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VOL. 43 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 19, 2019

Remodel, add on or start over

Like the location but hate the house? Buy anyway and make it yours

By Bill Lewis

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Christian and Wendy Seem loved the home they found in a quiet Brentwood neighborhood. It was larger than the house where they were living nearby, the yard was almost twice as big and it had a full basement.

But the kitchen was frozen in time from an era when pine was popular. The baths needed updating and the formal living area was just wasted space.

“It was like it was from the Little House on the Prairie. Everything was original,” Christian Seem says.

No problem.

They purchased the house with the idea of giving it a complete makeover to fit their tastes and lifestyle. The formal living area is now an office with built-in bookcases. The kitchen has new colors and internet-connected appliances. The home’s interior has been painted and the floors sanded and stained. They even swapped out the dated crown molding.

New fireplaces are planned and some interior walls are coming down. A swimming pool is planned for the backyard.

The Seems are part of a trend. Some Nashville-area homebuyers are purchasing houses with basement-to-attic renovations in mind. Others are buying newly built million-dollar homes designed to accommodate future additions, like an in-ground pool. Others buy a house, live in it for a while and then transform it.

That’s what Phil and Sarah Warren did. They lived in their 20-year-old home near Percy Warner Park in Nashville’s Belle Meade neighborhood for several years while planning to put their personal touch on it.

“People had the house custom built. The things they liked, we didn’t like,” Phil Warren explains. “We like the bones of the house. We didn’t like the finishes.”

The Warrens hired custom homebuilding company Castle Homes to renovate their house. The company “moved some walls” during the five-month project. The kitchen and baths are new. There’s a new outdoor living area complete with a fountain.

The renovation process can involve a few inconveniences.

This whole-home concept house at 725 Westview Ave. in Belle Meade will be featured in the November issue of House Beautiful magazine and open for tours in mid-October.

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

The Seems moved into their 7,022-square-foot home while the renovations were underway. The movers put the furniture in the basement and upstairs because the first-level floors were being refinished. The family lived on the second floor for several days. Christian and Wendy slept on an air mattress in the bonus room.

“We had the TV in the alcove. I joked, look we’re camping out,” Christian Seem says.

The Warrens moved out of their 5,500-square-foot home and lived in a much smaller apartment for five months while Castle Homes completed renovations.

Phil Warren described the project as “smooth,” but moving out of the house for so long required some adjusting.

“You talk about an eye opener, going from 5,500 square feet to 1,100 square feet,” Phil Warren says.

Why would anyone go through the expense and inconvenience of a whole-house renovation? Sometimes there’s no alternative, says Alan Looney, president of Castle Homes.

“We see a lot of people who can’t find the home they want,” he adds.

Building a new home can be a challenge, at least in established neighborhoods like Forest Hills and Belle Meade and some Williamson County neighborhoods. Good luck finding land to build on.

“If a lot hits the market, you have a bidding war,” Looney explains.

For many homebuyers, the solution is to buy an outdated home at a discount and rebuild it from the inside out. Looney acknowledges one couple’s experience is typical.

They found a house that had languished on the market for a year with an asking price of $2 million. They paid $1.4 million for the house, in a neighborhood off Woodlawn Drive in Nashville, and hired Castle Homes to give it a top-to-bottom makeover. Most of Castle’s projects are in the $400,000 to $500,000 range.

Alan Looney, president of Castle Homes, stands inside near what will be a grand circular stairway of this Westview Avenue home in Belle Meade.

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

“Older homes have good bones. Basically, we’re going to gut the house and open it up with today’s floor plan,” Looney says.

Tearing down an existing home to build a new one is not allowed in some neighborhoods. The only alternative is to renovate an existing house, says Josh Anderson, who leads Anderson Group Real Estate Services.

“If you want to be in a historic neighborhood, you’re probably not going to be in new construction,” he says.

Phil Warren says renovating his home was a good investment, but that’s not why he and Sarah did it.

“I was concerned about the livability,” he adds.

The Seems purchased their Brentwood home from a company that wanted $1.1 million. Their offer in the $930,000s was accepted.

Since then, the Seems have invested around $54,000 putting their personal stamp on the property. They have a completely up-to-date home for far less than the original price.

“We’re doing a lot of this because we feel confident we’ll get a good return on our investment,” Christian Seem admits.

“The question always comes down to what are you going to do to your house to get your money back and to enjoy?” he adds.

Older homes are being removed from the inside out, and new homes are being built from the ground up with future changes already in mind.

When Castle Homes builds new houses, most clients ask for a “master plan” that includes the future addition of an in-ground pool.

“The pool design is in place. People recover from the initial financial impact of building a house for a year or two and then build a pool,” Looney says.

Doug Majors, who operates Brentwood-based Majors Construction, notes the renovation trend has made its way to the suburbs.

“In Franklin people are paying $1 million and spending another million. People like these old houses, but they want the plumbing to work,” he adds.

Renovations can add value to the surrounding neighborhood, says Kara Christensen, who operates Garden Gate Homes with her husband, Matt. The company does renovations and builds new houses, mostly in the heart of Franklin.

Garden Gate recently restored a historic cottage near downtown Franklin. “We took it down to the studs,” says Kara Christensen. “Everything inside was completely gutted.”

The project included the addition of a two-story addition, painted red like a barn. The renovation of the house, which had suffered a fire and had been neglected, was welcomed by surrounding homeowners.

“The neighbors like me,” she says.

The cottage was purchased before the work was finished. To preserve her privacy, the owner asked to be identified by only her first name, Beth.

“I had bought a brand-new house in College Grove (in The Grove gated community) and sold it. I wanted something with character,” she says.

Her cottage is also a good investment.

“Somebody called me out of the blue to buy it,” she adds.

She said no.

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