Couple Evades Mortgage by Renovating Vacant Residence

Anne Denton’s daughter and her daughter’s family located a low-cost, vacant residence that required some renovation, so they rolled up their sleeves and worked side by side to turn the house into a home. The home has a walk-out basement, a sunroom, and a detached shop and garage.

Outside of Denton Household

The author, Anne Denton, helped her daughter and son-in-law transform this Missouri home in about 10 days. The total cost of the home after renovation was $20,000.

Photo by Anne Denton

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After their once-thriving business had to close, my daughter and her husband found they weren’t making ends meet on his salary as a first officer for a regional airline. At the time, they were living in Albuquerque, N.M., paying about $1,300 a month in rent, and my son-in-law was commuting to Houston.

Because he can commute from about anywhere, they decided they would pursue their dream of getting out of the big city and having a little land where they could have some chickens and a garden. At the very least, they figured they could impact their food bill.

Their good friends in central Missouri told them about a bank-owned home next door. The house had been sitting vacant for about three years and the bank was itching to unload it. The asking price was $19,000. The low price initially caused them to have extremely low expectations, but at the insistence of their friends, they decided to go check it out.

The main floor of the house is about 1,500 square feet and has a partial walk-out basement. Although the interior of the house was cosmetically challenged, it had very positive features. The exterior had been recently painted, and a new 98 percent efficient central heater had been installed within the past five years. It also had central air conditioning, considered a luxury for that part of the country.

All the rooms except the kitchen and sunroom had hardwood floors that were scuffed but otherwise in decent shape. The house sits on about 1/3-acre of land and also has a detached shop/garage.

My daughter offered the bank $10,000, and they ended up settling on a price of $13,000. While our kids and their kids packed right before the holidays, my husband and I drove to Missouri with the first load and starting working on the house. It turned into a community project when their friends next door, as well as their friends’ parents, ended up working side by side with us to make the dream happen for the young family.

Our daughter's family showed up in the moving truck the day after Christmas, about halfway through the 10-day renovation. With the extra hands, the work went even faster.

Because they needed three bedrooms and the house only had two, we added an interior wall in the living room, converting it into a third bedroom and an entry hall. The sunroom was converted into the living room.

Our friends sanded and refinished all the hardwood floors. We gutted the kitchen and bathroom and laid ceramic tile in those areas. We were able to find tile at Lowe’s for about 78 cents per square foot.

We went to an after-Christmas inventory reduction sale at Lowe’s and got all the kitchen cabinets ("off-the-shelf" versions) for 20 percent off. Using our Lowe’s credit card got us another 5 percent discount. We were also able to find all-new appliances for significant end-of-the-year discounts. A relative of our son-in-law gave the kids an electric range that had been gently used and then removed during a remodeling project. We installed a new vanity and mirror in the bathroom.

We put a fresh coat of paint on all the interior walls and cleaned and caulked all the windows and doors.

We redid the sunroom, which had only a concrete floor, in hardwood using my daughter’s friends' sawmill.

When all the dust cleared, my daughter and son-in-law had spent an additional $8,000, but now had a very nice house. They used savings and borrowed a little from us to buy the house in cash and do the repairs, and will be refinancing in the next month or two for a mortgage of a miserly $20,000.

Our friends tell us similar deals are in this rural community. With a little innovation, elbow grease and some help from friends and family, a debt-free home can become a reality.

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