You’re at an interesting point in your home story as you’re somewhat on the way out. You went from being renters to buyers, to creating this condo as your home with the thought of leaving shortly thereafter. What do you want next?
Cece: “Although we purchased this home with the intention that it would be an investment at some point, the truth is, this is what we could afford in the Denver market. As far as downpayment, the bank was willing to give us more money but it didn’t make sense to be house poor. We like to travel, eat out, and do other things with our lives so it was important to find a comparable mortgage to the rent that we were paying. Obviously, with the rental market, it’ll make sense to turn this into a rental at some point. In this area, this will be a prime space. And with the appreciation in the building, we don’t want to sell. We’ll rent this out then think about buying a house soon as with Jake’s new venture, we’ll have another income so we can buy a yard.”
In terms of wanting to buy a condo, did you want to buy a one bedroom? Clearly, you have to buy what you can afford. How did what you thought you could buy compare with the reality of what you could actually afford once you started looking?
Cece: “Watching the MLS for as long as we did, we figured out that we could have found a two bedroom one bathroom, but we were really location specific.”
Jake: “We wanted to be in the city center, we weren’t willing to go out to the suburbs.”
Cece: “We were going to flex to a higher price but truthfully, I’m glad we didn’t. I love the condo. I think we’ve gone through some good growing pains in the space since it’s old. The HOA is super active. They needed to get a new boiler and so many details when we moved in. The membrane on the roof was leaking into the upstairs units. Now it’s in a good place and to be part of that movement toward making the building better. I kind of love what we invested in. It’s taken a long time to see it that way.”
Jake: “In the mid winter the boiler wasn’t working so we had no heat. We slept in a hotel a handful of nights in December and November. The HOA didn’t cover that cost for us. A lot of people stayed in the building and just wore sweaters and mittens but we’re divas. We were working but not everybody was going to work at that time due to COVID. People could go be with family.”
Cece: “Finally, by the end, my mom said she was going to make us a bed in her house, but it was what it was. I’m grateful that we could afford it.”
What’s been your journey to buy property?
Cece: “It’s always been a dream to buy my parents’ place on Williams. That’s their downsize plan so that wasn’t going to work. Pandemic hit and I got a big bonus at the restaurant where I work, and we figured it out. We figured out how to buy.”
Jake: “Cece went for 3 weekends in a row to go see 15 places with you when I was working in Houston. Then she had to work so you and I saw this when I was back. She said ‘what do you think?’ and I said ‘I think it’s pretty good’. She said ‘let’s put in an offer’ and I said, honey, “you haven’t seen it yet.”
Cece: “But I had. Because we had looked at this same building a year prior at a different unit, I understood what we could be purchasing. I trusted your taste, Jake.”
You guys were very cohesive in what you wanted. It was really apparent, whereas, not all couples are.
Cece: “I believe that it’s okay to not be there. I think Jake thought the same thing. It’s kind of better that way. When it’s like ‘what did you think, how did you feel?’ You tell me your objective point of view. I think it was hard when we were in spaces together. I feel like better decision making. We’re both such A types, we’re both bosses, we run businesses so It’s important that we do things separately. We really have figured that out. We can’t run a business together. I don’t think we could choose a house together either. It’s important to do things separately. We trust each others point of view.”
You’ve determined you couldn’t run a business together, why is that?
Cece: “We just do it differently.”
Jake: “We’re very different managers. I could be upset at some of the things she does and she would wonder why I wasn’t doing certain things.”
Cece: “I’m just more intense. I come from a style of management that’s just direct, point, shoot. If there’s an issue, speak to it right then and there. Jake is more patient and he waits to assess the situation before addressing it. It’s just two different styles.”
Jake: “It means she gets faster results but I get more devotion from staff who follow me from place to place over years. She’s got that now. She’s got a super devoted staff.”
Cece: “Jake is so much more gentle than me. Even coming in here to get this space done. It was on my time table. Otherwise, we wouldn’t live here right now. That’s all. Just different and they’re both very valuable to a partnership.”
That’s what I’m wondering – how did the bathroom renovation roll out knowing you have two very different management styles? Your home isn’t a business but looking at real estate the way you do where it’s a stepping stone, it’s somewhat of a business.
Cece: “We had a contractor that had done our parent’s house and a neighbor’s house. He was between jobs. I found that when Jake was managing, there would be no check of the work. It’s not even a criticism. I think we’ll have to get the bathroom floor done again. Doing a three by three tile on three sides of a wall is ridiculous. Even my request is so ridiculous for a single person, that it’s such a small space that it needed to continue to be managed throughout the process. There’s some imperfection. Some of it we’re okay with. There’s some margin for human error but the floor is messed up and needs to be redone. And the day that it got done we should have been more present and watching and knowing that the person was tired. By the end of it he had gotten a second job so was just doing weekends here. You could just feel that he really wanted to finish the job for us but that he was so tired. We had stayed in a hotel because it had rolled into our move in date. It took him a month to do the tile floor that should have taken 5 days. So I think we learned a lot in the process. We should have been looking everyday at the work he was doing.”
Jake: “We were both working 60 hour weeks at that time. For us to be there to hold his hand was unrealistic. We hired the wrong guy because he didn’t have the capacity for it. He’s a wonderful human that we care about, and so it was the right thing to do to hire him. But as far as what we both expect from quality, I don’t think we’ll make that mistake again to hire a laborer to do a skilled tradesman’s job.”
Cece: “Although he had the skill, there was just some things that didn’t work. When we pulled everything out of the bathroom there was lead and galvanized pipes. We didn’t know what we were getting into. The project should have been faster but we had to change out all the plumbing so that obviously took longer. It took another two weeks to find the plumber and the city was in the middle of a construction boom so there was no one to do anything. And this was during COVID right in July 2020. We closed June 29th. We moved at the beginning of August but we had to stay in a hotel from August 1-10 just so we could get everything done.
In the end, I’m happy because it’s going to be a rental. If we’re going to sell it, we need to get pretty specific about some details in this space, but if it’s our investment then we did a great job.”
What do you think about the next place? Would you buy something that needs renovation, are you up for another project?
Cece: “Not in the next house. We’d need to just move in and get settled and work. We need to work pretty hard for a little bit. Maybe after that there’s another project.”
Jake: “I think there’s a lot of value in making things and fixing things with your own hands and I get a lot of joy in that. But the return on it isn’t nearly as great as what I can get investing my time in my own business or someone else’s business. Whether that’s getting a big salary because I’m working 60 hours week or I’m managing my own stuff and grow my sales. For me to spend a week laying the floor here which would probably take me 10 days since I’ve never done it. It would look better than that but I wouldn’t feel great about it but there’s just not that value proposition. In restaurants as a manager, I’ve come to believe that if you can fix it in less than an hour, do it yourself, if it’s going to take more than an hour, then call somebody else because your time is valuable. I think similarly with a home. If we were to take on a huge project, especially if we stretch our budget. The reason we were able to absorb the shock of the bathroom plumbing and no sub floor was because we bought well below our maximum budget.”
Cece: “I’m grateful to have had the experience of remodeling the space and buying at the lower end. It’s been great. I’m happy to have had the experience. I think we’re almost there to believing in paying for skilled labor. It’s a threshold, time is money. If you’ve got the money, do it for certain, but we’ve got other desires for our future and it doesn’t involve remodeling a house again. It was a great experience but it’s over now.”
Jake: “If I had a trust fund, and was retired then sure, it would be a blast. I’d be the GC and would hire the guys and Cece would come in and tell them what they were doing wrong. But that’s just not a reality. We’re worker bees.”
Photography by: Jordan Facin