Buying the worst house in the best street

Make sure you ask all the right questions if you are considering buying a do-up property.

27 August 2020

25 Disraeli Street, Mount Eden

Something about being in lockdown seems to be leading to stronger than normal interest from Auckland buyers in homes that need a major renovation.

It’s not crazy. The old adage, always buy the worst house in the best street, remains good advice as long as you approach your project without stars in your eyes and listen to the professionals.

Harcourts agent Pauline Lancaster described her Mt Eden listing at 25 Disraeli Street in just such a way, before taking it to auction on 2 September. A home in the same street, which had been totally renovated went for over $3.6 million earlier this year so the money would be well spent, she says.

Not your standard property viewing

When you’re going to see a do-up, it’s quite a different experience from going to a beautifully presented home with everything done. You’re more likely to have to wrinkle your nose and squint to try and visualise what it could look like.

With this 100 year old Mt Eden home currently in two flats, buyers were interested in how easily it would convert back to one home, which the Harcourts agent was able to reassure them on. She had a plan of the house as a single home showing a hallway going down the middle as was the original style.

Mrs Lancaster advised buyers to look at neighbouring properties to see what they’d done to improve the homes, some extending at the rear with new family rooms and kitchens others putting in pools or garages.

This shabby home in the double Grammar zone will probably be expanded but it also has hidden potential inside. If you go up through a cupboard you can get up under the ceiling and stand up, says Mrs Lancaster.

“People got excited that maybe at the back they could create something under the existing gable, and create an office,” she says.

Most of the people who have had a viewing want to turn it back into the traditional home with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a modernised kitchen, she says.

Serious buyers have brought trusted builders and architects with them.

Why taking your architect to a potential do up pre-purchase is a good idea

Architecture Smith + Scully’s Carolyn Smith, says architects will give their reading of the condition of the existing house and the orientation.

They’ll see how much sun the house gets and when, smell if there are any dampness issues and get a sense of the type of ground the house is sitting on. They’ll be looking at trees shading the house, whether it's sheltered from neighbours for privacy and cold winds.

“All of these initial considerations will combine to assist in the process of identifying the true value and potential of a property,” she says.

An architect will also explain any special character or historic planning overlays which will add some do’s and don’ts to how you can develop the property.

Importantly, architects can prepare sketch options to give clients realistic expectations around building and renovation cost, says Ms Smith. An architect will also look at accessibility and how easy will it be for builders to get to the site, which will affect costs.

Light, meanwhile, is the most important tool designers have to work with, she says. They can transform a house by introducing and controlling light with windows, skylights and screening.

Good questions to ask pre-offer

Good questions to ask early on, are when was the house last re-wired and plumbed. Banks and insurers will want to know. For older homes, you’ll also want to know the condition of the piles. If the floor has gone wonky because of slipping piles, it’s hard to rectify, says Ray White agent, Rick Mozessohn.

Checking the state of the roof is another important point as roof repairs are expensive. Insulation is another question you’ll want to know about.

One of the first questions to ask yourself is, how far you want to go with your renovation, adds Mr Mozessohn, and also how long are you planning to live in the house.

Recently sold do-up by Rick Mozessohn - 20 Douglas Road, Mount Eden

The Ray White agent has just advised some people who have bought a home in Mount Eden for a hot price and want to spend a further $1 million on the renovation.

They asked him about the wisdom of this.

“They want to live there for 20 or 30 years so I said in that case, go for it,” he says.

Property values double every 10 years, he adds.

You’ll rely a lot on your builder so make sure you choose a good one who you trust.

“The difference between a builder and a building inspector is the inspector will point out the faults whereas the builder will walk around and tell you the feasibility of things you want to do,” says Mr Mozessohn.

If you want to remove walls, get the builder to look in the ceiling and see about the possibility of removing walls. Some may be load bearing, advises the agent, who’s on his third renovation.

You want to know everything about the house that’s wrong, but don’t be alarmed, it just helps you figure out what areas need attention first, he says

Don’t be put off by houses that have had flat conversions, says the Ray White agent. It’s often not hard to take down walls that were put up to separate spaces.

And a positive about converting a home back from two flats is you can live in part of the house while a renovation is going on in the other half. This means you don’t have to pay for a rental while going through the re-build.

A final piece of advice. It may be that you have some skills that will help renovate the home but make sure you know what you’re capable of and what you’re better paying someone to do. “It’s about knowing where your limits are,” says the agent.