The Pros and Cons of Renovating a Character Cottage
A beautifully renovated weatherboard cottage can certainly pull on the heart strings.
It’s exciting to imagine these tired old houses being prodded and polished back to the sparkling beauty of their heyday, but you really have to go into the renovation with your eyes wide open.
In my opinion, the Pros will always outweigh the Cons with these little beauties and, as long as you are prepared to experience all manner of hidden contingencies, you will emerge from your renovation with a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your heart.
Let’s start with the cons…
Con #1 – Asbestos
There’s a pretty good chance that a “fibro” cottage built in the 1950’s or 1960’s is going to contain asbestos. If asbestos scares your target market, then you will have to remove and replace it. Even if the internal walls are made from plasterglass, keep in mind that bathroom and kitchen walls in these old cottages were often built with asbestos. Believe it or not, some of the old lino was even made from asbestos! You need to be vigilant.
In this renovation, we engaged a licensed asbestos specialist to remove all of the internal and external asbestos. By replacing it with fibro-cement sheeting, we created a practical modern-day home that not only retained, but enhanced the character of the past.
Con #2 – The renovation can be expensive
The cost of the upgrade of your tired, old property, particularly if the house is in original condition, can sometimes be close to the cost of building a new house. If you find this to be the case, you need to be very aware of your target market and let them influence your decisions. Will they pay a premium for a renovated character cottage? If so, make sure you give them what they want.
Con #3 – Hidden surprises
There isn’t really any way of planning for hidden surprises in a renovation – otherwise they wouldn’t be surprises! What you can do is add an extra 5-10% into your normal contingency figure to account for unknown surprises that may emerge during your renovation. If you are lucky enough not to have to use this contingency, then you will have the bonus of a higher profit margin.
In this renovation, the house had been vacant for a period of time and was well-known to some of the less-desirable residents of the neighbourhood. We experienced break-ins during the project and were forced to install a security alarm. We had the copper pipes stolen on a couple of occasions, so our plumber wasn’t able to complete his work until later in the project when the property became more secure. This meant that we had to hire a site toilet for our contractors to use – another hidden expense.
Pro #1 – Character!
The whole point of renovating an old weatherboard house surely is the character, isn’t it? The high ceilings, the ornate cornices, the beautiful polished floorboards… These are the details that will have buyers falling in love with a renovated cottage over a brand-new home and are the features you want to enhance.
In this cottage renovation, we ripped up the original carpets, polished the jarrah floorboards and re-instated the original fireplace to create warm, inviting character rooms.
Pro #2 – Modern kitchens work really well with character cottages
Even if they love the character of yesteryear, buyers will always want a modern kitchen in their newly purchased home. Modern white kitchens work really well with the old-fashioned oven hearths, polished wooden floorboards and high ceilings of older homes.
In this renovation we were able to improve the kitchen layout by moving the sink under the window, adding an island bench and creating oodles of storage, whilst still retaining its original character.
Pro #3 – Large bedrooms
Even in smaller cottages, the bedrooms are usually spacious. They were built with room for large wardrobes and, with their high ceilings, they are often more generously sized than our modern ones.
In this cottage renovation we installed Ikea wardrobes in the Master bedroom whilst the second bedroom had its own unique built-in-robe behind the door. Both bedrooms remained spacious and, with their polished floorboards and modern furnishings, became appealing to buyers.
I am passionate about recycling and believe that renovating older homes in established suburbs is the ultimate in recycling. It’s such a rewarding feeling to bring these gorgeous old characters back to life and, if you can make a profit from your renovation, everyone wins.
To see more photos of this gorgeous renovation, you can check out my article in Australian Property Investor magazine here.