Home & Garden

Flipping homes is hard but rewarding work for couples

Nick Trenary of Cedar Rapids talks about the renovations underway at a home he is flipping in SE Cedar Rapids on Friday, January 25, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Nick Trenary of Cedar Rapids talks about the renovations underway at a home he is flipping in SE Cedar Rapids on Friday, January 25, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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When it comes to flipping houses, shows on HGTV can make it seem like a breeze, but local couples attest to the fact that while flipping can be a fun bonding experience, it’s not as simple as it looks on camera.

“It is not like on HGTV, it’s nothing like that,” said Lindsay Eidahl of Cedar Rapids. “There’s no crew and I’m not dressed to the nines walking through and saying what needs to be done. People watch those shows and it seems so simple. If you are going to flip a house, you’ve got to go into it knowing what you are doing.”

Eidahl and her husband, Matt, who have flipped houses for a couple years, have learned through experience.

“My dad flipped houses when I was little,” she said. “While Matt and I were dating and when our kids were little, we would do the work with him. If we didn’t learn through my dad, we wouldn’t have realized we could do this ourselves.”

When it comes to flipping, the hardest part is finding the house itself, Eidahl said.

“You can’t just buy any house. Neighborhoods are a factor as well as the size of the house. It’s not just ‘that house needs work’ so we are going to flip it and make a lot of money. You have to find one at the right price.”

Hollie and Nick Trenary, also of Cedar Rapids, have been flipping houses together for as long as they’ve known each other.

“When we first met, Nick’s very first house was an estate he bought from a family. It was in the 1960s format and he and I worked on that house. You learn a lot about each other that way. We remodeled that house completely while living in it as newlyweds. It was super fun. It has become a hobby, an awesome thing that he and I do together as a couple.”

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Nick agreed. “Hollie is the designer, talking about colors and what direction to go with cabinetry. I’ll roll paint all day long, but she’ll do the trim work,” he said.

The Trenarys are in the final stages of their most recent flip, a four bedroom, three bath, split-level home on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids.

“I just love houses,” said Hollie. “I love going in and envisioning what can be in a house, especially an older house that has been untouched for a long time and you have the opportunity to go in and do a refresh.”

Working on their own house before deciding to do a flip is a great start, Eidahl explained.

Nick Trenary agreed, noting that that’s the first advice he shares with people who say they are interested in flipping.

“I would say start small,” he said. “Do something you are confident you can do. Do some work in your own home.”

Having some DIY skills — or being able to learn as you go — is essential.

“I am handy enough to be dangerous,” Nick said jokingly. “But really, now with YouTube there are so many resources. The average guy can do things you couldn’t do 15 years ago.”

And they rely on a network of contractors for items they can’t DIY.

“We’ve learned if we try something and it doesn’t work out, we are never afraid to bring someone else in to do it,” Hollie said.

Eidahl agreed, noting her husband is very handy and they work well as a team.

“We handle whatever we can,” she said. “Things like air conditioning and plumbing, we hire out. But we are not paying anyone to tear things out or paint the walls. If it is anything we can DIY we are doing it.”

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Even with their experience, both the Trenarys and Eidahls said they continue to learn from each flip.

“You learn that every project is different,” Eidahl said. “And you learn that you need to have a plan b, c and d because once you start doing something, it might not work. You have to be flexible. You might go in thinking you can save all the cabinets and then figure out you can’t salvage them. You need to pad your budget for those little surprises because they will show up in every corner.”

Both couples said it can be challenging to know when the project is worth it.

“It’s going to take more work than you think,” Nick said. “We’ve had good luck with this one as there hasn’t been anything that has sunk the budget.”

They did a full overhaul on their current flip house.

“We’ve taken up every square inch of flooring. We re-sized the bathrooms to make them more functional. We removed a wall separating the kitchen and living room to make it open concept,” Nick said. “The home was built in 1974 and it had never been updated. There was a full bar in the basement, wallpaper everything, lots of work to do. But we could see it had good bones.”

Eidahl said when they come across a house that might be a good fit for a flip, they spend a few days crunching the numbers.

“We write down everything we can remember the house needs. We come up with a budget and then we come up with a starting point and what we think we can get at the end so we know if it will be worth our time at all.”

While these flipping projects take hours of commitment, Nick said he appreciates the change of pace the project brings.

“I work in IT so I’m sitting in front of a computer all day,” he said. “I am using the other half of my brain. For me, I like to do the mindless work like painting and get away from everything else.”

The Trenarys’ children also have enjoyed helping with their latest flip.

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“Everyone always says ‘how in the world do you have time for these things,’ but we just make time and make it family time,” said Hollie. “We are passing these skills on to our kids and we think that is important too.”

The Eidahls just took possession of their latest house and they are eager to get to work. This project, a home on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids, will include a new furnace, air conditioner and water heater, as well as removing wallpaper and tile flooring. They will put a new toilet and vanity in the bathroom, remove carpeting and paint nearly every surface.

“I’m not very patient,” said Eidahl. “This will be the biggest flip we have done and I am hoping we can do it in four months. Other flips have taken us two or three months. But it’s every night and every weekend. We work around the kids’ schedule but we know we are going to live and breathe this project for a while because the longer you hold it the more it’s costing you.”

Nick Trenary knows that schedule well. “When this house is done, I’ll be pretty proud of it. It’s been nights and weekends and lots of hours. To take everything out and build it back up, it is going to be a huge change. When it gets out on the market, all the neighbors are going to come see it. There’s great satisfaction at the end — when you stand there at the end and say we did this and this house is ready.”

Hollie said they’ve been lucky that every house they have flipped has sold quickly.

“It’s fun to bring people in and show them the work you have done and it pays off,” she said.

But more than that, the satisfaction of each flip also lies in the transformation the home has undergone, she said. “This house in particular, we met the family and worked directly with them to purchase it. Every time I walk in the house I think about the people who lived there. I love family history and stories. This house has a story. And the family is so pleased that we are turning this into something that another family will have.”

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