Property: To make a killing put your life on hold

Renovating can add plenty of value to your property. But, as Fiona Brandhorst discovered, it means work, work and more work

"No pain, no gain" is little consolation if you're up to your neck in sweat and tears renovating a property. While some people manage to make vast fortunes on a house without so much as changing a light switch, others are more dedicated, spending months or even years restoring a house before cashing in on their investment.

Buying a rambling, unmodernised Victorian semi "as Grandma left it" was something Duncan Benge and Mariana Hardcastle vowed they'd never do again, but Duncan is the first to admit that their second foray into the world of renovation was purely "motivated by money". They paid pounds 134,000 for their house last summer just as the property market in south London was coming out of its nose- dive. Similar properties now start at around pounds 250,000.

"We reckoned we needed to spend pounds 60,000 on the renovations and we only had half of that," says Duncan. They agreed that most of the shortfall would be spent on labour so it made sense for Duncan to take a year's sabbatical from his business, sourcing antique furniture, to do as much of the work he could himself. Mariana, meanwhile, continued her job as an estate agent.

Having sold their flat quickly, they had to live apart with friends for four months while the electrics, plumbing, central heating and roof were renewed. Duncan worked around and sometimes with the professionals. "The plumber was employed on a day rate," says Duncan. "I didn't want him to waste time going off to the builders' merchant for parts so he gave me the list instead. I figured if I was around working all the time, they'd have to do the same."

Duncan and Mariana lived in one room when they moved in together with the "demolition site" around them. They didn't bother with a plan of action, the task was too big. They'd even taken a gamble on not having a full structural survey, relying instead on the "unofficial" advice of an architect friend that there was "not a lot wrong" with the house.

Duncan started decorating at the top of the house and is slowly working his way down. It took him three weeks to install the new kitchen from a "stack of boxes and various plans" only to find the ceiling had succumbed to damp from the room above and fallen in one morning at 4am. "It's still down, I can't face it," he adds.

Is it easy to become obsessed with the task when you've set yourself a timescale? "You have to be disciplined," explains Duncan. "You need to have time off but not too much or it's difficult to get the momentum going again."

Most of the decorations have been chosen with an eye to reselling the property, with a few exceptions. "The bedrooms have been painted in bold colours and the main bedroom will be furnished in a Thirties style as it's the period I specialise in. A gothic arch in the hallway will frame a gothic-style window I've found for the kitchen. But we've pandered to the need for Victorian features like fireplaces."

One thing Duncan and Mariana didn't budget for when they took on their financial proposition was falling in love with the house. "We probably won't be moving on as quickly as we'd intended," adds Duncan.

Moving on has never been a problem for Larry Griffiths, national sales manager for a gas company, and his wife Hazel, whose first renovating challenge came when they sold their clone estate house in 1980 on the outskirts of Peterborough to buy a five-bedroom Victorian detached house.

The house had ancient wiring, no damp-proof course and a "nail sick" roof where the tiles were just sliding off like sheet rain. Eighteen months and several large tins of emulsion later, they moved on again, with a sizeable deposit, to a sprawling 1920s bungalow. Intact with period features, including plaster swallows round the ceilings, it was so "unfashionable" at the time that it was practically given away.

Larry, 47, a former gas fitter, tackles most of the renovation work himself and when he can't, he always knows a man who can. Yet no one could rescue Larry and Hazel from the only bad property move they have made. Initially, they were delighted with the tiny terraced cottage that cost "peanuts".

However, it didn't take long to find that their bedroom window had a fine view of an abattoir. Three days a week the street was awash with blood. "The rats were the size of cats," remembers Larry. "Apparently it was all the protein going down the drains." They resold it, fully renovated, on a quiet day at the abattoir.

Larry and Hazel have spent the past three years restoring a Grade II- listed farmhouse. "The rules and regulations have nearly killed me," comments Larry, "all the work has had to be inspected, but I've learnt so much."

Making money is the motivation, but do personal relationships suffer as weekends are spent stripping and sanding? "You have to have the same vision," says Larry, "or you'd be walking down divorce street very quickly."

Duncan Benge would use the profit he hopes to make to have an easier life. "Next time, we'll have the money to pay someone to do it for us."

Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Data Analyst

    £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

    Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

    Commercial Litigation

    Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

    BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried