Monday, July 29, 2013

Living in an Incubator

 Back in March, my husband and I began the conversation about what he might do if he could do anything and what emerged from that dreaming was this: starting his own business renovating homes with the goal of hiring and training veterans in residential construction skills.

Shortly after that though, he found himself interviewing for more corporate positions, making it to the final rounds, and after months in limbo, not getting the jobs.

“I guess I’ll be a carpenter,” he said after the last “No.” “Then I’ll be a lady,” I answered ready, finally, to take the leap of being fully self-employed.

Yellow RibbonHomes is now a reality (you can like us on Facebook and follow our progress). Kevin has rolled his old 401k into his own corporation, has joined REAPS (Real Estate Association of Puget Sound) and has become a licensed general contractor in the state of Washington, and on August 1, we close escrow on the first home we are going to rehab and sell.

Reading and researching “home flipping” since March, we thought we’d start with what the experts recommend: a tract house in a suburban neighborhood that needs mostly cosmetic touches—updated flooring and cabinets, new paint, a bit of landscaping.

But two weeks ago the greeter at the Poulsbo (our neighboring town) REAPS meeting—and the only person Kevin had met at the gatherings—announced he’d obtained a waterfront property he planned to sell to an investor (it’s called wholesaling).

Kevin made an appointment to tour the property, and we drove a mere 6.5 miles from our home over the Agate Passage bridge onto Sandy Hook Road to a narrow driveway barely accessible from the street, overgrown branches scraping the car. We parked in front of a dingy brown house that had been added onto once, maybe twice.

Original structure on left. Addition on right.

The house’s best feature: a glass entryway flanked by a mature Japanese maple, with more glass on the opposite wall, drew our eyes to the water, the view partially obscured by blackberry and salal bushes and droopy cedar boughs, but so close we could hear the tide lapping in.

Glass walled entry with the water beyond.

The wholesaler gave us a tour, pointing out what we could plainly see: everything in the house needs replacing—flooring, windows, counters, toilets and vanities—and the floor-plan is terrible. He and his father had drawn up a plan for an addition. He handed us the paperwork and left us to wander on our own.

After months of visioning and building in our own home that transformed a submarine basement into an open den and master bedroom, and a boxed in kitchen into an expansive one, I wasn’t much interested in adopting someone else’s plan.

Here's a quick before and after of our most recent remodeling projects:

Hallway and stairwell before

Den before

Hallway and stairwell after

Den after

Unfinished basement before

Master bedroom closet and sauna after

Basement bedroom (with temporary double-paned windows) before

Master bedroom after

Kitchen before

Dining room looking into kitchen before

Kitchen after

Dining room looking into kitchen after

I walked next to Kevin through the musty rooms mouth-breathing to avoid odors. We began brainstorming and all the glorious potential in this home became clear to us, and I knew we were supposed to be the ones to rehab it.

We went home. We thought about it. The asking price was double what we’d planned to spend on our first flip house, but it would mean that the sales price would be much higher, and we could flip fewer houses to support our family.

Just before dinner Kevin pulled out binoculars and located the shoreline of the property across the water. “I could ride my bike to work,” he said. “Or kayak,” I joked, imagining him with a ladder and tool chest strapped to our plastic yellow kayak.

The waterfront from the flip house

A peek of Mt. Rainier from the flip house. Our house is in the trees below.

“I don’t know if it’s just emotion, or if it’s logic,” he said, “but I’d really love to fix up that property.”

“If it’s emotion,” I answered, “you better do it.”

Why flip two tract homes in Tacoma, more than an hour away, just because it seemed like the prudent thing to do? One of the many things we’ve been living into in these years of transition is listening to passion and following the energy.

Kevin called the wholesaler. Would he like to partner with us? No, he wanted someone who had “cheaper money.” Since we are new at this, we are borrowing construction money called “hard money” at a high interest rate from a company that specializes in real estate investing.

Once we’ve done a few projects our hard money will be cheaper—loaned at a better interest rate—and we plan to bring in our own investors since we’ll offer a better return than a bank CD (If you’d like to discuss investing in our business email

So, Kevin wrote up a full-price offer, the wholesaler thought about it overnight, and three days after we’d first seen the house, the two of them signed a purchase agreement.

It’s been a whirlwind of activity since then: designing, measuring, number crunching to get an expense estimate to the lender before escrow closes.

We'll turn this old bedroom into the kitchen

Some rotten siding but newer electrical wire

Looking from waterside of yard up to house

Without knowing it would be so, our year-and-a-half home renovation has been a long apprenticeship in a living laboratory, allowing us to translate much of what we’ve already done—limbing trees to enhance the views, knocking out walls to bring in light and water views, converting unfinished basements into living space—to another house.

Unlike my husband’s search for a traditional job, which felt slow and frustrating, important details are falling quickly and providentially into place:

Kevin has lined up a local contractor, a veteran, to fix this house and work with Kevin in the future as he assembles a team of veteran owned businesses and lays the groundwork for training veterans. Former colleagues have also expressed interest in partnering with Kevin as this dream grows from one waterfront home into the pulsing and thriving endeavor it will become.

This entry captured our imaginations

Between the two of us, my husband and I began two small businesses. Our home, he says, is “an entrepreneur incubator.”

Our entrepreneur enjoys  a view of Mt. Rainier from Home Depot's picnic area

We are creating not just jobs for ourselves, but life-giving livelihoods of potential, of possibility, of rampant creativity living into and out of our gifts in an ever expanding “yes.”

May it be so for you as well.

Our next project?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Cathy!!
    Great explanation of what these last months have been for both of you. You and I have not met (yet?) but I'm completely sure that this second half of your lives will be simply exciting, plenty of creativity, manual labor gives as compensation the satisfaction to enjoy unrepeatable experiences and results. Every home will be an incredible new experience for everyone who will be involved in the "home transformation". The most amazing is to think about which kind of personal experiences and "kind of life" you would like to make possible for those who at last will buy your rehab homes. I enjoyed working with Kevin in the past, and would be great to have the chance to join in anyway your great project and extend it to Florida. Who knows what future will bring to us! I'll keep an eye to your blog to follow you up.