How we bought a London renovation project as first-time buyers on a freelance salary

·2-min read
Nikki Kopelman and James Bore  (Adrian Lourie)
Nikki Kopelman and James Bore (Adrian Lourie)

In 2019, Nikki Kopelman and James Bore spent £420,000 on a dated 1930s bungalow that “needed everything doing to it”, and have spent the past two years getting stuck in to renovation work.

The three-bedroom house is in quiet, leafy Stanmore, north London, and it originally belonged to Kopelman’s grandfather.

When he died in 2017, her parents weren’t sure if they wanted to rent it out or sell it. They also had to deal with the long probate process and offered Kopelman and Bore the chance to move in while they made up their minds.

“It had to go through probate and all that, and my parents didn’t want to leave it empty,” explained Kopelman, 33, a freelance translator.

“They said they wouldn’t charge any rent to give us the chance to save up for a deposit for when we came to buy something. We knew that we did want to buy at some point, but since I am freelance we weren’t sure if we would be able to get a mortgage.”

The house was in a bit of a mess when the couple, who had been living with Bore’s family in Woking, Surrey, moved in, and their first job was to clear it of five decades worth of clutter.

At first they concentrated on inexpensive cosmetic work to pretty up the house.

“We took out a lot of fitted furniture that was older than I was,” said Kopelman.

She and Bore, 38, a cyber security expert, also redecorated a couple of the bedrooms, and some large cracks in the wall were fixed.

In 2019, Kopelman’s parents had decided they wanted to sell the house and Kopelman and Bore had managed to save up enough to be able to buy it.

Kopelman had been careful to keep detailed accounts of her earnings going back several years, and they didn’t find getting a mortgage a problem.

Their repayments come in at £1,350pcm, which Kopelman said is considerably cheaper than renting a similar house would be, and they have continued with their home improvement programme throughout the pandemic.

The ancient boiler has been replaced, the spare room redecorated and they have started work on insulating the house while simultaneously setting up a new business venture — an online events company — together.

The house is likely to keep them busy; their next job will be to have a new bathroom installed, and finally they want to combine the kitchen and living room into a large, open-plan space.

They have also been getting to know their neighbours.

“When I used to come and visit my grandparents here as a child, the street was pretty much all retired people living in bungalows,” said Kopelman. “It is much more diverse now, which is good, and it has a really nice community feel where people look out for each other.”

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