Continuous Improvement

The subject of today’s blog is along the theme of ‘continuous improvement’. It’s a term we regularly use at work in a quality / lean process sort of a way, to signify the journey towards being world class in something. Never stopping with being satisfied with what you did today, and always striving to do better. It seemed like the perfect title for the design journey I’ve been on over the past few years.

The entrance hallway in our house is the perfect example of how skills evolve, and admitting that sometimes you don’t get it right the first time.

This is our hallway when we first moved into our 1969-built Prairie Style Minnesotan home. It was very beige, and very dated.

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Hallway when we moved in (circa 1969)

I set about renovating it to make it feel more like a modern cabin (as we live in the woods.) I tried to make it feel rustic with the use of the aged wood wall partition that we made, and the antler chandelier. To give it a modern twist, I added faux taxidermy in white only on the gallery wall.

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Hallway after reno No.1

To give it more of a British hunting lodge / country feel, I opted for flagstone style flooring, and added things like the antique umbrella stand and horse bit artwork. We gave the wall a gold paint effect finish to add some richness and the traditional feel.

But it felt dark…

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After living in the house for 4 years now, I’ve come to realize that living in the middle of the woods, with such heavy tree coverage, that the only time the house is ever bright inside is during the winter when there are no leaves on the trees. So the decoration inside has to account for this lack of natural light.

The other thing I’ve noticed whilst living in the US, is the growing trend for light, bright and airy spaces. Practically every new-build and renovated home has white-painted trim. The spaces are made bright from large white windows and white or light grey walls. Any wood is generally kept natural, such as natural white oak.

After living here for a while now, my tastes have evolved to the more contemporary side, so we set about with renovation No.2 to our hallway…

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Hallway today (after lessons learnt)

We removed the aged-wood partition wall we made, as we felt it made the space darker, and the dark wood made it feel a little dated. We opted instead for a more open half wall, which we painted in white and grey to match the new open-plan kitchen / dining room. And changed all the floors for natural white oak.

The biggest change was to the feature wall. Now when you enter the house, you’re met with a wall of white split-face marble, which adds depth and texture to the room, whilst still being bright, and yet at the same time, rustic.

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I had to keep the antler chandelier, it’s the little nod to the modern hunting lodge theme we were originally trying to achieve. I think now we’ve actually managed to achieve it. By keeping the colors light and limited, and introducing interest through texture, and pops of natural wood colors.

I’m the first to admit that my first attempt at ‘modern cabin’ was not that successful. But with a few more years of experience of both living in this house, in the US and having completed many more renovation projects, I can gladly say my skills have improved for the better.

To quote Lloyd Dobyns:

“Continual improvement is an unending journey.”

Thanks for reading, until next time.

Jo (aka Britflipper and continuous improvement seeker)

Kitchen Reveal

The time has finally come to reveal our kitchen make-over. What started out as a 6 week project turned into the 7 month project from hell! Anything that could’ve gone wrong, went wrong. Even after months of pre-planning, Gannt charts and double checking everything. We had cabinets that didn’t fit; doors that were warped; fridges, microwaves and vent hoods that didn’t fit; walls that undulated; ovens that didn’t work… I’m glad to say that this nightmare project has now come to an end, and boy was it worth the wait!

Here’s a reminder of what it used to look like…

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And here’s the new kitchen…

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Full list of products used:

  • Cabinets: Austin cabinets in Urban Stone by Cliqstudios
  • Countertop and backsplash: Calacatta Gold by Silestone
  • Flooring: Vintage French Oak by Lumber Liquidators
  • Cabinet hardware: Knobs by Emtek style 86152US3NL, pulls by Emtek style 86123US14 both in polished nickel
  • Window: 400 Series by Andersen Windows & Doors
  • Paint: White Veil by Behr
  • Kitchen chandelier: Halo by Gallery
  • Dining room chandeliers: Rosalias modern cage light by Warehouse of Tiffany
  • Oven: Slide-in gas range by Samsung (model:NX58H9500WS)
  • Refrigerator: Counter-depth refrigerator by Samsung (model: RF23M8070SR)
  • Faucet / tap: Alea pull-down faucet in polished nickel by Pfister
  • Instant hot water faucet / tap: Insinkerator in polished nickel
  • Sink: Apron front sink by IPT Sink Company
  • Stools: Gelsomina counter stool by Joss & Main
  • Upholstered dining chairs: Kenleigh tufted side chair by Wayfair with upholstery nails added
  • Dining table: Emma dining table by Hom Furniture
  • Cane dining chairs: Bought from a friend

To learn about how the kitchen was planned read my blog ‘Goodbye 1987’. To learn how to overcome common kitchen renovation problems read my other blog post ‘Kitchen update: How to avoid delays’.

As always, thanks for reading!

Jo (aka Britflipper)

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3 fundamental flipping lessons

I had my first taste of property investing straight after graduating university in 2004. I was working full time and couldn’t believe how incredible it was to make four figures in my spare time doing something that I loved. I was hooked! Since that first property, I’ve bought and sold a further 5 properties in the U.K. and bought one in the U.S.

The first flip

I bought my first “live in flip” in 2004 straight after graduating for literally 0% down. (A live in flip is a property that is your primary residence that you fix up and improve whilst living there with the intention of making profit.) 0% down is unheard of in today’s conventional mortgage market, but at the time house prices were rising so fast that banks were pretty much guaranteed a safe return on their investment.

It was a terraced house built in the 1800’s, a former farm workers cottage, with two bedrooms, an upstairs bathroom (rare in this age of house, most were downstairs), a dining room, living room and a kitchen extension at the back of the house. It overlooked farmland and had a good sized garden/yard. We paid £84,950 for it, which was a fair price given it needed some updating. Comps in the area fixed up we’re around £90,000-100,000.

Having no budget means you need to be resourceful

We had pretty much £0 for the renovation. We were fresh out of university with student loan debt, and I was struggling to find a permanent job. So we did the project slowly, learned a lot of the skills ourselves, and roped in family members to help where we could. It taught me to be resourceful and to renovate on a tight budget. Skills that I still use today no matter how big my budget.

Every penny spent is a penny off the profit

Not only that though, but I always treated our live in flip as a business. Every penny I spent meant a penny less in profit. So any way I could cut cost I did. Whether that was doing the work ourselves or bargain hunting for cheaper products.

We probably invested about £3000 into the renovation and eventually sold it two years later for around £98,000. After fees we probably made about £7000 in profit. Not ground breaking by any means, but to get anything back for doing something I enjoyed doing was incredible!

Now I’ve learnt over the years that whilst this is true, I’ve also learned that sometimes if you invest more into the renovations you can expect to get more back. You need to understand what improvements they are by what your target audience values. Which brings me on to my next point.

Understand your potential buyer

House flipping uses some fundamental marketing techniques – understanding who your target audience is, and tailoring your product to their needs / wants. I.e. Understand who may potentially buy your house, learn about them and tailor your renovation to their needs.

How do you do this? There are a number of ways.

1. You can look at online reports of the demographics in your area. Such as ons.gov.uk in the U.K. and usa.gov in the U.S. This will give you a general overview of the types of people likely to buy in your area. For further links in the US, read this helpful blog post by Realtor.com. Or for the UK, this article by smartpostcode.co.uk lists 25 websites for further info.

2. Another way is to assess the type of home. Ours was a small entry level house, so we could assume it would probably suit a couple on their own or with one kid, as it was a little too small to be a family home for multiple people.

3. You can also assess it based on the location. Is it near to shops? A particular business? Is it in a student area? Does the area have fashionable shops and cafes near it? Who do you see walking around the neighborhood?

4. Also check out the nearby listings for clues. What do the houses look like near to it? What style of decor do they have? Industrial? Modern? Or more traditional? Does this appeal to older or younger buyers?

Once you have a good understanding of them find out what they like and what they value. You can gather lots of clues from doing a little bit of research. But also use the experts. Ask your estate agent/realtor about who typically buys these properties as they’ll have great insight. Also ask them what features a typical buyer values. This will help you to tailor your renovations to meet your customer’s needs and wants and produce a product that they want to buy. It will also help you maximize any profit. For example, there’s no point wasting extra money on installing quartz countertops if the potential buyers only expect laminate. However it depends on how competitive the market is and what your potential buyers value.

I think these 3 lessons I learned from doing my first live in flip have stood me in good stead through today.

  1. Know your audience and produce a product they want to buy
  2. Treat every penny spent as potential lost profit
  3. Even if you have plentiful budget, watch every penny and be resourceful. Shop around and do the work yourself where it makes sense.

There’s a lot more to flipping houses than just these 3 lessons. I’ll explore more as I continue to learn new things and reflect on what I’ve learned over the years. I’d also love to hear from you what your important learnings have been. Leave a comment in the comments section.

Thanks for reading,

Jo (@britflipper)