When Joanne Kuria decided to buy a house, she never imagined she would end up with a dilapidated vacant home in Minneapolis — and then renovate it from top to bottom.
Kuria had grown up in the suburbs, and most recently lived in Plymouth. But she longed to move to Minneapolis where she could walk to city lakes, restaurants and be close to the Riverview Theater for discount movie night. "There's so much happening in the city, and it doesn't shut down at 10 o'clock," she said.
Her 20-something friends were renting apartments in Uptown, but Kuria wanted "a yard where my young cousins could play," and had been saving for a down payment.
But once she started house-hunting, she was discouraged by the condition of homes in her price range. She decided to investigate the MinneapolisHomes BuyBuildRehab program, an opportunity to buy a vacant city-owned home for below market value and rehab it exactly the way she wanted.
Kuria went to city-sponsored open houses of mostly tax-forfeited properties that had been empty for some time, and required extensive cosmetic, mechanical and structural improvements.
She finally found her potential dream home in the Hiawatha neighborhood of south Minneapolis. Its location meant she could walk to a light rail stop and ride it downtown to her job as a product manager for Wells Fargo.
The drawbacks included only one attic bedroom, a falling-down back porch and no garage. But it was bargain-priced at $30,000.
Joanne's mother, Jeniffer Kuria, owner of Amani Construction and Renovation (612-232-7264), felt the fixer-upper built in 1950 was "a diamond in the rough."
"I knew we could open up the living room, move the kitchen and bump up the attic," Jeniffer said. As a builder and contractor, she already had experience rehabbing older homes acquired through Twin Cities housing programs.
The Kurias submitted a formal proposal to buy the house, along with a drawing of their vision for a renovation.
Although there were eight other offers, Joanne was a top candidate because she was preapproved for financing a construction loan, was prepared to complete a quality rehab, and finally, planned to live there and be invested in the community.
Investing in the city
Vacant houses can be a blight on the neighborhood and a magnet for crime, said Matthew Ramadan, senior project coordinator for the MinneapolisHomes program, which guided Joanne through the process.
"This program encourages the rehab of these homes and responsible homeownership," he said. The popular city of Minneapolis program has 2,300 people on an e-mail list to receive regular updates on available properties, some priced as low as $1,000.
When Joanne learned she had been chosen to buy the Hiawatha home, "I was super-excited," she said, "It was really happening."
Amani Construction enlisted an architect to draw plans, and last fall, gutted the home's entire main floor and bumped up the attic to turn it into a full two-story dwelling.
Now the 1,572-square-foot house has three bedrooms, an office and three bathrooms. As part of the renovation, Amani installed new mechanical systems, electrical, LP SmartSide exterior siding and a new roof.
Joanne, an avid cook, helped design her own mini-chef's kitchen outfitted with cool black stainless appliances and purple-flecked black quartz counters. Amani also tore out the ramshackle uninsulated back porch and replaced it with a tropical teal-hued sunroom with sliding doors leading to a new backyard deck.
Off the kitchen, the dining and living rooms feel open and airy with a bank of corner windows drawing in morning light.
Painted white woodwork contrasts against the dark-stained Brazilian cherry flooring. "I always wanted a bench in front of a window — it's nice having light all around you," said Joanne.
Upstairs, the sloped-wall attic was transformed into a full story to hold Joanne's owner's suite, featuring a big closet and "awesome" attached bathroom. There's also enough space for two guest bedrooms for her close-knit extended family to stay over.
Joanne is crazy about color and chose "Brave Purple" for one accent wall and "Cloudless Blue" (both Sherwin-Williams colors) for the other two walls in her bedroom. The living room is awash in luscious lavender, the kitchen in sea green and the bathrooms in ocean blue.
"I wanted to have a little fun," she said. "I used 10 different paint colors throughout the house."
A lot has happened in the year since Joanne stepped inside the front door and saw peeling paint, worn vinyl flooring and orange carpet.
She still has to move in furniture and hang window treatments, but she's the proud owner of a refurbished home in a dynamic city.
After she's settled in, Joanne plans to invite her family over for a dinner of mango tofu stir-fry and Parmesan couscous.
"I couldn't have done it without their help," she said.