“We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” — Steve Jobs
“All ideas are secondhand.” — Mark Twain
“The bad artists imitate, the great artists steal.” — Pablo Picasso
Ever hear the phrase “champagne taste on a beer budget”? That is basically what we are talking about here this week — how to take ideas from much more expensive designs and incorporate them into your median price projects. Where to get inspiration and then how to implement those ideas into your projects.
I am a fix and flip investor in Denver, CO, and I actually work mainly in the below-median home price market here. For Denver, that is $344,000 and below! You might be in a market where that is twice your median home price or a market where that is one third of your typical house price. Working in this price range used to mean cookie cutter suburban rehabs, with the same beige vomited carpet, espresso cabinets, tan tile, and, well, you know the rest. We did it for years, just slogging along the same color palate, same generic templates, and tired, worn out ideas. Like a strange factory that churned out baked scone houses as our product. And we weren’t alone; many flippers are still doing the same things from 5-6 years ago.
Well, that got really boring. Sure, I’d get to expend creativity in marketing and negotiation, but there was something lacking. Our projects were selling, but I wasn’t happy with spitting out the same crap everyone else was, in my market and beyond.
It was time for a change, and in order to change, we had to get inspired. After we got inspired, we saw the cost of some of those things and said, “WOAH, maybe we could do these things for cheaper.” We wanted a buyer to walk into our below-median priced houses and feel like there was attention to detail. We wanted them to see things that you could only find in much more expensive houses. Well, and the same stuff that is pushed on the masses on the television networks that show drama-filled rehab shows, Waco-residing house flippers in disguise, and showcase homes, both tiny and ginormous.
But we are cheap, so we aren’t doing $10 a sq ft shiplap, custom woodwork, or rare hand-quarried marble from the distant mines of wherever.
First, we had to get some serious inspiration — our templates and our color scheme, carpet choices, counters, cabinets and tile all needed to get thrown out the window (look out below!). Thankfully, the world has moved on from baked scone, and there are a ton of options out there. Then we needed to search for alternative ways to get these high-end details into our average homes and not break the budget.
This week, I’ll talk about how we go about looking for inspiration. By we, of course, I mean my wife Stacy (Chief Executive Designer and Financial Officer) and me. Next week, I’ll talk about implementing some design into your projects on a budget.
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Many investors think that they need to quit their job to get started in real estate. Not true! Many investors successfully build large portfolios over the years while enjoying the stability of their full-time job. If that’s something you are interested in, then this investor’s story of how he built a real estate business while keeping his 9-5 might be helpful.
6 FREE Places to Get Design Inspiration for Awesome-Looking, On-Trend House Flips
I’m not shy. I’m a 37-year-old red blooded American man, and I have a Pinterest account. It’s pretty amazing for design and color ideas, and I have no shame in saying that I love it. Pinterest might be 99.99% women (citation needed?), but guess who typically makes the gut home-buying choices in a relationship? You guessed it.
Pinterest is like eavesdropping on what everyone really wants to see in a house. Not everyone lives in Cape Cod villas, so why not bring some colors and details down to the average neighborhoods? Since Pinterest is image-based, just start browsing design and home décor ideas. I start pinning designs I like to my “STEP UP YOUR DESIGN GAME” board that I share with my wife and have collected enough ideas for the next 100 projects at least.
Houzz is very similar to Pinterest in that it is image based. But instead of mainly average user-generated content, Houzz has contractors and home builders showcasing their awesome designs (and even the option to detail how to buy individual fixtures in the bathroom pictures, etc). This makes for a great way to browse and find where the trends are going, what colors everyone is using, and finishes that people are loving. The best part is you can search by room (kitchen, bathroom, etc.), then by style (modern, traditional, etc.), by budget, by size, layout, cabinet type, and everything in between. You can also filter your search by the most popular today or all time. This ensures you see exactly what the people like the most.
HGTV and its Ilk
My go-to joke with other investors is, “I just make my houses look like what HGTV programmed buyers to like.” You couldn’t throw a rock and not hit someone who has watched Fixer Upper and could tell you the intimate details of Chip and Joanna’s life. I even have distressed sellers who say, “Oooooh, you do what Chip and Joanna or Nicole from that one show do!” Sigh, yep, that’s what I do as far as you know. The good part of having a big selection of house design and remodel shows and their skyrocketing popularity is an abundant well of design that is programmed into buyers. I didn’t even know what shiplap was a year ago. I also wouldn’t have contemplated going with a farm sink. But if you go with the trends, you have to drink from the same well, and that is the HGTV and DIY network these days.
Oh, tract builders. They used to get a really bad reputation when it came to design, but I feel like they have seriously stepped up their game. Stacy and I go check out new model homes whenever we can since many buyers in the area are also checking these out. We are so exciting; we go visit model homes on a weekend for fun. But really, we are spying on them and taking detailed notes on and pictures of their design choices.
When a big time builder has adopted a trendy color scheme (grays these days), or design elements (glass accent tile), you know it’s safe enough to use in your flips. We don’t just visit the national builders; local builders and boutique builders are also great to visit for local design and ideas. Go on a tour of some homes above your flip project price range and see if there are any details you can incorporate or adopt.
The Paint Store
My Behr rep for my Home Depot pro account and my local Sherwin Williams store gave me a detailed rundown when I simply asked, “What are the most popular colors that people are ordering these days?” Who has a better pulse on popular color schemes than the paint store?
I got back a giant list of colors that sound like indie band album names: “Campfire Ash,” “Icing,” and “Agreeable Grey.” Throw in some “Broadway,” “Elephant Skin,” “Oceana,” and “Alabaster,” and you have yourself a party. If you are too lazy to get down to the paint store, simply type into Google “most popular paint colors 2016,” and you should get a good idea of what is going on in the wall pigment category.
Truth be told, Stacy wanted me to add this in here since it’s top of the list for her to find new ideas, up there with Pinterest and Houzz. I didn’t get Instagram when it first came out — just pictures? But now I love it since I can search well with it and also follow trends from some of my favorite designers and builders. From other fix and flip investors to those HGTV celebrities to before and after shots of kitchens, it’s all right there to browse at your leisure.
Throwing out our old designs and starting over has actually been a fun process. We get a fresh overhaul of the face of our business, we keep updated on the trends, and it is a great creative outlet. Even if you hate design, working with someone who is up-to-date to come and make better selections can make your projects sell faster. After all, we are just giving buyers what they are programmed to like, right?
It has been said that “the fastest way to double your money is to fold it in half.” That said, the fastest way to have two weeks of blog posts is to split a long one in half. Tune in next week!
Flippers: Do you update the look of your flips periodically? Where do you gather inspiration?
Let me know with a comment!