A full-on renovation – regarded as stressful by most – has been the perfect project over which to bond for young Wellington couple Tu Greenland and Natalie Hone.
Both painters, furniture upcycling enthusiasts and homeowners in their own right before they met, Greenland, 31, an IT manager, and Hone, 30, a police detective, turned out to be just the right fit for each other.
The pair met on Tinder – Greenland’s first ever online-derived date – and took each other off the market after that first meeting.
“I deleted Tinder after 24 hours and the rest is history,” Greenland says. “We just kind of fell for each other really quick.”
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“We had so much in common, everything that we had done by ourselves, we’d both got into our houses by ourselves, both really liked renovations, both had our dogs. We were both into our sports and being really active and getting out in the garden.”
Greenland had purchased his first home, the three-bedroom 1906 Petone villa the duo would come to renovate, in May 2022.
By then, Hone was already on to her second solo purchase, a 90s townhouse also with three bedrooms in Whitby.
Moving into the home “just after the lockdown was lifted and the market went berserk”, Greenland had been renovating the home himself until Hone arrived on the scene.
The pair have been chipping away at their renovations on both the 1906 villa and Hone’s Whitby home for nearly a year now, moving in together just before Christmas and documenting their progress on Instagram.
The Petone villa
The appeal of the villa for Greenland lay in its similarity to his childhood home and fond memories of DIY activities around the house with his dad.
“It’s so much easier with an extra pair of hands,” Greenland says.
”I had always wanted to renovate a house, I was brought up in a 120-year-old house in the hills of Newlands and my dad was a big DIY person at home.
“He was quite sick, he’s passed away now, but he always got his sons helping him with all sorts of tasks and chores around the house.”
Only 20m from the beach, the villa Greenland chose was “the worst house on the best street” for its potential to capitalize later.
Very outdated, the roof was “an ugly red color”, there were cracks in the ceiling and a weird 1940s trim that assaulted the eye in every room; the toilet room was over 100 years old with rotten piles beneath, and the 70-year-old bathroom wasn’t that much better.
“The house was built in a really good way about 110 years ago. It had big windows in the front room. But it needed a lot of work,” says Greenland.
“It was very bare and had old timber flooring which stood out which I really loved. My old house in Newlands had flooring like this and I had helped my father pull up the old raggedy carpet and polish the floors there.”
“But it had great bones. All the imperfections and all the outdated furnishings really turned away a lot of buyers I think, but it was absolutely my cup of tea.”
Climbing the property ladder
Living frugally was the key to his success climbing the property ladder.
“Prior to moving into my house I just worked for five years doing as much overtime as I could, living a really minimal life and saving as much as I could.
“So I was lucky that once I got into this house I still had some savings left over, which I was able to use for some of the fundamental things, like the gas line into the house, which now supplies way better hot water pressure.”
Initially carrying out the renovation by “saving up little bits and doing little things”, it was getting “some really good advice from a property developer friend about how to leverage” that changed everything.
Talking to his bank, Greenland arranged to restructure his mortgage so they could pay the loan off quicker and also get a home loan top-up to work on bigger renovations.
Since then, they have spent just $45,000 and almost totally renovated the home, except for the kitchen, which had been renovated in 2019.
The villa now boasts infinity gas, new ceilings in the front bedrooms, re-plastered ceilings and LED downlights throughout, new interior paint, a newly painted roof, new fences at front and back, a fully renovated toilet room, and the conversion of an old army hut positioned out back from garden shed to utility room with an extra bathroom.
Their secret to getting so little done on a budget in such little time? That can-do attitude. Greenland and Hone are not just unfraid to get their hands dirty, they relish the opportunity.
“I’ve got paint on my fingers right now, I’ve been painting the bathroom ceiling this morning,” he says.
Doing it yourself
The pair have saved money wherever they can, from digging the trench to reach the gas mainline, to re-roofing the utility shed out back, to completely re-insulating, re-gibbing, re-plastering, and repainting the house themselves. YouTube tutorials have been their guide.
The professionals have only been called in for necessary tasks like plumbing and rewiring.
“I’m pretty much a plasterer now,” Greenland says. “My neck is so afternoon, my wrists are so afternoon. We didn’t hire a plasterer at all, we did it all ourselves.”
“We did a quick calculation and in the two days of work that we did on the outhouse roof, we saved $4500 just by getting up there. We saved $1000 just by digging out the trench to the gas line.”
His advice for wannabe DIY-ers is to communicate openly and respectfully with traditions.
“I ask them things like, ‘What can I do to make your job easier? What can I do to make it easier so when you get here you don’t have to do such laborious work?’ – without making it sound like I’m trying to do their job or save money.”
Striving to create “a split between character and traditional” in the home, with a focus on bringing out the character of the house, Greenland describes their interior look as “fresh and clean” with as “minimum feet on the floor as possible.”
“We like to have things floating above to accentuate the space in the room.”
Having thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of their renovation and relationship blossoming, the pair are already moving on to the next project, having just bought a similar three-bedroom villa in Nelson’s heritage suburb of The Wood.
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Both the Petone and Whitby homes will soon welcome tenants and the pair will relocate to start their renovation process all over again, this time with a home that belongs to both of them.
“It’s a really nice step forward to do something that’s absolutely ours, together,” he said.
“It’s all been really fun to be honest. With Nat it’s so fun, we always have music playing and we’re always laughing at weird little things and making fun of each other and the dog.
“We have a few hours a week where we eat dinner and watch Yellowstone, and then other than that we’re reno-ing the house.”