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)

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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!

Why we are here in the first place

I'm not sure if we ever expressed the reason my wife and I started to renovate homes in Lafayette. We saw so many homes being neglected. For one reason or another, the property continued to wear from weather or sheer inability to update. There was a void that needed filled. We made the promise to each other and those who follow us that we will be open and transparent with each of you. It will not be the highlights from HGTV that make you think flipping a home was some 1 hour long, easy as pie process. It will make you constantly worry and keep your stress levels high. Oh, and I'm having a kid in a few months so I'm sure things will calm down... But, as I've said before; at the end of the day, we get to step back and see a house turned into a home it can be one of the most gratifying jobs I've ever had.

What we didn't expect was the constant set backs from those we counted on to help with repairs. Let me preface by saying we are still learning the routine of remodeling homes to resell including organization, scheduling, keeping subcontractors on a tight time-line and then ultimately holding them accountable. 

So, with that said, the Shady Creek Project has been a bear to handle from an organizational standpoint. Our roofer repaired the roof in the rain - after being told not too. He flooded our first floor ceiling and caused significant damage. This company has yet to be located to recoup these damages. Our landscaper worked out for a bit but when the job got too much for him, he split with the money. Our primary contractor took on multiple jobs making my job the least important. 

I'm not saying this to bitch or complain, I'm telling you this to be open and transparent. Because, as of Tuesday, I was having one of those days it would be easy to sit down and stress over everything needing done. Thats when I received a knock on the door. Mike Wang, a friend of ours from CrossFit had called in a favor. Since he originally recommended the landscaper he felt responsible for what that person did to us. He called a friend with a bobcat that made quick work of all the left over jobs the landscaper never finished. I'm not a person that asks for help often and the fact that Mike moved mountains to get me what I needed the most at that time was emotional and humbling. In 15 minutes Mike and his friend busted their butts to finish the work. And, in the process unearthed some pretty amazing rocks for our finished landscaping (see pictures below).

People like Mike and his friend are what allow us to trust again. They provide comfort in knowing that good people are still out there. It recharged my batteries for this project and showed me that there are people who believe in what we are doing at the Heartland Concept. 

It's these kind of people that make the Midwest and specifically Lafayette Indiana a place we are happy to invest resources in and make a better place.

The Business Side of Things

Lets talk.

OK, so we are couple houses down at this point and some very valuable lessons have been learned. Hard lessons, easy lessons. Lessons you don't even know you've learned. But, today I want to talk about the business side of things and how it relates to working in building, housing industry.

First and foremost, it's completely flawed. Yup, I said it. Now, every industry is flawed but I'm thinking the contracting and sub-contractor industry is incredibly flawed. In my opinion, it's because there's so many 1 man operations that don't know how to run the business like, well, a business. I'll get to that more later but for now, what happened to get us here? During 2007 and 2008 when the housing bubble erupted into a volcanic mega cloud many contractors decided to get out of the industry. Taking jobs in other areas less stressful or competitive. When those people exited the market, no one jumped in to take their place. The pool we had to pull from had been dramatically lessened, almost over night. Fast forward to another hot time in real estate (like today) and you'll see many new faces and companies all hustling to get a part of the action. And this is where the issues begin.

See people like us need to get work done quickly. We are in the business of turning over homes fast and making them look like brand new ones. Unfortunately, the new home builders have most crews on lock down for obvious reasons. Others scramble to find smaller contacting companies to fulfill their needs. Some pay labors full time wages just to stay committed to them. For every good contractor, it seems that you have to go through 3 bad ones. Below are a few tips I've learned along the way. I hope these help as you start to plan out your next project.

1) 30/70 splits

My wife who worked in the industry for awhile saw this payment structure most commonly. The idea is that you give them 30% upfront for any material cost and 70% at the completion of the project. Completion of the project is not determined by the contractor, it is determined by you! When you feel the job is complete, then you pay. Be strong on this because it's hard looking someone in the eye and telling them you will not pay until the job is complete. 

There are special circumstances that might issue a 50/50 split. The only time this is accepted is when they can show you in writing why they need 50% up front. For instance our concrete contractor needed 50% up front for all materials. He had an itemized list showing me exactly what he needed to buy. I was comfortable doing this because he provided me with a certificate of insurance (see below) and if he ran, I could make a claim on his insurance.

Why I no longer do the 50/50 Split - I'm convinced that those snake in the grass contractors price their work knowing that 50% payment will cover their labor so when (not if) they sneak off and leave, 50% is just fine to them. 

2) Keep a log of insurance and bonds

Only work with those who supply you with certificates of Liability or Bonded papers. If they don't have them and provide proof, don't use them. Their lack of ability to operate like a business will ultimately make you pay for their large mishap.

Keep a log of all the documents and a spreadsheet of when they expire. Set a calendar reminder of when they expire so that you can reach out to the contractor for an updated document.

3) Trust Your Gut

If someone doesn't seem right, chances are they aren't. If you don't want them doing a roof when rain is being forecasted, then tell them no. Trust me, we learned the hard way. There are many wolfs in sheep's clothing out there and it's hard to spot. If you stick to the first and second tip here then it will weed out those who are typically looking to scam you.

4) Finding the right contractor is a numbers game

In sales they teach you the 10-3-1 rule. 10 people are called on, 3 might be interested and 1 will buy. That means we have to call on a lot of people to make 1 sale. Finding the right contractor is very similar. You have to go through a lot of bad ones to find a really good one. Lucky for us, we have a few really good people we can call on.

It's not all doom and gloom so don't let this get you down. You will quickly forget all the bad stuff that happened when you step back at the end of the project, look up at the freshly updated home and smile knowing that you completed a big task. 

As always, reach out to us or comment below with any questions you should have. Happy building. 

100 Men Who Cook

Holy cow. The Heartland Concept was picked to have Alec Williams be 1 of 100 men who cook. Ok, you may wonder what that means but let me break it down for you - 100 men provide 500+ samples of their favorite dish to hundreds of people where the chefs dress up silly, provide great dishes and hustle for tips. All the tips collected go to the Willowstone Family Services, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing services geared towards those who are affected by mental health issues. 

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Why is this so important to The Heartland Concept? Well, Alec has been serving on the board of Willowstone Family services for over 2 years. He has seen what Willowstone does for the community on a daily basis and is proud to be a member of the organization. It's also a very big deal for Willowstone Family Services. Each year, 100 Men Who Cook choose just 2 organizations to partner with and this year, Willowstone Family Services is one of them. By bringing in tips and selling table sponsorships, Willowstone Family Services will be able to invest more money into the ongoing battle to provide services to those who need it regarding Mental Health solutions.

There are two ways you can be involved. 1) purchase a ticket and show up in person. Bring a date with you and have one heck of a night. I guarantee you will have some of the best food ever and you will not leave hungry. Or 2) follow the link below and donate a tip to your main man, Alec Williams. The goal is $350 so lets get started and make it happen!