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Deco Delight

Deco Delight

A light touch ensured this Palmerston North renovation maintained the design integrity of a charming Art Deco duplex, as Joanna Mathers discovers.

By: Joanna Mathers

1 May 2021

Art Deco homes are prized for their style and durability. So, when investor Michelle Swinbourne saw a 1930’s duplex for sale in a popular Palmerston North suburb, she jumped at the chance to add to her portfolio.

The buy-and-hold investor has been in the property investment business for over three years and has experience in renovation. She knew that one half of the duplex would need a radical makeover, with a tenant in place for over 18 years (and no work done on the place since he’d been there). She had a big job on her hands.

Fortunately, the other side of the duplex had been renovated in the past ten years and wouldn’t require any additional work.

Winning Bid

As a cash buyer who was prepared to take on the existing tenant, she had the winning bid for a sale that attracted eight other offers.

“I think this was why they chose me: I purchased the house for $650,000 last June.”

This was just before the housing price explosion and she hasn’t had such a lucky break this year.

“I have been looking for other homes to purchase, but the figures aren’t working out,” she explains.

The existing tenant was happy to move into the other side of the house while the work was taking place. And there was a lot to do: bringing it up to Healthy Homes’ standards and modernising the dated duplex.

“This side of the house was so run down. Nothing had been done to it in nearly two decades, there was mould in the ceilings and on the walls.”

Project managing the project herself, Swinbourne worked with a crew of trusted tradies – builders, electricians, plumbers and painters that she had used before. Her teenage son also lent a hand.

Removing the multiple layers of wallpaper and the antiquated carpet (which had hessian rather than underlay beneath it) was the first job. Fortunately, the structure of the home was made from plasterboard, which could be made wet without any damage, so stripping the wallpaper was not too arduous.

The aged and stained curtains were also removed at this stage, which instantly freshened the place up.

The original kitchen was resplendent in pale blue. Swinbourne decided to keep the original cabinetry, but replaced the countertops and bench, and removed a pantry to pop in the oven, which was located in an odd place, “without a home” (in Swinbourne’s words). The cabinetry was repainted, and new vinyl laid: a wood look that created a clean and modern atmosphere.

The bathroom needed more work. There was an original bath, which needed to be removed. A corner shower with glass walls was popped in the space left by the bath, and new white vanity and toilet installed. Swinbourne chose wood-look vinyl for this space as well.

Character Kept

One of the real charms of the renovation was Swinbourne’s commitment to maintaining the character of the home. All too often older homes are given a modernising treatment that strips them of their character: here she lets the provenance sing.

Dark carpet is paired with pale walls, the original door frames and skirting boards maintain their dark finish, which imbues the space with a sense of history.

The renovation took only six weeks, and cost in the ballpark of $30,000. There was a lot of interest in the rental when it was listed for tenanting.

“It has a really lovely feeling to it. My husband came in when it was completed (he leaves me to do these renovations myself) and commented on how warm and inviting it felt.”

The unit that the original tenant moved into is being rented out at $350 a week, the newly renovated duplex is rented at $400 a week. There has also been a new (conservative) valuation done on the property, which came back at $730,000.

But Swinbourne isn’t selling. The value of the property would have risen significantly in the period since she

purchased, but she’s going to hold on to it for the foreseeable future.

While she hasn’t purchased this year, she bought another property last year (in August) which she is subdividing into three lots.

“[Once this is done] I will build two houses on the back [of the existing property] and keep all of them as longterm holds as well.”

It’s good news for Palmerston North’s housing stock and good for Swinbourne’s portfolio as well. Buy- and hold and new builds make a lot of sense in our new age of extended brightline rules and the removal of interest deductibility on mortgagees, so she’s on the right path.

Meanwhile, the new tenants are loving their renovated Art Deco rental and appreciating the light touch Swinbourne brought to a property that’s a classic of its kind.