When Cal Hunter accidentally bid on the wrong lot, he and his girlfriend were stuck with an abandoned home nowhere near their desired property. What were they going to do?! This is their inspiring story.
Love at First Sight
When Claire Seregen and Cal Hunter first met, they knew they would be in for the adventure of a lifetime with each other. They just didn't know how adventurous it would be. Here's their incredible story.
The young couple met in the French Alps during ski season. Both were there to live and work. Afterward, they continued to travel and adventure around the globe together. They road-tripped through Europe and spent summers canoeing and camping in Canada. Claire and Cal loved getting out and taking on new challenges.
A Big Decision
When Claire declined an offer to attend medical school in Glasgow, Scotland, the couple had a big opportunity on their hands. They had a year ahead of them without anything to do. So, they decided that they wanted a project to work on and complete for the next year.
What could they possibly do? On the couple's blog, they wrote, "Now we had a whole year ahead of us with no plans. We wanted a new challenge, and decided flipping a house together would be a fun and rewarding experience." The next thing the couple had to do was secure a home to flip.
The Accidental Purchase
Claire and Cal did their due diligence. They researched properties that would be sold at auction, going over photos and details for hours. They even visited the site of the property they were interested in buying. The couple knew what they wanted and were prepared for the auction.
However, things didn't go as planned. Between the fast-talking auctioneer and a mix-up of the lots, Cal bid on the wrong property. Claire wrote, "When Cal realised, the panic set in, and he left the auction house to call me and let me know what had happened."
The first response would be to return the property, right? Unfortunately for Claire and Cal, giving back the home that Cal accidentally purchased wasn't an option on the table. According to Scottish law, auction bids are legally binding. This meant that Cal and Claire were now stuck with their accidental purchase.
According to the New York Times, Cal won the Jameswood Villa with a bid of 10,000 pounds, which is equivalent to 12,400 US dollars. The auction booklet described the Victorian-style home as "requiring modernization throughout." They would soon realize how much of an understatement that was.
Moving Into Dunoon
When they arrived at the Jameswood Villa, they quickly realized that the derelict home needed much more than a few renovations. The roof was filled with giant holes, and the original timber had been left to rot. The Jameswood Villa had been deemed dangerous by the city council.
Yet, there was a charm to the property and its surroundings. It's located in Sandbank, Dunoon. It sits in a small loch-side town in Scotland, which is about 35 miles away from the apartment they wanted to purchase. The villa was originally built in 1900. It had seen better days by the time Cal and Claire became the owners.
The Right Mistake
The couple drove out to their newly purchased home. According to the New York Times, Cal "knew he had made the right mistake" when he saw the Jameswood Villa. The couple had wanted a project to work on, and boy, did they get their hands on a big one. It didn't break their spirits, either.
Cal told the NY Times, "I was drawn to the idea of being mortgage-free in my 30s and having a beautiful place with a nice garden. I knew it would be hard work, but we'd really been wanting an opportunity." Hard work was only the beginning of what these young lovebirds were going to have to put into this dilapidated home.
A Huge Undertaking
This wasn't any regular house flip that you would see on HGTV. The Jameswood Villa had been left empty for 20 years. Its previous residents had abandoned it, leaving it to rot. Claire wrote on their blog, "Our roof has gaping holes that have left our timbers exposed and rotten after years of west-scotland rain…"
She continued, "…and drainage issues left our land waterlogged, leading to serious structural problems caused by subsidence. The councillors and locals have advised us to knock it down and start over." They had a choice to make. Would they take others' advice or follow their hearts?
Having the Necessary Skills
Claire wrote, "We soon realised this project wouldn't be financially feasible if we weren't doing the project ourselves, or if we needed a steady income to pay for overhead costs like a mortgage or rent." They were in luck because they knew the right person for the job.
Cal is a skilled carpenter who has loads of experience restoring period properties. With his expertise and Claire's willingness to learn and assist, the couple ignored the advice to knock down the property. Instead, they embarked on the adventure of a lifetime to renovate the Jameswood Villa on their own.
Getting to Work
"Despite everything, I knew quite quickly that this was the house for us," Cal told The Guardian. With this couple's positive energy and determined spirit, they began working on this extraordinary project. The first order of business was to clear the land.
Over years of neglect, nature had taken over the property. Before they could start bringing in equipment and focusing on the house, they needed to make sure there was a place to do so. They spent their days removing debris, branches, leaves, and more.
Luckily, Claire and Cal weren't alone. Friends and family helped the couple navigate this monumental task by providing them with tips and tricks from afar and even joining in to help on-site. When the assistance they needed went beyond the expertise of those they knew, they went on YouTube and followed video tutorials.
Their dog, Dexter, was always willing to lend a paw to his owners and helped remove sticks as they cleared the land. Now that's a good boy! Additionally, locals in the neighborhood also assisted by giving away extra building materials. This project was a major group effort.
A Place to Call Home
While the couple decided to dedicate themselves fully to renovating their new home, they needed a place to stay in the meantime. Since they didn't have an income flowing in to pay for rent and it would be a long time before the Jameswood Villa would be livable, Claire and Cal came up with another option.
In February 2019, they purchased a caravan to use as their home. Claire wrote, "We are now living in a little, 1990's, two berth caravan. It's a dry, clean space to retire to at the end of the day." You know what they say, there's no place like home. But more surprises were waiting for the couple.
It turns out that not only did Cal buy the wrong flat, but he only purchased one of the four flats available at Jameswood Villa. The property was divided between four owners, and Cal and Claire only owned one-quarter. After speaking with the auction house, they offered him another quarter of the villa.
Eventually, after finding the other owners and rounds of negotiations, Cal and Claire secured the rights to the whole property. They were officially the owners of the entire Jameswood Villa. One obstacle had been overcome. Now, there were many more waiting for them.
Over the next few months, Cal and Claire took the do-it-yourself philosophy to the extreme. They cleared the grounds from the tangles of weeds and ivy. They also removed furniture that had been left behind to waste away inside the home and the garden shed.
They hand-dug their first drainage ditch, found the missing electrical wire to hook up the property to power lines, set up their own scaffolding, and much more. They were working nonstop for months. If they weren't physically working on the site, they were securing materials online. There was always something to do.
Taking a Break
After working on the house consistently for months, Cal and Claire realized they were in desperate need of some TLC. On their blog, What Have We Dunoon, Claire shared, "Cal and I realised we haven't been taking enough breaks. We typically work on the house 6 days a week, and take one day off for ourselves."
She wrote later on, "We have to take self care seriously while working on this project, so that we don't burn out, and so that our relationship survives this adventure (an unrested Cal and Claire can lead to some very grumpy behavior)! So that's why, this weekend, we're taking the WHOLE weekend off. Tools down. Feet up!"
Recommendation: Knock It Down
Nearly everyone that Claire and Cal spoke to recommended that they knock down the Jameswood Villa. So many people were asking them why they didn't just knock it down and start anew that Claire dedicated an entire blog post to why they didn't take the recommendation.
To them, it was fate. Claire wrote, "We don't have much money, but we have plenty of time to commit to Jameswood… We were in the perfect life-stage to drop everything, move into a tiny caravan on a building site, and dedicate a LOT of time and hard work into a restoration project."
A Sustainable Approach
In addition to taking on this massive project, they were committed to making it as sustainable as possible. With every decision, they thought about consumerism and its effect on the planet. Instead of buying new materials, they purchased supplies off eBay and salvaged materials from buildings set for demolition.
They also used sheep's wool for insulation and tried to use low-embodied energy materials, like brick and timber. Claire wrote on What Have We Dunoon?, "From the very start, Cal and I have wanted to make as environmentally responsible decisions as possible for this project."
With a huge project like this one, it was inevitable that there would be roadblocks along the way. For Claire and Cal, it seemed like they were coming up against an obstacle at every turn they made. Adding to the fact that neither of them was a professional architect, the process was complicated, but they persevered.
Claire became in charge of submitting their paperwork for building permits. While this is usually a task completed by an architect or contractor, Claire took matters into her own hands. Not everything was as easy as it seemed. Claire had to learn how to use architectural software to complete the paperwork!
Glass Half Full
While it would seem easy to feel distraught or overwhelmed by the many tasks and obstacles Claire and Cal faced, they were relentless. They always looked at things with a "glass half full" attitude. They were inspired by the help and good fortune they received from others.
According to the New York Times, when they were interviewed by the local newspaper, the Dunoon Observer, many contributions came rushing in. People gave them supplies, including but not limited to tools and old plumbing appliances, to help them on their journey.
Exchange of Services
Not only were they learning new skills, but Claire and Cal also met many new friends throughout their journey. They signed up their project on a platform called Workaway. It allows people to exchange services for food and shelter. The extra hands were immensely helpful in building and lifting spirits.
One worker, Charli Kleeman, told the New York Times about her first impression of the Jameswood Villa. She said, "I remember thinking it was beautiful because the garden had this really rustic handmade kitchen and it was so full of love." She ended up coming back multiple times throughout the renovation to help out.
Two Years In
After two years of working endlessly on the renovation, Claire and Cal succeeded in making many improvements. They managed to put on a new roof, rebuild an entire section of wall, hook up electricity, and much more. Yet, there was still so much left to do.
Once they received a report from a structural engineer, they could adequately assess their home and figure out what to tackle next. The couple had to hand-dig their foundations in the long winter months. Imagine that! There was still a lot to do before the house would be complete.
While Cal and Claire spent most of their time working on the Jameswood Villa, they still had to find ways to support themselves. They were extremely frugal and resourceful. They used physical help from family, friends, and people from the work exchange platform. They also went to work themselves.
The couple would take odd jobs here and there to help support themselves and earn an income. Claire would work at local pubs as a bartender, and Cal would lend his carpentry skills in order to make more cash quickly. Ideally, they'd spend most of their time on the house, but they also had to take care of costs and basics.
Cal and Claire also knew that they wouldn't be able to pull off this mega-feat alone. While they enlisted the physical help of many, they also made it possible for friends, family, and fans to donate to their cause. The couple set up a GoFundMe page.
They wrote on the page, "Our goal is to carry out the project to a high standard and to do so in an environmentally friendly way - so that Jameswood can last another 130 years and have a low impact on our planet while being here! We hope this page can help us achieve this goal."
A Christmas Miracle
Cal and Claire were making incredible progress. They went from having an overgrown forest in front of their home to a new roof. Now, they were beginning to work on the inside of the villa. They were so confident in their strides that they invited Cal's family to spend Christmas at the house.
As the weeks passed, their dream looked like it would not happen. They were still in search of a stove to warm the house, but with no luck. Then, only two weeks before Christmas, one company said they could deliver a wood-burning stove by the holiday. This miracle saved their Christmas holiday.
Claire wrote on their blog, "Some of our main goals in restoring our home have always been reinstating the original character of our Victorian building, while doing so in as sustainably a way as possible - all while working with incredibly tight funds."
They wanted to preserve the original detailing, and one grand mission of theirs was to restore the original front door. It was coated with many different layers of paint over the years. So, they had to carefully peel back the paint to get to the original Victorian doors.
The Jameswood Villa is not the only home suffering from these conditions. Empty homes have become a problem throughout Scotland. The NY Times reported, "According to figures published by the Scottish government, 42,865 homes sat empty for six months or longer in 2022."
An organization called the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership is working with people like Cal and Claire to restore these derelict homes to their original status. She helped the couple secure a grant and pointed them in the right direction by asking tough questions.
At one point in history, the neighborhood where Jameswood Villa is located was one of the most desired destinations for the elite of Glasgow. Many wealthy families were looking for vacation homes along the Loch Ness coast. The area reached its peak in the 1960s.
That's when a US Navy base was established. According to the NY Times, there was an influx of 3,000 service members and their families that moved into the area. However, when the base was closed, the once-flourishing village went downhill, leaving many properties in worsening conditions as people left.
Once Claire and Cal started sharing their story, many around the world were fascinated by them. Soon enough, they began to gain significant followers from people all over the world. They had hundreds of thousands of followers on their Instagram and YouTube accounts.
They also were featured on the show Accidental Renovators. The four-part series, which aired on the BBC, highlighted the couple's triumphs and tribulations as they renovated the house they accidentally purchased. They were also featured in countless newspapers like The Guardian, The New York Times, Glasgow Live, and more.
A Big Announcement
After literally years of working on their home in painstaking detail, Claire and Cal had a big announcement to share with their fans, family, and friends. The inspectors had signed off on their home. They could officially and legally live inside of the Jameswood Villa.
Claire wrote on their Instagram page, "From the bottom of our hearts, and with our deepest sincerity, thank you. Thank you for joining us on our adventure, for supporting us at every step of the way." What a huge accomplishment! It took the couple four years to renovate the accidental purchase.
All in all, they spent around 80,000 pounds on the renovation, per the New York Times. For reference, that's a whopping 97,214 US dollars. It took them over four years to complete everything. Although it may have been challenging work, Claire and Cal have memories that will last them a lifetime.
Claire told the newspaper, "We definitely didn't realize how long it would take. Even at the final stages we're like, 'It'll take a month and we'll be done. And then two months later, you're like, 'Why are we still working on this house?'" Finally, they got the approval.
That didn't mean they were putting down their tools just yet, though. Claire shared on Instagram, "This isn't the end - we will share as we tackle our garden projects, and finish our our apartment, which has taken a seat on the back burner in the name of our holiday rentals."
Claire and Cal plan to rent out the other Jameswood Villa apartments as short-term rentals to help recoup their costs. While we may not know what Claire and Cal will get up to next, one thing is certain: this won't be the last that the world will see of this adventurous couple.