Great Pairings

“From the joining of two unexpected, seemingly opposite mates, great pairings can happen. How about Sonny and Cher, bacon cupcakes or Labradoodles?

Well the home design world is adding another great, albeit unexpected pairing to the list: historic home shells with über-modern interiors.” – Jason Buch, SA Express-News

I was interviewed this week to take part in a story that came out today called “Great Pairings”in the San Antonio Express-News about local home remodelers specializing in pairing historic homes with modern interiors and features.  As it turns out they were actually interviewing a realtor and another remodeler in the Historic King William area of town and they told him about what I’ve been doing for Mahncke Park and along the Broadway Corridor so they searched me out. I was pretty excited to see who’s photos they used for the front page, especially when the meat of the story is really about another guy blending Contemporary architecture. As you can see our 1900 Arts & Crafts Bungalow built by H.C. Thorman dubbed Hat Trick House from last summer got the money shot. What made this house so special is the time we put in to carefully preserve the historic exterior of the home while gutting the entire interior, adding square footage, reconfiguring the floorplan and offering a finish out to meet today’s most discriminating buyer. While the article is promoting “uber-modern” interiors, we stayed somewhat true to the time period of this home with the renovation and material choices. This house got a lot of white ceramic tile w/subway pattern, White Shaker style cabinetry with seeded glass fronts and even a Farmhouse sink to keep the historic feel. While new materials like granite and stainless were still present, the kitchen didnt look out of place after we were done. Maybe Jason is trying to stir up his audience by using the terms historic and modern together because everyone hates seeing historic homes altered but at some point nobody wants to live in an antique either. If you want to see for yourself, here is the Contemporary Ikea kitchen in the other historic house referenced in the article. To check out the whole renovation video of my project with before and after shots, click here.  Thanks to Jason Buch @ San Antonio Express-News and for the article!

The Finish Line, Hat Trick Sold 340K!

Yesterday was a great day for us – we closed on the Hat Trick House and bought another one all in one day. We ended up getting $340k for Hat Trick from an ALL CASH buyer, which equates to $176 per square foot. We established this high price per square foot previously with the Craftsman Bungalow project. Knowing what we could then get for Hat Trick is what made us decide to add the additional square footage. If you can build for $70/s.f. and sell for $175/s.f. it makes sense to add the square footage if it’s the right area to do it in. Some people thought we were blowing it by not just sneaking in a second bathroom but we had the big picture vision and knew what we could do with this house. As you can imagine, being in a transitional area and setting a new high sales price $65k above anything comparable before (and in a slow market) has all the local realtors talking. The highest sale for a redone historic house was $275k while there have been some new construction homes that have sold for up to $310k.

 Lender appraisals have been conservative lately with the changes from HVCC and with this house pushing a new price level for the neighborhood it was great to find this buyer. Another nice thing was that the buyer didn’t come with a realtor so we double ended it (didn’t have to pay any commissions); essentially he also got a better price on the house. After the closing we then went straight over to a seller’s house we have been negotiating with and got another house in Mahncke Park under contract. We are closing on it next Friday. It’s another historic arts and crafts bungalow that we’ll be totally renovating and hopefully get to use our own sales comp again. There are a lot of sketchy rehabs out there not selling; this goes to show that if you buy them right and do good work that you can still make money flipping houses in any market.

Hat Trick House Sold In 5 Days!

We Sold The House In 5 Days and with Multiple Offers! Yahoo! Last weekend we had an Open House California style. We ran the big photo ad in the newspaper, passed out invites to the neighbors, had signs & balloons on the major intersections and hotdogs for the guests. To all my Realtor fans, THIS is how you get 100 people through your house on a Saturday. It was really quite rewarding to hear all the feedback from the guests admiring the design and craftsmanship. On Sunday we accepted a great offer from the buyer and not 15 minutes later we had a Phyllis Browning agent call saying he had a back up offer.


The buyer had his home inspection on Wednesday and for the first time ever we saw an inspection report that couldn’t list one single thing wrong with the house! All the inspector could say to the buyer was “this one was done right, you better buy this house.” In all Tarrant Realty’s years we’ve never seen this happen. These home inspectors will pick any small detail just to make the buyer feel like he earned his fee. They’ll usually even list questionable things just to protect themselves. I think I’ll frame this report as it’s a testament to our workmanship and attention to detail. Additionally, this week we passed finals on our mechanical and building permits so we are just waiting for the power company to move the line from our temporary pole and drop it to the new meter loop. We are set to close in mid July and are currently searching and writing offers on the quest for the next project.

Game On

The Hat Trick House is finally done and officially on the market and in MLS. We’ve had a swarm of buyers throughout the rehab and 3 great offers before it was even finished. We went 9% over budget but luckily our estimated sales price is surprisingly up 25% due to market conditions! Our list price is $359,000, this will be the highest sale in our area and set a new high comp if it sells for that price. My wife and I staged the house and it’s all ready for an advertised open house this Saturday. We already had one showing today, one scheduled for tomorrow morning and an agent that sold another one of our properties (The Abandonded House) just called and her “picky” client found it today on and wants to see it. The agent from our first showing today said the master bedroom closet alone would sell the house. Really? Can’t wait to see how this weekend turns out and get all the feedback. According to the Brookings Institution San Antonio was ranked THE strongest metropolitan area for economic performance in the wake of a recession for the whole nation for Q1 09. Top 5 cities mentioned in the report are San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Austin, Houston and Dallas.

The Final Countdown

We are in the home stretch and shooting for next weekend to be completely done with the Hat Trick House. Woot Woot! As you can see we’ve made great progress this week again completing all the landscaping while the floors were getting done inside.



We used 7 pallets of sod, 4 yards of river rock, 2 truck loads of topsoil, $600 in plants and a yard of black mulch after lining the beds out with the metal edging. All that’s left outside is to paint the front door.


The hardwood floor refinishing is done now as well so we will install appliances tomorrow and get started on the shoe mouldings on the baseboards. The floors came out nice and dark, as we planned. In fact when they first started applying the dark walnut stain it wasn’t dark enough for my liking so I had the guys mix in some black pigment. They look dark and rich now and go well with my interior colors and oil rubbed bronze fixtures.


We’ve had numerous visitors this week and early inquiries from sign calls. Additionally the neighbor directly beside us put their house on the market Friday so everyone who pulls up to see their house of course sees our “coming soon” sign and walks over to take a gander. Although theirs is in a lower price range and not updated it has enabled us to get some traffic even though we are not in MLS yet. Everyone that’s seen our house has been blown away, one well-respected local realtor predicted that we’ll get $335k. Stay tuned.

Taking Care of Business

I had a big week on the project. Monday morning I dragged the whole family up to Ikea in Austin to buy the cool farmhouse sink for $299. After getting back I went and picked up 6 pre bull-nosed granite slabs and with the help of a friend we got all the countertops installed by 11 pm. This is the way to do your granite counters for about $10/s.f. I used the color Verde Butterfly this time. I had to alter my sink base cabinet to accept the farmhouse sink from Ikea but with some simple cutting out on the front and back it fit perfectly. I also got all the bathroom sinks and faucets in and the hot water heater installed. The A/C guy finally showed up and installed the condenser so we can call in for HVAC final inspection this week. We started sanding the hardwood floors Friday and I was pleased to see that most of the problem areas are disappearing. Once we come back with the dark Walnut stain they should end up looking fantastic. The wrought iron driveway gate is also installed now and adds a great touch. The floor refinishing guys will work through next week, while I switch gears to the landscape. My “Coming Soon” sign is in the yard now so stay tuned.

“Hurry Up and Finish So We Can Make Another Offer”

This is what the potential buyer told me Friday when he stopped by during my cabinet install. It’s the same couple that wrote the great offer a few weeks back. First time I’ve ever heard anyone say this, he’s really not shy to let me know how bad he wants it. They really love the house so I hope they get it. I passed final electrical inspection Tuesday so now we are waiting on CPS to drop the power to the new meter loop. I finished the fence, it ended up being a 4-day project with my helper and a total of 210 feet of dog-eared cedar with a rear, locking gate on the alley. Because all the cedar started to look a little “fency” I decided to go with a wrought iron driveway gate so I had my guy come and measure on Friday. After the fence I jumped right into the 30’ x 12’ rear deck project, only 2 days total to build the 360 square feet with a sweet bench to boot. When the pressure treated wood dries out for a week or so I can put some stain on it.


The cabinets arrived Thursday so I got right into hanging the boxes and vanities as well as topping out the plumbing. All that’s left for the cabinets are a few filler pieces, glass and the crown molding. The simple Shaker style with square lines really goes with the house and the wine rack adds a nice touch. All in all, I am really pleased with how my kitchen design turned out. The next major items to tackle on my list are granite slab counters for kitchen and baths, hardwood floor refinishing and A/C final inspection. I am ready to get this one done, it’s been fun but I’m feeling a little burned out from the final big push.



One more week until the Grand Opening of the $74.4 Million dollar Museum Reach section of the River Walk Extension Project. Here’s a great video containing a sneak peek of the new River Walk Museum Reach area and the artwork incorporated. Thousands of people are expected to be milling around down there next Saturday. We are planning a family stroll Sunday morning.

Riverwalk Extension and HUD Blunder

The Hat Trick House is coming along quickly now. I switched gears to working outside this week painting the garage to match the house and starting the rear privacy fence. Final inspection for electrical is scheduled for Monday so if we pass we’ll proceed with finishing A/C and calling it in for final as well. The cabinets and vanities will hopefully arrive on Thursday. The buyers who wrote the killer offer have been by twice this week checking progress.


$8000 Dollar Tax Credit as HUD down payment?

HUD is now allowing first time homebuyers to use their $8000 tax credit as the down payment on FHA insured loans. Isn’t this taking us right back to where the problems began with putting people in homes with zero down and no skin in the game? We already got rid of the “down payment assistance programs” due to the high default ratios of buyers who didn’t put anything down. HUD secretary Shaun Donovan announced this brain fart this week during a prepared speech.

Paint and Two Offers

The interior paint came out really good and we’ve received 2 offers already and the house isn’t even done yet! Build it right and they will come. Instead of popping out different room colors like a clown house we ran Ralph Lauren Macaw through the entire house except for the baths. With all the floorplan changes and the room addition now it seems the house is reconnected with the color unity and it all flows well. My electrician also came this week and installed all the devices, switches and receptacles.

Paint Colors

The buyer’s agent I spoke about on the last update showed up Monday with her buyers in tow, a really cool young couple. I had told her my price was in the $300k range but wasn’t specific. They absolutely loved the house and have been looking since Feb and have seen almost 70 houses. They wrote an incredible offer the next day for $310k with only 2 pts for the agent so effectively a $313k offer. With the recent new comps I really think we can push it a bit higher and as good as the offer was, I really want to market the property correctly and see what we can get. There have been 2 recent sales (one was ours with Craftsman Bungalow) that have got $175/s.f. The new pending sale we are excited about will be close to $190/s.f. With our addition of the master suite the Hat Trick House will be around 1930 s.f. so even if we use the conservative $175 per square foot then that puts us at $337k. If they love it now just wait until the landscape is done and we stage it. The highest sale in our area was for $299k and only 1650 s.f., so it looks like we are headed to another record breaking sale.

Paint Colors

Wednesday night we received a call from Agent #2 whom we’ve done business with before. He has another buyer who has evidently already stopped by, spoken with me and seen our project. They offered a little less than 300k and wanted to finish it themselves so they can pick the colors and fixtures. We’ve got about 13k left to spend but we also have final payments to our subcontractors and open permits to finalize. Plus as we mentioned, half the fun is staging it and marketing it so we maximize the potential on the project.

Tile and SA Market Stats

It took 4 days but I got all of the tile done minus the white grout which I’ll do Monday. I went to Daltile and opened a wholesale account to get the Arctic White ceramic because they don’t sell retail to the public. You can find white ceramic at the big box stores but they don’t have all the special bull nosed corners necessary to do the job right. There are also 5 different shades of white ceramic tile so be careful if you are mixing pieces from Lowes and Home Depot. I used 6”square up to the glass liner then 3×6 subway tile on top. For the floors in both baths I used 18” travertine. I spent about $900 for ceramic and $350 for the travertine for both bathrooms. We generally budget $3500 for a complete high-end bath remodel so we are in line here with this expensive tile. I think the classic white ceramic mixed with the modern travertine and glass achieves a good balance of old and new. The cabinets are also now officially ordered with a 12-day turn around out of Dallas.

Hall Bath Tile

Master Bath Tile

We had several new, interested parties contact us this week including a realtor representing a buyer whom had heard of us through a lady 3 blocks over. She knows the area extremely well and didn’t flinch when we had told her our plan on listing in the 300k range and in fact she also was aware of the recent price increases in the area including the 2/1 that’s under contract for 249k without major upgrades. There is virtually no inventory in our area and it’s also helping push prices up. We spoke about why Mahncke Park is seeing such good appreciation while for the most part the rest of San Antonio is staying flat. She felt its partly because it’s the second best choice for a historical neighborhood to King William/Monte Vista where prices are substantially higher. I still feel strongly it’s mostly due to the San Antonio Riverwalk extension to Witte Museum and all the Broadway revitalization. Additionally, M.P. was just under priced for its location for a long time and is now just catching up. San Antonio Board of Realtors put out a press release regarding March 2009 real estate sales statistics and first quarter trends. It said sales activity had dropped by 25% but prices remain stable. From talking to struggling agents on the front line it seems to me that activity has slowed a bit more but as one agent just told me the other day “There are just too many agents in San Antonio, all hanging on after the boom years when Californians were buying 3-4 houses sight unseen.” Those days are gone now because investors in California and other bubble markets can get cash flowing properties closer to home and be better positioned for the next upcycle in real estate prices.

Color Me Historic

We almost finished the exterior paint but the rain came again Friday. San Antonio needs the rain but when you are so close to adding the final details it really sucks to be forced to stop. The replica historic wooden window screens I made really allow for a cool color blocking combo. The dark purple accent color is from Benjamin Moore and called Vintage Wine. Of course we had it mixed at HD in a less expensive Behr. I am starting on the bathroom tile Monday rain or shine. I was crunching some numbers in MLS on an adjacent neighborhood after talking to a friend who has a flip there sitting on the market. Inventory levels are twice what they were in 08 and transactions are down 50% while the average sales price has stayed flat at 188k. This neighborhood was hot when all the San Diego investors were here due mainly to the school district (AHISD) but several eventually got caught with their pants down as the market slowed last year. The small historic San Antonio neighborhood Mahncke Park on the other hand has seen a y.o.y. average price increase of over 20% as well as an increase in sales activity. I cant wait to get the Hat Trick House done and try to set another record high sales comp. We are on budget with the rehab and our target sales price has risen due to recent sales comps pushing prices up. The cactus came up missing after I offered it to several workers. Someone came and dug it up after hours. I have to say I am sad to see it go even though we were planning on removing it for the new landscaping.

Paint Colors

Paint and Rain Don’t Mix

It’s been a crazy week jumping from one project to another and making offers on 2 other properties. We started to paint the exterior and got rained out on day 2 of a 3 day rain. We did however get 2 coats on the eaves painted with Benjamin Moore’s Monroe Bisque. Then we got 2 coats up on the body of Benjamin Moore Tate Olive before the rain started. We are doing a 4-color scheme here but the 2 additional colors are used sparingly on window screens and accents. If you are ever painting and it starts to rain STOP immediately because the paint will not dry! I still have a day or so left on the trim and columns but it looks like we are due for a sunny week. The green body color came out sweet.

New Paint

was simultaneously spraying the interior trims and doors with High Gloss White. This is tricky business because you can’t have any runs but need complete coverage. It’s very similar to painting a car (or in my case a beach cruiser frame with spray paint). Multiple thin coats is the trick. Halfway through the day the clouds rolled in and it started dumping so with the moisture in the air this paint just sat there wet and wanted to sag. We quickly got lights and heaters to speed up the drying, whew, close call. So we are ready now to put the color on the walls, which I’ll cut in with a brush and roll soon.

New Paint

New Paint

We still haven’t pulled the trigger on cabinets yet. An old friend that I reunited with on Facebook this week has a cabinet shop in Houston and can order from several manufacturers and have them delivered right to our job site. I am choosing white shaker style cabinets from Woodmont called Hearthstone. For the price that I would have gotten cheap Ikea cabinets I can have these better white maple ones. The cabinets might take 2 weeks to arrive so in the meantime I’ll tile the bathrooms. I finished all the hardibacker floors and shower walls since it was raining so I’m ready to tile now. We finally decided to go with 18” travertine on the floors but white subway tile for the tub surround and shower with glass tile accents we found online. There’s a great site called that offers free shipping on some items in case you want some glass tile for a backsplash or accents.

Hall Bath

Hall Bath

Post-Mud Walkthrough

All the tape and float is now complete and the whole house got textured today with a light orange peel. This crew did a great job and the house looks incredible. The texture guy was checking out my cactus in the front yard so I had to keep an eye on him. We ordered 13 pre-hung interior doors at roughly $68.00 ea. this week so they will get delivered Tuesday and I can start hanging them. I chose a raised 2-panel hollow core with oil rubbed bronze hardware, which we will use throughout the house. A nice young couple has been by several times looking at the house and found me through a friend who lives on the next block. They are extremely interested and love the area however I think we might be priced a bit out of their range. It’s amazing how hot this area is and what little good inventory comes up. Most of the houses in Mahncke Park are 2/1’s with tiny closets and not fully updated so our 3/2 with luxurious master suite will be a very unique offering and timely to coincide with the surging popularity of the area. Here is a quick walkthrough video from today.

Anthony Bourdain ain’t got nothin’ on me

Last week we passed the mechanical, framing and insulation inspections and finally got the drywall hung Friday. Eating cactus is a big thing here in San Antonio with the Mexicans. First the sheetrock delivery driver spotted my cactus in the yard and wanted to take some with him to eat, of course I obliged. Then when the hangers showed up Friday and also got excited about it I had to give it a try. Evidently you are supposed to boil it first and then chop it up and use it with eggs in burritos or carne asada on the grill. Eating it raw off the plant in my backyard was quite an experience; I’d have to say it tastes like room temperature cucumber. The workers I find are quite resourceful. My roofer on another house found a wild berry plant in the alley and harvested them saying he was going to make salsa. I tried those too and they were hot as hell. I’ve seen these berries for years on plants but always assumed they were poisonous. I want to know who the first guy was to try eating these backyard plants and find out they were ok. The tape and float crew came in over the weekend and got started as you can see. They didn’t find anything appetizing growing in the yard. By mid week we should have it all the way to texture inside and then I can take over with the paint sprayer. My stomach was feeling a little off today; don’t think I’ll be eating any plants out of the backyard again anytime soon.


Plumbing Inspection: Passed; Mechanical: Failed

We passed plumbing this week but failed A/C inspection yesterday due to some minor details overlooked by my sub-contractor, which have already been addressed. Second mechanical inspection is set for Monday. After passing plumbing I went ahead and installed the new plywood sub floor and set the tub in the hall bath and shower pan in the master bath.


Shower Pan

As soon as we pass the mechanical inspection I can call for the framing inspection. It seems odd and out of order the way San Antonio does it, they inspect framing after all the tradesmen have finished. If something were incorrect you would have to rip out all those sub contractors new work, weird. So the schedule is: pass mechanical Monday. Call in framing inspection for Tuesday. Pass framing Tuesday and schedule the insulation inspection for Wednesday. Once we pass the insulation inspection we can hang all the drywall. My drywall crew is chomping at the bit and ready to get started. I am going to have it delivered Thursday, 225 sheets to do the whole 1930 s.f. house, 5/8” for the ceilings and 1/2” on the walls.

Kitchen Plumbing

Take one last look inside these walls, next time you see the house it will be all sealed up. This is always a huge milestone for me; to see the house with all new drywall really shows how it will look. It blocks out all the “old house” smell and it’s all downhill from there, baby.

New Back Door

We’ve been monitoring sales activity a little closer lately and I ran some interesting reports out of MLS last night. In our little “area” there were only 9 sales in 2008, (2 of which were ours) and avg. price was 206k. In Q1 08 there were no transactions, so far this year we have 6 pending or sold. Average price on these 6 is 257k. That’s an increase in sales activity of 600% and an avg. price increase of 19% Y.O.Y. Currently there are only 4 months of inventory making it essentially a sellers market. While the overall market has slowed down in San Antonio our area seems to be a bright spot. The Craftsman Bungalow sold for $174/s.f. last year setting a record for high comp based on $/s.f. The avg. price per s.f. is closer to $155.00 so with Hat Trick being 1930 s.f. and the level of rehab we plan on listing it for around $289k –$299k. The only thing better than setting a high comp for a neighborhood is getting to come back and use that comp in your next sale!