We’ve renovated a church – we’ve added £2m to the value and earn £25,000 a month renting it out, but chores are a nightmare
WITH cobwebs hanging from the 40-foot-high crumbling ceiling, prayer rugs and Bibles lined up on the pews, when Annie Lacey and Tim Self bought an abandoned church, they knew they were ready for a project.
The couple spent a year and over £1million redeveloping the Grade II listed building in Graveley, Berks, which they bought for £500,000 in February 2016.
It is now valued at £2.5million – a £2million increase in value – and brings in £25,000 a month as a luxury rental.
But the renovation hasn’t been without its challenges – the couple sailing with mated bats, building a new roof around old woodcarvings and expensive environmentalists to get it off the ground.
Former estate agent Annie, 49, who has two adult sons from a previous relationship, tells Fabulous: “The church was run down, tired, sad, unloved, unused and full of cobwebs when we we bought it.
“By the time we started work in October 2017, it had stood empty for 10 years. There was a lot of water damage and the roof was in very poor condition.
“He was also covered in dust. The old piano was there, falling apart. It really was a pretty sad place.
Tim says, “All the choir pews and stools were still there, with prayer rugs and Bibles on the front of the pews. It was almost as if they had finished their last shift, walked out, said goodbye, and locked themselves in.
The former lettings agent and father-of-two, 54, met Annie online nine years ago – bonding over a shared love for property development, as well as red wine and Formula 1.
The couple bought and renovated the church with money from a previous project, where they turned an office block into 24 apartments, and moved from Hook, Hampshire, to live in a converted coach house in the park.
Tim says, “We both have this thing where we look at rundown properties and see them as something else. Church came on Rightmove and we said “wow, that could be something pretty cool”.
Annie adds: “It’s a very pretty building and the location is fantastic as it’s rural with a great commute to London. That’s what seduced us. »
After waiting for changes to the planning permission, the couple finally got to work – and realized the scale of the project ahead of them.
They had to start by digging the internal foundations and bolting the steel frame, as it could not support the church, as well as installing a new roof and floor, with underfloor heating.
Annie says, “Before we even started, the roof, floor and scaffolding had exceeded our budget. We had to build the new roof in the wood carvings and the ceiling inside in situ.
Before we even started, the roof, floor and scaffolding broke our budget.
“We couldn’t remove the whole roof, because of the Grade II listing, which made it really fun.
“The church threw a lot of things at us that we hadn’t encountered before, even though we both developed properties.”
Tim adds: “There is a 12 meter high ceiling; we had almost as much scaffolding inside as outside.
The couple originally planned to do a high-end conversion and attract a London buyer, completing the job in 51 weeks.
Annie says: “But the budget exploded. We spent £1.5million because it was all done professionally – we had conservationists, archaeologists, ecologists and they all cost a lot of money.
“When we were cleaning up the brambles in the garden, we had to pay more for an environmentalist to stand there and watch them than the two guys and the machines to do the job.
“So we went to plan B and made it a vacation rental. The church is very hard to rate, because it’s unique. Things like the stained glass windows and the stone carvings are irreplaceable.
“One estate agent valued it at £2.6million but others have been less generous and we want to make a decent profit.
“We know this is an unusual property, I describe it as a pink Lamborghini, it won’t appeal to everyone. But the right person will fall in love with it.
“All of our guests come in and say ‘wow’. They’re blown away by it. The rental isn’t something we originally planned to do, but it’s been a big hit and our customers really love it.
The couple, who now run the rental full-time, launched it in August 2018 and welcomed the cast of Made In Chelsea later that year.
Annie says: “It catapulted us into people’s living rooms, we had only been going for a few months and we had a lot of bookings as a result of this show.”
They are now charging £2,150 a night to rent five beds and four bathrooms – which can sleep 20 people – but lockdown has put another key in the works.
Tim says: “We’ve only been able to get back to business since July, but it’s getting crazy. We earn at least £25,000 a month now.
It’s getting crazy. We earn at least £25,000 a month now.
“As long as the business continues to come back, we are happy to do this. But if someone comes along and makes us a good offer, we’ll do something different.
“I think we will try to avoid anything weird for our next development, certainly more churches or Grade II listed properties. Annie describes the church as a teenage son. You like it, but sometimes you don’t like it very much.
Annie adds, “Business is booming right now, so it’s hard to know what to do. Anyway, we are very proud of the renovation and feel like we saved an old building that would have been left to rot.
With a state-of-the-art Italian kitchen, Porcelanosa bathroom and smart home system, Tim describes the rental as a “brand new 21st century home, inside the shell of an old church.”
But housework is a nightmare, Annie explains: “It takes two people just to change a light bulb, Tim has to get the scaffolding out.
“To clean cobwebs we have a Henry Hoover with 11 mounting posts and cleaning gutters is not for the faint hearted.
“Once a bird came in and we couldn’t get it out. Now we have to tell our customers “don’t leave the doors open”.
Tim laughs: “Before, I was dizzy, now I continue.”
Annie adds, “It’s worth it. It’s a house like no other. The architecture is amazing, the decor is chic, it has such a luxurious feel because of the size, the pictures don’t do it justice.
“The 1.1 acre lot is also beautiful. We have a hot tub among the tombstones, which our guests appreciate.
You can find out more at https://churchhouseberkshire.co.uk/.
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