Richmond’s Cobblestone Group Getting HGTV Show

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When we first moved to Richmond, we noticed that a lot of the renovations in the neighborhood had a look that we really loved. We soon learned that they were the work of the Cobblestone Group, a renovation and construction firm run by husband-and-wife team Josh and Breese Romano. Since then, we’ve loved following their growth, and they’ve served as an inspiration for our own foray into home renovations.

We’re so excited, then, to hear that the Cobblestone couple is getting their own show on HGTV called Richmond Rehabbers! This is great news for this hard-working young company, and great news for our city. Best of all, the pilot episode features a renovation happening in our own neighborhood of Battery Park. They’ve transformed many dilapidated homes in the area, and we can’t wait to get a closer look at their process.

Check out Cobblestone’s website to see some of their impressive transformations (like this amazing flip on our block, pictured below), and read the article about HGTV’s Richmond Rehabbers here.

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Renovation Resources: Our Favorite Places to Shop

Shopping for a renovation project can be fun, but it can get overwhelming fast. You may have to buy faucets, light fixtures, cabinets, doorknobs, tile, paint, and a whole host of other things—and you want them all to be just right, right? Unfortunately, you’re not likely to find everything you need at a big box store. You’ll have to do some digging.

Our advice: Take it slow, if you can. Focus on one need at a time, rather than trying to pick out everything at once. Say you’re trying to decide on a light fixture for your foyer? Settle onto the couch and pull up Pinterest. Browse for a bit, saving your favorite images. Once you notice a trend that consistently appeals to you, head over to a few favorite sites and start shopping. Keep those tabs open, compare prices, and then pull the trigger. Then move on to your next need!

After our first renovation project, we uncovered some favorite resources for attractive and budget-friendly items. Here are our favorites. What are yours?

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Light Fixtures — We’re firm believers that a good light fixture can transform a room, and for that reason they’re worth investing in. Our favorite sites for vintage-inspired fixtures are Schoolhouse Electric and Barn Light Electric. That said, you can often find much more affordable versions of these lights at Wayfair, which is by far the resource we use the most. Even Lowes and Home Depot have really stepped up their lighting game lately, so don’t overlook them.

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Tile — We are obsessed with Floor and Decor. It’s a massive store with tons of tile at reasonable prices. They even offer free classes on tile and floor installation on the weekends. Browsing the tile in-person is the best, but they also have everything available online. If you like cement tile, Overstock has a pretty good selection.

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Sinks — If you like farmhouse sinks, Ikea has one of the more affordable ones we’ve run across. The Scandi superstore has some great sink cabinets as well, though many of them do scream “Ikea.” (Try swapping out the hardware for a more custom look.) Wayfair also has some good sinks, and even Amazon has a nice selection — it’s worth it to search for anything you find on Amazon to make sure you can’t get a better price. We had to buy an extra-small pedestal sink for one of the bathrooms in our last renovation, and we found it at Signature Hardware.

Faucets — For bathrooms and kitchens, we’ve found good faucets all over—Lowes, Ikea, Amazon, Wayfair. If you need something special (like we needed for the clawfoot tub in our renovation house), try House of Antique Hardware. Amazon tends to have the cheapest selection—just be sure to read the reviews to make sure you’re not getting a piece of crap.

Bathroom Fixtures — Towel racks, toilet paper holders, etc.—I usually order the Moen brand from Amazon. Classic, and cheaper than anywhere else.

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Cabinets — Ikea all day!

Appliances — We haven’t found any one store that has better prices than any other—it just depends on what kind of sales they’re offering at any given time. We do try to shop around big sales (like Memorial Day or Presidents Day), and just get the store to hold the appliances if we’re not quite ready for install. If you shop at the store a lot, it’s also a good time to open a credit card—you can often get a nice percentage off your purchase, or get 0% APR for a year, if you’d like to wait to pay it off. In the past, we’ve bought appliances at Lowes and Best Buy.

Door Hardware — We usually go with basic bronze doorknobs for both interiors and exteriors, and Amazon has the best prices. House of Antique Hardware has some really cool stuff if you’re going for a vintage vibe.

Mirrors — We like to think outside the box when it comes to bathroom mirrors—i.e. don’t limit yourself to vanity mirrors or medicine cabinets. Target has a nice affordable selection—like this beautiful round brass mirror that would be perfect for a powder room.

Doors — We have some good local resources for salvage doors (Paul’s Place and Caravatti’s), but need help finding more modern options. Any leads?

 

 

 

How We Financed Our First Flip

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After sharing our last post on how much we made on our first flip, several people asked us how we actually financed the project. We don’t have wealthy families backing us, and neither of us makes a ton of money in our day jobs—I’m a part-time editor and freelance writer, and Todd is a small business owner who pays himself a modest salary. So how did we come up with the cash to get into real estate investing?

The short answer is, we used money from the sale of our first house to pay for the renovation, and we were able to get a second mortgage because our own home in Richmond was so affordable. The long answer is, a fair amount of research and strategy has gone into every house we’ve bought (going on four now), and luck has been a big factor, too. [Disclaimer: We are not financial advisers and we don’t pretend to be experts on real estate or investing. These are just some things we’ve picked up over the years.]

We bought our first house in Charleston, S.C. in 2011. At the time, I was making $30K a year as an editor at a local paper, and Todd’s business was so young that the bank wouldn’t count his salary toward our mortgage application—so we didn’t have a lot to work with. Our budget was maxed out at $150K, and our options were limited, but we felt like we were throwing our money away on rent.

Our friends encouraged us to buy in the suburbs, where our money would stretch further. But we didn’t see much investment potential there, so we focused our search on one small area on the outskirts of Charleston that might generously be described as “up-and-coming.” Drugs, shootings, hookers, you name it—North Central had it all.

But there were also a few reasons we felt confident it was on the upswing: It was close to downtown (which was rapidly moving northward), it was adjacent to two much nicer neighborhoods, and it was filled with charming historic homes, a growing number of which were being renovated. After looking for about a year, we bought a 700-square-foot cottage at the high end of our budget (pictured above). We got more than a few raised eyebrows from concerned friends at our housewarming party.

Less than four years later, we sold the house for nearly double what we paid for it, and walked away with close to $150,000.

Of course, this isn’t typical. Charleston’s real estate market is insane, and we got really lucky with our timing. We couldn’t even afford to buy on the peninsula if we lived there now. But after doing so well with that house, we knew that there was only one way we wanted to invest the money we made: with more real estate. And that’s when we decided to try our hands at flipping a house.

A few months before selling the Charleston house, we’d decided to move to Richmond from Boston, where we had been renting an apartment. We realized we could never afford to buy anywhere close to Boston, so we started casually Trulia-stalking different cities, and Richmond stood out because of the number of big, beautiful, historic homes that were surprisingly affordable. Most of the houses we found were located in an area, Barton Heights, that seemed a lot like North Central in Charleston—close to the city, close to more expensive neighborhoods, and with a fair amount of renovated houses on the market alongside cheap fixer-uppers. We flew down for a visit, fell in love with the area, and made an offer on our house.

We paid $175,000 for the house, which was about $125,000 less than we were approved for. This gave us the wiggle room to get a second mortgage for our first investment property several months later. As a side note, our own house now appraises for closer to $300K, which means we have enough equity in the property to give us another borrowing option if we need it.

Again, we’ve lucked out a bit with our house purchases so far, but I don’t think you need a windfall to get started in real estate investments. Here are our key takeaways:

  • Buy as soon as you can afford to. If you can scrape together enough for a down payment, you’ll often find the mortgage payment is cheaper than (or at least comparable to) rent (depending on where you live, of course).
  • By placing a home’s investment potential at the top of your list—right alongside a master bath and open floor plan, or whatever else you want out of a home—you’re more likely to walk away with a profit when you move on to your next home.
  • Don’t be afraid to live in an “up-and-coming” area—they usually aren’t as bad as they seem at first glance.
  • Be ready to get out while the gettin’s good. In other words, if you can sell your house and make some money—which you can use to repeat the process again—it’s often worth the hassle of moving.

How Much We Made On Our First Flip

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Anyone who’s watched their share of HGTV knows that flipping houses is a risky business that can have a big reward. So how did we do with our first flip? I’ve avoided discussing the financial aspects of this venture for fear of seeming tacky, but I realize it’s one of the details people are most curious about (not to mention the numbers are right there on Zillow). So here it is: the nitty gritty on our first renovation project.

We bought the house in December 2015 for $102,500. At the time, the house was priced on the high side for its condition—livable, but in need of a complete renovation to bring it up to date. Similar houses in the neighborhood were going for under $100K, but most were being snatched up by cash buyers within a day or two of hitting the MLS. So we raised our budget slightly and snagged the Griffin house.

Our then-realtor (whom we have since parted ways with) estimated that we could renovate the house for about $40,000. Renovated houses in the area were selling for about $200,000, so we felt safe with the investment potential—especially given that our contractor assured us he’d be done within six weeks.

Well, six months passed, and it became obvious that our original budget was unrealistic for the quality of work we wanted to do. We gutted the kitchen and two bathrooms, added a new master bath, refinished the floors, updated the electrical and plumbing, added HVAC, did work on the roof, and a bunch of other stuff. Our final tally was around $75,000.

We grew anxious as our costs increased, but at the same time, housing prices in the neighborhood were rising as well, including one house two doors down that sold for over $300,000. We crossed our fingers and hoped the trend would continue, but the market took a bit of a dip just in time for our July completion date—summer doldrums are no joke in the real estate world. Still, things were better than when we started, and we listed the house for $265,000. After a few weeks with no bites, we lowered the price to $259,500, and a few weeks later we sold it for $256,500.

So the final tally is:

Purchase price: $102,500

Renovation costs: $75,000 (ish)

Sales price: $256,500 (- ~$5,000 toward closing costs)

Realtor fees (6 percent of sales price): $15,390

Taxes (approx. 20 percent of profit—still waiting for final numbers) & Fees ($3000ish in interest): $20,000ish

Total earnings: $38,610

We put a lot of hard work and time into this renovation, but it was worth it—we were very happy with the results. We also learned a lot, and I think we can shave down our renovation costs in the future, and maybe be more strategic about when we go to market—and how we work with our contractors. We’re definitely planning to do another renovation project in the near future. In fact, we’re currently under contract with another house in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for all the nitty gritty on our next renovation!

A Bath Renovation for Under $1000

It’s been a few months since we wrapped up our first renovation project, and we’re happy to report that the house sold within a few weeks! Since then, we’ve been busy adjusting to life with a newborn, but that hasn’t stopped us from working on our own house between naps, feedings, and diaper changes.

The upstairs bathroom has always been one of our least favorite rooms in the house, with builder-grade beige tiles and cheap light fixtures, a particleboard vanity, and a drab paint job. We’ve considered hiring someone to update both of our bathrooms at the same time, while adding a third master (more on that later), but in a fit of DIY inspiration, we decided to do it ourselves.

The project is still underway, but we wanted to share our plans before the big reveal. We’ll include the final numbers in the next post, but here’s a peek at what we’re up to:

Budget Bath Update

 

Neighborhood News: The Future of Brookland Park Boulevard

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via Betty Clicker Photography

Richmond BizSense recently published an article on Brookland Park Boulevard, the historic retail corridor that happens to be a block away from the Griffin House. While the strip has been largely neglected for the last few years, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see what it’s likely to become—and this article is proof of that. Here’s what the owner of Jackson Ward restaurant Saison had to say:

“We have an interest in that part of town. We believe it’s a really forward-looking neighborhood – there are beautiful homes up there – and a really awesome opportunity in a part of town that we think is very underserved that we have interest in doing business in at some point.”

Between its beautiful architecture, low prices, and plentiful vacant storefronts, Brookland Park is poised to be the next hot spot in Richmond. Some have likened it to Scott’s Addition, while others have compared it Carytown. A few businesses have served the local community for decades, like Northside Hardware and Michaela’s Bakeshop. And now, we’re excited to welcome new businesses like Black Hand Coffee Company, a local tattoo artist, and maybe even some new restaurants.

Brookland Park Boulevard may not be much to look at now, but neighborhood residents can sense the buzz surrounding the street and look forward to the day when we can stroll around the corner for a freshly roasted bag of coffee or dinner with friends. It may happen sooner than we think! Read the full article here.

Griffin Before and After: All the Rest

Besides the bathrooms and kitchen, most of the rooms in the Griffin house were in solid shape and didn’t require more than cosmetic work. This involved removing the carpet (oh, the carpet!), refinishing the wood floors, removing the radiators, repairing the trim in some areas, painting, and upgrading light fixtures. Take a look:

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Griffin Before & After: The Bathrooms

The bathrooms were a huge part of the 3022 Griffin renovation.

Let’s jump right in and start with the powder room, shall we? It was carpeted, for one thing, and the sink and toilet were way too bulky for the space. We gutted the room, refinished the hardwoods, and found a smaller toilet and sink that fit much better.

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Powder

Upstairs in the hall bath, we ignored the advice of everyone who told us to get rid of the clawfoot tub and instead had it refinished. We ripped out the tile and installed fresh new white hexagons, installed wainscoting, repositioned the toilet to improve the flow of the space, and found an adorable little pedestal sink that doesn’t interfere with entry into the room. We splurged on a beautiful chrome antique-inspired faucet for the tub. This is Erica’s favorite room in the house.

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That room was a big project, but nothing compared to the master bath—which didn’t exist when we bought the house. We took a dark, awkward room on the back of the house and converted it into an ensuite bath and laundry closet. This involved tearing up the tiles, refinishing the floors, and installing a new tile shower and large vanity. The room is truly unrecognizable from its original state.

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Griffin Before & After: The Kitchen

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Ah, the kitchen. One of the most cringe-worthy parts of this house, originally. There were the super-shallow, avocado green wood cabinets. The beautiful but hard-to-access corner sink. The weird layout. The almost-nonexistent counter space. This is the room that took the largest part of our budget and time.

We completely rewired and replumbed the space. Ripped up the green tiles and refinished the hardwoods underneath. Installed new drywall. And then we installed the cabinets, counters, backsplash, and fixtures ourselves. Would we do that again? Maybe, maybe not. But we are very proud of the transformation and grateful to the family members who helped us make it happen.

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Griffin Before & After: The Exterior

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The day we’ve been impatiently waiting for is finally here: Listing Day!

It’s been a long, long time since we started this journey on a frigid December day. We had more than a few people act like we were crazy for taking on a major renovation project, but we saw the potential in this house from Day 1 and we couldn’t wait to bring it back to life. We had some surprises along the way, and it took much (much) longer than expected, but we learned a lot and we’re excited to do it again.

When we bought it, the Griffin House was hiding behind a cluster of prickly, deep-rooted bushes. Todd worked hard to remove them with the help of a few friends, and we replaced them with sculptural grasses, purple-hued bushes, and rosebushes. The exterior got some new shingles, a new door, and a fresh coat of paint with a subtle green tint. The backyard got some love too with a lot of cleanup (so many leaves!), a privacy fence, tree-trimming, and repairs to the shed.

She looks a little different, wouldn’t you say?

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