You might be wondering why I’m so enthusiastic about the possibilities of moving old houses, and installing manufactured ones. For someone like me, who’s intent on growing equity and profit through property, the answer is that moving houses, old and new, opens up a world of possibilities to improve a property. I’m a happy camper when the cost of the improvements I make is less than the resulting value. The increased value enables me to take the equity and roll the dice again on my next project.
Let me show you some of the ways moving houses can create value and build an income.
Unlock a block by moving a whole house
It’s amazing how often older houses are located in the middle of a large block of land that could be subdivided or strata-titled into two. Relocating a house is one way of managing that problem.
In days gone by, the population was smaller, standard lot sizes were bigger and more value was placed on the yard and the veggie patch. The older folks remember a time when it was common for blocks of land to be quarter acre – the equivalent of 1012m2
In Queensland, where house moving is relatively common, they still sometimes refer to block sizes in the old-fashioned term of perches. A quarter-acre is 32 perches, other blocks of land are commonly 405m2 (16 perches). It’s still reasonably common today for one house to be located on 810m2 (32 perches), or two 405m2 lots.
As an aside, you’ll see and hear me refer to Queensland relatively often. I absolutely love Queensland for many reasons – not just the weather! When it comes to property, Queensland has so much going for it. In Brisbane, the whole city is controlled by one council, making it easy to learn the rules. Their state is home to the grand old dames of houses, Queenslanders, my personal holy grail. And they seem to have a lot of land that can easily be subdivided and developed, as you will read below. Ah, Queensland. It’s a place I frequently refer to as ‘the land of milk and honey’. Queensland is also home to some great property networks, and I owe a lot of my learning to my mentors and fellow property enthusiasts up north.
If you’re not from Queensland, don’t despair… nor am I – and there’s still plenty of good property to keep me occupied down here in greater Sydney and across the rest of the county, and even in New Zealand!
Anyway, back to what I was saying about larger lots… as development rules have changed, and housing density has increased in capital cities, it’s become possible to carve up the large lots of yesteryear into smaller pieces. In some council areas, the minimum lot size these days can go down as low as 200m2 and is commonly around 400m2. It’s not hard to see the land potential of a quarter acre or 800m2 block in a council area that allows for smaller lots.
Sometimes when you’re looking at real estate, you might notice that two lots exist, but both lots are on one title rather than two. That can be a hangover from the old days as well, and is sometimes still done today to simplify rates and land tax. Where multiple lots are on one title, separating them is often a relatively straightforward process, enabling you to create an extra block of land easily and cost-effectively. In Queensland, these are referred to as ‘splitter blocks’.
However, often an old house sits smack bang in the middle of a large lot – or even right across two lots! Unfortunately, you can’t cut off a lot (subdivide), right through the middle of a house. Most people, certainly in NSW, assume that you need to demolish the house to unlock that value. But that isn’t necessarily true.
Depending on the house construction, it’s possible that the house could be re-positioned one way or the other on the block to open up the remaining land for sale or development. This won’t work for a double brick house, mind you. Look out for weatherboard, vinyl or fibro-clad houses on piers. You need to remove the fibro if the house is to be cut, but re-cladding a house is not as costly as you might think. In Queensland, where they do this all the time, it’s referred to as ‘sliding’ the house. So bring on the sliders I say. When I’m on real estate websites, I’m immediately attracted to potential sliders, with the potential for me to unlock a block.
It’s a great strategy – it takes some background knowledge, a couple of months to plan and a couple of days to execute, and Bob’s your uncle!
That’s exactly what we did in our northern Sydney development. If you haven’t read it, I’ve written a series of articles on this website in the case studies section.
Give life to a house with great bones in a new location
‘They don’t build houses like they used to,’ you often hear it said, and it’s true. As demand for new, higher density property grows, houses with great bones are slated for demolition. In some cases there is money to be made in picking up an old house, moving it and renovating it.
In my mind there are two models you can apply here:
Create a property workhorse
If you like the idea of creating a work-horse of property that delivers good cash flow, this could be a great option for you.
I’m talking about the kind of property equivalent to my 1998 Nissan Pulsar. As I write this, that car is 22 years old, and it’s never been garaged. You need to wind the windows down using a winder – much to the kids’ fascination – and it has more than 200,000 km on the odo. The paint protection is peeling off in sheets. It looks terrible, but I’ve serviced it every year, and it always starts. That car is anything but flashy, has cost me about $1,000 a year, taken me absolute miles and continues to deliver. Properties like that can be an important part of a property portfolio.
In Greater Sydney at the moment, the cost of building new seems to be running at about $2,700m2 for a house finished to medium specifications. Now, in NSW, it’s possible to move a house with some age on it, do a cosmetic renovation and rent or sell it out, for about half of that on a square metre basis.
The key is to choose the right house to move. For that strategy to work, you find a renovated house from say, the 1960s. It has a neat, updated bathroom and kitchen and a reasonably modern layout often with linked living, dining and kitchen. When it’s installed on your property, you don’t need to spend much to make it appealing for sale or rent.
We did this at our Northern Sydney subdivision. The house is lovely and attracting great rent now, but that one required a LOT of work. So I’m not sure we chose the right house to move – definitely a learning for me for next time. You can read about on my website in the case studies section.
Create a grand old dame
I’m not past developing work-horse properties, but my holy grail is moving a grand dame of a property for holiday rental. For me, this is a large, character-filled 100 year-old NSW or Queensland home with a fancy front door, lovely, decorative windows, 3m ceilings, breezeways, archways and VJ boards – or horizontal joint boards as they often are in NSW.
This kind of property is not cheap – it has hard work and hundreds of thousands of dollars written all over it. One of my motivations for creating this website and podcasting is to learn from others about the potential pitfalls of doing this kind of house move – and avoid them or mitigate the risks – at all costs. When I get to the point of doing a grand-old girl, I want to smile all the way through it because I understand what’s involved, not hate every minute as my money flies out the door. Whilst I have a lot of personal benefit in the form of learning to gain on my journey, I hope readers and listeners will gain too.
For me, this is the Rolls Royce of house moves, with a similar price tag! This is the one that I live in or that I put on the holiday rental market, to repay me for the cost and work involved.
A house like this is usually old, unpredictable in terms of renovating, large and located in a regional area. It needs to be cut up into more pieces, it needs re-wiring, reconfiguring, re-painting, pretty much ‘re-everything’! My research (my husband would call it ‘addiction’) tells me that this kind of house, moved and renovated is likely to cost as much per square metre as a new, higher-end property – between $2,700 and $3,500/m2. Lucky you if you can find one in a regional area or Brisbane, leave it where it is, live in it and do it up – avoiding the cost of the move. That’s why I reckon that to make the grand old dame strategy worthwhile, you want to be a dedicated self-renovator, have a builder in the family, live in it, or if you’re going to outsource the work – you need to haul in some serious dollars from it as a holiday rental.
Capitalise on houses built on piers
Houses that are suitable for relocation are those on piers. In the old days, everything was on piers, which is what makes this strategy possible. The beauty of piers is that you can do so much with this kind of house. For example, you can:
Simply roll in houses where there is a housing or tradie shortage – At times regional locations experience housing shortages when infrastructure is improved. The improvement of roads or building of hospitals in regional areas can spur a sudden need for more accommodation. If you can simply deliver a house, you can quickly solve a housing problem. And as I write this, in 2021, right at the end of the latest Covid 19 lockdown, with interest rates at 2.5% and pent-up demand, there is a dire shortage of building materials, including timber. People building houses at the moment are finding prices rising exponentially and their projects running over time as the shortage of tradies and supplies bite. If you can simply truck in a house, you can avoid these problems.
Raise the house and build underneath – Many houses on piers enable their owners to store things under the house. Why not raise the house right up and create regulation height space underneath? Then there are many options. You can use the area under the house for parking and a workshop. Alternatively, you can spend more and fully enclose the area.
Build on a site with slope – Any builder will tell you that building new on a site with a slope becomes exponentially more expensive. That problem is reduced if you can install a house on piers, either a pre-loved one, or a new one. You just adjust the height of the piers. That’s exactly what we did when we installed a new, factory-manufactured house and attached granny flat on a sloped block in northern Sydney. Even though the two dwellings are attached, the floor level of the granny flat is lower than the floor level of the house, which enabled us to take advantage of the slope of the lot cost-effectively.
There are so many things I love about manufactured houses on piers, but one particular thing is the feeling of being elevated when inside the houses. I get a great feeling when I look out on the garden from the lounge room. Even though at that end of the building the house is only about half a metre off the ground, it feels fantastic.
Build on difficult sites – One of my favourite modular house builders on the Central Coast of NSW, the ones who built our house and granny flat, have solved some significant problems for property owners with lots that are extraordinarily steep.
Build on a virtual cliff-face – At the same house-builder’s site, I’ve been into a three-storey house they built for some property owners at Copacabana in NSW. The location for the house was so steep that the cost of building a house by traditional means would have been prohibitive. They built the modules and joined the three levels onsite to make sure they would fit together, before dismantling them and transporting them to their final location.
Accessible only by water – they have also built and installed a house which was delivered on a barge and installed by crane from the water.
Build on a flood-prone lot – the same company has recently built and installed a house that meets flood requirements on a riverfront property. The ground floor comprised a reinforced, non-habitable area including a mud-room, laundry, toilet and stairwell. Using the factory-built house, the owners were able to cost-effectively and quickly build a house that meets flood requirements.
Install an extension, delivered on a truck – building an extension on an existing house while living in it, can be a time-consuming and expensive experience. Most people don’t know this, but modular, manufactured pods can be sometimes be delivered and installed in the space of a day, and finished over a period of a week or two adding thousands of dollars of value. Sometimes this strategy is far more cost-effective than building onsite. Have a look at this TV segment showing a factory-manufactured extension to a Sydney house which might open your eyes to the possibilities. (https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1170435953092323)
Through this website and my podcast, I intend to tell you more about how I’ve added value by moving houses and interview others who’ve added value. I’ll help you understand what it takes to create a ‘workhorse’, or indeed a stable of them, or even a ‘grand dame’. I also aim to interview house movers, manufactured house builders and finance professionals to give us all the tools we need to maximise value and minimise costs.