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Lower Hutt Luxe

James Phan spared no expense when he renovated one unit in a double-unit dwelling, keeping the other for himself. By Joanna Mathers.

By: Joanna Mathers

1 August 2020

James Phan has been working as a house painter for over a decade. In that time, he’s developed a clear sense of what he likes when it comes to interior design. “Every day at work, I see houses with design features that I like,” he explains.

This clear sense of personal style came into its own when Phan decided to purchase his first investment property. And the makeover he undertook would end up providing him with not only a great profit, but a beautiful home for him and his family.

The Lower Hutt investor discovered the four-bedroom home, circa 1920, when he was looking for a place to renovate early last year. The property was split in two: one flat featured three bedrooms and one bathroom, the other had two bedrooms and one bathroom.

Like so many renovation projects, this home had seen better days. It featured a checklist of all the usual suspects: bad plumbing, mould, filthy toilets, and single glazing. It was cold and damp, and the previous owners had given little thought to upkeep, leaving the tenants to make do.

“Although I could see there was a lot of work to do on it, it was something I knew I could do,” says Phan. He saw that he could renovate one side of the property while living in the other. A further selling point was the fact that it was a cross-lease, giving him the option of selling or renting out one property, and maintaining the other.

He purchased the property for $744,000 in February 2019, fully aware that the place would have to be completely gutted in order to make it livable.

He worked on the three-bedroom unit, and lived with his family in the single bedroom apartment while undertaking the renovation.

Phan knew that the layout of the apartments wasn’t working, so with a builder, established what he could do without removing load-bearing walls.

“I knew that going through the consent process took a lot of time, so decided to avoid that by working through other options.”

Fixing The Issues

There were other issues. A leak had almost destroyed a structural pole, so it needed replacing, and there was also damage to some of the framing. The floorboards in the house were rimu, which can be a boon. Sadly, these ones were in such disrepair that they needed to be removed. Another significant cost was the plumbing – which had to be replaced due to its advanced age and various leaks.

Phan’s grand plan was to spend as much as it took to make the home as attractive and long-lasting as possible. You can see his commitment to quality in every aspect of the build.

The walls and floors of the bathroom are fully tiled in 600mm x 600mm gloss white Carrara marble, with a shower over bath, and modern white vanity. The tapware is black, which creates a dramatic juxtaposition of colour. The U-shaped kitchen has wooden benchtops, with black tiled splashbacks and clipped vinyl board from Bunnings Warehouse.

The section outside was also madeover: landscaped to create an attractive living space, and there’s a covered terrace area, strewn with fairy lights.

The first stage of the renovation took place between February and June last year, after which the family switched apartments and took up residence in the newly renovated three-beddy.

Renovating The Apartment

The next three months would see Phan and the other tradies who had worked on the first apartment, renovate the other apartment (turning it from one to two bedrooms) to an even higher standard than the first.

‘They won’t need to do anything to it; they will be able to live here happily
for the next 20 to 30 years’ JAMES PHAN

“There’s just myself, my partner and our kid, and we don’t spend much time at home because we have such busy lives, so the two-bedroom apartment is the right size for us,” explains Phan.

The renovation costs for the first apartment were about $150,000: a figure that’s unsurprising given the scope and quality of work that was undertaken. When the family’s apartment was finished in October, they swapped sides again and moved into the two bedroom dwelling.

The renovated three-bedroom unit was popped on the market and sold within three weeks for $690,000. It was a huge project for a rookie renovator, but Phan says it’s his habit and preference to undertake big jobs.

His years working as a house painter gave him the project management skills needed to coordinate such a big job: “If you didn’t have this experience, it would be a challenge,” he concurs.

He’s still living in one side of the property, and he’s bought another place in Lower Hutt as a buy-and-hold rental. He’s keen to get his hands on another renovation in the near future and is currently hunting for a fresh challenge. In the meantime, he is excited to have been able to provide another family with a beautiful home that they can enjoy for years to come.

“They won’t need to do anything to it; they will be able to live here happily for the next 20 to 30 years,”
he says. “Before the renovation, the house was a zero. Realistically, it’s now an eight out of ten,” he laughs.


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