Picking up a sprawling — but crumbling — castle or mansion for as little as the price of a three-bed semi may seem like an impossible dream.
Certainly, anyone hoping to buy 33-bedroom Troy House in Monmouthshire for the guide price of £200,000 at auction last month will have gone away disappointed: it sold for £1.3 million, despite being in a terrible state of disrepair.
Yet some plucky property lovers have got lucky, snapping up dilapidated country piles for a song, then transforming them. Here, Sadie Nicholas meets three of them…
We’ve made £1.43m on our gorgeous Georgian hall
Paid: £770,000 Spent: £1m
Now worth: £3.2m Profit: £1.43m
Lisa, 44, and Alex Homer, 47, bought Grassfield Hall near Harrogate (grassfield-hall.co.uk) in 2010 for £770,000, which included a five-bedroom cottage. The couple have a son, 17, and daughter, 12. Lisa says:
On a gloomy day in April 2010, Alex and I and my parents went to view a dilapidated, grade II-listed Georgian mansion, our hearts set on a renovation project and a change in lifestyle.
I was working as cabin crew and running our B&B in Harrogate, while Alex worked in finance, had a share in a taxi company, and was renovating small properties.
When we arrived at Grassfield, the four-acre garden was overgrown, the windows and doors were boarded up, the stonework dark and dirty, and parts of the walls were crumbling. But Alex and I were starry-eyed, visualising how this once grand house could be a magnificent home.
Lisa, 44, and Alex Homer, 47, bought Grassfield Hall near Harrogate in 2010 for £770,000
Before: Grassfield Hall in Pateley Bridge before Lisa and Alex Homer started working on it
Two months later, in June 2010, we bought it.
First, we made the cottage habitable so we could live there. When we began renovations on the main house, we hired specialists to replicate the original cornices, and lay the marble and parquet floors.
We designed the interiors ourselves and sourced luxurious furnishings.
Now complete, the main house has eight large ensuite bedrooms, and it can be hired out for short breaks, events, or small weddings.
We were recently offered £3.2 million for it by a wedding event company but said no immediately. Selling isn’t an option — it’s our home and we’re so proud of what we’ve achieved.
Lisa said that the couple designed the interior of the property themselves and sourced luxurious furnishings
We spent every penny on 100-room historic house
Paid: £650,000 Spent: £1m
Now worth: Around £2m Profit: £350,000
Helen Phillips, 49, is a scientist and writer. In 2014 she and her engineer husband, Harvey, 52, bought 100-room grade II-listed Moreton House in Devon (moretonhousedevon.com), where they live with their children aged 12 and eight. Helen says:
In the six years since we bought Moreton House — for not much more than some of the new builds down here — we’ve spent almost every penny we’ve ever earned renovating nearly 50 of the 100 rooms. We had planned to retire to Canada, but we liquidated all our investments and sold our home to pay for Moreton.
It’s been the most exhausting, exhilarating thing we’ve ever done. And we’re only halfway through!
Full-time job: Helen and Harvey Phillips are renovating Moreton House in Devon
Unloved: Moreton House in Devon before Helen and Harvey began renovating the property
When we viewed the house in August 2014, we were buzzing, amazed that such a vast place was for sale with a guide price of just £500,000. We were looking for a project big enough to give us both something to work on, we love Georgian architecture and it was a property that needed saving.
Built in 1820, it had been a boarding school for 50 years and empty since 2009. There was no time to get a structural survey done — we viewed it on a Friday and the closing day for sealed bids was the following Monday. When we got the call a week later to say it was ours, I had to sit down!
While we finished our stint abroad with Harvey’s job in the oil industry, we sold the home we’d kept in Exeter and moved into Moreton during the summer of 2016.
Any romantic notions we had quickly disappeared that first winter when it was minus four degrees inside, with just one dodgy electric heater in one room, and buckets collecting drips.
Helen said: Harvey designed the heating system and project manages the renovation, keeping a tight grip on finances
The most urgent problems included the leaking roof and the endemic dry rot. Harvey designed the heating system and project manages the renovation, keeping a tight grip on finances.
We’ve kept costs down by making this our full-time job, working alongside builders and tradespeople.
After tackling the urgent work, we renovated a flat that belonged to the school matron. We’ve since finished 15 more rooms to create three additional self-catering holiday lets.
We’ve also restored some of the large, formal function rooms and are launching as a wedding venue.
We went into this as a ten-year renovation project and said we’d work till our savings ran out, then rely on the property paying its way as a wedding venue to fund the rest.
New lease of life: A bedroom in Moreton House now that Helen and Harvey Phillips have begun working to restore the building
Fairytale castle snapped up for just 170k
Paid: £170,000 Spent: £800,000
Now worth: £1.4 m Profit: £430,000
Doctor Alanna Gardner, 36, lives near Glasgow with her dentist husband Graham, 34, and their children, aged 21 months and 14 weeks. Two years ago, they bought eight bedroom Invergare Castle (invergare.com). Alanna says:
Admiring the views over the Clyde estuary from the beautiful picture windows of our drawing room, I can’t believe we paid less for this magnificent castle than the Victorian townhouse that’s our main home.
We’d long dreamed of a project alongside our day jobs before Graham spotted Invergare Castle for sale.
Two years ago, Doctor Alanna Gardner, 36, her dentist husband Graham, 34, (both pictured) bought the eight-bedroom Invergare Castle for £170,000
With eight ensuite bedrooms, a billiards room, and servants’ quarters, it was an absolute bargain, although it was in a terrible state. When we viewed it, the 2.5 acre grounds were overgrown, the drawing room ceiling was about to fall in, and there were mushrooms growing inside, but we fell in love with it.
While a lot needed doing, the house was far from a hopeless case. The Victorians built their houses to last, so structurally it was sound.
The renovations have taken two years and cost around £800,000, which we’ve financed through an inheritance and a loan.
We always knew the only way to make it affordable, though, would be to allow paying guests to stay.
But it’s very much our country getaway, and we love to entertain our friends and family in truly unique surroundings.
A bathroom inside Alanna and Graham Gardner’s £170,000 fairytale castle before (left) and after (right) work was carried out