When Ian Hamlinton, 47, an architect from South Africa, visited a village in south China in 2009, he was fascinated by centuries-old houses and decided to stay.
Hamlinton said when he first saw the old houses in Jiuxian Village, Yangshuo county of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, they were in a dire state, but Hamlinton described the houses as "being amazing".
Jiuxian, dating back about 1,400 years, is one of the poorest villages in Yangshuo. Many old houses have been left in a bad state of repair as many owners lack funds or skills, and the buildings are not old enough to be eligible for government-funded protection.
Hamlinton rented two rundown houses, built more than 150 years ago, on a 20-year lease for 120,000 yuan (18,000 U.S. dollars) from a local villager. He turned them into a village inn after renovation.
The villagers thought Hamlinton was crazy, because nobody would spend so much money renting and renovating a dilapidated house.
Hamlinton was not annoyed.
The village inn opened to the public after one year of renovation work to preserve the main house structure and many of the original features.
Hamlinton's success has attracted other outsiders to rent and renovate houses in Jiuxian.
Hamlinton said this shows that more and more people realize the value of these old houses, which can be better preserved after renovation.
The renovation wave has resulted in a boom for tourism in Jiuxian. Many visitors come to local homestays to experience authentic culture.
The villagers also benefit from the increasing number of visitors. They earn a higher annual income by renting out their houses, offering bicycle or e-bike rental services and working in these inns, said Hamlinton.
Hamlinton said the old houses should be preserved well and people should not forget old history and culture, he said.
Figures show no historic houses have been demolished in Jiuxian since 2010.
Out-of-towners who come to renovate and preserve old houses that are not classed as "cultural relics," but nonetheless have historical value, will bring new life to these old villages, said He Wei, an official with the Architectural Society of China.