From the moment Sharon Walker saw the stately old home, something about it stirred her.
More than just the wide porches, French doors, and original woodwork, Sharon says she felt drawn to the character of the 100-year-old house next door to a church. And she knew if she didn’t do something, it might well be leveled to make way for a new building or parking lot.
“All the little touches let me know that the house had been built with a great deal of care, thought, and craftsmanship,” says the nurse and college professor, who lives in Monticello, Indiana. “And I felt it was worth pursuing to try and save it.” So she did.
She had first learned about the house in a newspaper ad offering a “Free House.” According to Sharon, “How could your eye not be drawn to an ad like that?”
Two big challenges were getting financing and relocating the house 1½ miles away to an empty lot she had bought. Her first ally in the project was Personal Banker Karen Byroad of Wells Fargo in Monticello, who “got the ball rolling” by introducing her to Home Mortgage Consultant Gil-Hwei Lee, a specialist in renovation lending. She matched Sharon with a mortgage that included built-in renovation financing to make her vision a reality.
“Honestly, there were some frustrations,” she says. “But Gil-Hwei held my hand through it all. Her can-do perspective and coaching kept me inspired and feeling very positive about the whole process.”
Popular way to renovate
Many other U.S. homeowners are financing renovations these days, amid a housing inventory shortage, rising prices, and aging existing homes. In fact, a recent Wells Fargo Securities report (PDF) says that spending on renovation or home improvement in 2016 is projected to top the pre-recession peak of $324 billion in 2006 (citing Harvard research).
A combination Purchase & RenovateSM loan allows homebuyers to buy a fixer-upper, for example, and finance the renovation costs over the life of the loan. It is a good fit for homebuyers who don’t have enough savings to pay cash for the renovation or make a large down payment and draw from the equity, says Bill Trees, national renovation program manager for Wells Fargo Home Lending.
Other options for renovation-minded homeowners include Refinance-and-RenovateSM mortgages, cash-out refinance mortgages, home equity lines of credit, credit cards, and personal loans or lines of credit, he says.
“A mortgage with built-in renovation financing can help current homeowners or homebuyers see past what a home might look like now, envision what it could be, and create the home that they want,” Bill says.
For Gil-Hwei, a veteran of many renovation loans, Sharon’s relocate-and-renovate project became among the most challenging she had experienced.
“We were learning as a team how to do this type of project,” she says. “At each step, Sharon’s determination has been phenomenal. She’s always been extremely positive. She never gave up, and that makes you feel good when you’re doing everything you can to help the homeowner.”
By all accounts, when Sharon’s “new old home” moved down Main Street, it was an event the likes of which Monticello — population 5,378 — had never seen. Schoolchildren, business owners, bankers, restaurateurs, and town leaders lined the route to watch the six-hour spectacle on that crisp November day.
“It’s just amazing to see how such a project can bring a whole community together like that,” Gil-Hwei says.
Contractors navigated the 1 1/2 mile-long trek slowly and carefully as they moved (and then restored) power lines, trimmed tree limbs, and steadied the house as they hustled to move the support platform under it, says Karen.
“Afterwards, we would have people come in and ask, ‘Did you see the house moving? Wow, you were part of that?’” she says. “So it was a very exciting day for us.”
‘Preserve the best of a community’
Though the excitement of moving day has faded, Sharon says she still is passionate about the old house.
From project to project — including new plumbing, heating and air conditioning, and a central electric panel — she is gradually having the house’s infrastructure modernized. She’s reshaped certain spaces, creating a new dining room, new bathrooms, an office, and an art studio — sometimes dipping into savings to pay for everything she wants.
On the east side of the house, there will be a new kitchen with a “beautiful big bay window, so that I’ll be able to enjoy bright sun in the morning and wake up with my coffee,” she says.
Many things, however, remain in place — the old kitchen cupboards, French doors, pocket doors, the original woodwork throughout. They are all part of the charm that, when the renovation is complete, will make it the house she envisioned from the start, Sharon says.
“I’m preserving original details wherever I can,” she says. “I feel like when you preserve a house like this, you’re doing your part to preserve the best of a community. I am so grateful to everyone I’ve met during this project and all the people who have come up to me to thank me for saving the house. It’s very touching.”