When Abby Brothers first saw the Page Mansion listed for sale online, she knew she had found a forever home.
But the 6,000-square-foot house in Aberdeen, North Carolina, wasn't livable yet. The six-bedroom mansion – which had been vacant for roughly 40 years – had shattered windows and collapsing floors. Not ones to shy away from a project, Abby, 31, and her husband Trey Brothers, 33, paid $155,000 for the property in 2018, charmed by the home's structural integrity, grand staircases and vintage furniture.
"When we came to see the house for the first time, we didn't need a key, we didn't need a realtor – you could just crawl through the busted-out windows or just open up the front door because there was no lock," Abby tells CNBC Make It. "It had been taken over by the elements [and] it was very, very dilapidated."
The house – which was originally built by a local wealthy family in 1913 – ended up needing roughly $268,000 worth of renovations. But the costliest portion of the couple's budget didn't go toward tearing down walls or rebuilding modern amenities. Instead, they spent most of their funds on preserving the home's original elements, like its 109-year-old wooden floors.
"It was important to keep the original details of the home because it's history," Abby says. "Homes aren't built like they were in 1913. The details aren't the same there. And if you do want those sorts of details in a home now, they're very expensive."
Indeed, the renovated house's most recent valuation was $900,000 – but the duo, along with their 1-year-old son and family pets, have no plans to move. Here's how they found and developed a vision to transform the vacant house into their DIY dream home.
When the couple first saw the listing online, they were living in Baltimore, Maryland. Abby was working as a registered nurse and Trey was considering leaving the military, and they wanted to move back to North Carolina where they both grew up.
They had "no intentions" of buying a mansion, let alone one that was over a century old, says Abby. But she was attracted to the "near condemned" house because of its history: The Page Family were wealthy industrialists who founded several towns in North Carolina and helped bring railroads into the state.
The home was originally built for one of the Page daughters. During the Great Depression, various members of the family moved in and out of the mansion before it was purchased by another family.
When Abby and Trey went to see the home in person, remains of that history were scattered throughout the vacant mansion. "There was furniture in every room," Abby says. "It truly looked like a time capsule ... There were stacks of magazines. There was confetti on the floor where it looked like someone had thrown a party years ago and just left."
Once Trey – who now works in IT – saw that the original structure of the brick home could be salvaged, he knew it had potential. He also knew it needed major renovations: Nearly all the windows were broken, the first-floor kitchen had sunken into the basement and there was a massive leak in the roof, he says.
The pair met with contractors to estimate how much the plumbing, electrical and other specialty projects would cost. When they realized flipping the home could become a profitable investment, they "took a leap of faith," Abby says, and planned to move without secured jobs.
Before they could move in, most of the house needed to be taken down to its studs and re-plastered. The original hardwood floors, which the couple insisted on preserving, had sunken down on every floor of the home. Those renovations took about nine months to complete.
To keep the home "as original as possible," Abby says, they only made small tweaks to its structural blueprint, like adding a bathroom under the staircase and expanding the kitchen and master bedroom. "We got a full modernized kitchen, [but tried] to keep it integrated with the original design of the house," Trey says.
Their new-and-improved first floor kitchen now contains a dishwasher, a double oven, refrigerator, two-basin sink and a washer and dryer in the pantry. The wide staircase in the front foyer, one of Trey's favorite parts of the home, was "grandfathered in" and needed to be carefully refinished to maintain its structure.
The couple kept the house's original doors and lighting, and refurbished couches, chairs and wardrobes left in the home – some from the 1800s. There's a piece of original furniture in every room, Abby says.
The Brothers family has lived in the renewed, updated mansion for three years now. A handful of projects, like completing the wainscotting around the house, still remain.
They currently pay $2,685 per month toward their mortgage, property taxes and insurance, and under $400 per month for utilities. And especially considering the project's financial, time and emotional commitments, they have no plans to leave their home.
Instead, Abby and Trey hope to eventually pass it down to their children – just like the mansion's previous owners.
"We have every intention on living here forever," Abby says. "I don't think you put this much love and work into a place and then just go, 'I don't want it anymore.'"