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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

    £18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

    Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific