Remodeling fixer uppers - the tough decisions

The Myth of the Remodeled Fixer Upper

Fixer uppers can be a booby-trap!

Ah, the lure of the fixer, the lure of easy money?

Fixer uppers can be a booby-trap!

Or, is it simply find a run-down place and repair it for that easy win! Just like in all the TV shows!

But there are hidden issues, as with anything that seems too good to be true. Without proper knowledge and even then, without decent amount of experience, one can find themselves facing construction, land or timing issues that could wreck a deal. And by wreck we don’t just mean take away some of the potential profits, but really all the profits, or even run a loss.
In California people will make decent money fixing and flipping homes, and they will assume that they are pretty good at it. But a lot of times, they are just playing the market. They (rightfully) are IN the market, and benefiting from its upward trajectory. Sometimes though, they stay in too long or over-extend themselves, and wham! they’re wiped out. Just like Trump.
So, what are some things we can do to mitigate risk and better insure our fixers are profitable?


When we talk about land, we’re talking about deal acquisition issues. Things like zoning, zoning changes, future local development or plans (is there a freeway planned to go through nearby?), or even past evironmental issues tied to the land (toxic spill?).
Things that affect resale value and which are not disclosed to you as the buyer need to be researched independently. Sellers may not know that the fact that old uncle phill dying in the property lst year is something that they should mention. But neighbors might tell your prospective buyers about it and freak them out!
On that note, there are crazy neighbors or their pets that might be a hinderance. Check the street at various times of the day, and working and non-working days. Talk to neighbors. Go to the city or county to ask for records of that property. Ask the seller many many questions, especially leading questions. Leave long pauses to see if they offer more info. If a husband and wife (or any multiparty), find the most talkative one and try to get them going!


Timing is two considerations. One, we need to finish the project quickly to save interest costs, and two, we need to make sure we don’t miss the market.
In most areas, real estate sales follow a seasonal cycle, and there are better times to sell than others. For instance, you won’t be selling many newly remodeled homes at the end of the year in the winter and near the holidays. Also, when kids are going back to school is another time that families don’t want to bother with a move or transition.
Best times are Spring & early Summer. So, you’ll want to make sure your rennovation work is done in time to meet those times if appropriate.
Of course, we don’t want to miss the upwardly moving market by buying a fixer at the top of the market, or near it, then taking so long to fix it that the market is crashing when we’re done!


Construction problems can cause both cost and timing problems, either of which can kill a deal. So it’s imperative to keep things moving, as well as keeping costs under control.
Part of keeping it moving is to have a plan on what repairs are to be done, and sticking with the plan. And with all the decisions like tile color or cabinet style, those need to be finalized very early, before the workers need to know. Have materials on site whenever possible. Select materials that are in stock or have a very quick delivery time. Stuff that is easy to get more of when you run short. And in stock items are usually easier to return when the job is done and there is leftover. (Otherwise sell it on Craigslist or give it to the workers as a bonus).
The biggest change you can make (if not doing it already) is to make the contractor a partner in the deal. This is on larger deals. On smaller deals, where you just hire sub-contractors, there is no need.
Making the contractor a partner makes them responsible for profits, as well as timing. Of course some profit is given up, but with deals near the top of the market, and for larger buildout deals, it’s worth it to buy more risk adversion.
Of course if you are a contractor yourself, and have access to all the labor and materials you need at wholesale, then you are set. That’s the best deal, to leverage extra crew time to earn extra money in the real estate market.
Even remodeling contractors that focus on one area such as windows, kitchen cabinets or roofing are at a better advantage than the guy who is hiring a contractor or workers and paying for profit.
In Conclusion, do your due diligence, and do it fast!
To avoid more risk, start small, partner with an experienced filipper or contractor, or even money person. Leverage their network and tips to help stay out of trouble.


Photos on Houzz for remodeling inspiration

How To Use Houzz, Pinterest or Google For Remodeling Design

How To Use Houzz For Remodeling Design

Houzz is a website with a tremendous amount of LARGE format home remodeling picures. And home design picures. They are simple gorgeous.
The site is different from Pinterest in that the images fill your screen instead of some small 200 pixel banner type thing. Like Pinterest though, you can sort and save images in Houzz. Unlike Pinterest, Houzz is focussed on home design and construction, so that’s the place to be when dreaming up your dream home!
The thing to do is create a board for different rooms, or just notes or ideas, or if you are in the remodeling trade, for different clients or prospects.
As you browse the site, you can save images and the site’s algorythm will try to suggest other images that might be of interest. So when you come back, you may see new stuff. You can also follow different tradesmen or suppliers, but you won’t see new photos from them that often. Unless they are a supplier, say a lighting contractor supplier, that is really trying ot keep their brand and message out there.
When saving photos, notes can be made. So, a good strategy is to save a pic, note what you liked about it, and compile a set that you can use to show a home designer or home remodeling contractor. Share it also with your husband or wife, so you can decide on things ahead of time and save a lot of time and grief when meeting with that kitchen design specialist or general contractor.
The beauty of visual design boards vs. just listing what you want, or worse, just keeping it in your head, is that the details can get flushed out and talked about. This saves the age-old problem of miscommunication which often if not always, drives up the cost of remodeling when things need to be changed later, when you the client can actually see them.

How To Use Pinterest For Remodeling Design

How To Use Google Docs For Remodeling Design

Remodeled Kitchen - worth all the stress

Top Questions To Ask A Remodeling Contractor Before Hiring Them

Top Things To Ask A Remodeling Contractor Before Hiring Them 
Before selecting a contractor to do any remodeling, there are some things to ask.
If you’ve been around or been on the web for even a bit of time, you know that you should always do two things at least:
– get three bids, and
– ask for references.
But what should you do when everyone’s busy, and you can’t get three bids? Uh-oh! you need to double down then, because if there are only a few contractors left, you need to suspect as to why that’s the case. What’s wrong with these companies?
And asking remodelers for their references is good, but how many remodel clients take the time to chase them down and ask good questions for a reference? Not many, that’s for sure!
Regardless of whether there are lots of window, door or kitchen or whatever contractors available or not, try these questions to help select the right group.
Ask about other jobs that are JUST like yours. Of course, they may not have done any, or it may have been a while ago, but ask. You’re looking for those professionals who have insight into the things you don’t know about, or don’t know you don’t know.
For instance, there is a difference between a small budget kitchen remodel and a large budget remodel. In a small remodel, there are different choices to make than with a kitchen with more features. The cabinet suppliers for low-end vs. high end cabinets are different, and if your contractor doesn’t have those preferred relations, they don’t get preferred pricing and therefore the end price to your, the client, is higher.
Ask about their other jobs RIGHT now, or the ones they expect to take while on your job. If it’s a large kitchen remodel, the contractor may be tempted to start three or four more jobs before completing your job, which will naturally slow yours down.
There is a natural tendency of contractors to start new jobs and take the deposit. The pay to work ratio is just too good a deal! So they can run around town starting and reserving jobs, then complete them at a pace that works for them (when they can’t start any others). You just don’t want to be part of this mess, so ask & if you feel there is a risk, set ground rules about how often the workers need to be on the site working, and what milestones need to be completed when. And of course, tie it all to money.
Normally, construction job payouts are tied to specific builds, but it is not as common to tie those stages to a calendar date, and extract penalties when deadlines are missed.
Ask about their workers.
Which ones will be on your project, who the project lead is (if not the contractor), and will they be there every day or all the time. It’s not nescessary for these things ,but don’t let yourself be surprised later as you assumed you’d be the only client they’re taking care of. It’s an easy impression to get if you don’t ask.
Ask about their sub-contractors.
For larger jobs ask for referrences for their subcontractors, or try places like Yelp or Angie’s list. If you don’t like what you hear, ask the contractor if they can use someone else.
Ask about job times, days, bathrooms, and other mundane logistics.
Ask about the contractors finances and their working capital.
If this a large home remodeling job, such as a complete remodel or second story addition on a home, and there are long stretches bewteen contactor payments, you need to know if the contractor is sufficiently able to buy materials and pay their workers. If not, they will leave your job and work another one to earn a payment. Or worse, they will go broke, or ask you for more money because they’re broke, and claim the job was not profitable enough.
Contractors can be REALLY bad with money, and you don’t want to be the client who is stuck while they try to make their company big enough to handle such jobs.
Ask for a performance or deadline guarantee.
They may not give it to you, but their answer may tell you more about their confidence in completing the job on time or not!
remodeling on TV

Home Improvement and Reality TV

Home improvement in popular culture has made it mainstream. Beyond the TV show titled “Home Improvement”, plenty of shows on basic and extended cable are going after the drama and stress of home remodeling or home decorating.
Check out the references in this Wikipedia article
And why not? Home remodeling or decorating can be a stressful time for clients, and that can be spun into great TV drama as we see our neighbors go through it and we think “Oh God, I’m glad that’s not me!”
RemodelAdvocates on Houzz

Connect with us on Houzz

Do you use

If you don’t know Houzz, this is how they describe themselves:

We are a collaborative platform for home remodeling and design, bringing homeowners and home professionals together in a uniquely visual community.

A place to browse and save beautiful home photos. A place to find the right design and construction professionals. A place to connect with others who have been there too. Houzz started as a side project but has become a community of more than 20 million homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals—across the country and around the world.”

It’s somewhat a social networking site for professionals, and possibly a lead-generation site for those who dedicate the time and energy. See teh end of this post for our observations. RemodelAdvocates on Houzz

If you have a profile on Houzz, follow us and we’ll follow you – here is ours: .  You see the “followers” under the profile pic, with tiny thumbnails
just like in Facebook or other social media.

If you don’t have a profile, joining is easy and free. There are opportunities to buy sponsored status, but we don’t have enough info on that to comment, other than it’s about $350/mo for one geographic region, with a 12 month commitment.  Contact us direct for our thoughts.

Here is a profile of a construction firm we work with. They asked us to advise setting up the profile. Click for larger view

RedRoad on Houzz

Some things we’ve noticed on Houzz

  • There is a LOT of free advice dished out, by professionals and regular users (homeowners, etc.) alike.  Not all of it is good, and some downright bad. But it’s hard to feel you can be heard through all that noise.
  • One can easily get caught up in the forums (click “Advice” in top right), and spend a lot of time answering questions, but be careful thinking it is a good use of your client-sourcing time. If you use Houzz in a serious way, then the answers you may give to questions will be scrutinized by potential clients, so keep that in mind.
  • If you click “Find A Pro” from many cities in the SF Bay Area, you’ll see Bill Fry Construction” at the top. So many times in fact you’ll think he’s bought the number one spot. But his profile is “organic” – he doesn’t pay a dime to be number one ALL THE TIME. His profile is old and has a natural advantage now.
  • Depending on you website, the Houzz profile you set up may look better than your site, and since it contains reviews, it may work better to impress new clients and secure contracts.
  • will usually rank better than your own company website, and appear above your site in a Google search. It is different for everyone, and it depends on a number of factors, but set up a profile and try it out.
  • Do you have an observation about Houzz? Leave it in the comments and we’ll update


Real Green Building!

Green Building

Green building (also known as green construction or sustainable building) is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.

This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.

Although new technologies are constantly being developed to complement current practices in creating greener structures,the common objective is that green buildings are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by:Efficiently using energy, water, and other resourcesProtecting occupant health and improving employee productivityReducing waste, pollution and environmental degradation

LEED Green Building

What is LEED ?

LEED is transforming the way we think about how buildings and communities are designed, constructed, maintained and operated across the globe.

LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. Prerequisites and credits differ for each rating system, and teams choose the best fit for their project.

More at