Home Renovation: Buying An Old Property


Not quite your average photo of a new build estate by Bellway right now, the image above is sure enough a photograph of my new house.

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter then you might have seen some hammer and wallpaper action going on around the place.

It’s a weird one really; writing and posting about pretty things one minute, and then a building site of skirting boards and scrapers the next, but my current “property situation” is an enormous new life experience for me right now, and I really am excited to document its progress, and potentially encourage and inspire anyone who might be thinking about or doing the same.

Buying A House.

I won’t lie; this isn’t the first time I’ve bought a house. It IS the first time I’ve bought one with a single mortgage however. The last house I bought was part ownership, and where I was told it was a good way of getting on the property ladder, the restrictions and “double loan” (one with the association and one with the bank) just didn’t sit very well with me at all.

It felt like I was still renting somewhere, which is essentially partly what you’re doing because a percentage of the property has ownership and agreements in place with someone other than you. At least if the bank owns part of yours (mortgage), it doesn’t restrict you on how you develop the property in future, and you’re certain to make a life-long investment which is ONLY for you from it. The bank simply lend you the money to buy a house with – they don’t care about much else, other than the repayments.

ANYWAY, I digress.

A Corner Shop Conversion from the 1800s.

Once upon a time I loved the idea of a ready-made modern house, new build, and couldn’t bear the thought of needing to “do work” on a property. So when it came to buying one this year, my husband and I opted for an 1800s corner shop conversion requiring full renovation and restoration...

So what made me change my mind?

  • Living in Cambridge. Cambridge house prices rival those of London the nearer to transport links and the city centre you get. I had a strong deposit to put down, but not strong enough for the complete package when it comes to mod cons and elegance up front, as well as being close enough to work and the city for us to not have to make an overnight stay on the way.
  • I wanted 3+ bedrooms. Much like my first point, in Cambridge you can get an affordable property in good situ for your money close by, but you have to be prepared for it to be a flat or a 1-2 bed. If we are going as far as owning a property and spending the largest amount of money I’ll probably ever see again in doing so, then we want exactly the deal we’re looking for, with minimal compromise. We also own a car, and have a fair few friends with cars. A garage and a driveway are essentials too.
  • The more new builds we saw, the more generic they became. Pristine on the inside, and utterly perfect on the out; these guys suit a LOT of people, and I too can’t deny they’re Instagram’s dream, HOWEVER, after seeing two properties from the mid 1800s – early 1900s with their exposed brick, floor boards, arch ways, and tall ceilings, they were just too beautiful for words! The stories they held and the detailing in the structure brought uniqueness and intrigue! It felt almost living! So weird!

So from that final point on, we realised that a “fixer upper” was absolutely the way forward.


For a price way less than a 1 bedroom terrace in Cambridge centre, we managed to secure a 4 bedroom, 2 reception room, 2 toilet (one up, one down), big bathroomed, semi detached monster from the 1800s, with additional 4 car driveway and annexe, 45 minutes from work, and 20 minutes from a primary station with direct trains to Kings Cross, and a 5 minute walk around the corner to the local town.

What’s the catch? Well, there’s no catch if you want to keep the place as traditional as possible, but for us, there was a face lift needed.

*DISCLAIMER* Before we went ahead with this property purchase, we had a FULL building and structural survey carried out to report to is any major construction defects needing attention. We had our deposit, sure, but we also HAD to consider a separate budget for how we were going to get this place brought up to modern day standards on our wish lists, and regulations before we signed the dotted line. This was ESSENTIAL.

The Building Report.

With the building report back, there were several major construction areas needing attention if the property was to continue standing strong for the duration of the rest of our lives (a very, very long time, naturally):

  • Damp course. The property had no damp course installed due to its age. Because of this, most of the walls downstairs had developed some kind of damp over the many decades, and although the owners did everything they could to patch things up, there was still no official course in place to allow damp to not manifest. This would need full installation, which includes removal of plaster back to bear wall, and injection of modern day skills to create a damp course.
  • No roof lining. Back in’t day there were no major developments with an energy efficient roof. They were built to last, sure, with a sole purpose to keep the rain out, and insulation wasn’t a key factor requirement. The roof also didn’t have a lining beneath its original slate tiles, and nor did it have modern day insulation. In addition, there was a fair amount of “wash out” of concrete between tiles which meant that sunlight was quite visible from inside the loft.
  • Very old guttering and soffits. The house was noted as having original guttering and downpipes. These are the external drainage mainframes, and with rotting wood on the underside, they would only continue to work effectively for a few more years. Time to crack out the modern day UPVC to get the whole lot up to standard and lasting a lot, lot longer, for a leak free, rain-away home.
  • The previous owners lived at the property for 45 long and happy years. They clearly loved their home, and had their own tastes in styling. The carpets, kitchen, and bathroom were marked as very dated, and in need of modernisation. In our budget we needed to factor in these primary rooms and upgrades moving forward.

The Day Of Completion.

It's easier to pop this into a series of pictures to give you an idea of the starting point on this thing, so let's get started.

Above: Reception room one through to reception room two.
Above: Stairwell to master bedroom and upstairs hallway (The remaining 3
bedrooms are simply box rooms. Nothing of importance to bloat the post with.
Above: Rather dashing bathroom suite
Above: Current kitchen and separate large utility.

The Pros.

Now the exciting things are (in addition to the sheer awesomeness of the potential I see in this place) that unlike a lot of older properties, elements like the boiler and heating are relatively modern and don't require any upgrade! In addition the flooring has been taken care of perfectly, and the uncovered floorboards are gorgeous. Not only that, it appears at the moment that the electrics in the property are up to modern standard too, however there is a chance that the fuse board is below regulation standard, but we've taken note of that and will address it as need be.


I'll make regular updates on the project as we go, and I can't wait to live the transformation.

We do have a time scale, in that our current rental property contract is due to end on the 31st of March, so ideally I am focused on coordinating the building work prior to moving in. Painting and decorating is perfectly fine to live with over the remainder of the year, however I'm not a fan of the idea of living in the surrounds of a building site.

If you'd like to see our kitchen design in progress, you can catch the first installment HERE.

Let's crack on!


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