A millennial couple bought an abandoned cottage for half the price of nearby houses. It's a major fixer-upper, but it's worth it.

  • Greer Gagnier and Kyle Verma bought an abandoned house in a bucolic riverside town in Rhode Island.

  • Buying "worst house in the best neighborhood" helped them score a home in a tough market, they said.

  • They said buying a fixer-upper was worth it even though renovating added costs and took hard work.

Buying the worst house on the best street is one of the oldest tricks in the real-estate book.

While not everyone agrees with the proverb, a millennial couple who landed a house in a bucolic Rhode Island neighborhood for half what homes in the area usually cost swears by it.

The last year has been filled with milestones for Greer Gagnier, a property manager for her family's real-estate business, and Kyle Verma, who works in finance. After years of dating, the couple, both 30, got engaged.

And, after two years of looking for a starter home in Rhode Island's Pawtuxet Village, a town near Providence where Gagnier moved after college, amid an increasingly challenging housing market, they found it — take a look.

The couple's house is a fixer-upper in every sense of the word.

The exterior of a white-panelled cottage in a state of construction.
Gagnier and Verma were looking for a starter home for two years before they found their fixer-upper cottage.Courtesy of Greer Gagnier

Their "cozy little cottage," as Gagnier calls it, had been foreclosed.

Gagnier said neighbors told her the previous owner had abandoned it.

"He just stopped making payments on the house, moved into an RV or something, and got out of town," she added.

Gagnier and Verma had seen the home before because it's right down the street from the rental they currently live in.

But they had never ventured inside until Gagnier's sister — who had gone to scope it out as a potential investment property — called them up in the fall of 2023.

"She's like, 'You gotta take a look at this. You would love it.' So we ran right over there and fell in love with it," Gagnier said.

The decrepit house was "scary-looking," Gagnier said. The couple knew it would need a lot of love — and sweat equity.

A bathroom in a cottage during construction with bits of dirty and dust lining the floor.
The cottage was covered in grime, dust, and dog hair when they bought it.Courtesy of Greer Gagnier

"It was probably empty for about a year, at least. But it honestly looked like it was empty for 40 years," Gagnier said, recalling her first impressions.

Dog hair, grime, and dust coated surfaces, paint was peeling, and the wallpaper was ripping off the walls. But with a little imagination, the couple saw past what initially looked like the set of a horror movie.

They envisioned a home where they could spend at least the next five to 10 years — a home where they could start a family. A quarter of a mile from the water, the roughly 1,500-square-foot property came with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a basement, and an attic.

"The bones were really good, and it just had a really nice flow. The layout was great. The size was perfect for what we need: a starter home," Gagnier said.

Verma and Gagnier made an offer in the low $300,000s that was accepted in early 2024.

Kyle Verma and Greer Granier are renovating the "worst house" in their favorite neighborhood in Rhode Island.
Verma and Gagnier are renovating the "worst house" in their favorite neighborhood in Rhode Island.Courtesy of Greer Gagnier

Because the house was foreclosed on, Gagnier and Verma were dealing with a bank rather than a seller, which was "frustrating," she said.

"They took days and days just to respond to emails and wouldn't answer phone calls," Gagnier said. "We were supposed to close a month or two before we actually did."

Nevertheless, they came to an agreement and had their offer in the low $300,000s accepted just after New Year's Day 2024. According to Realtor.com, the median listing house price in Pawtuxet in the Providence area is $684,500, about double what the couple paid.

The price was right in line with their budget, Gagnier added. They were willing to pay up to $525,000 for a finished house, so she said they "figured, 'OK, if we buy it for low threes, we can put maybe $75,000 to $100,000 into it and then be within our budget."

The couple also thinks that the house's value will double to the high $600,000s post-renovation.

Originally built in the 1920s, the house came with beautiful hardwood floors, an original fireplace, and a basement bar.

A view of a room in a cottage under renovation with ladders and construction materials.
The cottage now has an open-plan kitchen and dining area.Courtesy of Greer Gagnier

"You open the front door, and the living room is actually fairly big," Gagnier said.

The living room leads into the kitchen, which they have gutted and expanded into what used to be a separate dining area. French doors in the kitchen will eventually lead out onto a porch, Gagnier added.

Upstairs are three bedrooms; the couple is converting one into a study. There is also an attic with built-in cabinets that has the potential to be turned into another room if they need it down the line, she said.

One of the most exciting features is in the basement, Gagnier said. Lined with knotty pine paneling, the basement came fitted with a full bar area and gives off a "totally '60s vibe," Gagnier said.

"I really want to lean into the speakeasy-cool vibes down there," she said, adding that one day, it'll be a "party space" where friends and family can congregate.

Location was everything to the couple — they only house-hunted in a small Rhode Island enclave about five miles south of Providence.

A view of a marina lined with boats and houses in Pawtuxet Village, Rhode Island.
Pawtuxet Village is close to Providence and Warwick in Rhode Island.Denis Tangney Jr/Getty Images

Nestled by a river of the same name, Pawtuxet Village is known for its quaint shops and riverside restaurants. The marina and little cove make it a "classic New England coastal town," Gagnier said.

Gagnier, who grew up in Massachusetts, has ived in Pawtuxet since she graduated from Rhode Island University in 2016. Members of her family have lived there, too.

"We've been coming here since we were little just for vacationing in the summers," she said. "We never left. And now I live within a mile radius from my dad, and my brother, and my mom. Everybody's in this little bubble."

Pawtuxet Village is such a "hidden gem" that Gagnier said many people from Providence don't know it exists. Verma, she added, didn't know about it until they met after college.

Home prices in that part of Rhode Island have jumped, just like they have across the US.

A marina and houses on a sunny day in Pawtuxet Village, Rhode Island.
The median price of listed homes in Pawtuxet Village is $684,500.Denis Tangney Jr/Getty Images.

When they first set out on their journey to buy a starter home, Gagnier and Verma quickly realized how much of a challenge it would be.

According to Realtor.com, the median listing price for homes in the Pawtuxet area of Providence jumped from $512,000 in August 2021 to $684,500 in May 2024.

Gagnier said that there aren't many new houses being built in Rhode Island, adding to the struggle. In January, local outlet WPRI reported that the state is lagging behind a recommendation from 2016 report commissioned by Rhode Island Housing, a quasi-public agency, to build between 34,000 to 40,000 housing units by 2026 to accommodate growing demand.

It's 2024, though, and Gagnier said it's still "slim pickings for what you can get."

"We looked around, put in an offer on probably six or seven houses, lost them all to cash buyers — or people would bid like $70,000 over asking," Gagnier said. "It was just emotionally exhausting, you fall in love with the house and then lose it."

The couple is doing many of the renovations themselves — with the help of Gagnier's dad.

An empty room with a wood floor and light blue painted walls.
Gagnier said they kept the original wood flooring in the cottage.Courtesy of Greer Gagnier

What helps is that Gagnier, who works for her family's short-term and long-term-rental company, grew up around homes under construction. Her dad, she said, loves old houses and has been renovating them as a side project for years.

Verma, on the other hand, wasn't as familiar with renovation projects and has had to get used to trusting the process, she added.

"It's been a little bit hard for him to adjust," Gagnier said. "We've learned so much along the way, but we really learned a lot from my dad because he's done it all before."

After deep-cleaning the entire house, the biggest project so far was gutting the kitchen.

A man stands on top of a kitchen counter as he's renovating the space.
The kitchen had to be gutted.Courtesy of Greer Gagnier

The couple's "biggest project" so far is the kitchen, which dated back to the 1950s. They ultimately hired a professional construction crew.

"That's the only room we completely demoed in the whole house," Gagnier said.

The couple not only wanted to modernize it but expand it by knocking down the wall separating it from the formal dining area, which they didn't really see a need for anyway.

"We wanted to have just a big kitchen space," she said.

Gagnier has been documenting the renovation and their DIY work on Instagram.

A side by side image showing a bathroom with pink tiling and the same space under construction to cover up the pink tiling with neutral colors.
The couple decided to cover up the pink tiling in the upstairs bathroom.Courtesy of Greer Gagnier

The couple also hired professionals to handle getting the electrical and plumbing systems in working order.

But they have taken on many of the aesthetic renovations themselves. Gagnier is documenting their DIY handwork on Instagram to over 155,000 followers.

A major change they made and shared on social media is covering up bubblegum pink tiles in the upstairs bathroom.

Gagnier said she's gotten a lot of "flak" on social media for layering over the 1950s decor with waterproof plaster and temporary laminate peel-and-stick tiles in a more neutral tone, but she has no regrets.

"You just can't take it personally," said Gagnier, noting that most negative comments come from people with young-looking profile photos.

"They're like, 'Why don't you find another house?'" she said. "And I'm like, 'Do you know what the housing market is doing right now? We're in a crisis. I can't buy another house.'"

Gagnier and Verma are almost ready to move into their fixer-upper, but the renovation work will continue.

An exterior shot of a cottage in Rhode Island that has brown wooden paneling, white windows, and a dark green front door.
There have been days when Gagnier and Verma have wanted to give up on their fixer-upper, but the end is now in sight.Courtesy of Greer Gagnier

Verma and Gagnier have been living in a rental nearby while they work on the house.

On weekday evenings and on weekends, they are at the cottage, getting it livable enough to move in.

"We definitely have those days where we cannot see the light at the end of it all and want to give up, but we have to keep going," Gagnier said.

Like any fixer-upper, it's been a challenge, but one that the couple doesn't regret taking on.

Soon, they will no longer have the worst house in the best neighborhood, but a starter home they got for a "really great deal."

"We hope to be in the next three to four weeks," Gagnier said. "We're in the home stretch."

Read the original article on Business Insider