It's a proud moment to see my before and afters on the front page of the Sunday's New York Times Real Estate section. It's been a long journey to this milestone. Today I share with you my backstory. Do you ever wonder about the realities of flipping a house compared to what you see on HGTV? On June 17, 2018, The New York Times profiled my business partner, Joshua Levitt, and his journey into house flipping with me and my husband, Graham Blundell, in an article entitled "Flippers, Meet Reality". I get a mention in the article and my designs are featured in the slide show. Read The New York Times Article by Ronda Kaysen, an eloquent writer who also authors the highly entertaining weekly Right At Home real estate column.
When I meet new people and tell them what I do for a living, they immediately say the following things... "You're a designer and home flipper?! That's my dream job!" and "Do you and your husband have a TV show yet?". It makes me laugh to myself. Perhaps you'd be shocked to learn that I only spend about 5% of my project time picking the perfect combination of tile, cabinets and countertops. And lately, more and more people tell me with starry eyes that they plan to start flipping houses too. If you're considering doing this, please call me first. There is so much more behind the scenes than you’ll ever see on TV.
Six and a half years ago, those same stars sparkled for me and my husband one Saturday morning while sitting at the dining table looking out at our neighbor's house that sat in short sale. "Whoever buys that house and does X, Y & Z will make a fortune..." We'd always talked about investing in real estate. Was it time to do this? With faith in his financial savvy and in my design skills, we took the biggest calculated risk of our lives to date, flipped the house next door and it did pay off. We decided to keep riding the renovation rollercoaster again and again because teetering on the edge of bankruptcy gets our hearts racing in a good way. My husband managed the projects full time and I managed the design elements as best as I could while working my full-time corporate day job.
There's a steep and expensive learning curve if you have limited prior knowledge or experience in flipping. Buckle up for the ride in finding properties, evaluating properties, making offers, getting your offers accepted, getting through inspections, getting financing, closing the deal, planning the renovations, hiring the contractors, managing the renovation to every last punch list item, staging, putting it back on the market, getting offers, getting through inspections and closing the deal again. Does it sound exhausting yet? It is. At each step in the process, things can and often do go wrong. Deals fall through. Contractors fail you. Products arrive damaged. Timelines gets pushed. Funds start depleting. Moderate to severe panic sets in. It takes nerves of steel and buckets of cash to make it through our typical nine to twelve month project life cycles. No, it does not take six to eight weeks ever. We don't do those kind of flips.
I don't even like the term "flipping" for what we do. We restore old houses as best as possible with the resources we have and we resell them for profit. Thanks to TV shows, flipping somehow implies that we slap a coat a paint on it, throw some cheap cabinets and tiles in there and put it back up for sale as fast as possible. And that might very well be what some flippers do but that's not what we do. We restore houses we were live. We invest in beautifying our community of mostly turn of the century homes. We add love back into old homes that are run down or just out dated. We update homes for modern living while preserving character. My personal renovation motto is "If you do right by the house, you can never go wrong."
We think critically and aim to make the best possible decisions at every step in the renovation process... space planning, architectural planning, scope of work, design concept, contractors, permits, demolition, framing, rough plumbing, rough electrical, mechanicals, inspections, insulation, sheet rock, flooring, trim, paint, tile, cabinets, countertops, plumbing finishes, electrical finishes, touch ups and staging.
In a typical project, there are over 1,760 decisions to make and manage. Every decision contributes to the whole. Every oversight costs time, money and stress. There are over 150 line items of products to plan for, budget for, order, track, inventory and oversee correct installation of. Each item plays an integral role in the design story. Screw up a few key things and you look like an amateur. Buyers and realtors don't care if you got 1,740 decisions right. Buyers of flips expect PERFECTION. When the inspector finds those 20 items (1% of all your decisions), no matter how big, how small, how easily fixable nor how much you truly care about this property like it is your own (because it is our own at the time of renovation), you risk getting labeled that kind of flipper, the kind that so many people loathe as evidenced by the comments in the NYT article.
And in case you were wondering... no, we do not do the renovations ourselves. On our first two flips, inspired by the TV shows, we did attempt two minor DIY projects with mediocre results. We wised up after that. We'll never try to restore that old built-in by stripping the paint with heat gun nor rent a sander then stain and poly the 3rd fl floors. We are more than happy to leave EVERYTHING to the professionals. Besides, buyers of flips aren't going to pay top dollar for amateur work.
We've worked hard to develop and nurture lasting relationships with reliable and quality tradespersons. Along the way, we've had to weed out our fair share of bad ones. I'll save that for an entirely different blog post but know we still refer to two of them as "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" in our household. Our success is very much due in part to the dedicated and hardworking contractors, plumbers, electricians, flooring installers, HVAC installers, roofers, landscapers and cleaners. These trades do the real hard work... and they do it on the coldest days of year with massive heat blasters and on the hottest days of the year (like today) dripping in the sweltering heat. I can't say enough good things about the team we work with. They make the vision become reality. And we also need to thanks our supporting team of lawyers, architects, realtors, investors, mortgage brokers, money lenders, office managers, assistants and customer service reps.
Our real estate ride continued. We started to make a name for ourselves in our community. Several like-minded partners began to appear in our lives like Joshua Levitt as featured in the article. Three years ago, my brother-in-law introduced us to his neighbor, Josh, who was really eager to partner with us to learn the business. Graham and Josh soon formed South Mountain Investments and bought their first property at auction. Since then we have done six home renovations together and have three more currently in the works. Stay tuned for those really exciting new projects! We strive to renovate properties in our local market as if we are going to live there. We make a great team and refine our success formula with each new property. Check out more of our joint projects at South Mountain Investments.
Today Graham and I own multiple companies with multiple partners. As painful as the wait was, I didn't quit my day job until we had a proven track record. That track record brought me design clients when I launched my own business, Clear Space Home Renovation & Design Consulting. My most recent fortune cookie sums up how I feel about what I do "Spectacular accomplishment is never preceded by less than spectacular preparation." As the Designer, it's a delicate balance of seeing the big picture and managing the details. It's a deep passion that keeps me going every day and keeps me awake well into the night (well that and the fear of ever having to go back to my desk job in Corporate America). I love what I do. It is an honor and privilege to renovate and restores homes.
Best Sunday morning of the year waking up to this!