Five lessons I learned preparing my house for sale
I asked if the handyman was any good. ‘Well, only if the rest of them are dead’ came the reply
The Boathouse in Leenane, Connemara, Co Galway. Photograph: Niamh Whitty
Having been involved in many renovations over the years – a job which is rewarding and challenging in equal measure – I now have the utmost empathy for anyone preparing their own house for sale.
My three-bed house on a Connemara acre had lain idle for about seven years and needed much love and attention as it came time to sell. Fathoming where to begin and where to spend money – underscored with unsolicited advice from non-professionals – was a minefield. But coming out the other side these are a few things I learned along the way.
Do the groundwork
I asked Westport-based engineer Robert Kilkelly to survey the house as if I was a buyer. After all what was the point in decorating if there were more significant issues a potential buyer might raise that could well delay a sale?
Over the following six months, a roof and ceiling were replaced, a new remote controlled heating system installed, new flooring and carpets laid and walls were dry lined. Add to that a new staircase and light fittings to comply with regulations since the 225sq m (2,422sq ft) property was built in 2004.
Small but effective decor hacks
Moving on site in July to oversee the interiors – and in the process moving the furniture from Dublin in three van loads – I asked my friend David Mahon if he would like to spend some time helping me in Connemara.
Little did he realise that for eight weeks he would be living in what my friends said initially “looked like a crack den”, with dodgy weather, no hob and showers that jammed.
A white palette was chosen for the interiors, as it helps to reflect light while also flattering art and furniture. The choice on offer can be completely overwhelming, though an urgent call from my painter Adrian Tynan – just before lockdown in March – simplified things as I was given about an hour to choose. We went with Fleetwood White Wolf; a great choice as it is not sterile, has no yellow and balances the light.
The exterior gable is now blue with a hint of teal to mimic Killary Fjord – which borders the garden – on an east wind. This was also used on the large planters beside the outdoor fireplace – which are actually sewer pipes and are a fraction of the cost of planters.
Regrouting is another very simple way to give a bathroom a new lease of life. I found grout pens useless, but Unibond Grout Reviver with a sponge head and costing about €10, had the white mosaics in the en suite looking as good as the day they were laid.
What became evident during renovations is that expensive windows and appliances do not always provide an after service to match their purchase price. For the windows and doors, some of which would not open, I called the original provider seeking a service. Initially I was given the number of a window cleaner in Clare, this was followed by the number of a management company in Galway who had nothing to do with the company concerned. After six months back and forth I gave up.
Instead I engaged a locksmith who ordered new locking systems and fixed all the issues within days.
A service man was due in the second week in July to fix the hob. Despite five phone calls and one meltdown later, I am still waiting.
Shop around and shop local
One of the biggest lessons was to shop around for prices. The initial quote to paint the house was €10,500 – a jaw-dropping amount compared to the €5,000 paid in the end.
A major benefit of renovating in a rural area is local knowledge. One day while looking at business cards left by local handymen in the paint shop, I held up a card and asked if the handyman was any good. The reply came: “Well only if the rest of them are dead” (based on a previous customer’s experience).
This was also true outside when it came to help with the garden and tennis court, gravel and bark laying, stone masonry and general handiwork. If I needed someone they came with great recommendations and could start within days.
Upcycle old furniture
The house needed to be entirely furnished in a cost-effective way and there is a lot of value to be had in old brown furniture and antiques. Old chairs and a sofa were purchased and recovered in contemporary fabrics – and will last another 100 years. Pedestals from an old partners desk are now repurposed as the base for two work stations. The top of the desk was used to give more space on the art deco dining table – purchased at a Damien Matthews sale for €70 – when all the team sat down to lunch.
For the past eight years when reviewing houses for sale for The Irish Times Property section I have asked vendors what they love about their homes, and what they will miss the most.
For me it is the stars while sitting around the fire – where you might just see the aurora borealis on a clear autumn night. I will miss throwing the kayak into the fjord to escape the madness of renovation, and I will certainly miss the heron who visits on each ebbing tide and the elusive little kingfisher hovering along the river’s edge.