We are rolling! And what I've learned from that

People who know me (Alec) know that I tend to wear my stress on the front of my shirt. It can be spotted a mile away. Not that I’m mean or snap at people, just that when I’m stressed I tend to create more of a busy atmosphere around myself. Busy somehow in my mind correlates to productive. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The past month or two have been a bit, how do you say, nightmarish when it comes to planning out and executing tasks needing done at our renovation homes. Finding a good Drywaller was half the battle. Once we did, they delayed the project two weeks and when they did finally start, the put in one day and never showed back up. We were searching all over again for a new Drywaller. When we did find one, it took two weeks for them to start. As you can see, this pushes timelines back, delays contractors and puts our completion date way off.

But, contractors be damned, we finally have everyone on the same page and moving along fast. Here are a few tips I have for when sh*t hits the fan and you find yourself in a rut.

  1. Remember why you started in the first place - it’s easy to hang your head and imagine an easier life. Reality is that things aren’t easy and if you’re in the business of flipping homes because it’s “easy” then you’re definitely not flipping homes. Find a quiet place or something to do that helps you remember the reasons you started in the first place. For me, it’s standing quietly in the middle of the madness and seeing the homes for what they will be and not for what they are.

  2. Rally the troops - get all the contractors working on the home together at the same time. Let them know your worries and concerns. Tell them your expectations. Empower them to take initiative and make the project their own. It’s ok to be vulnerable in this instance because it shows the contractors you’re in need of help and they are the ones to help. Genuinely good people look to help others and if your contractors are good people, they will want to help.

  3. Get out of their way - Not too long ago, a very good friend and entrepreneurial mentor told me that if I feel like I’m the bottle neck in the renovation process then I most definitely am the bottleneck. Meaning, get the steps set up, confirm the contractors know what to do and when, then get out of the way and let them work. The worst thing that can happen is if people are waiting on you (me). A four man crew gets more work done in a day than one person #betyoudidn’tknowthat. So when it comes to being the bottleneck, don’t be.

Above all else, keep moving. Every day the house sits still and nothing is being done is money being thrown out the window. You owe it to yourself and any partner you work with to keep the ball rolling even if it’s smaller projects that take up time. Even if it’s a slow roll, keep moving forward!

Now go out there and change the neighborhood!

Tips to stay on your contractor's good side

Few things in life really get my goat, but one of them is a constantly messy job site. Don’t ask my wife, but I like to think for the most part that my work space is kept clean. I typically end each day by organizing my tools, putting things away and tying up loose ends. Yes, there are days I forget or have to run out before completing this project but most days I do try my hardest to get the job site clean. 

You may ask yourself, why would you keep the job site clean if it’s a house you’re tearing apart only to put back together? Well dumb dumb, here are a few reasons why you should end your day by cleaning up your work space.

  1. It makes your work more efficient – add up all the minutes it takes you tracking down the Phillip’s screwdriver or looking for your circular saw. Add them up and see how much time is waisted just scouring the job site for what you need and you’ll literally LOL. You’ll laugh because those minutes add to hours over a week or month and before you know it, time waisted leads to delayed completion dates. 
  2. You lose money in one way or another – Delayed completion dates lead to more money spent on utilities, interest on loans, payments to contractors. Not only that, a messy job site leads to lost tools, which means more money spent on things you’ve already bought before. 
  3. Contractors who despise you – ask 10 contractors and 9 of them will say they prefer a clean job site and organized project home to work in. Not only does this make your projects more enjoyable than others but it also distinguishes you from the other competition. You’d much rather have a room that is clean rather than messy, right? Contractors feel the same way. They too can work more efficiently, keep track of their supplies and complete jobs faster (thus saving you the ole’ mighty dollar). 

It’s also important to expect this of any contractor you work with. Some contractors come in with the understanding that they are working in your house and that by cleaning up their work after they are done leaves you, the customer, with a greater appreciation of their work. Many, however, don’t care about cleaning up after themselves and often leave the house more of a mess than when you found it. This is an easy fix. Just let them know your expectations right up front and have them commit to your standards before hiring them as the contractor. If you work with professional contractors who make this part of their standard, then you really won’t have to work hard at having them keep the home clean as well

It’s not rocket science nor is it a difficult task to complete. The only skill you need is diligence  that’s not even a skill. Just plan to end your day 30 minutes earlier and use that time to walk through each room with a broom and dustpan. Clean up loose debris and trash and put your tools in organized piles. Once you do that, step back and take a look at a clean project. You’ll breathe easier and be more excited to come back the next day to work. 




We are sticklers for the details

When you’re starting from scratch with a house, it’s hard to know where to begin. Trust me, I spend hours and hours looking at layouts trying to figure out how best to optimize the space. But even after that step you can be at a loss when it comes to selecting finishes. After renovating multiple homes over the last year some things have come easier and I have “go-to’s” in the design process. However, each house is different for us and the design is also that way! There’s nothing cookie cutter about these homes, so the design can’t be either. 


So that brings us to a few helpful tips I’d like to share with you. If you are ever lucky enough to rebuild a house from scratch these might come in handy. It’s a lot of work but truly an amazing experience. 

  1. Select your lighting and flooring first. When you’re starting from the ground up yes it’s always good to have some inspiration photos on hand, but when it comes to execution of those ideas I’ve found it’s always best to start with selecting the flooring. I find this to be true especially with selecting bathroom tile that fits into my design and price range. It’s very easy to go over budget in this area, so shopping around and finding deals help! You may notice by pictures of our homes that I always try to find statement light fixtures. I feel that lighting can change a space dramatically. In an open space like our Shady Creek Ranch, we added multiple can lights to brighten the space however it didn’t over power the visual look of the space. We then went for large focal light fixtures for the kitchen and dining area to draw the eye into the space. 
  2. Matching too much can get you in a design rut. Whether it’s with cabinets, textiles, paint color or fixtures, don’t stick to just one design or color. Mix it up! Having variety in the design will allow you to make changes down the road to one room at a time without it looking too different from the other spaces. Be eclectic. If you love a piece and it speaks to you, use it in your home. 
  3. Create an outdoor element that is functional yet adds to the curb appeal. Our 10th street cottage had a lack luster screened in porch when we bought it. Living in the neighborhood we knew how nice it would be to open that space up and have the ability to talk with neighbors as they go by. Wanting to have that space be more of a social aspect lead us to adding an exterior ceiling fan and open porch railing. It also made the house much more welcoming!

Embrace the suck

It's a term as old as time. I unfortunately hear it all too much. Crossfit workouts are the epitome of this phrase and it's something I've grown accustom to. It means that when you are in the middle of something that causes discomfort, sometimes even pain, it's better to accept the current situation and understand why you are there and why you have chosen to be in this position. Lets flip this to home remodeling and full renovations - pun very much intended.

The dreaded demolition phase. Something HGTV makes look like a time of swinging Thor's hammer carelessly into the wall, breaking out windows and throwing things into a dumpster. It shows this stage being over within minutes of the overall show. But what they don't show you is the long and strenuous process it takes to get everything ready to rebuild.

I'm not going to lie, it's a lot of fun for the most part. You get to tear things apart and unearth years of dirt and grime and mistakes. But, even during one of those stages where attention to detail doesn't seem important, it is and here is why.

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  1. You learn others mistakes - not having the formal education from school or training with first hand experience growing up, the demo stages have helped me understand areas that previous home owners or contractors have cut corners or done things the wrong way. It doesn't take a high level contractor to know you don't bury a junction box in the wall with open wires and cover it with drywall and wall paper. It certainly doesn't take a home inspector to identify water damage in walls and trace it back to where there was a gap in the roof. Once you've been able to identify the mistakes, you can now attack each problem head on.
  2. You get to trace out plumbing and electrical and move things around - working in a home that still shows nob and tub wiring, it's great for me to see the path the builders took to get electricity to each room. We can find old piping or change locations of drains and faucets by tearing out the old.  This is the moment you see your renovation as not another flip but something you get to make awesome for someone else. 
  3. Respecting the history - our focus has been on full renovations of old homes. This affords us the opportunity to pluck a home out of time, dissect it down to the studs and see how humans built large, magnificent homes in the early 1900’s. If you can’t step back, pause for a moment and stand in awe of what people built 100 years ago, in which they continue to stand through the years, then you’re likely not in the right mindset for flipping homes. Yes, the way they were built where not the way we would do things today but imagine what homes will be built like in another 100 years. We will certainly be laughed at for our work as well.
  4. Enjoy the moment - for me, this is hard to realize. I'm such a dreamer and forward thinker that it's hard for me to appreciate the position I'm in at the moment. But, with dirt on my face and dust in my pockets, it still beats a 9-5 desk job and for that, I'm very thankful.

Kitchen ideas without changing the layout

So we know the popular style of first floor kitchens are open floor plans. But, what happens when you're working in homes that were designed to close off rooms? This is the exact thought we have when we look at homes to renovate. For instance, Shady Creek Ranch was a no-brainer when it came to opening up the kitchen but with our Cottage on S. 10th St. it was a different story. Opening up the kitchen and striving to have the "open floor concept" would have taken away from the original character of the home. This is the case with many of the homes we work in. Take away character to open up the rooms or keep the character and incorporated style and design into the way the kitchen already looks? That, is the question.

Lets look at the new home on Kossuth St. most recently named MC Chip (Mint Chocolate Chip)


Above is the kitchen we've been graced with. From the point of view of where the picture is taken, is an open area most likely used as a breakfast nook. Right behind the fridge is a bathroom. We'll get to that at another time.

So, we have a long galley style kitchen. On the right side of the photo is stairs going to the basement. We obviously can't blow that wall out to open things up. The wall on the left side of the picture is an exterior wall. Goes without saying that we won't be moving that either. With the hand we've been dealt, here is a photo of our desired style. 


Now that we've got the general design down we can begin picking out products that support the style of the home. It's important to mirror the architectural style of the home with what you put inside the house. With the architectural cottage specific style being the focus of this home, we will pick out cabinets, tile, fixtures, even appliances that also mirror the cottage feel. Here are a few ideas we have so far. 


With a general plan of our kitchen design we can feel comfortable knowing it will be correct to the style of the home while giving it an updated fresh look. We are excited to get this project underway and look forward to seeing how we can get MC Chip resurrected. 

Painting vs. Replacing

We all know how many choices there are out there for cabinets. Shaker style, flat face cabinets, glass doors, gray, blue, pink. Whatever your fancy is, you can find the combination with cabinets. But, we sometimes run into the situation where we don't know whether to replace or simply update with a fresh coat of paint. 

Lets take for instance the Park Ave. Palace. The kitchen had a good layout for a smaller home but definitely needed some updates. Countertops had cuts, nicks and showed it's age so replacing that was a no brainer. Surprisingly, the cabinets were old but still in good condition. Of course, it was older construction without the soft close hinges and didn't have the modern touch like newer shaker style cabinets would provide. Deciding if we should replace or not weighed heavily on a few questions needing answered. 

  1. What was the primary goal of the renovation?
  2. What was the cost of both options? Paint vs. replace
  3. Would replacing add value to the home?

These questions can be easy to answer in some cases but difficult in others. So, take a trip in my mind to figure out how we handled it.

  1. What was the primary goal of the renovation? - The goal of our renovation was to get the home looking as best as it could. We understood it wasn't the prettiest home on the block or the one with the most character but changing the cabinets would give it an advantage over other homes. We didn't want to pour a bunch of money into it because we knew we wouldn't get it back if we would resell the property. Therefore, we leaned towards painting the cabinets over new ones all together. 
  2. What was the cost of both options? Paint vs. replace - New cabinets can get pricey. From lower cost cabinets at Ikea to custom made cabinets from specialized cabinet makers the cost can vary anywhere between $400 - $40,000. Based on the home, the location and the goal of our renovation, we would have been willing to spend $3,000 - $4,000 for well made high quality cabinets. Painting the cabinets would cost $300-$400 and would wouldn't require removing the cabinets. Makes more sense than replacing; another point for repaint.
  3. Would replacing add value to the home? - As we mentioned above, cabinets can be a costly renovation. Think about it for a second. You get new cabinets then most likely you'll need to get new countertops - add $3000. New countertops mean a new sink, fixtures, plumbing lines, etc... - add $600. Put all that on old paint? No, fresh coat of paint, maybe even backsplash $800. See how things can add up? With that said, kitchen remodels yield 92.9% of the cost spent which out performs a lot of other renovation investments. Sounds like it's a bust on this one. 

When all is said and done, we looked at these three questions and went with repainting the existing cabinets and adding countertops. Out of the three questions, two of them pushed us to repaint more so than replace. Given the fact that we are keeping the home as a rental and didn't want to invest heavily upfront on a full kitchen remodel we were very comfortable going through with repaint. We are currently in the process or repainting and would love to show you some progress pictures. Countertop goes in next week and this home is ready for some new tenants!

Get to know the Classic Cottage in Wallace triangle

The Roaring Twenties. Prohibition was in full force. Large baseball stadiums were being created and the electric razor patent had been filed. Yes, some truly amazing things happened in the 1920's but none more exciting than the construction of Vicky the Victorian.

Spanning just a pinch under 1729 sq. ft., this mint chocolate chip home found life on the outskirts of Wallace Triangle in Lafayette. Tall ceilings, detailed trim and large front porch makes this home inviting to those walking to downtown Lafayette.


But as time will tell, this home will fall into disrepair. A family hit with health issues and economic downturn made it a home hard to keep up with. Water leaks and exterior soffit rot began to weather the home making it look exhausted.


Knowing that everyday it sits empty another part falls off the home. So since October of last year, we've been tracking down the owners of this home. Blessed with an incredible group of neighbors, we got a tip that this home will soon be going into foreclosure. We contacted a family member and offered to purchase the home prior to foreclosure, saving the owners the blemish on their credit reports. Unfortunately, we were too late. It went into foreclosure and was soon owned by a bank out of New York. Obviously, not knowing what they were getting on their books, they simply assumed the property and let it sit.

Fast forward to February. We finally got in touch with the right person who actually gave us the time of day. We emailed back an forth, haggled on price and finally came up with a solid number we both felt comfortable with. 

We've been planning out our kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, addition of bedrooms, addition of air condition, and so on and so forth. Our closing date is the first part of April and tear out will begin shortly afterwards. We are excited to bring this home back to it's former glory and show this area what a Roaring Twenties house really was like! With modern updates, of course.

Just do it... The LaBeouf Way

Those who know me know that I have no problem stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying new things out. I moved to Chicago away from family to experience new opportunities. I went to hot yoga this past week to give it a go. I even opened a door for an IU fan. All these things put me in uncomfortable positions. However, they all helped me grow as a person. Chicago opened my eyes to a big city while showing me how large public companies run. Hot yoga made me sweat profusely and opening that door for an IU fan forced me to smile when I wanted to frown. 

This is how I looked at tiling. Ok, so I get it. Many DIY'ers do this and it's not that scary once you get into it. But, let me take you into my thought process for a bit. I'm a perfectionist on certain things. Finished trim, paint, landscaping... all things that are visible to the perspective clients looking to buy a home. Tile is no different. If it is wrong and uneven, people will notice. So, for as long as I could, I procrastinated on putting up a tile backsplash in the kitchen. Well, here is what I learned. 

1) It's not that hard - yes, it can be overwhelming and I made a lot of wrong cuts but at the end of the day, I made progress and it didn't look so bad. 

2) It will never be perfect - even if you can get the spacing right, the mortar mixed at the right consistency, the right tools, timing, humidity in the air, etc... the wall that your laying tile on isn't square and likely has a wave to it. Put it up anyways and do the best with what you have.

3) Jump in head first - this is the way I typically do everything and it mostly works out. Immerse yourself in the process because it's new and (can be) exciting.

4) See it as learning a new skill - not as doing a chore. Often times we get complacent in doing things we know how to do instead of looking for things we have no idea how to accomplish and figuring out a way to do it.

The best part about learning how to tile isn't the end result, it's the journey to get there. Twitter that. 

If you need a little motivation to get started on a project that has you scared, watch this video and get after it!