'I Bought a House For $1'

I first heard about the "Homes for a Pound" scheme in 2015. I had been living and working in Liverpool, England, for ten years and was a postgraduate student at a local university.

The scheme, run by the city council, promised to sell empty homes for just one pound, which equates to about one U.S. dollar and fifteen cents. But, only under the condition that residents already lived or worked in Liverpool, remained in the house for five years and refurbished the property to a set of building regulations in the U.K. called the Decent Homes Standard within twelve months.

At the time, I was living in cheap shared accommodation and naively thought: "Wow, they've giving away free houses."

Maxine Sharples
Maxine Sharples, 35, Liverpool, purchased a house for £1 after applying for the "Homes for a Pound" scheme in 2015. Maxine Sharples

Successful applicants had to have enough money to renovate the property, though the form didn't disclose a specific amount. I definitely didn't have the funds to restore an entire house, but I lied on the form and said I have a decent amount of savings. I sent off the application that June, but heard nothing for four years.

As time went on, I completely forgot about applying. Life goes on and I stayed in Liverpool living in social housing, which is provided at affordable rates, and working full-time as a project manager at my former university. I was saving up very little and it was only after a fortuitous set of circumstances I came into some money.

In 2018, my estranged father passed away. It turned out that I was his next of kin and inherited a small property of his, which I was able to sell for a profit of £60,000 (approx. $68,000).

When the money landed in my bank account the following year, I had no idea what to do with it. Serendipitously, the council rang me a matter of days after the windfall and said they had shortlisted me to receive a traditional two-bedroom Victorian Terrace house for just one pound.

Initially I thought it was a scam. I was like: "Yeah okay, I'll give you a pound." I couldn't believe it when I found out it was real. What I didn't realize was that the home I would be given was in a state of disrepair.

Before I accepted, I had to visit the house to make sure I wanted it. When I first stepped foot in the property I thought: "Oh my god." It was pitch black, all the windows were boarded up and it was leaking. Immediately I thought: "My plants are not going to like it here!"

Maxine Sharples house
In May 2020, Maxine began renovations on her house without the help of a contractor. Maxine Sharples
Maxine Sharples house
In January 2021, nine months after starting renovation work, Maxine completed the rip out. She filled nine skips with debris. Maxine Sharples

At first you had to wear a hard hat and protective clothing to even walk inside the house, it was really bad. Despite the problems, I was like: "I love it, I still want it. Asbestos? Rats? I don't care!" It felt like it was meant to be.

I was officially offered the house in June 2019 and was absolutely buzzing with excitement. I was on cloud nine. I even quit my job to fully throw myself into renovations. I thought: "I'm going to retire, I'm set for life!" I was just so happy and grateful.

Because of the council's legal processes, it took nine months before anything happened. I had already hastily quit my job, naively thinking I would have access to the property in a few weeks, so I had to spend money meant for the house on my living expenses. I was finally given the keys to my home on Valentine's Day 2020.

I still had nearly £60,000 (approx. $68,000) and twelve months to renovate, but the following month, the U.K. went into its first national lockdown. I thought: "Great, no builders." I had the keys, but nobody to do any work on the house. I spent a while just walking around the building thinking about what to do with it.

Maxine Sharples house
Maxine learned how to renovate her home by following online tutorials. She was also aided by her brother-in-law and his father. Maxine Sharples

I was considering how to maximize light in the house and had this hare-brained idea of installing skylights on the roof, so light would transfer from outdoors into the upstairs of the house. But because I wanted my bedroom to be darker than my living area, I decided to move my kitchen and living room upstairs.

I had an architect draw up my ideas and in Spring 2020, brought in professional contractors who could take on the whole job. The cheapest quote I got was around £80,000 (approx. $91,000), while others were in excess of £100,000 (approx. $114,000). Plus, because of the pandemic, they wouldn't be able to begin work for an entire year.

At that point I knew what I wanted. Being told it wasn't possible did not deter me, I just thought: "Fine, I'll renovate the house myself." It was a case of getting it done no matter what. I was still full of enthusiasm and had about £50,000 (approx. $57,000) in my bank account, so I was feeling pretty confident.

In May 2020, I threw myself into what's called the "rip out" of the property. It's the dirtiest, messiest job which involves removing everything, chiseling all of the plaster work from the entire house, smashing walls and ceilings and removing internal walls from upstairs. Luckily, my brother-in-law and his dad know a bit about renovation and were able to mentor me. The entire process took nine months.

Maxine Sharples house
Maxine decided to move her kitchen and living area upstairs. Maxine Sharples

Luckily, by June 2020, the council had issued a 12-month extension on my building work because of the pandemic, meaning I had until February 2022 to complete renovations.

Next, we replaced the purlins in the roof with steel girders. Usually people have them delivered using cranes, but we didn't have the money. Instead, myself, my brother-in-law and his dad carried these 16 foot beams, which weighed around a ton each, up through the house and into the loft. I have no idea how we managed it. The engineering that went into that is crazy, but it cost us nothing but pure hard work.

Next I had to get electricity, which I had been borrowing from my neighbor. I hired an electrician and it cost me £3,000 (approx. $3,400) for a full rewire of the house. I had to decide where I wanted lights and plugs, but had to visualize what the space would look like. The kitchen was an abstract concept at the time, so it was really difficult.

After deciding which plumbing source to have, I was quoted £6,000 (approx. $6,800) to install underfloor heating. I ended up doing it myself with the help of a friend, which cost only £1,900 (approx. $2,200). I learned how to do it through chatting with my plumber and watching tutorials on YouTube.

Maxine Sharples house
Maxine has completed renovations on the upper floor of her home. Maxine Sharples
Maxine Sharples house
Maxine's home was deemed a "Decent Homes Standard" in June 2022. Maxine Sharples

As work continued, my upside down house was starting to take shape, but by February 2021, work was halted by lack of available laborers. By the following month I was half way through my budget, but only a quarter of the way through the house build.

Around one year into the process, I was at my wits end with the house. I had to take a couple of months off because it was so stressful. I decided to move into my campervan to save money, which was fun for a while. Shortly afterwards, in June 2021, I secured part-time work as a yoga teacher.

I was feeling pessimistic about the project, my funds were depleted and it was tough to find laborers. But one day, while we were still in lockdown, I bumped into some friends on a walk. Instantly, they could see the anguish on my face. I told them I wanted to give up work the house.

They told me not to admit defeat and said they would help with the renovations. I'm so lucky to have such dear friends, who really got on board with the project as much as they could. I was also offered surplus leftovers from neighboring building sites to save money.

Maxine Sharples house
The exterior of Maxine's home, which she purchased for £1 ($1) in 2019. Maxine Sharples

In June 2022, the house was deemed a "decent homes standard" and I recently moved in to the upstairs, which is now fully finished and really beautiful. Once I've finished my downstairs flooring, renovations will be complete.

At the moment I can't afford to finish downstairs all at once, as I've run out of money from my original budget, so I'm doing smaller jobs month by month. I cannot wait for the home to be complete.

Having underfloor heating downstairs is going to be such a luxury, as well as triple glazed windows and a place to hang my plants once and for all. I've moved so many times in my life, from Liverpool at the age of six and back at the age of 18, so I feel I can finally settle in a house that cost £1 (approx. $1) and that I brought back to life. It's going to be amazing.

Maxine Sharples, 35, is a yoga teacher who lives in Liverpool, England. You can read about her renovation journey here or follow her Instagram at @homesforapound.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Monica Greep.