Meet The Reno Extremists
Two renovation specialists take on one of their biggest challenges yet: the renovation of a burned-out house, as Joanna Mathers discovers.
31 January 2023
The toilet was black, the cistern collapsed like a melted candle. Pipes emerged from charred GIB on the left wall, the vanity was now an ugly white slug on the blackened floor.
These burnt-out remains epitomised a reno project that would leave many shaking in their boots. But Sunvi Ahsan and James Goren love a challenge.
“We take on projects that are incredibly challenging, that no-one else wants,” says Ahsan. “We don’t want boring, usual projects: we want to practise our skills.”
Ahsan and business partner Goren are extremists when it comes to reno projects. Together they head up. The Renovation Team, working with investors and homeowners to renovate properties and add value.
But they also do more complex work for “fun”: finding the filthiest, most rundown, ruined, and downright unpleasant houses and transforming them.
The house in Glen Eden, Auckland, which they discovered in 2020, certainly ticked all these boxes. It had been almost burnt to the ground by the owner-occupier, a man in his 70s who undertook an “experimental electrical science project” that started a fire and could have cost his life.
“The fire moved from downstairs to upstairs; it reached a retaining wall between his house and the neighbour’s property, which caught on fire. The neighbours had been very concerned but their own house. The owner ended up in hospital. It was really bad.”
Glen Eden has been a growth suburb in Auckland, but the house (unsurprisingly) had been on the market for a year when the pair saw it. With boarded up windows and doors, the 1970’s brick and tile looked like the disaster area it was – and buyers weren’t biting.
“It was dangerous looking,” says Ahsan. So dangerous that Goren and Ahsan didn’t enter the property for a viewing; choosing to send one of Goren’s drones, complete with camera, into the building to get a look instead.
The images weren’t pretty. The melted toilet was just a small aside when considering all the damage: the internal walls were burned out, doors charred, rooms filled with detritus and junk.
But there was a plus side, the external walls and roof were intact. And if they managed to get the price right they realised they could add significant value. “
We looked at the job and worked out the numbers,” says Ahsan. “And we decided we could make it work.”
BEFORE IMAGES A tenant’s ‘experimental electrical science project’ led to a destructive fire for this poor Glen Eden brick and tile.
THIS PAGE No expense was spared – the upstairs kitchen bench top is 1.2m of engineered stone. OPPOSITE The insecure balcony was replaced creating a spacious outdoor area for the upper storey.
‘STEAL’ OR BIG MISTAKE?
And by the end of 2020 they bought the property for $598,000, which could be viewed either as a “steal” considering the average house prices were nearing $1 million at the time, or a huge mistake.
Fortunately, early 2021 was comparatively Covid and lockdown free, so there was time to renovate at long stretches.
Rubbish removal from the property was the first step, says Goren. The house had been left “as is”, full of the owner’s clothes, furniture, and detritus from years of neglect.
“We filled 10 skips of rubbish – furniture, all the contents of the house. There was a huge amount of junk.”
It took a week to remove the contents; soul destroying work. Once this was complete it was time for gutting. All the timber needed to be removed from walls and windows and wooden frames taken out. This was also a slow process, but once complete it allowed Ahsan and Goren to see the property’s potential.
“We had worked with an architect and engineer to build up a concept of what we wanted to achieve,” says Ahsan. “Downstairs is 60m2 and upstairs is 118m2, which was perfect for a home and income.”
The existing home (pre-fire) featured one bedroom and a toilet downstairs, with two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. Given the size of both storeys, the home lent itself to two bedrooms downstairs; four could be comfortably provided upstairs without detracting from the sense of spaciousness.
Council consent was required for adding an extra kitchen downstairs. “It just took two months, it was the easy part,” laughs Ahsan. And Goren and his team completed all the building work, including replacing an insecure balcony.
Smell from the fire damage was also a major issue: special paint had to be used (after a chemical wash) which sealed the smell that had seeped into every corner
of the home.
New carpet was laid, new kitchens installed, and no expense spared when it came to quality. “The carpet is very high quality, the kitchen bench top upstairs is 1.2m long engineered stone,” says Ahsan.
They were committed to creating a lovely home that the owner could cherish.
And people were impressed. “No-one who saw the house before could believe it was the same place,” says Goren. “Even the previous owner was shocked by the transformation.”
Council consent was granted for the addition of a kitchen in the downstairs flat.
FIRST OFFER TAKEN
The house took over a year to complete, coming on the market in May 2022. It was appraised at $1.5 million (the renovation itself a costly $350,000), but they accepted the first offer on the home, just over $1.2 million.
“We wanted to help people,” says Ahsan. “At the first open home we had 38 people through, but this family really badly wanted it, so we were happy to take a lower offer than what we could have taken.”
The family have their parents living downstairs and are delighted to have their own home. Ahsan and Goren are pleased with how well they met the challenges of their extreme reno project, and now Ahsan has a new challenge.
“I have just had surveying completed for the development of a property that had unstable ground,” he says. “I really love the tough jobs.”
REMEDIATING FIRE DAMAGE
Remediating fire damage to a home can range from straightforward to cost prohibitive depending on the extent of damage and materials involved. For any well-involved fire, an important first step is weatherproofing the home as soon as possible after the fire is extinguished to prevent further damage.
An assessment by a suitable professional will determine the best approach to remediate the home. This will consider everything from water or extinguisher damage, through to the integrity of the underlying structure. Smoke, soot and odour issues will be assessed, as well as any damage to insulation, surface cladding and coverings.
There is no typical clean-up as every case involves different home components, materials, heat and fire spread. Depending on the materials involved, there may be a variety of noxious chemicals released that may need to be assessed and remediated.
If the fire is detected early and extinguished quickly, clean-up may be relatively simple. For well involved fires that require extinguishing by fire appliance using large quantities of water, remediation can be complex. Small fires which trigger sprinkler systems can also result in considerable damage.
Having working smoke alarms in each room is the single best step that can be taken to reduce the risk of a serious fire. Contracting a licensed electrician to inspect your home will pick up most electrical risks. For quality advice see fireandemergency.nz.
You can find local fire prevention and remediation professionals at builderscrack.co.nz.