As a child, Jake Palmer walked past the historic building every day he went to school. Now he bought it at a bargain price with the intention of converting it into his family’s forever home.
In Saint John, New Brunswick, unique properties have popped up on the real estate market, often with low prices but needing repairs. One property that caught real estate agent Jake Palmer’s eye was a former fire station located near his childhood home.
When the owner expressed interest in selling, Palmer, 46, bought the building for the sale price of $160,000. His vision ? Renovating the brick beauty into an unconventional family home for him and his three children, plus creating a garage and storage space for his hobby of collecting and repairing automobiles. Even after the planned three-storey renovation, he still expects to spend less than the typical New Brunswick buyer. (The average year-to-date home price according to the Canadian Real Estate Association is $306,176.)
Palmer shares what it’s like to fulfill a childhood real estate dream, and his plans to transform the former fire station from a rental in dire need of maintenance into a centerpiece with some of the most vibrant views from the city.
My house burned down a few years ago. A running joke is that this one will be much less prone to fires.
When I was in elementary school, I moved near Champlain Street. I used to walk past this building all the time when I was a kid. But I never wanted to be a firefighter. At the time, one of my favorite comics featured auto mechanics who owned a building where they lived upstairs and kept their cars downstairs. When I passed by the fire station, I thought that I could also do something like that, in a building like this.
I’m a romantic when it comes to properties. I am thrilled to be part of saving a building that is truly important to people in the neighborhood. The building stands tall and proud on its corner, so that everyone notices it when walking past. I’ve had people contact me and say they’re glad someone is taking care of the fire station.
My new home hasn’t been a fire station for years, but it has passed through many different hands. My best guess as to why people love the idea of owning unique buildings like this. But the reality is discouraging; they do not realize the magnitude of the work required.
The building cost me $160,000. I could have moved upstairs with about $1,500 worth of repairs. But I saw this as a $250,000 building. The buying process was very simple as it was already zoned residential – getting financing if it was still a commercial building would have been next to impossible.
There are three levels, which is rare for a building like this, including a full basement below the main garage level. I’ve already stuffed one of my cars there. When I finish renovating, I will also have a 600 square foot recreation room there.
My family currently has a home on the Kingston Peninsula, about 40 minutes from Saint John. I love this place, but the commute is a drag with three kids and the town has more activities for them anyway. Also, it will be great to be able to move some of my automotive projects into the garage of my new house.
On the main level, there will be a two-car garage where the fire truck doors are located. In total there will be approximately 2,400 square feet of living space and approximately 1,200 square feet of garage space split over two levels when I am finished. This includes an open concept living room and kitchen. The interior is going to be very modern, but I’m going to replicate early Art Deco elements like woodwork, tiles and other finishes. With 11 foot ceilings on the main level, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to create drama and play with the lighting.
On the top floor, I am restoring the hardwood floors, which will have a full bathroom and four bedrooms, including a master bedroom with bathroom.
The views are phenomenal. From the top floor looking towards the backyard, you can see Reversing Falls below deck. On the east side of the building, there is a view of downtown Saint John. I would like to install a roof terrace to enjoy the view.
The goal is to have the place ready to move in by the start of the school year in September. My kids have had mixed reactions so far. One of my second son’s closest friends was the former tenant’s son, so my son has spent a lot of time here and loves the building. My 13 year old daughter called this place crispy. But for the past few weeks, she’s been starting to come back and see how cool it is.
I’m going to paint the garage doors red. I want it to look like a fire station again. I won’t put a fire hydrant in there, though. I don’t think my insurance company would be happy about that.
—As said to Rob Csernyik
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