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My first reno 

This is the story of a city dweller who heads to the eastern shore and turns a shack with a view into her dream home.

click to enlarge SCOTT BLACKBURN
It was when she was floating on a surfboard off Lawrencetown Beach that she had the idea.

Sarah Murrant, 28, was a lifelong peninsula resident with a provincial government job in the city. She considered buying a house, but wanted to stay close to downtown. Real estate prices in Halifax quickly had her looking for other options.

“With one income...where am I going to end up?” she says. “Cole Harbour? Clayton Park? Bedford?”

Out on the waves one day with her brother---she’s a year-round surfer--- that it occurred to her. “Why don’t I buy a house here? Realistically, it’s the same commute” as from those other suburban options. A 30- to 45- minute drive from the eastern shore into the city isn’t so far.

The house, which Murrant purchased last year for $120,000, is 170 years old, indistinguishable from many dotting the rain and windswept landscape. Rooms were small, with low ceilings hiding the wood beams, cramped bedrooms. The floors were layers of linoleum glued and nailed on top of chipboard, the ceilings beaver board, a pressed wood-like tile. “A fire waiting to happen,” says Murrant.

The previous owners had made some changes made to the interior, including all-new windows, but “they were just all in the wrong places,” she says. She’s since moved or replaced them all. Murrant’s vision was of a completely different kind of home, the urban cottage it now is: Open concept downstairs and a two bedrooms upstairs, one-and-a-half baths. She says she never had any formal training in home renovation, but has “watched a lot of home reno shows. And read a lot of magazines and books.”

The first night she was in the house, August 28, 2010, Murrant took a crowbar to the ceiling, discovering the beautiful raw wood support structure hidden above. “I just want to see what’s above this! I picked an area where there was no electrical and figured I was probably safe. I got through and I saw... because the floor upstairs is the original floor, I knew that somehow I’d get through to this.”

With the help of friends, family and a few key contractors, she worked on the property every spare moment she had, nights and weekends, from the time she took possession in August right through until the end of the year, three-and-a-half months. She was out there for Hurricane Earl in September, which was when she realized how much new insulation the home would need. “It felt like the house might just blow down,” says Murrant. “The wind came through every crevice and crack.”

She invested approximately $40,000 on the renovations. (“I had a lot of really good free help.”) On December 21 she had the place reappraised at close to $200,000. But now living in it, with a summer ahead full of planned parties and visiting friends---not to mention days of surfing---she has no plans to sell.

“You’d have to come in here with a lot of zeroes before I’d even talk to you,” she says. “It’s a part of me.”

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