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31 Scary Houses Turned Into Spectacular Homes

Some of these rundown and abandoned houses were downright spooky, until TOH readers got ahold of them. Explore some these dramatic before and afters

From Scary to Stunning

Saving an old house is no small feat. Just ask any of these homeowners, all DIYers who lived to tell the tale. From fire-damaged to foreclosures and everything in between, get inspired by these unbelievable makeovers that'll either give you the restoration bug—or make you really happy your renovation is over.

Before: Spiffed-Up Farmhouse

Photo by Joe and Melissa P.

Joe and Melissa P. saved this 1904 South Wayne, Wisconsin, farmhouse with seven bedrooms and no indoor plumbing. The house had been abandoned since the 1970s, and the remodel took 13 months (including work done during their engagement and wedding plans).

After: Spiffed-Up Farmhouse

Photo by Joe and Melissa P.

The project included a new roof, new siding, new windows, and the restoration of three porches. Inside, of course, they added all new plumbing (including 2 bathrooms) and finished all the rooms where racoons, honeybees, and other critters had been living. They even restored all of the house's original trim and doors.

Before: Abandoned After a Fire

Walt and Patricia Purcell saw this Petersburg, Virginia, cottage while visiting their son and daughter-in-law. The kids had bought the adjacent, larger house as a vacation getaway—and potential retirement spot for their parents. The house wasn't much to look at, really. Abandoned for 20 years after a fire, the windows and doors were missing, charred, or boarded up. There were no floors downstairs, and the water-damaged plaster was crumbling. Squirrels ran in and out, and birds nested in the claw-foot tub. Yet there was a certain charm to the place. The old brick, dating from the 1850s, had wonderful color, the window lintels were solid granite, and the upstairs had heart-pine floors.

See more on this before-and-after in A Ramshackle Little House Gets a Second Life

After: Ramshackle Little House Gets a Second Life

Photo by Patricia Lyons

With just four rooms, it seemed like it could be a cozy home. So in May 2006, Walt and Patricia moved into the main house. Patricia cried that first night and asked Walt if they were doing the right thing, taking on this rundown little house in a slowly revitalizing urban area. But by the next morning, that moment of doubt had passed.

See more on this before-and-after in A Ramshackle Little House Gets a Second Life

Before: Plain Fixer-Upper

Photo by Wendy G.

Wendy G. in Westfield, New York, bought this house at auction in 2000. It had been empty for a number of years and was in deplorable condition, but the land was wonderful.

After: Salvage Architectural Vision

Photo by Wendy G.

The homeowner gutted it completely and tore off the two attached garages, raised the roof for a second story, and added two bedrooms and a full bath, a front porch, an entryway, and a sunroom on the first floor. It took five years to complete, and they tried to use as much salvaged material as possible in the renovation.

This before-and-after was so impressive that we featured it, and a few others from our Reader Remodel Contest, in our round-up of Best Whole-House Before and Afters 2011.

Before: House On a Hill

Photo by 436 Preservation Group LLC

Vic and Cindy Young never planned on ending up back in Ohio. But when their four children ended up settling in the Midwest, coming home started to look like a pretty good idea. "We decided to find a place where they would all be able to come down in just one day to visit us," Vic says. But not just any place. They wanted a historic house in a historic town. And since Vic, a full-time restorer of old houses, was hankering for a new DIY project, it wouldn't hurt if the place were a fixer-upper, too.

After: Italianate Saved!

Photo by Ryan Kurtz

Set atop a steep hillside overlooking the Ohio River in the town of Ripley, the 1840s Italianate had original double-hung windows crowned with drip lintels, columns flanking a wide front porch, and broad eaves supported by ornate brackets. "It looked so forlorn up there on the hill," Vic recalls of the house, which had stood abandoned for decades. "There were more majestic houses to be found, but this one spoke to both of us."

See more photos from this before and after in Saved! Italianate Before and After

Before: Forgotten Farmhouse

Photo by Aaron and Jade E.

In 2009, Aaron and Jade E. bought this rundown 1880s farmhouse in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It needed a whole new roof and exterior siding, not to mention some landscaping to make the house look less ghostly.

After: Fetching Remodel

Photo by Aaron and Jade E.

After a year of work, with a lot of help from friends, the couple had a new kitchen, an extra bedroom, a bathroom twice the size, and a house that looks like the ghosts are gone—all for under $35,000.

Before: Covered-Up Craftsman

Photo by David S.

This Craftsman-style bungalow was built in 1910. It survived an extended economic downturn but suffered from a segregated floorplan, a severely outdated kitchen and bathroom, and a neglected yard. David S. in Houston, Texas, wanted to add modern amenities while maintaining its historic character.

After: Architecturally Clued In

Photo by David S.

The homeowner replaced all of the systems, opened up the floor plan, and added a bigger kitchen, a master bed and bath, a den, and a laundry room. He boosted the curb appeal by removing overgrowth, brightening up the paint job, and adding some colorful landscaping. David did all of the design work himself; with much help from This Old House, of course!

This before-and-after was so impressive that we featured it, and a few others from our Reader Remodel Contest, in our round-up of the Best Whole-House Before and Afters of 2010.

Before: Broke-Down Boarding House

Photo by Marion S.

This ca. 1900 home in Marietta, Georgia, had served as a rooming house for decades when Marion S. snapped it up. With help from a historic-home architect and a builder, Marion and her family sussed out the home's original layout and began work.

Before: Broke-Down Boarding House

Photo by Marion S.

After lifting the house, digging a new foundation, recreating a porch, and refinishing all the doors and woodwork, the house was so beautiful the architect won an award for the renovation from the local landmarks and historical society.

Before: Down in the Dumps

Photo by Rick and Michelle D.

When Rick and Michelle D. saw this 1876 Italianate, the vegetation was overgrown, all the windows had been broken, the front porch was falling off, the roof had six layers of shingles, the interior was sagging, and it had been set on fire a few times. But it also had original tin ceilings, hardwood floors, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and some beautiful carving on the front gable. So they bought it for $1.

After: Creative Salvage

Photo by Rick and Michelle D.

In a year and half, the family brought this house back to life, keeping costs down by reusing as much as possible and salvaging parts from houses that were slated for demolition.

Before: Down-in-the-Dumps Bungalow

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Kara O'Brien wanted to buy this house from the first time she laid eyes on it. "It was just so sad looking. I thought, I need to fix it up." The 1911 bungalow was one of three vintage houses that sat in a row on the same block in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. While the area was starting to revitalize, the house bore the marks of its rough recent history: Iron bars secured the living room windows, and bullets were lodged in the siding. "Still, the solid heart-pine house had character and potential, even if its cedar shingles and roof were rotting from neglect. We desperately wanted to save it. But the owner, who showed up every three months to mow the lawn, refused to sell, though he rented it just once in five years.

After: Bungalow Revival

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Kara settled for the house next door. But, five years later, the owner changed his mind, and they leapt at their chance. They bought the house in 2005 and immediately began gutting the space—but saved everything of value. A few weeks into the project, while on vacation in Puerto Rico, Kara got word that the third vintage house on our block had been set on fire, and the blaze threatened both the house she was working on and the one she was living in. Both homes survived with no structural damage, but it was a close call.

See more of this old-house rescue in Down-in-the-Dumps Bungalow Revival.

Before: Got the Blues

Photo by Scott C

Scott C. in Milford, New Hampshire, picked up this eyesore on a main street. He managed to look beyond the surface and saw a solid building form with potential, nestled among Victorian, Colonial, and Craftsmen neighbors.

After: Out With the Blue

Photo by Scott C

The exterior work was completed with sustainability in mind—all new insulated glass windows, recycling of old roofing, and prefinished HardiPlank fiber-cement siding.

This before-and-after was so impressive that we featured it, and a few others from our Reader Remodel Contest, in our round-up of the Best Curb Appeal Before and Afters of 2009.

Before: Second Empire in Shambles

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

"I wasn't sure I could ever afford a house in Boston. I got really lucky," says Lanita Tolentino, the new owner of the left unit of this restored duplex in Roxbury. She grew up just a few blocks away. The 1870s Second Empire, like many older homes in the area, had sat vacant and in foreclosure until it was acquired by local nonprofit Nuestra Comunidad. That's when TOH TV stepped in to help. Though architecturally intact, missing windows and shabby siding and shingles made the house an eyesore.

After: A Second Empire Get a Second Chance

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

The show's pros spent several months gutting and transforming both spaces—making needed structural fixes as well—to enable Nuestra to put them on the market as affordable housing. Combining period elegance with an updated layout and modern, well-priced materials, Lanita's first home is a study in smart renovation tactics for anybody who's fixing up an old place.

See more about the details of this remodel in Wise Ways to Preserve an Old House.

Before: Not Green With Envy

Photo by Justin P.

When Justin P. in Grapevine, Texas, purchased this 1947 Bungalow, there were no walls, ceilings, or floors. The house sat abandoned for about 4 years, and may have played a role in a black mold scam.

After: Perfect Pre-War Bungalow

Photo by Justin P.

The homeowner made a few minor layout changes, raised all ceilings, installed EnergyStar windows and appliances, and insulated the entire house. He also removed the exterior siding and replaced it with James Hardie siding, adding tear-drop panels over the porch gable. The project took about a year to complete.

This before-and-after was so impressive that we featured it, and a few others from our Reader Remodel Contest, in our round-up of the Best Whole-House Before and Afters of 2008.

Before: Family Heirloom Lost

Photo by Tara C.

Tara C. saw this dilapidated house when walking on her parents' property one day; it had been built by her grandfather and great grandfather. Even though she was in college, she and her husband decided to tackle the project—meaning new roof, new siding, rebuilt porch, and lots of renovation inside.

After: Home for a New Generation

Photo by Tara C.

Tara's husband and her father did all the work, except for the tile, plumbing and electrical, including gutting the kitchen and restoring 4 unique fireplaces. The couple considered it a labor of love.

Before: Abandoned Abode

This Victorian was built by the current owner's grandparents in Wilcox, Pennsylvania, in 1902. Time, neglect, and a 1975 fire had taken their toll. Trees grew through the porch and roof. When a tree fell and destroyed the chimney, grandson Richard decided to step in and save the day. With the help of a local contractor specializing in restoration, a neighbor who knew the house's history, landscapers, a mason, and a number of old photos and original pieces, work started on restoring the 103-year-old home.

After: A Legacy Preserved

The crew duplicated the original roof, including the spire and crown molding. They repaired the soffit and fascia and removed the Yankee gutters. The siding was scraped, primed and renovated. The porch was jacked up and its many parts were re-fabricated and replaced. A craftsman did the metal work in the appropriate style, era glass was replaced and re-glazed, and sashes were built and repaired. The original house colors were found when the crew tore off a porch addition. A year after restoration began, the house was finished with a final coat of paint that matched its very first hue.

See more stunning before-and-afters by This Old House fans just like you in Your Old House.

Before: A Promising American Foursquare

It's rare to find an unaltered circa-1926 house in Florida anymore. And this isn't your typical construction. It was built by a wealthy merchant, Benjamin McCall, who had also worked as a carpentry foreman in the construction of the Panama Canal.

More recently, the front porch was falling in, the electrical didn't work, the condition was awful, but every original window, door, piece of hardware, and light fixture was still there. But, Judy and Pat Ball weren't in the door five minutes before Pat turned to his wife and said, "We have to buy this house." They signed the contract that night.

After: A Rare Find

Photo by Gene Pollux

"When I first drove by and saw this American foursquare, in a landmarked part of Sarasota, Florida, with not an awning or sliding door in sight, I knew we'd be tempted," Pat said. Following ghost marks, he re-created the original 21-inch-high porch railing—which matches the scale of the second story—though inspectors would have preferred one 36 inches high for safety.

For more on this astonishing transformation, see One-of-a-Kind Craftsman Remodel.

Before: Crumbling Casa

Photo by Angela Dasher

Every time Angela Dasher drove by the beat-up brick house with the boarded-up windows and haunted air, she wanted it even more. "Someone needed to save this former beauty, with its irresistible gingerbread trim and curvaceous mansard roof," she said. "Why not me?" Angela took on the crumbling walls, moldy floors, and pigeon nests.

After: A Second Life for a Second Empire

Photo by Jason Varney

Built around 1895 in the Second Empire style, the house featured no fewer than four porches (one upstairs). Along with its gingerbread, the front facade showed off a pair of mahogany doors, six floor-to-ceiling windows, and two dormered ones poking out from that mansard roof. The house now boasts a new roof, a freshly painted exterior, replicas of its original window moldings and cornices, and a wrought-iron fence.

See more of this beautiful before and after in A Second Life for a Second Empire.

Before: Texas Queen Anne

Photo by Jim and Sharon Wade

When Sharon and Jim Wade got a look at the old place, they oohed and ahhed over the ornate carving on the front gable and the clustered, fluted columns supporting its wraparound porch. It was practically gift-wrapped for them, with a banner hung on an outbuilding advertising a house mover available to relocate it.

After: Dream House Realized

Photo by Stephen Karlisch

The Wades purchased it that night for just $15,000, intending to move it to property nearby. But it turns out that the structural movers would have to saw the house in half for it to go anywhere at all. The new owners watched anxiously as the home they were trying to hold together got hacked in two. But the move was a boon to the renovation: The new rooflines allowed for higher ceilings and two modern-sized bedrooms, a room for the pool table, and a TV room.

See more of this dramatic transformation in Transforming a Texas Queen Anne.

Before: Tiny Cottage

Photo by Marion K.

This sad little 2-bedroom, hipped-roof house in Canton, Illinois, was only 700 square feet and had only one bathroom when Marion K. and her family bought it.

After: Grand Home

Photo by Marion K.

In the space of a year, the family doubled the size of the living room and the kitchen, added 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and tricked out the front of the house with a full-width porch.

Before: Foreclosed Foursquare

Photo by Matthew Manning

"The craziest part is that I truly believed we could do this project for about $50,000 and have it done in four months while doing most of the work ourselves," said owner Matthew Manning.

With the city of Oakwood, Ohio, requesting that he begin his renovations on the outside and work his way in, Matt got started. For the first few weeks, he patched siding and recreated some of the exterior's rotted trim with pressure-treated wood, trying to stay ahead of the painters. His wife, meanwhile, began work on the neglected front yard, digging out stumps and building rock walls.

After: DIY Renewal

Photo by Ryan Kurtz

The home had been abandoned for over two years and bought by a bank as a foreclosure. The bank sold to the Mannings for $13,100 less than they paid! That should have been a giant red flashing billboard that read, "You have no idea what you're in for." But hindsight is 20/20. Now, a fresh coat of paint, rebuilt portico, and new landscaping perk up the home's exterior.

For more on this unbelievable DIY renovation, see A Rabid DIYer Renews a Foreclosed Foursquare.

Before: Needs Some Help

Photo by Jamie G.

Jamie G. of Brooks, Georgia, thought the contractor hired to redo this 1900 home would do a great job, but he was all talk and no action. So Jamie and family got to work instead, taking two years to finish the renovation on this house.

After: A True DIY Project

Photo by Jamie G.

The house was gutted, getting all new electrical, plumbing, drywall, paint, tile, and carpet, and metal roof, as well as a totally new kitchen, refinished wood floors, rebuilt porch, and scraped and sanded siding.

Before: Patient Restoration

Photo by Ron W.

Ron W. in Cohutta, Georgia, purchased this fixer-upper in terrible condition, including a yard that was overgrown with wild roses, vines, and trees.

After: 6 Years Later

Photo by Ron W.

"We have been working patiently, for the most part, now for almost six years," Ron said. "We have come a long way since 2004, but we still have several projects to complete."

We featured this curb appeal transformation, and others from our Reader Remodel Contest, in Best Curb Appeal Before and Afters of 2010.

Before: Fixing Up a Fire Damaged Cottage

Photo by Brian and Julie W.

Brian and Julie W. of Oxford, Maryland, always dreamed of fixing up an old house, but waited until their three sons, Branden, Sean, and Evan, were old enough to help out. When they bought this house, in 2008, many of the clapboards were rotted or ruined as a result of a fire, and overgrown holly trees obscured the facade.

After: Fixing Up a Fire Damaged Cottage

Photo by Brian and Julie W.

They worked on it for two years with the aim of making the exterior historically accurate and to reuse original materials wherever possible. They replaced clapboards where needed and freshened up the original yellow color. "We found a secondhand double-tombstone front door for only $75, which Brian cut to size. He also fixed the original window boxes, filling in damaged wood with new profiles he routed. Together we built soffits and fascia, replaced corrugated metal gutters with half-round ones, and erected a brick chimney," Julie reported.

We featured this curb appeal transformation, and others from our Reader Remodel Contest, in Best Curb Appeal Before and Afters of 2011.

Before: A Gothic Revival

Photo by Patti D.

Patti D. found this 1860s Charlevoix, Michigan, Gothic Revival home in in a state of many years of disrepair.

After: A Gothic Revival

Photo by Patti D.

The homeowners gutted everything down to the studs, lifted the house, dug the basement deeper, and poured a real cement floor. They added all new wiring, plumbing, heating, and all wood windows to replicate the original windows, resided with cedar and painted the original colors.

We featured this transformation, and others from our Reader Remodel Contest, in Best Whole House Before and Afters 2008

Before: An Empty Shell

Photo by John H.

This Queen Anne in Stratford, New Hampshire, needed a total renovation, so John H. from Old Bridge, New Jersey (seven hours away!), completed much of the work himself, with help from some local guys on the bigger jobs.

After: The Return of the Queen Anne

Photo by John H.

John commuted 47 times in 22 months to complete this project. Everything in this house was redone, from the crumbling foundation stone wall to the top of the tower.

We featured this transformation, and others from our Reader Remodel Contest, in Best Whole House Before and Afters 2008

Before: Scariest House on the Block

Photo by Mike B.

When Mike B. found this Second Empire house in Denver, Colorado, it was the scariest house on the block, but it also had the most potential. The scaling brick and mortar were softened to mere dust. Studs and joists had been cut out to make way for ductwork and plumbing. Rotted eaves allowed squirrels to live in the mansard attic. The windows were broken. Cockroaches were everywhere. The place was barely livable.

After: A Brick Beauty

Photo by Mike B.

In the spring of 2004, Mike began tackling this wonderful yet anxiety-ridden remodel. He pulled the permits and did all the work himself, including all the major systems (e.g., plumbing, electrical). He also designed and built a period wrap-around porch, and in the spring of 2009, designed and single-handedly built a period-looking garage.

See more of this old-house rescue in Best Whole House Before and Afters 2010

Before: Boarded-Up Gem

Photo by Carolyn T.

When Carolyn T. and her family bought this Craftsman home in Albany, Georgia, it had been abandoned for more than 20 years. The boards in the windows didn't do much to help its appeal, but once they came down, Carolyn knew she was in love.

After: Gem Revival

Photo by Carolyn T.

The house got new electric, gas, and plumbing throughout, not to mention six new bathrooms, refinished floors, and more beautifully restored details. The house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Before: Bland Cape

Photo by John and Elizabeth C.

When John and Elizabeth C. first bought their house in Turmbull, Connecticut, they loved the neighborhood, but thought the house looked just OK—a bit bland and rather blank. The previous owners had left behind the original architect's blueprints from the 1930s, and the couple saw the details that now were lacking. They felt a complete restoration to the original design was in order.

After: Original Charm

Photo by John and Elizabeth C.

In addition to expanding and converting the side screened-in porch to a new playroom, the project consisted of completely stripping the aluminum siding as well as four layers of asphalt roof. The couple recaptured the charm of their home with new shake shingle siding, architectural roof and windows. All of the previously lost details were restored, like window trim with copper-capped molding, custom working shutters, copper window boxes and a trellised side entry.

See more of this old-house rescue in Best Whole House Before and Afters 2010

Before: Sliced and Diced

Photo by Clark M.

This 1905 American Foursquare in Dallas, Texas, had been cut into a duplex, then partially restored, then abandoned and used as storage. Clark M. finished the interior and exterior to its original state.

After: Otto Lang House

Photo by Clark M.

Using photographs of the original home, the owners were able to replicate the original porch. The 1940-60s additions were modified into usable single-family space. The house was the personal residence of famed architect Otto Lang of Lang and Witchell architects.

This transformation, and others like it, were featured in Best Whole House Before and Afters 2010

Before: Early Bungalow

Photo by Jeff B.

This is a pre-1900 bungalow in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. This house is in a historically working-class section of the north side, known as the Brooklyn District.

After: Charming Cottage

Photo by Jeff B.

Jeff B. took this house back to its bones, restructured where necessary, but kept as many of the original details as possible.

See more of this old-house rescue in Best Whole House Before and Afters 2010

Before: Katrina's Wrath

Photo by Eric S.

In June of 2002, Eric S. and his wife purchased half of an 1800s-era Victorian Camelback in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans. With an eye towards historical accuracy, they knew the front porch and facade were not in character with the property's heritage or the neighborhood. Then came Hurricane Katrina. Four years later they reignited the planning process. They interviewed contractors, sourced historically accurate materials and met numerous times with the Vieux Carre Commission (the city's regulatory agency for French Quarter). They were informed that they had to match the detail that had previously been on the house.

After: French Quarter Feature

Photo by Eric S.

To assist the couple, the commission provided a circa 1940s photo as the earliest documentation in their files. The plans were redrawn. They engaged contractors, got permits, and broke ground in early October 2009. As with any historic rehab, they encountered the usual setbacks: rotten wood, unstable foundations and a deteriorated sill, not to mention the weather. Six weeks later they were putting on the final finials, touching up the paint, and sitting in rockers soaking up the atmosphere of the French Quarter.

See more of this old-house rescue in Best Curb Appeal Before and Afters 2010

Before: Easy to Miss

Photo by Monty G.

Monty G. had such a hard time seeing this Wilson, North Carolina, home—a beauty built in 1917—that he missed it on his first drive by the house. The house was boarded up when he and his family bought it.

After: One of a Kind

Photo by Monty G.

He cleared all of the massive overgrowth from around their new home, landscaped the yard, repaired all of the rotted wood, and had it painted. And it was far from simple to complete. This home's second story cross gable supported by curved brackets is the only one of its kind in Wilson.

See more of this old-house rescue in Best Curb Appeal Before and Afters 2010