flipper tricks

10 Ways To Hack Your Renovation Budget

Sometimes I think everyone knows these things and then I learn they do not and it's not right! We must rectify the situation. Let me fill you in on few things I think might help you with your upcoming (or never ending) renovation!

1. Paint

Did you know you can buy whatever color you want at almost any paint store? Let's say you have a Home Depot gift card or coupon, but you like a Sherwin Williams color. No sweat. Just tell the paint mixer the brand, name and if you have it, the code that goes with the color. The same goes if you want a Behr color but want to buy at Benjamin Moore, etc. This is also convenient if you like a color from a brand that isn't nearby. If you are in the midwest but want a Dunn Edwards or Farrow and Ball color. Samesies. Depending where you are shopping they may not have EVERY brand but it's likely they have the majors. Also, pay careful attention to not just throw out a paint color and hope for the best. For instance, "Yo, I want Whisper White." Well guess what? Behr makes Whisper White and Dunn Edwards makes Whisper. Be careful.

2. Warehouse Deals

Did you know that Amazon Warehouse Deals exists? This doesn't just apply to renovation stuff, but I use it often for things like faucets and furnishings. Amazon Warehouse is where all the open box and return items go to be reincarnated. They even tell you in the description the condition of the item. Here is an example using one of my favorites, the Delta Trinsic kitchen faucet.


Warehouse Deal

You can see there is a $46 price difference only one is brand new and the other is "like new". Often times people open them and don't like the color or something but the item is fine. I would expect that happens a lot with the Delta Trinsic Champagne Bronze line. It is sort of an unusual brass, which I love, but I'm sure there are a lot of people out there that find it to be not what they were expecting. That's when I swoop in and pounce on those bad boys. After they've returned them. To search for deals just look for the "Buy used" under the Add to Cart button. I used to think that meant someone was selling their old crusty faucet. Bahahhaa. Nope. You can also go straight to the warehouse by choosing "Amazon Warehouse Deals" in the drop down box next to the search bar. 

3. Trade Discount

If you are a flipper or designer in the business of doing renovations, you can apply for a trade discount with many retailers. Designers typically know this but flippers never consider themselves designers or contractors, so they don't act on opportunities like this. Flippers can get trade/designer/contractor discounts at a lot of places. Plumbing, lighting and decor stores will often throw you a bone if you show some semblance of owning a business that does renovation type things. Just ask.

Homeowners: If you are working with a contractor, but you are in charge of getting the finish materials, see if you can order under their account. They normally purchase these things and charge you for it but having you get the materials takes a lot off their plate. They may be willing. This really depends on who you are working with and what you have agreed to, though. Don't expect this with higher end full service contractors, obviously.

4. Freight

If you're ordering something pretty bulky or heavy and it has to be delivered by freight, it's going to be a pretty pricey delivery charge. For instance, cement tile (and other tile) is heavy and comes on a palette. Ain't no Fedex dude carrying that to your doorway. My first time ordering cement tile I was purchasing very little because that was all I could afford. Then I discovered that the shipping was just as much as the tile, doubling the cost! DOH! The trick is....if you or someone you know has a truck and can go pick it up at the freight company's site instead of them coming to you, you will save BIG TIME. I just picked some up and it was easy peasy. They called me, I drove over, they forklifted that shiznit into my truck bed, I drove away without breaking even the slightest bit of sweat! My client just did the same. She also decided to add more tile for another bathroom because shipping it with the original order wasn't much more, but ordering them separate would have been. Good deal.

5. Use Schlueter Strip Edges

I spoke about this in a previous post about tile edging, but let's revisit because this is potentially big savings. Some people choose pencil tiles and bullnose to make some fancy borders and edging. That's great if you are doing a fancy bathroom, but people on a budget can't play those reindeer games. Enter Schlueter strips or tile edging & trim as they are really called. Us people in the biz just call them Schlueter strips. Anyway, they are metal strips used to edge the side of cut tile. For instance they are often used on the side of a shower, around a shower niche or on a backsplash. Basically wherever a cut tile edge might be seen. Some people may turn their nose up to these strips saying they are not cool or fancy but I say SHUT IT. I'll decide if it is cool or not. And sometimes it is. My wallet always thinks it is cool. They come in many colors and finishes. I like to use white often because you can't even see it is there when used with subway tile. It also gives the design a little more of a modern feel than the traditional style of the bullnose. I also like to sometimes use it as a part of the design. If you used black in a black and white design, it would make a nice little black frame around a shower niche with subway tile. Below is a nickel finish strip used in a kitchen (before white was an option).

Shuleter Strip on kitchen backsplash

6. Two Singles

Instead of buying a double vanity, buy two singles. For instance instead of buying a 60" double vanity buy two 27" or 30" singles. For whatever reason the total size ends up being nearly the same but the cost is sometimes dramatically different. Most styles you'll want to separate the two vanities a little to make it look like two stand alone pieces of furniture. Be sure to plan for that extra space. 

Another idea is to take two vanity cabinets and butt them up against each other, but span one counter across the top. The vanity in the photo below was done this way.

7. Custom Island

How in the world this is possible is beyond my comprehension, but it's true. If you have a custom island table built, it will be hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars cheaper than a standard cabinet island. I had the island below made for around $700. To build an island of equal size with cabinetry would have cost that much before adding the counter. We'd also have to add electric to the island which in some cases can be very expensive (trenching up concrete is not fun if your home is on a slab). Assuming we would have used the same marble on the island, we're looking at a total price of more than twice the custom farmhouse table.

Space was tight in this kitchen. By designing the custom table I was able to fit a bit of storage underneath, as well as allow seating for two. Cabinetry would not have been so forgiving.

I just finished a design for a client that included a vanity done in a similar way. We had room for 2 sinks but the budget was tight. So, I had the same person make a farmhouse style table which we will convert to a double vanity. The table cost around $700, but a vanity with counters would be reaching $1,200 plus. Not only that, there's no way a vanity off the shelf is as cool as that custom made table.

8. Steal From Another Room

If you are having a photo shoot, or even just having company over, don't go buying something for every corner of your room. There are a few things I use in rooms in order to make them feel complete. Those things are usually blankets, pillows, plants, rugs and curtains. But, I can't afford to buy everything for every room. Especially if I'm staging a home, but this also works in your own home. If you're having company over, steal things like extra pillows or rugs from other rooms to fill in some holes. Maybe an extra plant would make it feel better, but having it there all the time would be cumbersome. For staging, I have a few plants that I bring from home for photo shoots that I move around the house. If I bought one for every room I'd have a heck of a time getting them all there and not damaging them. When the photographer arrives I am there to work one room ahead of them. I move plants, blankets, curtains and pillows from one room to another to get what I feel is the best look I can get. The plant below literally made it to each room in this house for the photo shoot. Why buy more when you can borrow from yourself?

9. You Don't Have To Be In Love

This is a funny one. No you don't have to love everything in your house! What I mean is not every freaking item has to be the best, cutest, loveliest version. For instance, when I'm designing a room, I don't choose all of the coolest looking tiles. I may choose one that is my favorite for the space and then the other 1 or 2 tile choices can just be a standard style that can fade into the back or complement the highlighted tile. I might choose the coolest lights known to man, but let the faucets be a less expensive version. They don't get to steal the show this time around. I love this game because it actually allows me to fall in love with something that is out of my price range or budget. I might go for the light I've been longing for even though it is $$$$, but I'll save a little on the cabinet hardware or tile floor by choosing less fancy versions. It balances out in the end.

10. Get Out

Living in a major renovation is THE WORST IDEA. I have so many points here so stick with me. I mean you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes. But, if you are going through a major renovation, try to find somewhere else to stay. Obviously the major concern here is you might be living without a kitchen or bath for some time. You might have to heat your pizza up in the microwave in the garage. You'll have to share a bathroom with your kids. This will get old.

Every day you will come home to see what they worked on and you'll see maybe NOTHING was done. Maybe you'll see a crooked tile or what looks like a mistake (maybe it is, but maybe it just hasn't been completed yet). You'll become irate at their ignorance, but you haven't really given them a chance to fix the item or explain why the heck it was done that way.

Most importantly though, if you are are there in the morning getting ready, the contractor can't be there. If you come home from work at 4 or 5, the contractor will feel like they need to get out. They might leave at 4 because you'll be home soon and they might as well not start anything else. Stay somewhere else and they can show up at 7am and stay until 7pm to get things done. THEY CAN MOVE FASTER IF YOU ARE NOT THERE.

Then there is the construction debris. I don't care how they tape off a space, dust will get through. Paint will smell. It will be noisy. It will suck. You will be bitter. Trust me. Get Out.

These were just 10 off the top of my head. I know I have more! I'll post a follow up if I can gather some juicy ones. Comment with some other hacks if you have them!

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Adding Value To Your Home: How to Determine What To Update

The following is an excerpt from our book Shut Up And Flip A House Already: A Guide to Help You Shit Or Get Off The Pot. It is geared toward house flippers, however the logic applies for homeowners taking on any renovation. 

To the beginner house flipper or homeowner doing a renovation, it may seem like an arduous task to determine what to update in their home. It is not. Knowing what to update is as easy as knowing what similar houses in the neighborhood look like and what features are expected by buyers. Simply look at your comps, the homes with which buyers and their agents will compare your finished home, and determine from there what your home needs. 

If the higher priced comps have beautifully remodeled kitchens, and you’re looking to sell for top dollar, then yours should have a beautiful kitchen. These comparable homes show exactly what sells in this neighborhood. Don’t try to get by with something cheap to save money thinking you know better than the comps. You won’t fool anyone.

For instance, you may look at some cabinets and think, “Maybe I could get away with painting these cabinets instead of replacing them.” Maybe you could. If you are in a neighborhood where that is acceptable and homes with painted cabinets sell, then go for it. If homes in the target price would never have painted cabinets, then you know your answer. Don’t do it.

This is how you know what to update.

  1. Look at your home in a side-by-side comparison to homes you want to emulate.

  2. Determine what they have that yours does not.

  3. Price that out.

  4. Determine if these updates fit into a budget that will allow you enough in profit.

Kitchens may be easy. The HVAC system and roof may be another story. Or is it? Let’s walk through some scenarios to show you how we think these things through.

Q: Should I replace old wood windows?

Look at the comps. Drive up and down the street. Even better, if there’s a home for sale in that neighborhood (especially if there’s an Open House!) - go check it out for yourself, all up-close-and-personal-like. Do most homes have replacement windows? Do buyers in this neighborhood expect replacement windows or do they love the charm of the older wood windows? Agents who do a lot of sales in the neighborhood would be a great resource to answer some of these questions as well.

Q: Should I replace a gas furnace that is 12 years old and working?

Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to take an educated guess. For instance, according to Google, gas furnaces have a lifespan of up to 20 years. Your furnace is older, but working. Your comps make no mention of newer furnaces. Your agent says that in their experience, the buyers they’ve worked with in that neighborhood haven’t bought a home solely because of an updated HVAC system. It’s nice, but not necessary.

A: Don’t replace it. Have a qualified professional come out and inspect it, clean it and do any necessary maintenance. Offer or buy a home warranty. Done. Unless….

A2: If someone comes out to do some maintenance that is going to cost $400 but a new furnace will cost $800….well now. Things are looking interesting. Adding a new furnace will only be an added cost of $400 above maintaining the old one. If you add one, you can then boast “New furnace” on your marketing material. You have room in your budget for this (or you’ll make room). You go for it. Tear it out.

Q: Should I replace a roof if I don’t know how old it is and it has two layers of shingles?

This is tricky. Sometimes you have no idea how old something is and if it is functioning properly. You see some water spots in the house from what is likely a leaky roof, but are they old spots that just weren’t painted over? Were the spots from before the second layer of shingles was added? Your inspector or contractor can’t tell either but they might be able to guess. The only way to know is to see it when it rains. It’s not raining and you have to put in an offer to buy today.

A: In this case, assume it will have to be replaced. Many times you don’t have the luxury of waiting to find out the answer you need. You’ll have to make due with your observations and err on the safe side. If you don’t need a new roof then good for you! Money saved.

Clear as mud? Let’s make this even more confusing.

Adding Value

This is where it gets trickier. As a flipper your brain starts to think, “How can I make even more money on this house? I know, I’ll add a deck. Everyone likes decks.” Come on now. Simply adding things does not automatically add value. There is no hard and fast rule that if you add X feature, you will get Y return on your money. We know they show you this on TV.

It is a lie.

Wendy asked one of her Realtors, “Do you think a deck could boost a home’s value?” their response was, “In general, yes. Or so we are taught. A wood deck, when done correctly, usually has a higher ROI (return on investment) than other improvements.”

Aaron Binik-Thomas is a go-get-em, super Realtor with Keller Williams in Cincinnati. He’ll try just about anything to market a home, within reason of course. No shady business! Prior to becoming an agent, Aaron was a sales person for a local wholesaler. His previous experience selling fixer-uppers has helped him to be familiar with many neighborhoods, allowed him to evaluate many crappy houses and taught him to know what features are good to add to homes to increase value and saleability. Aaron knows that not all houses and neighborhoods are created equal, though. In general, yes, a deck will bring a higher return. Is that always the case? No. Had we taken this information out of context, we might believe that this seasoned pro is telling us that all decks are a good idea for a house and one should always add a deck. Be careful what information you digest from the TV. Entertaining programming does not always equal the whole truth.

Value is in the eye of the buyer.

The buyer is going to rely on comps. Any additions you bring to the home will bring you one of these three things: added value, saleability or a loss. Let’s break this down.

Actual Added Value

Only some updates will bring value above and beyond the current possible sale price to your home. You can’t add just anything and expect it to boost your sale price. The only things that add value to a home are square footage, increased number of rooms and bonus spaces.

Increased square footage could mean adding an addition to your home, of course. Another way to add square footage would be to finish the basement in a home. An unfinished basement is not counted as square footage since it is not a livable area of the home. So, finishing it off could significantly add to your square footage without changing the existing footprint of your property.

You could increase the number of rooms in your property without changing the square footage. Below are some examples.

  • Turning a pantry into a half bath.

  • Taking one large bathroom and breaking it up into two bathrooms, thus increasing the number of full baths in the home.

  • Taking over a dining room to create a third bathroom.

The door in this foyer goes to a new powder room, once the pantry in the kitchen.

Clearly some of these may be detrimental, such as in the dining room example. If dining rooms are important to buyers in this area, then this is not a feasible option. If you were able to relocate or add a dining area in another part of the home, then win-win. If your home is in an area where the buyer couldn’t care less about a dining room, then you’re good to go.

Finally, you can add value by adding bonus spaces. This might be in the form of a garage or deck. They won’t add to your square footage or room count, but the increased functionality and desire for the home is at work here. If in your neighborhood, some of the houses have garages, but yours does not, then your house would only compare with the houses without garages. Adding a garage to yours will simply bring your home’s value up to the same level as the homes with garages.

Going back to the deck, let's look another scenario. Let's say that the homes on one side of a street have a beautiful view and the homes on the other side do not have a view at all. Add a rooftop deck however and now a home without a view suddenly has this desirable feature. This home is now more comparable with the homes on the view side and thus will align more so price wise with those homes. There are other variables to consider, of course, but you can now see that the new rooftop deck home's value will inch up closer to the higher price point.


Some upgrades will never add value no matter what you think. Wendy was once asked by a family member, “How much did this water feature add to my home’s value?” She was sorry to report that the answer was ZERO. It didn’t increase the value of the home at all. What it might add is saleability, making the home more attractive to potential buyers. But, it did not add square footage or increase the number of rooms or bonus spaces.

Things that increase saleability are a bonus and not the norm for the neighborhood. Perhaps your home has a more beautifully manicured lawn or a larger than average pantry. These things do not meet the value adding criteria, but certainly do add saleability. Buyers may swoon at these features, but they won’t pay more. They’ll just like your home more than some of the others. Sellability really helps with moving your house quickly with fewer days on the market.

Loss in Value

We’re sorry to tell you, it isn’t just as easy as adding stuff and counting your profit. If you take 3 bedrooms and create 4 smaller bedrooms, you may have just shot yourself in the foot. Conversely, taking 4 small bedrooms and converting them into 3 bedrooms, one being a master suite with a walk-in closet, may actually work in your favor. It all depends on what buyers in your neighborhood love or expect.

Some upgrades may not lessen your home’s actual value, but will affect the perceived value. For instance, in Ohio, pools can only be used a few months of the year. In many neighborhoods, pools are seen as a maintenance nightmare; thus making the home less attractive, not to mention they come with increased liabilities. Some lenders will even require a homeowner to purchase more insurance if the property has a pool. Here is a big bummer: you add a $30,000 pool and it actually makes your home less attractive. You’ve just spent a ton of money on something people don’t want. Loser.

Disclaimer: we’re not saying water features or pools are always a negative. It all depends on the neighborhood and comps! In some areas, like Phoenix, pools are an attractive feature. In others they are a hindrance. Know your customer, people.

Do Some Math

Now, take a common scenario and do the simple math...

Let’s say homes with a garage in your target neighborhood tend to sell for $10,000 more than similar homes without them, then that is how much value you will bring to your home by adding a garage. If adding a garage costs $5,000, then BOOYA. Build a freaking garage. That’s a 100% ROI on the garage.

There is no magic number. The next time you see someone spouting off that renovating your kitchen will add $15,000 in value to your home, call BS. Do not take this at face value. Now you know that determining value adds is a process of researching surrounding properties, not hard and fast rules.

Want to learn more about house flipping and smart renovating? Check out our ebook below!

Flipper Tricks: How to Finish Off Tile Edges

When you're in the renovation biz, you'll come across all sorts of problems you never even considered. What you think is a simple project, installing a backsplash or tiling a shower wall, creates other problems you must then solve.  GRRRR!

One of those issues that has turned up for me countless times is how to finish off a tiled edge. One might assume with bullnose tile. Of course! But that's not always an option or maybe not even preferred. Sometimes, matching bullnose tile is not available at the store. And, let's assume that we don't have cabinets to finish off the top either. Even if we do, there is often that inevitable area that juts out just passed the cabinetry that needs to be dealt with. What then?

You have several options.

Custom Bullnose

Yes. You can have bullnose made. Here in Cincinnati (they have other locations), I head to American Bullnose. I bring my tile with some to spare, they chop them up, round them out and hand them back ready to go. Of course, not all tiles can be transformed into bullnose tile. Such as in the case of the beveled tile, the texture would create a problem and cannot be bullnosed. Below is a shower created with custom bullnose tiles, placed on the outer wall edge, as well as surrounding the tub. 


Schluter Edge Strips

One popular option is to use Schluter metal strips  to make a straight finishing edge to your tile. These can be used anywhere tile is laid: showers, floors, backsplashes. These are nice because they come in an assortment of finishes and shapes. An example of this can be seen below at the top and side of the backsplash. Nickel was chosen to coordinate with the other nickel fixtures in the room. They now have white which blends nicely with subway tiles like those shown.

Caulked Edge

If you don't want to add another color or element to your kitchen, another option is to caulk the tile edge to finish it off. Have your installer fill in that corner between the tile and wall with caulk to match the grout. Matching grout caulk is available at most hardware stores next to or in the grout section. This will take some precision! Your installer must be very careful with the tile alignment in order to create a nice straight line. They must also be good at getting a smooth finish with the caulking. You don't want a bumpy caulk line, calling attention to the lack of precision instead of the beauty of the tile. However, if the caulk line strays a little onto the wall, touch it up with some wall paint and call it a day. 

Trim It Out

Finally, you could use a very thin wood trim piece such as quarter round or scribe molding. Paint it the same color as the tile so it doesn't stand out. With the extra thick cement tile used in this kitchen, we used some cabinet trim to finish off the sides of the backsplash. The color coordinated perfectly so we didn't need to paint it. 

It's silly to think that this kind of detail goes into kitchen or bathroom, but it does. Best to have these tricks in your arsenal so you are ready when the time comes! Go get 'em. 

Any ideas I missed? Any other issues you might be dealing with right now? Lay it on us in the comments!