time though and there’s no point in “what if”. On the completion day of the sale it was featured in the property section of The Observer newspaper as one of the hidden gems of London.
Mr C started on the property ladder early in his twenties. Our first home living together was his second foray into the world of owning a house. He had been saving for years and had made some really good financial investments. I, up until that point had not owned my own home. Before, selling the London house though, we bought two more! That’s all in the next instalment – keeping you keen!
I grew up moving house. I had received amazingly in-depth training from my parents into buying, selling and constantly moving on. We were practically nomads! By the time I was 16 we had lived in at least 15 houses and 16 schools. To date I’ve now laid my hat in 35 homes and in the last six months we have bought a deckhouse @theharbourdeckhouse and are in the process of buying another house! So, starting again and not being afraid to move to pastures new is very much in my blood.
A ‘Need’ To Climb The Property Ladder – Not A ‘Want’
Over the past 23 years since we met, my hubby and I have bought and sold many times, sometimes due to work location, other times just because it was time to move on. In every instance we carefully planned our next steps. Before we had even put in an offer on a house we had downloaded the title plan from Land Registry to see what we would own. We worked up a few new floor plan layouts to see if they were worth extending and worth the bother. We even had our own points system which we use to work out whether the property really filled the brief and whether it was a head or heart decision. I’ll talk more about that in a later post.
The house as it was in 2013
We have always been intensely aware of our ‘need’ to climb the property ladder. Neither of us were born with a silver spoon. We both started our life on earth in some form of social housing with parents that loved us. Neither of us had a lot though, certainly not during our childhood. We have both been successful in our individual careers, but with the pension system the way it is now and with me being self-employed, its astonishing how much you need to save to have a good retirement. It has always been part of our plan to retire as early as possible and enjoy life to the full. The only way we were going to be able to even consider early retirement was to make extra money by doing up houses. It’s one of the best ways to better your life financially, but it’s hard graft.
We never ever started out thinking that we would spend our lives doing DIY. In fact, if I had known that back when we met I might have run a mile! So much of our life has been spent up ladders, plumbing toilets and scraping paint off staircases. When everyone we knew was having a lovely weekend in the garden with friends, we were covered in tile grout or had our hand down the lav!
When each project was finished, if we invited new friends back to our house they would always be so impressed and tell us how lucky we were. They had no idea of the amount of work that had gone into making it that way, the constant sacrifices and aching limbs.
We didn’t really have an overall strategy though, other than we wanted to end up in a detached house for at least some of our life and that one day would live by the sea. I think that was enough though, just having a dream at the end of it all. It’s what kept us going. So, the first thing I would say if you are planning on following in our footsteps is: “know what you want”.
In the next instalment I will start talking about where to begin, what questions to ask yourself and how to know if you are up for the job. It’s all relevant whether you are a first time buyer or already own your own home. We will discuss our not yet patented “points system” for choosing a house and a little bit about budgeting. I’ll also be sharing more of our story and which property we bought next.
Next Sunday’s post will actually not be part of this series, but an extra special post about styling up small outside spaces ready for the Summer. It’s going to be one you don’t want to miss! “How To Climb The Property Ladder” will be back on Sunday 18th April.
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