Renovating an old flat was Katie’s right move
Katie and her partner Daniel took a rather unusual route to buying and owning their first property, opting to take on a renovation project that would take them years to complete but has left them with a truly unique space to call home.
Taking on an ex-council property and gutting it from the inside out to create their dream property may sound like a crazy idea to some, but what this pair’s story really shows is that thinking outside of the box with your property search can give you the opportunity to create something original and special.
Katie and Daniel’s story begins after they had rented a small one-bedroom flat in Dalston several years ago but returned to find rental prices in the East London suburb had soared and priced them out of the area.
Soon realising mortgage payments could be cheaper for them than the rising rental costs, they were determined to find a fixer-upper project to buy and transform. Of course, it helped knowing that Daniel’s career as a carpenter would be invaluable to their project.
They began their search for a property of between £250,000 and £300,000, knowing that it was key to do everything they could to stick to the lower end of this budget. The less they spent on buying the home, the more they could spend on renovating it and really creating something different.
All along they had agreed to focus on finding an ex-council property to renovate – loving how spacious, bright and airy these buildings could be when compared to the modern but often cramped new-builds of today.
Choosing an ex-council property also meant they would have a relatively clean slate to work on, perfect for a buyer keen to create an original home for themselves. “We loved that the unfussy aesthetics and mid-century heritage of these flats could provide a blank canvas for our ideas,” Katie explained when talking to Refinery29.
“We adored the barely occupied wilderness of the river [Lea] and marshes, stretching endlessly northwards out of London.”
After a hectic search they stumbled on an ex-council home for sale in Upper Clapton for £250,000 that was to be sold via sealed bids with a very motivated seller. The 55 square-foot flat was laid out like a one-bedroom home but size-wise was more comparable to a two-bedroom new-build flat and already had some fantastic original features – from the large windows to plenty of exposed red-brick walls. It was perfect for them.
While the idea of sealed bids might seem scary – as a buyer will have no idea how much other bidders are submitting for their offer – it can really help to secure a fantastic deal on a new property relatively quickly.
Katie and Daniel opted to aim high with their offer and thankfully they won the property with an initial bid of £272,000, which was eventually negotiated down to £267,000 after further valuations took place.
However, despite finally being on the property ladder, their journey was only just beginning as the start of a long and often painful renovation process truly began. This started with a six-month wait for a whole host of administrative hurdles and local council permissions to allow their building work to begin. It’s definitely worth factoring in this ‘admin’ time if you’re considering a renovation project yourself, particularly if it involves structural changes to a property.
Thanks to Daniel’s occupation as a carpenter and their willingness to take on a lot of hard graft, the couple opted to do as much of the renovation work themselves as possible. While admirable, this does mean the process can take longer particularly if you’re working around full-time jobs like Katie and Daniel were.
“Despite our efforts the process seemed achingly slow and there were moments when it felt like a massive weight on our shoulders,” Katie recalled. “However, every small achievement made our space a little more special and liveable, which gave us the encouragement we needed to carry on.”
Over 18 months they stripped the flat down to a bare basics shell, demolished non-structural walls to create an open-plan living space and replaced the electrics and plumbing, with a further year needed to install the central heating and continue their aesthetic refurbishments.
Most amazingly of all, the couple managed to do all of this without some basic facilities for cooking, cleaning and washing some of the time. Katie even recalls having to shower at work for a whole month.
But for all of this turmoil it’s clear they relished the process and love the fact that they both acquired “tons” of new skills and DIY knowledge along the way.
While other friends moved into their new homes with relative ease, this seems to just have motivated the couple to work even harder – and made every small achievement that little bit more special.
They really have created an amazingly unique property filled with original and interesting features, from the artistically mismatched parquet flooring to the exposed piping and plumping left on view. There’s a lot to love in this well-designed home.
“I think some of our friends and family are a bit confused as to why we’ve poured so much time and energy into such a small flat which might not have longevity for us,” Katie adds. “It’s certainly not the right path for everyone, but for those who have some of the skills required, I’d definitely recommend taking the slow route and creating your own unique home.”
More than anything, Katie and Daniel’s story shows that sometimes thinking outside of the box when it comes to beginning your home-hunting journey can really pay off.
The couple knew taking on a renovation project would be hard work and definitely not a quick-fix, but also knew they could prioritise different parts of the project and cope with a bit of upheaval in order to reach that ‘dream home’ status.
Perhaps coping without a washing machine for several months or having to shower at work for weeks on end doesn’t appeal to you. From Katie and Daniel’s story it’s clearly not a path for anyone who shies away from hard work.
But when you look at their end result and the fantastic home they have created together, we’d hazard a guess to say this pair would have no regrets about those times at all now that their unique sanctuary is complete.
In partnership with Refinery29