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Holy homeowner! Church conversions offer new sanctuary for buyers

Tags: Residential

There’s a divine phenomenon occurring across the property market as a flurry of deconsecrated churches for sale have proven that there is indeed an after-life for many of New Zealand’s historic buildings.

From Northland to the deep South, there’s a growing number of these properties appearing on the market, and recent sales suggest there is the appetite to support the movement. Since the beginning of the year, Bayleys alone has listed five of these historic structures for sale, while presently there are 14-church related properties listed on popular auction website TradeMe – each of which is tagged as ‘residential’ property for sale.

In a sign of the times, many of New Zealand’s older parishes are offered for sale amidst shrinking congregations and changing demographics as the cost of strengthening, maintenance and renovations become too much to bear.

Offering spacious land sites with excellent acoustics and preferable zoning, many of New Zealand’s churches can be found occupying prime position, centrally-located within town can be a test as they can require insulation, plumbing and electrical rewiring – however buyers are willing to tackle the challenge, with many simply enamoured with the prospect of calling a piece of town history home.

Spurred by the rise of popular home renovation television programmes The Block New Zealand and George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, along with a little good old’ Kiwi ingenuity, Bayleys national residential manager Daniel Coulson says that the trend is reflective of buyers looking to grow wealth through property.

“The past four years have seen a huge uptake in buyers snapping up sub-standard structures with the view of renovating and collecting a profit upon completion. In most cases the up-front cost of renewal pales in comparison to the final sale figure” he says.

However, Julie Mitchell, a salesperson with Bayleys Gore thinks that emotions play a more significant part in the process. Last month she marketed three Southland churches for sale in auctions which culminated in each finding a new owner.

“Kiwis are a creative and sentimental bunch – we see these beautiful, historic properties for sale and naturally we want to step in and save them from demolition.

“One of the churches was sold to a local young man who had recently returned home from a stint overseas, and wanted to invest in the local community. He purchased the stunning 1930’s red brick building for just $85,000” she says.

On the northern outskirts of Christchurch, Bayleys salesperson Sara Ashcroft is currently marketing the treasured conversion of the Ohoka Methodist Church, purchased by local couple Shirley and Brian Minnis some 22 years ago.

The story goes that in 1995, Mr Minnis had been walking past the window of a realtors before he spotted the beautiful site for sale. Originally constructed in 1865, and deconsecrated in the 1980’s, the former owners had started the conversion process in 1993.

Swiftly realising the potential of the property, the Minnis’ moved in and carried out extensive interior renovations, adding a studio, garage, moving the kitchen from the front chapel area, and landscaping the 1,821 square metre site.

“It was extremely important to us that we kept the original character and integrity of the church – we still have the original kauri pews at our dining table.” Mrs Minnis says.

“All additions have been modelled on the original architecture, we even stripped back the walls in what is now the living area to their original timber because they had been painted white in an attempt to modernise the aesthetic during the 60’s.”

“Fortunately, we had great contacts within the community and finding skilled carpenters and tradesmen ensured that original features were superbly replicated – including the handmade gothic-style front door.

“While the process has not been without it’s expense, it has been worth every penny as the home we have treasured for more than two decades” Mrs Minnis says.

Both keen gardeners, the Minnis’ are responsible for completely landscaping the immaculate grounds, and the property has served as inspiration for their business venture ‘Millwood Weddings’, which has seen countless weddings and charitable events take place on-site.

Located at 401 Whites Road in Ohoka, the property is currently listed for sale asking $995,000.

“These properties offer a romanticism not seen on the market today, with beautiful timber, open spaces, high ceilings and ornate details, we have spoken to many interested parties who are hooked on the heritage” says Ms Ashcroft.

Further North at the base of the Coromandel in a rural township south of Thames, the 103-year old Puriri Methodist Church made headlines last year when it sold for $141,000 to a couple determined to restore its original character and make it their home.

“The sellers saved the church from a bulldozer when they purchased it back in 2001 and after developing a personal attachment, they were very pleased to see the property sell to a couple planning on giving it new life” says Karl Davis, a salesperson with Bayleys Hamilton.

While attendance numbers at church continue to dwindle by the year, and New Zealand's religious forecast looks more secular than ever before, it is wonderful to know that the beauty, history and character of these building's once the backdrop for so many momentous occasions will not be lost, as a growing number of ambitious property-owners look to the country's past, as part of their own future.

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