Friday's New York Times has an article, Wide Open Acres, about a couple who nursed back a run down farmhouse into a stylish country getaway. They did a great job with the redo, and when I saw the article I didn't even recognize the house. This type of article, though, is a little bittersweet, because of the expectation it can set. They paid $205,000 for the house on 43 acres, and even the buyer commented in the article that finding something like this was "one in a million."
The owners also said the renovation costs came to about $30,000. But you need to read the article carefully — they did most of the work themselves with friends and families, only using professionals for plumbing and insulation. But the house itself, even though it looked like a handyman, was basically sound with working systems. And if you look closely at the 'after' photos in the article, the house wasn't gutted and re-sheetrocked. The old paneling has been painted, and there's still acoustic tile on the ceiling. They did a beautiful job with the colors, and accenting with wainscotting to give the house a fresh, updated and open feel.
These owners made a very smart buy, and lucked out in finding an old farmhouse with good bones. Many old farmhouses in 'origina' condition don't have good bones, but suffer from house osteoporosis — with foundation issues, wood rot and non-working systems — that can be costly to repair. I've been in a lot of farmhouse fixers with contractors, and the estimates to bring back an old farmhouse that needs everything typically are in the $100 to $125 per square foot range.