When Lorraine Beato, an Atlanta, Georgia, realtor specializing in single-family residential homes, investment acquisitions, and upscale renovations, updates a property, she usually does so for one of her investor buyers or a retail client. Also, she usually works in the continental United States! Last summer, however, she found herself in Portugal, renovating an exquisite piece of her own personal inheritance, her grandparents’ lifelong home.
“This home is what I have left of a family legacy on my dad’s side,” Beato explained, adding, “My mom had thought about selling it, but I said, ‘No way!’ My daughters agreed, so we were off.”
The home is located in a historic district within walking distance of the beach. Beato knew that she would have to meet certain historic guidelines and keep the building intact when she renovated, which involved using period-appropriate tiles and finishes (see pictures on pages 60 and 61). “Not only was the process fascinating, but we started a renovation trend in the town,” she laughed.
As with any older property, Beato’s project came with a few surprises. “The first floor of the home was originally built in the 1930s, and my dad paid for the second-story addition around 1945,” she recalled. The family soon found themselves dealing with complicated facets such as digging up the entire plumbing system throughout the property while the sewer system continually backed up during the process. “The pipes had also deteriorated, which didn’t help things!”
She also discovered another pitfall associated with renovating abroad: Sometimes, you just don’t know what you don’t know – until you’re freezing. “Having never lived in Portugal nor visited in the winter, it never crossed my mind that there is not central heat in a lot of their buildings,” Beato said. She did not install central heating during the renovation. The lack is not particularly unusual in the area, but she regrets not installing it while the home was already “open” for repairs.
“The walls in the house are three feet thick and the floor is solid concrete, so it’s not as if you can cut open a hole in the sheetrock and run plumbing and electrical,” Beato explained. “At this point, we would have to jackhammer the concrete floor, run wires across the walls within the concrete, and probably take a pickaxe to chisel out the width of the wall to run plastic tubing to encase the electrical wires. They build these houses to last for centuries, so it’s too late to change my mind about heating now!”
Finding Beauty Everywhere
Beato said that one of her favorite things about the project was keeping her father alive for her daughters and their future children. She also made note of the incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail that the contractors she hired brought to her project. “Our tiler, in particular, was amazing,” she recalled. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen tile corners like his (see picture at right) or such perfect alignment.”
Beato brought her love of European tiles back with her when she returned to the states, using modernized versions of the tiles in her own renovation in Atlanta-area projects. “One pattern in a modern, pale gray with a hint of lighter blue and white looked absolutely beautiful in a shower in a custom farm – house I worked on later in the year,” she said. Of another project, she mentioned, “I have been in love with concrete tiles forever because the patterns remind me of the old paved and tile streets in Portugal. It’s nice that they are an ‘in’ trend right now. Hopefully it will last!”
Breaking Down the Numbers
This renovation was different than most because there were no acquisition costs for Beato, but that did not diminish the amount of work that went into the property both inside and out:
“We re-did the stucco exterior on the whole house, repainted the entire exterior, re-did the front walkway, installed a new-but-custom-replicated gate for the driveway, cleaned and replaced the broken clay roof tiles, repointed the roof tiles, which means we fixed all the cracked and broken mortar, installed all new windows throughout, and completely gutted one of the two interior units,” she said. Beato’s cousin lives upstairs in the second-floor unit, so that one was left alone.
“We spent a total of about $45,000 USD, and when we compared the current value of the home to the last appraisal, it had gained about 300,000 euros in the past 10 years after the work we did. The real estate values went through the roof!” she said.