Home Renovations Big and Small

I’ve been MIA for the past couple of weeks. But I guess that means things are happening. I’m finding that ‘home renovation’ sure is a broad term and that I really underestimated being able to keep this blog updated while being in the middle of the project, and doing real estate full time.

I’ll use that as a plug. If you ever need anything real estate-related, please let me know! I’d love to help you if you’re thinking of buying or selling, or if you just have questions!

the small things that make a big difference…

One of the small things we did that made a huge difference was change out all of the receptacles and cover plates. I figured this was pretty simple task, but also didn’t wan’t to get electrocuted. Jason Sorensen with Livey Electric was a big help. I asked him if he would show me how to do it and he was great at showing me the ropes. I’m by no means a pro, but I definitely learned a lot of basics from him. This is definitely a cheap DIY home renovation or improvement project. It really does make a huge difference when you see them all changed out.

Thanks to my handyman, Tim. We were able to get the trim finished upstairs. Pretty much for everything that -I know how I want it to look, but don’t know how to make it look like that…- Tim has been there with an answer.

It’s been a balance trying to make things new, and keep the old. It’s not all perfect, but that’s okay. I didn’t want to lose the character of the home- that’s something I’ve loved about it from the beginning. One of the ways I helped to do that was by keeping the existing floor registers. I took them to J & J Performance Powder Coating in Carlock, IL and had them sandblasted. Talk about a night and day difference! For a total of $90. The service was great and it was a fast turn around.

Before and after sand blasting. Next they’ll be primed and painted.

the big things that make a big difference…

One of the bigger things…we got all of the hard surface flooring done (carpet will come at the very end)! Tim Stoller with Stoller Flooring did a great job. I was torn on going with a high end laminate or the engineered hardwood for the flooring. Because it’s an older house the floors aren’t all level. Laminate is a free floating floor where as hardwood you have to nail down. Nailing it down shows more imperfections than the free floating. Tim is the one who explained all of this to me. But my mind was pretty much made up that I wanted hard wood….so surprise, surprise, I went with the hard wood.

Now that it’s all said and done, I’m glad I went that route. The floors look great (I love them). You can see some of the imperfections, but it’s worth the trade off in my opinion. I was able to get the hardwood from Carpet Weaver’s in Bloomington for about $2.50/sqft. I’ve worked with Robyn Berry there in the past and that’s who I worked with this time around also. She was extremely accommodating to what I was needing and great to work with.

I got the tile for the bathroom at Lowe’s. I was able to get the tile for .49/sqft. They were having a good sale at the time I went. The tile and grout were a whopping $36.

Another big thing was that we got the cabinets delivered! They’re in the process of being hung, and the granite will be in next week!!

And last but not least…Bear and I wondering what in the hell we are doing. I would say we’re in full ‘home renovation’ swing with no signs of slowing down (I don’t know if that’s good or bad).

The Three Reasons Your Home Isn’t Selling

It’s easy to get frustrated when your home is listed and you are getting little activity with increasing days on the market. Other homes are selling yours is not.

I was talking with a client last week, getting our game plan together on listing their home. She was torn between listing price and not wanting to accrue days on the market. In response to her questions I explained to her…

The three reasons a home won’t sell


The condition of a home 100% affects the price and marketability. I suggest to anyone thinking of selling, start early with prepping your home. Meet with a Realtor and get advice on how to improve your condition in order to get the most bang for you buck. Buyers are easily influenced by first impressions. Have your home looking the best that you can when it’s time to hit the market.


If you are listing FSBO, you are in for a big task. If you are listed with a Realtor, they SHOULD be doing this for you. (FYI: word of mouth and social media are still great marketing things to do as a homeowner even if you’re listed with a Realtor). My brokerage and myself market extensively for our clients. The major online search engines, social media, CRM platforms etc. Without marketing, people are not seeing your home. Correct and ample marketing is crucial to getting your home sold.


Last but not least, it comes down to price. You must price your home according to your market conditions.

The housing market is like any other market where there is supply and demand. When I am pricing a home I use comparable properties to theoretically determine the sale price of the property I’m assessing. I use those comps (comparable properties) to see what a buyer was willing to pay for a specific home in a given market. The subject property (your home) is compared to the comps, and the comp sale price is adjust accordingly based on the differences between the homes and the value of those differences  So that theoretically, in the same market, your home would sell for the same price as the comp property +/- value of the differences. 

If your home is in good condition, your marketing is sufficient and you are priced correctly, you will have activity on your home.

If you have questions about listing your home, I’d love to talk with you! Contact me here.


How Accurate is Your Zestimate?

One of, if not the, most important steps to a quick home sale is your list price. I get asked frequently “How accurate is my Zestimate?”, to which I simply reply “it’s not”.

Zillow is a great tool for home searching, which is what it was created to be. It was not meat to be a resource for pricing your home. Zillow gathers their pricing information through public information and uses mathematical modeling to turn that data into numbers. This is referred to as an AVM, automated valuation model. The problem? Zillow has no idea of your local market, and has never set foot in your home or those they are comparing yours to.

Zillow has published stats regarding the accuracy of their Zestimates and what they say may surprise you. At least 50% of Zestimates are off by an average of just under 5%, or about $10,000 on a $200,000 house. They also say they’re within 20% of the sale price 86.5% of the time. That’s not something to brag about. 20% is a HUGE range when it comes to buying or selling home, that’s literally tens of thousands of dollars.

Long story short, the best way to get an accurate valuation of your home is to talk with a Realtor. Each time before I go on a listing appointment, meet with a FSBO seller, put an offer in with a buyer, etc. I created a comparative market analysis (CMA) for that specific property. A CMA is designed to project a home’s list or sale price based on in-depth evaluations of comparable recent home sales. Those numbers take into account comparable properties, location, market conditions, time of year, updates and about anything else you can think of. This information, along with actually viewing a property, is how a home should be priced.

Are you thinking of selling, or do you want a CMA for your home out of curiosity? Just ask! I would be happy to prepare one and discuss it with you!

The Flip: Oh Sh!t

I’ve been a little slow on posting this week, but we’re officially one month in to the project! Optimistically I could say we’re about half-way done. Realistically I think we’ll be closer to the very end of February for completion. A lot of what we have left to do is weather dependent.

Last week I didn’t get many (more like any) pictures. It was a slow week, I felt like not much progress was made on my end, and we had our first “oh sh!t” moment…

You may recall, we were able to get a camera into the sewer line to see what we were dealing with. After determining it did in fact need cleaned out, I started making some phone calls. I had both Mike Williams and Rewes Drain Cleaning come take a look.

Mike Williams came early in the week. Typically there is a $79 charge for them to give the estimate, they apply that to the final bill if you have them do the work. While the technician was very helpful and professional, I was only given a pricing sheet with the available options for what I was needing. They didn’t camera it themselves or do any type of work to determine which option would be best. I had a coupon to cover the $79 charge and I’m glad I did because I wouldn’t have been happy about paying to see a pricing sheet.

Sam with Rewes Drain Cleaning came out mid-week. He had been referred to me by the plumber I use, Cb Plumbing. Sam called me on his way there and said…”is that the house a couple down from the gas station on Clinton” after I confirmed that it was, he told me that he was fairly certain he did an inspection there a few months prior and that there were some issues. As I went into instant panic mode he said he’d meet me at the house and show me the old video. It revealed that there was a collapse in the sewer drain. He answered all of my questions, gave me his suggestions, and offered to me all of the old inspection information videos that the had. All for no charge. And if I had gone forward with having him clean the sewer, it only would have been around $200.

What now.

I’ve been lucky through this project for the resources Blaise has at the Town of Normal. After many phone calls we finally got a game plan which is:

  • Get permits from the City of Bloomington to complete the work
  • Rent the needed machinery and buy supplies
  • Excavate the sewer line
  • Replace as needed

I’ll be renting a mini excavator and leaving the rest to the guys from the town. Parts for the repairs are pretty inexpensive, it’s mostly PVC materials that we need. The mini excavator will be $375 to rent for a weekend. I’m hoping this project will stay under $1,000 by the time it’s said and done but a lot of it will depend on what we run into after the drain is uncovered. FYI: normally this can start off being a much more expensive project depending on the amount of work you have to hire out. That’s why I’ve been fortunate to know good people!

I went and applied for the permits to do the work last Friday. It was a pretty simple process. I printed and filled out the permits prior to going in and then took them to the McLean County Building and Zoning Board at 8:30. They were approved by 9am. I had to get a permit for the excavating ($40) and a permit for the sewer work ($30) which was $70 total.

If you go to the office between 7:30-9am you will most likely get approval for you permit that same day. Once the project is done (whatever it is you’re doing) you call the inspector for your specific type of work and they will come inspect to make sure everything is to code.

We were tentatively planning to do the work this weekend, but it doesn’t look like the weather is going to cooperate! So we will be playing it by ear for when this actually gets done.

What next?

The other major tasks we’ve got left are the flooring install, cabinet and counter install, taking out the fence & yard work. Flooring install is happening at the end of January and the cabinets will follow behind! Here’s to good weather in the next couple of weeks!

What I’ve learned so far…

  • Sewer inspections are something I’m definitely start recommending to my homebuyers when dealing with older homes. It’s relatively cheap and definitely worth the money.
  • Menard’s charges $70 for delivers in town, Lowe’s charges $49
  • Getting permits from the City of Bloomington is not as intimidating as it sounds
  • Not to get too excited about being ahead of schedule because we still probably won’t finish early, ha!

Thanks for following along!


The Flip: Sanding Trim from 2018 to 2019

Before I start this one…I’ve had a couple of people tell me they aren’t able to watch the videos that are posted. I’m not sure what the issue is, I’m thinking it has something to do with the email format. So if you are having issues, try reading the post and watching the videos here.

Ok, so I had to laugh at myself this week (well I really wasn’t laughing until now) for thinking that I was almost done with demo and prep after my last post. I did get a lot done with the initial demo, but boy did I under-estimate the ‘smaller’ items still left on the list.

Almost my entire week consisted of sanding. Sanding trim and doors, and more trim and more doors. Being an old house there was a lot of layers of paint on the doors and woodwork. The before and after shows just how much was built up in areas around the trim. 

The painters started on January 2nd, so I was in a rush to get that project finished up before they came. 

I used both a Black and Decker Sheet Sander and a DeWalt Orbital Sander for this project. Over all I liked the DeWalt better, it had more power. However the Black and Decker was square (DeWalt was circular) so it made it easier to get into small spaces and detailed areas. I used a 40 grit sandpaper for round one and then went back over everything with 80 grit to smooth it out. And by the end of the week we finally the first coat of paint started and I couldn’t believe the transformation!! 

I went back and forth for about a week on the paint color. I finally decided on Revere Pewter (Benjamin Moore) and am so happy with how it’s turning out thanks to Shane and Bridget with  Hawkins Painting Professionals, LLC. They put in a lot of long hours and dirty work before even being able to get paint on the walls, smiling the entire time (not exaggerating, they are two of the nicest people you’ll meet) They gave me suggestions before starting the job on how to make sure a good outcome (ie. the 467392 hours of sanding). Bridget is also the one who suggested this paint color! I had a few in mind and after she saw what I was going for, suggested the Revere Pewter which turned out to be perfect. Painting was something I was most excited and most nervous for and I have to say they have been great at calming my nerves, giving me suggestions…and at painting! More pictures to come next week as they get finished up! 

Two other extremely nerve wrecking tasks we did this week were camera the sewer line and turn on the water. It had been disclosed before I bought the property that the sewer lines needed some roots cut out. This is actually more common than people realize so I wasn’t too alarmed. However, I didn’t know the extent of the issue before getting a camera down there so I was a little nervous. Watching the process was pretty neat.  Thanks to Blaise and Justin, we were able to borrow the camera they use for work to get a peek. We were pleasantly surprised to find out the sewer line coming from the house is newer PVC with only part of it being the old clay lines that connect to the main city line. And other than a lot of debris, the roots weren’t too bad either. I have two companies coming next week to bid the clean out, and I expect the total cost to be around $300-400. 

As for the water turn on…I found out AFTER I closed on the house that the water had been shut off since 2015. This really had me freaking out. I wanted my plumber, Chris Bean with Cb Plumbing LLC to be there when the water was turned to ensure there were no issues. I had the City of Bloomington find and mark the water turn on spot, and then Chris came to do the actual turn on. HALLELUJAH that there were no issues once we got water flowing through the house. That was a huge relief.

Overall things are still moving along as scheduled! Drywall got finished up this week which I will have pictures of in my next post. Painting should be finished up next week, flooring is scheduled to start towards the end of January, the cabinets are in and waiting to be installed after the flooring!

Next week with some warmer weather I’m hoping to start tackling outside projects. Some major cleanup is in order. Taking out old fence, bringing in dirt and rock, and pouring a driveway out front. We will see how much we actually get accomplished at once!

The Flip: Demolition Week

Week one was a busy week! I must say that I surprised myself with how much demo I could do on my own.

I completely gutted the kitchen and bathroom and tore up the existing parquet flooring in the living room and one bedroom. The floor tear-out wasn’t the original plan, but it ended up being the perfect solution to some other issues we would have faced if we had opted to lay the hardwood over them. Once the flooring was out, it leveled out the main floor and allowed us to avoid issues with the front door once the hardwood gets put down.

Taking up the floors was easier than I anticipated and there were no “oh shit” moments in the process which was a relief. The cost to take up the floors was free (along with a good night of sleep at the end), and it provided a savings of $500+

The video is me taking up the flooring. The parquet was nailed into 3/4 in. plywood which was nailed to the sub flooring (it should have been screwed, but it was to our advantage that it hadn’t been). I used a circular saw to cut small sections to the depth of the plywood. Once the a piece was cut I was able to easily pull up the sections from sub flooring.

Here you can see the different layers. The red/brown is the sub flooring that was underneath the plywood and parquet. It was in great condition which was a blessing.

Below are a couple of videos to show the progress from day one to day seven. It’s hard to see a big difference, but it’s there, I promise!

Some other tasks crossed off the list were window install, AC install and prep for the drywall repairs.

We weren’t sure when the window install would be able to happen due to weather. But I ordered them before closing in hopes of having them ready when the weather cooperated.  It ended up warming up in that first week and we were able to get done! This was a big relief to me.

I can’t say enough good things about my window installer, Wholesale Window World in Gridley, IL. Tim is fantastic. He delivers a high-quality window and charges only $100 per window install. Labor and materials for 12 custom sized, Simonton windows cost about $5,700. Shop this around and you’ll find it very hard to beat that install price. At any box store you pay for the labor, not quality of the window. Tim said to me over and over that his end goal is for his client to pay for a good window, not the labor to install. Not to mention he lent me a hand with multiple things while we were working in the house together. Assisting with cabinet take down, capping the water lines I cut (also mentioned in Prep & Planning), helping me get ready for the drywall install, and he took it upon himself to make some minor siding repairs. I honestly feel like I would not have gotten half of what I got done in that first week if not for Tim.

For the AC install…there was no central AC in the home when I bought it so I knew this would be a cost from the beginning.  Labor and materials for the AC cost $2,500. Paul Schulz with Schulz Heating and Cooling is my go-to for anything HVAC. He is extremely responsive, competitive, and an all around nice guy. I use him for all of my personal work and refer his name as often as I can. The first morning working in the house there was no heat. I assumed the thermostat was out of batteries, but after switching them… still no heat. I called Paul that morning and he was there within 15 minutes. He determined the furnace was fine and that it just needed a new thermostat. Since I would need a new one after the AC install anyway, he switched them out that morning for no cost, not even a service charge.

What I’ve learned so far…

  • How to properly work the safety guard on a circular saw. Although no guarantees I will remember in the future.
  • How to use a dump trailer. Thanks to my boyfriend, Blaise
  • How to take apart (and put together) a kitchen. Take down sounds self-explanatory, but when you’re taking it all apart, you understand how it’s all put together in the first place, which in turn makes it easier to demo…if that makes any sense at all.
  • It’s hard to beat the feeling of hard work and progress.
  • Prior planning for major aspects of this flip has already paid off greatly. 

All in all it was a busy and successful first week! Although I go through a rollercoaster of emotions daily, I’m loving doing the work and seeing the progress.

Thanks for following along!


The Flip: How I Prepared & Planned

As some of you know, I recently bought a home to flip. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I finally made the leap! I wanted a way to share the process as I go along and hopefully be able give insight into home renovation, real estate investing, do’s & don’t’s etc. If you’ve followed along to see the project, thank you! Through the next couple of months I’ll be sharing updates. I would love to hear your feedback and questions!

With that said, I wanted to start with a little background on myself, how this came about, the purchase process and the prep work done before closing on the purchase!

My name is Jessica, I’m 28 and live in Bloomington, IL.  I’ve been a realtor with Remax Rising for just under three years and also manage my four rental properties. What got me started in real estate was my interest in real estate investing. When I graduated high school I bought my first house. I was so nervous that I cried before I walked into the closing…not joking! After about a year it became my first rental property and now 10 years later it has allowed me to acquire three more investment properties,  get started in my career as a Realtor, and have the financial ability to buy this flip house.

I’ve wanted to renovate a home for a long time. I had looked into it a couple time though the years but I never felt I had the right resources or connections. This past year I was introduced to a banker who opened up some new doors for me and made this a reality. After lots of looking and getting the green light from my lender, it was go time.

I had a couple of houses in mind, but kept coming back to this one. I had been in the house probably five or more times before putting in an offer, just scoping things out. What ultimately made my decisions was:

  • Roof was in good condition
  • Siding was in good condition
  • Three bedrooms
  • Old character of the home (it was built in 1825!)
  • Newer furnace
  • Resale value in the area (I have an advantage on this one being a Realtor)

I bought the home using a commercial loan. I say that my first house allowed me to do this because the bank used my home equity as collateral against my flip buy. Without that equity I would not have been able to do it. The benefit to the commercial loan instead a conventional mortgage is ultimately lower fees. I was able to forego closing and appraisal costs which saved me about $2,000. The downside to this type of loan is that it’s on an ARM (adjustable-rate mortgage). This means that after a certain length of time (mine was 5 years), your interest rate is subject to change where as many conventional mortgages are fixed-rate meaning your interest rate stays the same through the entire life of the loan. This loan also has about a .25% higher interest rate. Since I plan to have this property short-term, I didn’t have to worry about rate increases, and the extra interest payment would be minimal. I was also able to go through my same lender to get a note for renovation funds. All in all, I was able to spend less than $10,000 of my cash to fund my project.

In the 30 day pending period before I closed on the house I met with multiple contractors and suppliers to bid out almost every aspect of the project. While I plan to do some work myself, I wanted to know my options. I met with a plumber, electrician, painter, general contractor, priced flooring, cabinets, countertops and browsed the home improvement stores for prices on materials you might not initially think of such as light fixtures, toilet, outlet covers, doors, knobs, trim etc. I put a lot of time into making my budget. I don’t do good with surprises so I made my list and checked it twice…or twenty times! I actually had my budget down to dollars and cents. I don’t expect to hit that exactly at the end, but it will give me a good place of reference. In total I expect to have about $35,000 in labor, material for my renovations. I’ll keep you posted on this in about 2 months *nervous laugh*

What I’ve learned so far:

  • There are creative ways to build wealth without spending a lot of cash reserves.
  • Have a solid relationship with a banker– this is good for life in general.
  • Surround yourself with good people (and ask them questions). I’m blessed to have co-workers and friends who have already helped so much with questions I’ve had, calmed my nerves, and motivated me.
  • Do your due diligence. I can’t tell you yet if this will pay off, but I really can’t imagine not doing my financial planning for the project AFTER I closed on the sale.
  • To keep reminding myself: “If it doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough”
  • Don’t cut a water line to get your sink out if you can instead unscrew the fitting. I’ll let you know later how much this will cost me!
  • How to demo a kitchen, take out flooring, install replacement windows …more on this next week.

Thanks for following!



Q&A: Are Selling Prices Typically Lower in the Winter?

I’ve had a whirlwind fall. I got married and my husband and I are moving into his home. The movers literally came on Thanksgiving, which means my condo finally is clear and clean. We’re planning to put it on the market ASAP because we aren’t excited about paying two mortgages, but I worry that we’re at a disadvantage because we’re listing in the winter. Are selling prices typically lower in the winter than spring and summer? Is there anything we can do to make the condo sell faster?
Hi and thank you for your question!
So to get right to the point… Yes, it’s true that the late fall and winter are typically slower real estate months where we see less inventory and more price drops. There can be as much as a 6% swing in the sale price of a home depending on the time of year. This is primarily due to buyer activity decreasing during these months. Weather, the busyness of the holidays, and being in the middle of the school year are all factors.
Because of this mindset we usually see less homes coming onto the market during these months, this past week we saw a 5% decline in new listings compared to the week before in Bloomington-Normal. New homes that do come on the market price according to buyer activity and their motivation to sell, and homes that have sat on the market through the spring and summer tend to either come off the market through the winter or start making some bigger price reductions.
However, there are always exceptions to the rules. Some good things about listing in the winter are that usually the buyers that are out there are serious! They’ve possibly just sold there home, are transferring with a job, etc. The pond may have less fish, but the fish are hungry! Another exception would be, is your house a ‘purple cow’? By this I mean, is there something really unique about your home that stands out? Fully remodeled? Are you in the country on some acreage? Is there something about your home that sticks out against the competition regardless of the time of the year? If so, then listing in the winter should not necessarily be a deterrent for you.
Paying two mortgages is not fun. If you want to test the waters and put it on the market during the winter, go for it! Make sure your home is clean and decluttered, tastefully decorated for the holidays, accommodate any and all showings the best that you can, and (most importantly) price your home realistically. One thing to be aware of if you list in the winter and don’t sell as quickly as you had hoped; you will accumulate more days on the market. I could write a complete second response to the effects of accumulating days on the market, but in short…that is a downside.
If you have any questions about how to properly prepare, price, and market your home to increase your chances of a winter sale I would be happy talk more with you!

Getting a Mortgage is Not Hard

I bring this up a lot, but it needs to be talked about! Getting a mortgage is not as hard as many young people believe it to be. Loan types, assistance programs, credit standards, and interest rates have changed considerable in the past 10 years in order to make homeownership more attainable. Between low downpayment loans and assistance programs, you can literally buy a home with almost no money down in some instances. Don’t get me wrong, the more money you put down will start you off with equity and lower your monthly payments. But however you are able to buy home will make more sense than spending money on rent. Why the change?

After the housing crisis, it became very hard to get a mortgage. The pendulum swung so far that even former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was turned down for a home loan! The good news is that the pendulum is finally starting to swing the other way. Why? Competition.

Fannie Mae reports that lenders are easing credit standards to gain more customers. Plus, Fannie Mae is helping too. The financial giant, which helps set the underwriting standards for mortgages that are sold to investors, raised its total debt-to-income ratio threshold. This means that more borrowers will qualify for home loans. This could be very good news for Millennials that have student loans. Student debt has been keeping many out of the housing market, but this move might help some Millennials jump in.

Talk with me here about more information on buying your first home!

Competing in a Seller’s Market

Using a buyer’s agent when purchasing your home is a free service to you, so why not take advantage? Your Realtor will walk you through putting in an offer and let you know what is necessary to make your offer stand out. When it’s a seller’s market, you can’t always compete against an all-cash offer from a buyer wiling to close quickly. But there are some things you can do to make a great impression with sellers:

  • Making a higher down payment – 25 percent or more. Sellers will worry less that you won’t qualify for a mortgage and know you are a serious buyer.
  • Offering to make a larger earnest money deposit can impress: it signals you won’t easily back out of the deal.
  • Shortening the contingency period and not asking for large seller concessions shows you’re committed to moving quickly.
  • For the right seller, a heartfelt “buyer’s love letter” may tip the scale in your favor.

Sometimes it’s not the highest-priced offer that wins the day, but a buyer willing to go the extra mile.

Contact me for more tips on current markets, your purchasing timeline, and how to properly prepare.