From time to time, I get interesting emails from readers like you. Sometimes they’re about recipes found here on No Ordinary Homestead. And sometimes they’re questions about getting a visa to live in Germany (which I really know very little about). And other times, they’re a question like the following which makes me sit down and think.
We bought our farmhouse in Germany in 2006 and moved to Berlin 2012. We sold the farmhouse the following year (after it being on the market for a while because finding people as crazy as us wasn’t so easy.) We learned SO much during those 7 years; not only in how to renovate a home, but about ourselves and what we’re capable of. For example, we found that we can accomplish far more than we thought, and sometimes it’s just better to simplify!
Below is a recent reader question that really made me think…and following it is my response about what we might do if we had a chance to buy the farm all over again…
We are thinking of buying 2 denkmal houses in Seckbach, Frankfurt. Its on one piece of land with 400 year old small house 80sqm and 100 year old larger place approx. 180sqm.
Both are in horrendous condition and the current owner has SOOOO much junk all over the place. No way he can or will clear it all out – I am sure of this. I have no idea how he lives there, as its more like camping but anyway.
I saw your blog and you really worked hard of your place. What were the biggest challenges? German builders?? Dealing with Denkmal issues??
My husband speaks fluent German but is often away and works full full time. We would not be brave enough to move in before its finished as it needs EVERYTHING re-done. So we have rent plus mortgage/building costs over a period of time – scary.
Any points you might want to share would be very much appreciated.
Thanks for your email.
Sounds like an interesting and exciting adventure you’re thinking of embarking on. Knowing what we know now, I would approach with trepidation. We loved our home for the 6 years we had it — but it was a LOT of work and a blessing to sell it later on. Since leaving the farm, we’ve only lived in apartments or condos (we’re back in the US now) and love not having a ton of stuff to maintain. We might do a house again at some point, but at least now we really know what we’d be getting ourselves into when it comes to upkeep and expenses!
Think about your resale value for one thing: It‘s not always easy to find someone willing to take on an adventure of that nature and many Fachwerk houses sit on the market for a long time before they are sold. Every step we took to renovate, we thought about future owners and if it would make life easier for them or harder (we never saw ourselves growing old at the farm). When we bought our farmhouse, there were tons of things to maintain like vines to trim weekly, roses to train, things to sweep and clean up after, birds and small farm animals — our to do list had a to do list. 🙂 So we really wanted to cut back on the maintenance since we had lots of renovation ideas, too.
The costs of upkeep were also quite high, especially in relation to costs in the US. Electricity, gas for the heater, trash collection — all of these were a big portion of our monthly budget, and the usual “small” projects and ongoing upkeep also had to be factored in. A new, shiny house with a modern heating system, efficient pipes and heaters, energy efficient appliances and lights, and other modern conveniences have a very different cost base than an old house.
The Denkmalschutzamt (or German historical society) is not always easy to deal with and if your German is limited and your husband is not available to talk to them when needed, it could be a problem. They are generally reasonable, though, and while they like to follow the rules of everything, if you you respect them and speak rationally with them, they generally work with you well. Exterior changes will usually not be likely unless you are restoring to a previous state of the home (which you’d need documentation for such as old photos). But usually inside you are free to make the changes and upgrades as you choose.
As far as renovating goes, expect whatever your budget is to double and then add 10%, in both time and Euro costs. And if you’re planning todo some of the work yourselves, the learning curve can be a bit steep, especially since the products you find in the US are not always readily available in Germany and the construction process is rather different as well. The best investment we made for learning was a handyman DIY book from Hornbach!
Finding people to work on your project can also sometimes be a challenge. German “Meister” builders and contractors will be very expensive and there are probably still lots of Eastern Europeans running companies there. You must either hire someone to oversee them (often the architect on the job) or to personally check on them daily — and then be willing and able to communicate with them about things they are doing wrong or to double check their work. The contractors are also not necessarily experts on what exists on the market today and what your best option is for getting the job done. They want to do it cheaply and quickly so they can get the job done and move on with maximum profit. So you’ll need to do a lot of legwork and research yourself. Getting some of them to tie up the loose ends (install baseboards when the rest of the room is finished, or float drywall cracks for example) can also sometimes be a challenge.
Getting rid of clutter and stuff was never much of an issue for us. We ordered lots of trash containers and threw out lots of junk that way because it was quick and painless. We also used Freecycle a LOT to get rid of things before we moved to Berlin. Ebay would be another option if you have time and dedication. I do recommend steering clear of selling electronics unless you like arguing with people and filing insurance claims with the post office, though. Seems those types of things always get broken! 🙂
Hope I haven’t dashed your hopes too much but I think you wrote because you wanted an outside opinion and to prepare yourself for what might be. Again, we loved our experience but you can’t go into it thinking it‘s not a big deal — cause it will be. 🙂
If you have any questions or anything, feel free to contact me again. I’ll do my best to help out!
All the best,
So there you have it – my two cents. Have you ever renovated an old house or even a new one? Would you do it again? We’d love to hear your thoughts below!