|

Let’s Talk Fixer Uppers

Thinking about buying a fixer upper and wish you could get a pinch of advice from someone who’s been there and done that?

Then you’re in luck. Today we’re talking to Karen, who’s bought at least one “fixer upper” property here in Barbados. Karen was born in Canada but moved to Barbados when she was eight. She lived on and off in Barbados, and returned in 2019 working in property, hotel and restaurant management. Read on for key advice on what to look for when buying your fixer upper.

Caribbean Island Properties
Was it your intention to buy a fixer upper when you came back to Barbados in 2019?

Karen
No, actually. I already owned a property here, which needed some work on it. Originally, I had the idea of coming back and starting a garden maintenance company. After some research, a friend of mine told me “You know what, I have this property that I think you should have a look at.” So I did – it wasn’t a fixer upper, it was actually a really good investment. I was very excited about it. However, it fell through at the last minute when she took another buyer. So that’s when I started actively looking for a fixer-upper property that I could use as an investment and a rental.

Caribbean Island Properties
How did you start looking?

Karen
I mostly used CaribList, and I have quite a few friends here that are in the property business, so I just put the word out. Basically, the one that I ended up buying was found through CaribList. Even the agents that I had spoken to asked me “How did you find this? This is a great deal.” But it was just the right time and the right place.

Caribbean Island Properties
Did you find that there was there a lot to choose from?

Karen
No, there wasn’t a lot in my price range. This was about 2018. The first one I looked at was $450,000, and didn’t need any repairs or renovation, but there wasn’t much room for improvement either. The one I eventually went with, they were originally asking for $600,000, and I paid $550,000, and put another $100,000 into it. There were plenty from a million and up, but I was not in that price range.

Caribbean Island Properties
What type of property is it?

Karen
It’s a house in a cul-de-sac with three bedrooms upstairs and two bedrooms downstairs. It doesn’t look like it was ever a one-person house; it was purposely built that way. The three bedrooms have a balcony that faces the sea, and the two bedroom has a nice backyard garden view, so the outside areas are opposite to each other, which allows for privacy. It’s also only five minutes’ walk to the beach. The house itself is solid – there were a few technical issues that I had to deal with, but most of it was cosmetic. I did a lot of the work myself on a fixer upper in Oakville, Ontario, as well, so I had the experience. I actually doubled the price on that house.

So, when I came back to Barbados, I knew that I could do a renovation, because I had done so many other property jobs. I had worked in hotels, and with construction companies. I felt pretty confident that I could. I also had a lot of other people in the same business that could recommend good workmen.

Caribbean Island Properties
How long did the renovation take?

Karen
Well, I took over the property on July 1st. The upstairs was rentable by September 1st, and then by December 1st, the downstairs part was ready. I lived in the downstairs part while everything was being done. As far as renovations, the whole outside of the house was painted. There was also some masonry work. I helped as well – I rented the scaffolding and I got all the paint and supplies.

Caribbean Island Properties
So all in all, it was about five months of renovation. Was it stressful?

Karen
It was in the beginning. I was just trying to get everything done. I was stressed about timing, because I didn’t want it to run much later than September. The upstairs part actually ran later than I planned – it really should have been ready for August. I couldn’t show it until September 1st to potential tenants, so that kind of messed me up. Still, it was pretty impressive to have been done in three months. So, it’s a long closing time, which was a bit frustrating. As a returning national, I didn’t come back to Barbados until May 6 or thereabouts. But I spent December to February checking out properties here, then I went back up to Canada, and I packed a 20 foot container and brought that down. One third of it was my items, but in terms of bedsheets to curtains, I knew exactly what I needed to furnish this five bedroom house the way I wanted to for rentals, because from what I did see around here was, unless you’re in the really high villa market, most properties are furnished terribly, especially the ones that are rented for $2,000 to $3,000 a month. They’re often furnished with odd and ends, not with complete sets. The property did come with some furniture. I actually refurbished the dining room table upstairs, because I love refurbishing. I also reupholstered all the chairs.

Caribbean Island Properties
You definitely have that key knowledge. But for someone who maybe isn’t as experienced as you are in refurbishing and renovating, who are some of the key people they need on their team? For example, do they need to have an interior designer or an architect on board?

Karen
Well, it really depends on the size of the project. If you’re knocking down walls, an architect would be a good idea. This would of course be an extra cost. I think for me, I just had a lot of friends who are like minded, so I was able to do it with their help. So, first surround yourself with friends that know what they’re doing. If none of your friends do, and you need an architect, you need friends to recommend a good one, because there are a lot of people that say they can, and charge a lot of money but they don’t actually produce.

Caribbean Island Properties
You’ve given some good advice here: first of all, if you’re bringing in team members, make sure that they’ve either come recommended from someone you trust, or that they have good references or a good portfolio, and you’re confident in them. This kind of brings us to another question I wanted to ask: you’re a woman on a construction site with a bunch of men. How do you deal with that? What’s that process of trying to get them to listen to you been like?

Karen
It’s been frustrating, but I’m very strong minded. I tell it like it is. I have had workmen who say “You are rough, but you know what? You’re the fairest boss I ever had.” I’ve always tried to treat people fairly. I’ve had men work for me before, and they’re typically thinking, “She’s a stupid little girl, I’m not listening to her”. It’s part of the game. It was definitely harder in the beginning, when I was younger. I think my age helps in the fact that I’ve dealt with a lot of male workers before, even with the job that I got up in Canada with the school. For the first six months, it was killer. Then they just realised I wasn’t backing down, and the people that hired me were backing me up.

Caribbean Island Properties
So, do you have any advice for someone looking to buy a house to fix up? What are some of the key things that it should have? You mentioned, for example, that your property had three bedrooms upstairs with a sea view, and two bedrooms downstairs with a nice garden area. Seeing that it’s in a cul-de-sac, we imagine that makes it a little quieter, and a little more private. What do you think are some of the things that people should look for? Obviously, location, location, location – you’d want to have the worst house on the best street basically, if you’re looking for a fixer upper. So, let’s talk about location?

Karen
Location is definitely important. I would also recommend somewhere with breeze, especially for non-local people that are not used to the heat. Both of my properties have a great breeze, you wouldn’t think so from where they are. For example, the last one I did here, the back garden was a bunch of dead grass, but it had potential. Landscaping makes a place, and it’s not that expensive. Make sure you get all the stuff in the house done first, because the people working there this will destroy your garden. This is another thing with workmen in general – the painter doesn’t care about the carpenter and the carpenter doesn’t care about the mason -they just do their job. So from my point of view, and I’ve heard other people say it too, it is actually very good to have a woman on site, because they see detail much better than a man would, in general. I think women are more efficient on making things efficient. It is a teamwork thing – you can’t work on a site if you’re not working as a team.

Caribbean Island Properties
So, getting back to the renovation work that you did – what was the biggest aspect of it? You mentioned you had some masonry work to do, and landscaping in the back, but what was the biggest single item that you needed to handle?

Karen
I guess furnishing, but I also had to rip up cupboards. I wanted to replace one of the bathroom countertops. I changed all the taps, I changed all the lights and all the fans. Fittings and furnishings make a big difference. That’s what makes them look tacky or outdated. It needs to be uniform. In your living room, you don’t have one black light and one white light – you make them the same. So all of that stuff is what ties it together. For example, I could have replaced the windows, but I didn’t think it was necessary. But that would have been my next step. Also some of the tilework was chipped in the kitchen. I thought, “There’s some chips by the sink, I’ll get a nice kitchen rug, and throw that because the rest of the tiles are okay.” But if I was really, really doing it, and I was planning on living there, I would have probably ripped up all the tiles, and that would have been a major expense, major time and a major mess. But I just didn’t think it was worth it for what I needed. I need to recoup my money from the investment.

Caribbean Island Properties
Is there anything else like that that comes to mind? Where you thought “Maybe I don’t need to rip up all the tiles because I’m not going to get all of that money back right away? I’ll put that off. Maybe that’s a phase two, I can do another time when I’ve started earning.” Is there anything else like that, that maybe people can think of as “Well, I don’t need to do this immediately in my renovation? I could put that for phase two”?

Karen
Well, I would say definitely windows and floors – they’re big expenses. What you need to do is the roof, and outside, right? The house shouldn’t leak. But you can get away without the prettiest windows, like if they’re the old glass louvred windows, put new screens on all the windows, that will brighten it up. I just cleaned and painted everything, ripped out all the wrought iron and had that painted separately. All of that just gives everything a new facelift – the whole paint job, the ceiling, baseboards, everything. And I just replace every fitting as I said – the only fitting I didn’t replace was the tap at the downstairs. It wasn’t necessary.

Caribbean Island Properties
Did the final product meet your vision?

Karen
Yes. And other people’s too! It’s like, “Wow, I can’t believe what she did.”

Caribbean Island Properties
We’ve spoken about all the stress it takes to undertake a renovation project. What are some of the rewards?

Karen
To see it finished, and people happy in it I have definitely had very satisfied long and short-term people. I probably would have done better if COVID didn’t come. I kept downstairs as an Airbnb – Airbnb is a lot more work, but it does give you more money if you rent it right. Also, I came in kind of late to the game for the Airbnb. Five years earlier, I probably would have made a lot more money, but I wasn’t ready to be here five years ago. But when I went in, the market was kind of flooded with Airbnb. I think research and proper prior planning are your best things. I’m a very detailed planner.

Caribbean Island Properties
Thank you Karen for sharing your story with us!

Similar Posts