First-time buyers: ‘We swapped renting for renovation and added £45k to the value of our property’

Julia Starzyk and Wojciech Okon pooled their skills to revamp a dated flat in Rickmansworth (Handout)
Julia Starzyk and Wojciech Okon pooled their skills to revamp a dated flat in Rickmansworth (Handout)

Julia Starzyk has spent her career working in construction, while her partner Wojciech Okon works for a high-end joinery firm.

Their joint skills put the couple in the perfect position to take on a dated and unloved house and turn it into a contemporary home, adding considerable value at the same time.

Julia, 33, and Wojciech, 40, had been getting increasingly fed up with paying £1,500pcm to rent a two-bedroom flat in Northolt, west London. “We did a lot of research and it always turned out that it would be cheaper to pay a mortgage than to pay rent to somewhere else,” explained Julia.

“We also wanted that stability, in the sense of having something that we own. In rented, at any point the landlord could decide they want to sell.”

What it cost

Property price (two-bedroom house): £380,000

Revalued property price (post renovation): £425,000

Old Northolt two-bedroom rent: £1,500 a month

New mortgage repayment: £1,200 a month

The couple started house hunting, and after the sale of a maisonette in Northolt fell through they decided to move a little further out of London where they could get more for their money. “We are also quite active people and we wanted to be able to be out in nature,” added Julia.

In the summer of 2018 they found a dated 1990s-built two-bedroomed house in Rickmansworth that they could see had great potential — and they loved the idea of being freeholders with a garden for their dog, Suzie, a shih tzu cross bichon frise.

They paid £380,000 for the property in the autumn of 2018. Julia’s parents gave them £10,000 towards a 10 per cent deposit and they raised the rest with five or six years’ worth of savings.

“The house was built around the time that I was born, and nobody had done anything to it apart from redecorate since then, so it was quite dated,” said Julia.

Over the next couple of years the couple began renovating the house, redoing the kitchen and bathroom, redecorating, and adding a loft extension. When they remortgaged the house last year it was revalued at £425,000. Their mortgage payments, meanwhile, come in at £1,200 pcm.

Extending the house has really paid off for Julia, who quit her job as commercial director of a construction company three weeks before the first lockdown in 2020 to set up her own firm, Star Projects, project managing refurbishment projects for time-poor clients. “When I am not on site I have a little office in the loft where I can work from, so it has worked out really well,” she said.

Her advice to other first-time buyers is not to be afraid of a property in need of a little TLC. “New builds need refurbishing too, you can’t hope they will stay in the same condition forever,” she said.