Women In Real Estate Series: Interview with a Successful Home Flipper and Designer

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

If you aren't following Holly and Angie, @reno_gals, on Instagram, you are missing out! These two dynamic women are doing incredible things and doing it with style over in Australia. They are young, ambitious, creative and wildly talented women who shuffle full-time careers while building their real estate flipping and design business. They hope to eventually make it their full-time career and I for one am certainly rooting for them!

Holly and Angie

Photo Credit: @Reno_gals


Based on what I have seen, they are both well on their way to reaching that goal and thanks to technology, I was able to interview Holly via "What's App?" and got the inside scoop on their most recent renovation project. I was super inspired by their story and am pumped to share it with you as well!

@MackofAllTradesNY: How did you get your start in this industry?

@Reno_gals: We pretty much fell into it because we couldn’t really afford to purchase our own unit so we linked up together. We were already renting as best friends so we decided to just pool our money and get into the market and buy a place.


While I had enough money for a down payment, and the banks were happy with the deposit, they weren't keen on me having just one income. Here in Australia if you don't have 20% of the purchase price to put down, you need to show you have more than one income. So that is really how we got into it together.

So with our first property, we were able to put down a 5% deposit and the purchase price was 393K. We had about 20K together, after each putting in 10K ourselves, in order to do the repairs that were needed. The first house was a tired, run down rental that was not very well looked after. It had filthy carpet, old blinds and was built in 1995. It was clear that it was not well-maintained since then. So we both knew from the beginning that we were going to put money into it because we had bought ourselves a fixer upper.

Back Porch

Photo Credit: @Reno_gals


We also had a friend’s aunt, who is a property developer, that gave us some really good advice. She always bought in the right suburbs where there was good growth, and her rule was to always make sure you buy within a 10K radius of the city center, so about 6 miles or so. She said that you always want to make sure your property is within a 20-minute drive to the city center, because then you're guaranteed to see growth in value on your investment that you want to see. And I think that certainly is true because everyone always wants to live next to the city, near train lines, near schools and near all the action.

When looking for our first property, we knew that we couldn’t afford a really nice house but that we could afford a fixer upper, so we looked specifically for a place that needed a bit of work and eventually we ended up buying a two bedroom/one bathroom house. We spent our rehab budget on ripping out the kitchen and putting in an entirely new one for only about 5k. Flooring ended up being another 5k as well. Then we spent the rest of the money on what they call vinyl planks and just a lot of paint. We painted the outside of the house from top to bottom which made a huge difference. Oh, and we also put in a new piece of clear shower glass screen which made the bathroom look amazing! It just felt so much bigger after that. And then we also spent on other little things like blinds and curtains. By then the remainder of our budget was gone.


Reno Gals Kitchen Before

Photo Credit: @Reno_gals


Kitchen After

Photo Credit: @Reno_gals


We loved living there too because it was a fun house. It had a big pool and we had loads of parties in that house. It was good fun. But then we started to notice that the property market was going up so we thought maybe we should try our luck again by putting the house on the market and try to sell it to make some money.

The real estate agents all said we should list it at 440K or 450K. They also told us that the maximum we would be able to get out of it would be 480K. So we thought, well, why don’t we just try selling it ourselves? In Australia real estate agents take 2.3% of commission, so we'd be out 8K immediately just by selling it through an agent and having to pay their fees. We figured it wasn't worth it.

So we found a company where we pay them a flat fee and they list your property on the two biggest Australian websites for selling properties. We also had a friend who was good with photography so we just asked them to take some pictures and uploaded the photos to the website. And believe it or not, the house sold in three weeks for 510K! Which was awesome because it meant we made a 97K profit! We thought “Oh my goodness, I think we’re onto something! Are we good at this or is this just luck? Maybe we can do it again?”


So we decided to have a look and see if there were any other properties in the area, and within a few weeks we had found a tired property built in the 1960's. It was a deceased estate and the house had been left there vacant for a year while the will got sorted out. Apparently there was some sort of dispute between the children which is why it sat on the market so long. We decided to put in an offer right before it was meant to go to auction, hoping for the best and we told them we would sign the contract in within 24 hours too. Originally they wanted 600K for it, but we offered 530K and luckily we got it! We thought it was a great deal.

We did a lot more work on the second house and ended up spending 70K total. Then when we sold it again ourselves for 718K and we did the math and realized we had made 108K profit! Was that luck again, we wondered. We were very pleased with the results.

So after doing it twice we thought, we were definitely onto something. We also realized you really do make your money when you are doing the buying, so you have to buy something undervalued and be savvy with where you spend money to renovate it in order to make a profit. And by selling it ourselves we made even more money.


Our third property we bought it for 640K and are spending 170K on it. We hope to make 120K when we are all finished. We’ll see how we have a go with it. We have started a major extension which will add another bedroom, bathroom and small living area. That will add lots of value, hopefully.

Honestly, this was never really meant to be a business. It was just two girls that were trying to get their own property and just wanting to get ahead and to not have to rent anymore.

Living Room Completed

Photo Credit: @Reno_gals


@MackofAllTradesNY: So tell me a bit more about your day job and how do you juggle it all while still tackling this amazing renovation?

@Reno_gals: I have a burning passion for interior design. I would absolutely quit my job tomorrow as an ICU nurse if I could because my job is stressful and I have been doing it for 8 years now. The burn out rate is pretty high in this profession but it is steady, which is nice. I’m glad I have a hobby on the side though that I really enjoy because it makes life a lot easier. But ideally I want to find a way that I can get into this full time somehow, eventually.

I am considering doing a real estate certificate, but I’m just not right there yet right now. My job is very secure and pretty flexible so I’d be silly to give it up while I’m still able to cope. Also, I don’t work full time. I work about 75% of full time which is nice because then it gives me the flexibility to work on the renovations.


Angie’s job isn’t long-term as a nanny. They’ve promised her another year there, which is great, but she's not sure what she’s going to do next after that. She agrees with me though that long-term wise it would be brilliant to create this as a business. We both don't need it to make much but we’d like to do well enough and also to give back somehow. We’d love to be able to give back to a specific charity of our choosing as we age.

After this house we would like to do one more for sure. We haven’t found anything yet but we were thinking maybe a house where we completely gut it, you know? Maybe we will be able to keep the frame, floor and roof and redesign a whole house around the foundations... or otherwise we were also thinking we could knock something down and start from scratch. Each time we pick a project we have gone bigger and better. And each time we do it we take the money we make as a profit and reinvest it into the next project.


Rendering of their current project

Photo Credit: @Reno_gals


@MackofAllTradesNY: Do you have any tips for someone starting out or who is wanting to tackle a renovation?


@Reno_gals: Tips? Save, save, save! And don’t be scared to borrow big, but make sure you still borrow within your means. We have taken Dave Ramsey’s advice which was don’t have a mortgage more than 25% of your monthly wage. We didn’t know about his rule and his money plan when we first started but we use it now.


Also, and I spoke about it before, we always buy in an area of growth. We try to buy the worst house on the best street and we also don’t get emotionally attached to the house. Any house we choose to buy is because it’s a good buy and the numbers work. We know we are not going to buy our dream house at 25, which is okay. Remember, your first house is your stepping stone to get on the property ladder. Also, to be honest, there is nothing wrong with renting until you have enough saved up money because when you rent you save money on utilities and various other expenses. In Australia, owners have to pay land tax every three months and the landlord also pays the water and sewage bill. So yeah, all of those things can add up quickly and sometimes, honestly, it’s cheaper to rent for awhile.


@MackofAllTradesNY: I’m curious to hear more about how you collaborate and what your design process is? Do you usually create the designs together? Or does one of you maybe take the lead more in that area?


@Reno_gals: I am definitely more into the design aspect than Angie is. I make the majority of decisions when it comes to that, but she definitely gives input. For example, I’ll ask her if we should put white or gray curtains in a given room. She was definitely more interested in that part of the process the first time we went through it and seems to be less interested as we go along. I’m not sure why, maybe she knows I always win out? I'm joking, of course, but maybe she thought she had to give more input at the start when we were both newer to this. Now I make decisions with slightly more confidence so she kind of just sits back and relaxes and lets me take the lead when it comes to the design part.


One good thing though is that we make fast decisions. We can because it’s not our forever home. When renovating for a flip you don’t have to say, “Oh my goodness, am I gonna love this in 5 years?” because you are just designing it to sell. You don't have to live with it forever. You want your design to appeal to as many people as possible so we always try to stick with neutrals. We also like light colours, pale grays, wood...that sort of stuff never dates. And colours like white and navy are good too because that’s like a classic Hamptons/Cape Cod look. You can also always do black and white too with wood because it gives a classic farmhouse look and we love Chip and Johanna Gaines style over here!


Finished Kitchen

PhotoCredit: @Reno_gals


@MackofAllTradesNY: So when you are looking to buy an investment property, what are some of the things you look for?


@Reno_gals: When we walk into a house the things we are usually looking at are: Are the bedrooms decent sizes? Do they have built in wardrobes? If not can we fit some in and will it still be a decent size bedroom? Are the windows standard sizes so we don't have to get new windows or curtains custom made? Is there a good enough flow on the floor plan?


Staged Bedroom

Photo Credit: @Reno_gals


We did buy one house that did not really have a good floor plan or flow. It was the second property we purchased and it had the kitchen and living room at the front of the house. In Australia most people prefer those on the back of the house so they can then open up double doors onto grass or a deck in the backyard. Also it was difficult because in order to get out to the backyard you had to exit out of front or go through the laundry room on the side to go around back. We ran with the house though because it was so cheap and because we knew the suburb was going up in value. So it ended up being worth it and we did make some adjustments to the floor plan to make it flow a little better.


@MackofAllTradesNY: Do you mind telling me more about how you design your kitchens? Do you have any tips to save on costs there?


@RenoGals: We are so lucky today with the internet because there are so many ideas and inspiration pictures that you can get from Pinterest and Instagram! It helps a lot.


When it comes to cabinets, we always go with a white shaker or pale gray shaker cabinet because it’s a classic. Also we just want to hide things like microwaves. They don’t look good when they are on display. Most people usually want an island or breakfast nook where people can sit and gather and hangout so we look for ways we can include that. And we’ve also noticed that people are loving those big farmhouse sinks right now so we make sure to include a big sink if we are able to.


We also find that people in Australia love the big windows that can open up onto a deck. They really enjoy that indoor/outdoor flow and serving meals on to the deck area, which is a really big thing here. We haven’t been able to do that yet in any of our projects but we did think about doing it with this house. Unfortunately, though, the big bifold windows would be 3-5K and we just couldn’t justify spending that much on it. It didn’t make sense if we didn’t think we would get our money back on it.


But overall it’s really quite easy to plan a kitchen. If you are good with a measuring tape and if you’re a creative person, you would be totally fine designing a kitchen.


Another tip is to find a good cabinet maker that just does the cabinets and the stone top. Then you can organize your own electricians and plumbers to come in and do what they do best. They usually can do it quicker and cheaper anyways. And when we offer to pay the cabinet maker in cash, he usually is willing to knock off a couple grand too. All these little things add up.


Kitchen Renovation

Photo Credit: @Reno_gals


@MackofAllTradesNY: One of the bits of advice when starting something new, like getting into real estate, is to find a mentor. Do you have any mentors? If so how did you find them and how do they support you?


@Reno_gals: Mentors? Well we had that friend’s auntie who gave us the advice about buying within 10K of the city center, which was helpful. But to be honest, I don’t think we really have a “mentor” per se. If anything we have had a lot of people say “you just got lucky” or “you got in at the right time.” A lot of people have questioned us, especially with our second project when we bought it because it needed more work than the first one.


A lot of people just think we are silly little girls who don’t know what we are doing, but that doesn't really matter to us though. It doesn’t phase us. We know our project is going to be successful and that we have a good plan and process that seems to be working. So no, we don’t really have any mentors really, at least not right now.


@MackofAllTradesNY: Which parts of the reno do you tackle yourself and which parts do you hire out?


@Reno_gals: Angie and I share the work. Most of the work we do is like painting and sanding and stuff like that. I can add trimming and do battening on the roof and walls myself. I try to do stuff like that when I can so we can save some money. We also do lots of demo together as well.


Other than that, when it comes to the big stuff, we have to hire it out to tradesmen for electrical, plumbing and things like professional floor setters. We’ve thought about trying to do some of those ourselves but by the time you learn how to do it well, it’s really not that expensive to just pay a professional to do it. And to be honest, you will probably get a better result, at least in the beginning when you are learning. So we pay professionals for any type of carpentry and things like pulling down walls because you don’t know if it’s a structural wall or whatnot. But at the end of day if you do most of the painting and small projects yourself, you save a lot more money.


Holly tackling projects

Photo Credit: @Reno_gals


@MackofAllTradesNY: Have you experienced any sexism when tackling these projects?


@Reno_gals: It’s really funny that you say contractors don’t take you seriously. It’s like they think you don't know what you’re doing. We had the same thing happen to us a number of times. I mean how do we overcome that? You stand your ground and be an independent woman. Try not to be intimidated.


It can be hard especially if you are really young when you buy your first property. We bought it when I was 25 years old and that is quite young to be renovating a whole house. Luckily, the first thing we did with that house was the kitchen and we met the most beautiful cabinet maker. We still use him to this day. He's a lovely man and he was about our age as well and at the time he was just starting his own business off so we were learning together. That was really nice to deal with someone straight away who didn’t try to intimidate us or take us for a ride. We were also lucky because our electrician is one of our best friend’s husbands. Same thing with the air con guy. He is another best friend’s husband and our plumber was just a good find. We are fortunate in that we have been able to find good people based on recommendations.


Holly and Angie Out Celebrating

Photo Credit @Reno_gals


Where we have struggled is with a lot of builders. They usually are the ones that imply we don’t know what we are talking about. For example, we had been trying to find a decent builder for awhile and we eventually found a really lovely one. He’s basically our neighbor because he lives a few blocks away, and him and his entire team are all lovely guys. Since we started @Reno_gals on Instagram, he follows us and has been very supportive.


After having done three houses I think people are starting to take us more seriously. I am no longer afraid to question a few things on the quote. I think the only way to overcome people trying to talk down to you is to stand your ground and be independent. Just believe in yourself.


Lastly, just have fun with things. That is what this is all about. It’s nice to know there are women all over the world similar to myself and that we’re all in the same boat!


So if you are interested in learning more about flipping houses, I totally recommend reaching out to @Reno_gals. They are doing amazing work, and their Instagram stories teach me something new every day! I hope this inspires you to set aside any worries, fears or doubts and to jump into it, if it’s something you want to do!


Thank you @Reno_gals for all your insight, wisdom and creativity!


Forever grateful,

Mack


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