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Shoveling our way to success, one flip at a time

Before Auben Realty, it was Auben Homes…

January 2008 was not the ideal time to start a real estate flipping business. However, I was eager to pursue my vision of what a real estate company should look like. I found a can’t-miss lead on Willowood Lane in the Clairmont subdivision in Augusta, GA. Clairmont is a neighborhood of 1970’s-built, contemporary homes located off the main commercial artery in Augusta, Bobby Jones Expressway, which connects I-20 to Washington Road. Augustans know Clairmont simply as the neighborhood “behind the Home Depot” 

Clairmont and Bobby Jones also serve as the dividing line between the two counties that comprise Augusta: Richmond and Columbia County. And certain streets in Clairmont have houses facing each other in separate counties. It was to be yet another lesson in market nuance when I learned savvy buyers paid a premium (10k-20k) for identical houses on the Columbia County side of the street of Clairmont–because of the more desirable public schools. 

Like most decisions I made in my early days, I was on the wrong side of the street. Blissfully unaware of this market premium, I purchased the house on Willowood in January 2008 for $89k. The home on Willowood was a deal I acquired for the seller’s payoff. The home was a 4 bedroom, 3 bath split-level  with many of the angles, finishes and details typical of 1970s modern. Like most homes we purchased, it was in need of some (a lot of) love. 

The couple still living in the home would have been ideal candidates for a show on hoarders. Worse, they had a kid who had the daily reality of carving a path, wading through trash. The trash in the living room was literally waist high. As if not to be bothered with making the trip to the trash can, the residents of Willowood simply threw their trash over their heads. Pizza boxes, newspapers, clothes and toys were piled up everywhere.

We tackled the trashout with pitchforks and wide-mouth shovels and filled two 30-yard dumpsters without a single piece of construction debris. It was another reminder that real estate investing was fundamentally taking on other people’s problems. 

My good friend Andy and I led the project management of the renovation with intense focus and dedication, trying to make up for what we lacked in knowledge and know-how with effort. I don’t remember a lot about this particular renovation, other than the trashout, but it birthed standards we tried to always incorporate into our future flips and rental renovations. 

All of our interior paints were a Glidden beige, called Bone White. Our tile was typically a builder-grade beige from Lowes or Home Depot which we would lay in a brick pattern or diagonally to make it more visually appealing. Later we would use the same tile in our rentals (for durability) and add darker grout (beige or brown again 🙂) for less staining from resident wear. 

With limited budgets, we were relentless in our search for bargains and closeouts, consistently searching the Tile Center and big box stores for small quantity closeouts. We also tried to keep as much as we could intact in the home, primarily out of necessity of small resale prices limiting our budgets. Operating in these entry-level affordable homes would be my saving grace when the market turned.

From the beginning of Auben Homes, I wanted to scale the business. So we began to think of things we could standardize. For the exterior, it was painting the front doors black or red, the body beige and black or white trim. On the interior, we snatched out shiny brass fixtures and replaced them with the trendy brushed-nickel and oil-rubbed bronze finishes that were required upgrades at the time.

Having something to prove on Willowood, we worked with a vengeance and remarkably completed the renovation on time and on budget-ish. From initial purchase to close of resale was 90 days. It gave me momentum to move forward but also a really difficult time target to replicate. 

As I moved on to multiple projects running simultaneously, I would soon feel the stress and strain of a system and team not ready to grow to my ambition. I would learn firsthand that our effort could only get us so far. 

This same realization has been fundamental to creating our new Auben market structure and team. For more info, please check out the video below!