Andy Wills says he and his wife Anna were still ''virgin renovators'' when they began hunting for properties in 2005. When they bought an old four-bedroom cottage in Rozelle for $710,000, they knew that would have to change. As fate would have it, things changed quickly. Two days after settlement, an electrical fault caused a fire that left the property's walls and windows badly damaged by smoke.
The previous owner gave the couple a call, advised them to stay away from the house for a short period and asked them what colour paint and type of windows they liked. According to Wills, that was a real stroke of luck. ''When we moved in, we had a nicely painted house, so we didn't have to start the renovation for three years,'' he says.
Three years later …
As soon as the family started expanding, the couple knew the time had come for their first renovation. ''The layout just wasn't right,'' Wills says.
''In winter, it was really cold and in summer you would just fry - the house would heat up like a sauna.''
The plan was to create a three-storey house by going up one level and using the hillside location to go down a level. The budget, however, may have been a bit ambitious.
''We stupidly thought it would be about $250,000,'' Wills says.
That was before they hit rock bottom. ''The excavation blew out of control; it went from like
$30,000 to $80,000 when we hit rock,'' Wills says.
Typical of properties in Rozelle, the house is on a narrow block with limited access for heavy machinery. So all the couple could do was watch and wait while two men completed the excavation with shovels.
A change of tack
When costs started getting out of control, the couple realised they would have to scale back the size of the renovation by abandoning plans for the upstairs level.
''We were going to do the whole thing, but the money went from $260,000 to $460,000 and we just ran out of cash,'' Wills says.
The new plan was to have all four bedrooms as well as a rumpus area on the entry level and then transform downstairs into the open-plan space for the kitchen, living and dining.
Walking through the property today, you might expect the house to have an unfinished feel. That is not the case. Adding the extra level downstairs has allowed the couple to put in large bedrooms, all of which open out to the casual rumpus area.
The highlight of this level is the decked terrace, which has water views over Iron Cove as well as King George Park. The family spend most of their time downstairs in the open-plan living area. The bi-fold doors and high ceilings ensure the house makes full use of its north-facing aspect. Overall, the property has a connected, functional feel, perfect for a young family.
Although the costs blew out, the couple were determined to finish the project before Christmas. They lived in the property during the renovation - the house was on stilts - so were able to make quick decisions to keep things moving. Building finished on December 22, 2009, in time to host Andy's family, who flew over from Britain. Despite the cost blowout, the children also got a handsome gift - a wooden cubby house, which still stands today.
Although the couple have enjoyed their time at 49 Moodie Street, they have decided to sell up and move on. The house will be auctioned on September 8 through McGrath Balmain with a price guide of more than $1.2 million. Unperturbed by the cost of this renovation, the family are on the hunt again and are considering buying a ''fixer-upper''.
''Two years ago we said never again, but I think we are coming back around to the idea,'' Wills says, laughing.
In a nutshell
Time Six months
Land size 237 sq m
Internal size 214 sq m
Architect Hugh Slatyer & Associates, 0414 256 939
The pergola helps reduce the heat in summer.
The house is fully insulated.
Wills says: ''We love the hardwood stairs. We also really like the upstairs balcony that looks over the bay and the park.''
Wills says: ''Stick to your initial plans and don't cut quality to finish jobs quickly. Also, listen to your architect; as much as you try and argue with them that you know what's right, they ultimately know because they are the professionals.''
What went right
Construction finished on time, allowing the couple to entertain family from Britain for Christmas.
What went wrong
They ran out of money and were not able to put on the third level.
Concrete slab $20,000
Metalwork (steel beams etc) $7000
Carpentry, stairs, floorboards etc $62,000
Colourist and designer $5000
Professional fees $45,000
Cubby house $3000