This couple bought a rundown abandoned house for $1.5 million and plan to make it their forever home: Take a look inside

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In October 2023, Nick Volkov came across a unique listing for a house and just knew he had to show it to his girlfriend, Jenna Phipps, a 28-year-old content creator.

Though the listing included pictures of the exterior only and described the house as a “tear-down,” the 27-year-old program manager tells CNBC Make It that what stood out the most about the property in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, was that it was undervalued, had a water view, and wasn’t a standard modern house.

Phipps says she fell in love with the property and knew they had to go see it immediately, but “when we finally got to see the house [in person], we saw it was a lot worse.”

“There was a reason they didn’t show photos of the inside,” she says.

The property in question is a 2,757-square-foot single-family home built in 1961. It has three bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a pool, and 0.30 acres of land.

The house had holes in the roof and high levels of moisture throughout from all the water that had come in over the years.

Jenna Phipps and Nick Volkov

The house was so dilapidated that the realtor had the couple sign a waiver before entering.

“You can really see this property had not been cared for at all,” Volkov says. “Once you got inside, there was a really musky smell with the old furniture and old things there.”

Still, they were able to find some beauty in the space: “The architecture showed through all of that. You could see what it was in its former days,” Volkov says. “Even with it half falling apart, it was still really pretty.”

One of the most significant issues the couple encountered immediately was that the roof needed to be replaced. Other issues included completely overgrown landscaping, mold throughout, and high levels of moisture from all the water that had come into the house over the years.

Despite all the flaws, Phipps knew she and Volkov had found their forever home.

“I think the biggest thing that stood out to me was the architecture of the home because mid-century modern homes are so rare for the area,” she said. “We looked past how bad it was because we knew that we could really transform ourselves. This house has so much potential and we felt very special to be the people to see that.”

The couple decided to make an offer.

The house was valued at $3.4 million CAD or $2.5 million USD with an asking price of $2.6 million CAD or $1.9 million USD.

Because of the property’s condition, Volkov and Phipps could not get a traditional mortgage and had to opt for a private two-year loan instead.

The couple met with the seller and shared their plans to restore the home instead of tearing it down. The seller then agreed to their bid of $2.1 million CAD or $1,525,923 USD.

The median list price of homes in Vancouver, BC, overall was $1,578,540 in March 2024, according to Houseful, a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada.

The couple split the 20% down payment evenly.

“People were very shocked at how we were able to get that price, especially in that area,” Phipps says. “We kind of bought the worst thing in a great neighborhood.”

Phipps and Volkov agree that, for them, landing in their desired neighborhood means they got a pretty good deal.

Phipps and Volkov are planning to do as much of the renovation and restoration of the house as possible themselves.

Jenna Phipps and Nick Volkov

The couple plans to use the two years they have to repay their private loan to fix up the house as much as possible and then refinance and get a traditional mortgage.

When the two took possession of the home, it had been empty for four years. A family built it in the 1960s, and then it was passed down to two siblings, a son and a daughter. The son, an architect, lived in the home for many years, and then, when he passed away, the house went to his sister, who then sold it to Phipps and Volkov.

Because the seller lived several hours away, she would rarely visit, which is why the property was so deteriorated, the couple says.

“It was in a state that probably no one should have lived there,” Phipps says. “She would come to visit and take things out, but no one lived there for years.”

The original house was built in 1961 and had been abandoned for years before the couple bought it in 2024.

Jenna Phipps and Nick Volkov

After closing on the house, the real work began

The couple closed in January 2024 and started the clearing-out process immediately. The first step was to put tarps all over the roof to ensure no more water or moisture entered the house.

“It was a very eventful first weekend of just trying to maintain what the house looked liked and not letting it get worse,” Phipps says.

While cleaning out the home, they found some of the original furniture, old photos of what the house looked like before, and a record player that was hooked up to speakers all over the house. Volkov found that discovery pretty exciting.

“Imagine having a house back in the day and you could play music everywhere in it from a record player,” he says. “The record player was still there when we bought the house, so that was really cool.”

There was a lot of mold and potentially hazardous areas in the house, that the couple tackled themselves. The two bought full-face gas masks and got to work. It was also a way for them to save money.

After several months of cleaning, the two enlisted their parents’ help to get it down to the studs. Now, the couple is working with an engineer to get a new roof on before winter starts this year and has shifted to clearing out the house’s grounds.

“The property was very overgrown, and unfortunately, a lot of the greenery will have to be taken out,” Phipps says.

The couple plans to keep as much of the house’s original design as possible. They are still in the process of getting the permits they need to start construction.

Volkov and Phipps plan to keep the mid-century modern look and feel for the exterior with modern appliances and features throughout the house inside.

The abandoned property’s backyard was completely overgrown.

Jenna Phipps and Nick Volkov

To date, the couple estimates they have invested $10,000 CAD and hopes to keep the full renovation under $300,000 CAD.

“Over the next two years, we’re putting everything we have into the home and living the frugal lifestyle,” Phipps says.

They plan to do much of the work themselves and will split the costs, with Volkov paying off the private loan and Phipps paying for all the renovation expenses.

“We decided to do that to keep the flow going and help keep costs down,” Volkov says. “The really fun part of it all is that you get to witness every stage of the construction.”

Conversions to USD were done on April 19, 2024, using OANDA conversion rates of 1 CAD to 0.73 USD. All amounts are rounded to the nearest dollar.

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