Finding and Polishing a Diamond in the Rough

Realtor Willi Ellis helped client Susan Peckham find a dreary, neglected property that she could transform into the home of her dreams.

Photo by: Frank Passanante, Divided Light Photography Homeowner Susan Peckham spent a year transforming this home that many would've just razed. 

About the Agent

  • Name: Willi Ellis
  • Brokerage: ERA Shields Real Estate
  • Location: Colorado Springs, Colo.
After splitting her childhood between North Carolina and Taiwan, Susan Peckham worked in both the home furnishings textile industry and the non-profit sector. The last two decades were primarily spent focused on her family and raising two children: a son, 19, and a daughter, 16. With her own home as a laboratory, Susan had always dreamed of creating beauty out of brokenness. Realtor Willi Ellis helped Susan’s dream become a reality when they found an outdated and dilapidated home in the Broadmoor neighborhood of Colorado Springs. 

What was at the top of the homebuyer’s wish list?

Susan wanted a home that no one else wanted, something that she could put her own stamp on. She wanted to transform a dark home into a bright, beautiful home – to buy a distressed property that was in disarray with the intent of transforming into something beautiful. She wanted to move walls and windows, open it up and make it bright.

How did you go about fulfilling the buyer’s needs? What were your biggest challenges?

We did several MLS searches in many different neighborhoods in a certain price range when we came upon this property. So she went through all of the listings that I sent her to see if she could find her “diamond in the rough.” We initially tried to get another property that was bank owned, and it received more than 10 offers, including ours, in one day. We made an offer that was $30,000 over the list price and still did not get the home.

She wasn’t looking in a specific area, more than that she wanted to identify a property that she could work with. We had looked at a couple of different properties in various areas. This was the only home we looked at in the Broadmoor area, which is considered the highest-end area in Colorado Springs, one of the top areas. So finding a distressed property like this is a unique occurrence.

Why did you think this house in particular would be a good fit for Susan?

Well, the Elm Circle home was in such rough shape that there was no clamor to buy this place. People were afraid of it because it was in such disrepair. It needed so much work that it had sat there for a while with no takers and on the very tip of going into foreclosure. I knew that Susan would be able to put her stamp on it. 

Also, the home sits on an acre of land that borders a pond. That in itself is almost impossible to find in the Broadmoor area. So, here is this house at the end of Elm Circle on this very secluded acre bordering a pond and down this winding driveway is this incredibly dilapidated house. It was so dark and threatening, in terms of all the work that needed to be done, and Susan was in love. 

Can you tell me a little bit about the obstacles faced?

Just about everything. It was built in the '70s, and it was a Mediterranean-style home that had never been updated. The previous owners had really gotten in over their heads and fixtures were ripped out of the house. Most of the floors were down to subflooring: There was no carpet in there or regular flooring. It was just plywood.

It was just horrible. There was a beat up refrigerator sitting in the dining room. There were clothes in the bathtub in the master bedroom because there weren’t even rods in the closet. It was just a mess. And the damage that we could see on the surface was just the tip of the iceberg. When Susan started getting into the renovations, asbestos was discovered. The home had to undergo asbestos remediation. Then radon was found. The radon was way over the EPA’s acceptable levels.

The decking on the back of the house was not up to code. Nothing was safe. There were holes in the flooring. So, getting the bank to move forward was incredibly difficult. Susan’s renovation budget more than doubled during the whole process. It had been neglected for so long that there were huge problems around every corner.

How did you solve any snags or surprises in the home buying process?

Initially, we were turned down by multiple lenders. We finally found a lender who was willing to think outside the box. The head of the mortgage department met us out at the house, and he managed to see through all the mess and see what Susan’s vision was for this house. He agreed to fund the loan through the arm of private lending.

Before we could even get the loan, some of the subfloor had to be installed and the decking replaced. There were things that she had to do at her expense before we could even close. It was such a joy to find a personal lender who would think outside the box and respect her vision.

How closely did this house match the buyer’s original wish list? What compromises were made?

She had a vision to do it in a higher-end home, which is very unusual and a bit risky, especially given that she had never done it before. Not to mention that her out-of-pocket investment was going to be significant. She’s not a typical fix and flip person: She’d never done this before. She didn’t do this to turn a huge profit. Even her husband and children got involved. They were out there removing dead branches and moving rocks along with Susan, side by side. Everyone in the family rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty during the entire year that it took to renovate the house.

Zillow Real Estate Search

What do you think?

See Also