What's It Really Like To Renovate Your House During A Pandemic?

Nadine and her partner Julius have been documenting the highs, lows, and hilarity of overhauling their London house on IG account Rona Renovation.

Nadine and Julius in black and white with images from their account Rona Renovation

Lockdown has birthed many a project to help keep people with idle thumbs occupied, but few are bigger than completely renovating a home. Young couple Nadine and Julius have taken on just that. Back in March, the PR Manager and Strategy Director received the keys to their Victorian house in South London the same week that Boris Johnson announced people in England would be staying home for the foreseeable future.

From every nail hammered to every pipe uncovered, they’ve been sharing the renovation process on new Instagram account Rona_Renovation. To say their new home is a 'fixer-upper,' would be an understatement, but Nadine and Julius are clearly enjoying the process — no matter what hurdles arise. I managed to catch Nadine between B&Q runs to find out what it's it really like to renovate a house during lockdown.

It certainly hasn't been easy. Shop closures and social distancing measures mean almost all home renovations will have suffered setbacks. It’s hard to complete building when you need to remain two feet from your contractors, yet Nadine and Julius have found a way to make it work (while adapting to working from home and being furloughed). I’ve been enjoying watching the process too. The couple are a funny pair, letting followers in on their ups, their downs, and even their encounters with a mischievous fox. Here's how the story behind the account, their relationship, and how they came to own their first home.

How did you and Julius meet?

“It’s a modern love story as we met on Tinder. It was five years ago now. Funnily enough, we’re both from South London, a friend found an old photo from a party and we’re both in the photo.”

What made you decide to buy a house?

"Julius is actually not super pro homeownership, he actually believes renting gives you a lot more flexibility. You just get a lot more bang for your buck per month on a mortgage versus rent. I had to sell it to him on the flexibility — you can go backpacking for a year and still have a house and make money off of it."

Did you intend to have a big fixer-upper project?

"Julius wanted to buy land and build a house from scratch! He would send me pictures of land in Catford and be like "we should buy this land and build a narrow house on it." But no, not for our first house. It is too intense of a project. He watches a lot of Grand Designs.

"The second option was a renovation because we knew we wanted a period property and Victorian properties in London are usually more expensive. So we knew for the budget we have we'd have to do a lot of work."

What made this house the house?

"It was the house for so many reasons. We had put an offer in on a house I really liked but Julius didn't like the area — he thought it was too old and not vibrant. He was a bit scared, he was like Daniel Kaluuya's character in Get Out. When we viewed this house it was everything we wanted — Victorian, two-bedroom, and Juls wants to have a garden studio. The road is tree-lined and quiet but round the corner from bustling, multi-cultural London.

"It was the first time we were both equally excited about a property. That's how we knew."

How soon did you start renovating?

"We got the keys the week lockdown started — [on the] Tuesday and Boris announced a lockdown on Thursday. The following Saturday, we literally ripped everything out — carpets, laminate flooring. We thought we might as well crack on."

How difficult has it been renovating a house during lockdown?

"There's been some challenges. It feels like a million years ago now but when I think back to late-March, you couldn't even get on the B&Q website. We're still in the midst of a plaster shortage and you can't decorate without it, no one can.

"If we hadn't got the keys during lockdown we would have had so much more help from friends and family, just to help us with things like stripping wallpaper. My step-dad has been able to help as we live with him, so it was safe to be around us."

What made you want to start your Instagram account?

"I was on furlough. I thought something has to come from this! I've never not worked. So, I started [the account] as a joke. If you see my first post it's like 'Lol, I'm so bored.' Now that I'm really into it, it has been really nice. We can look back and see how much we've done."

Did you expect the Instagram account to become so popular?

"No, I didn't! But I knew from the beginning it was going to be our actual personalities. I knew I didn't want it to be too polished, or clinical, I wanted it to be like my brain-fart and all the funny moments in between."

What have been some of the funniest moments during the renovation?

"One of the funniest moments wasn't funny at the time. We found a bird in the chimney breast. That was quite humbling. And just generally winding Julius up. So many funny moments — I even enjoy our trips to B&Q. I don't know how to act in really serious, adult situations. I still find it hilarious that we're homeowners. We're so grown-up. Also, I want to add — my relationship with the fox in the garden is still tense."

How has the renovation affected your relationship with Julius?

"We've got titles! I'm Creative Lead and Julius is Project Manager — we know our roles during the renovation. I do get accused of slacking a lot and of filming him at times when it's not helpful."

"We're lucky to not be living in the renovation. That would have been emotionally challenging for us as a couple. I think the reason why we're so upbeat and positive is that we don't want to moan about a financial privilege. To be a homeowner in London, in this climate, is nothing short of a blessing."

When will it be finished?

"Years! We're doing a bit of a pay-as-you-go reno. When you watch the renovation shows it's like ta-da! But it's going to take time."

What's your advice for potential homeowners when looking to buy?

  • You need a good team of people to hold your hand during the process. Not your parents who bought their house 30 years ago but people who've bought recently — cling on to those people.
  • Go with a solicitor that has been personally recommended to you — I didn't understand a thing.
  • Please take out a Lifetime ISA — it's free money. We got about £5,000 from the government.
  • Look at the area you're looking in. Does the area work for the lifestyle you want, especially in London?
  • Take a builder with you for your second viewing. Because even if you have to pay those people for their time, you can go into a renovation with eyes wide open.
  • It's worth paying for a RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) building survey to identify structural issues — especially if the property was built before 1930.
  • Instagram is an amazing tool for renovators — it's not all about Pinterest. There are so many hashtags you can follow.
  • Join the collective @BlackhomesUK. We'll speak privately about some of the nuanced challenges you can face as a Black renovator.