Brenna and I go way back (which is depressing to say because it means college was a long time ago). We met at Univ. of Kentucky when we were both in the same sorority (Kappa Kappa Gamma if you’re wondering, you’re probably not but there you go). Fast forward a few years to Drew and I house hunting when we realized our house probably was getting a little small for our growing family. During our first round of house hunting, we looked at a couple flipped houses that we really liked – great finishes, nice open concept, well-thought out details. At one of the showings, I bumped into Brenna and only then realize she had started flipping houses with her dad. We really liked the projects she had on the market then but the timing wasn’t quite right.
When I found out that we were having a third kid (!!!), we knew we needed to move stat. We looked at tons of houses but nothing that excited us. Then Drew let me in on a secret, he had been silently stalking the Brenlow Properties Instagram and saw they were working on a house that he thought would be perfect. I reached out to Brenna, came by to see the house and we made an offer within the week. I don’t think there were even cabinets in the kitchen yet but we knew this house was meant to be ours. The right location, size and most importantly to me, the right style, look and feel.
As I type this from my house that I LOVE, I am so happy that our paths crossed again. Now I get excited to follow along on all their projects. I love watching how it all comes together and may even get a little jealous when I see some of the finished products. I could go on and on about their work but I’ll go ahead and let Brenna give you the full scoop!
* Name: Brenna Brooks
* Company: Brenlow Properties
* Title: Co-owner and Partner
* How did you get started in your field? Honestly, we just kind of… went for it. I was in grad school and working part-time, and my Dad – who had all of the technical knowledge from a lifetime of being a mechanical engineer and just generally a handy guy – was supposed to be retired.
Like everyone else, we loved watching the renovation shows on HGTV, and whenever we were in a car together we would always point out houses that needed work. The market was picking back up after the crash, we went and looked at some properties, and then bought one. We did almost all of the work on that first one ourselves and then quickly decided that wasn’t a sustainable business model for us, so we started contracting out the work for our next purchase, and the ones that came after that. Here we are, four and a half years later, and still going! We will be wrapping up house #12 in May.
* What inspires you? Oh wow. A little bit of everything, I think.
As far as what inspires me to do this work specifically, the idea that your home is an expression of yourself is a pretty big one. You know how you walk into a friend’s house and it’s just so… them? The fact that I get to be a small part of that for some people is a pretty huge source of drive to keep going. Also the fact that we get to improve neighborhoods by fixing up houses – we’ve had many neighbors stop by to thank us. I love the character and quirk that some houses have.
As far as design inspiration, I get a lot of ideas from accounts I follow on Instagram, and then from what I see on certain shows on TV, and in magazines, or local restaurants, or from my friends’ houses… I saw this amazing tile at a Starbucks through the drive-through window and I’m dying to find it to use as a kitchen backsplash in a future project house!
* What three words describe your work best: thoughtful, purposeful, quality
* What three words describe you best: hardworking, loyal, inquisitive
* One thing about you that might surprise people: Hm. Either that I when I was in high school I was a fairly talented horseback rider (even won Nationals once), or that in college, I won a pudding wrestling tournament for charity. And yes, I still have the plaques to prove both of those.
* Why Louisville? So many people end up leaving Louisville, what helped keep you in the 502?:
Logistically: my employer right out of college moved me back to Louisville instead of sending me elsewhere, then I stayed for grad school, then we started our flipping business here, then my career jobs just kept me here.
But, besides the logistics: I just love this town. Louisville is such an amazing city with so many things to do, attractions to see, food to eat, and has so much pride. The southern hospitality is something we take for granted, but it becomes so apparent when you travel elsewhere just how great the vibe is here.
* Favorite Louisville Neighborhood: Crescent Hill.
I love the older homes with so much charm and character, the walkability, the restaurants and other local businesses along Frankfort Avenue, the Trolley Hop, the 4th of July festival at the Peterson House, I just love everything about it! (except getting stuck by the train, ha!)
* Favorite Spot for a Drink: Lately I’ve been frequenting the patios at The Hub and Crescent Hill Craft House. Silver Dollar is a favorite also.
* Favorite Lunch Spot: El Mundo
* Favorite Dinner Spot: Louvino
* Favorite Festival: Smaller neighborhood festivals are more my jam.
I love the Cherokee Triangle Art Fair in April, and I volunteer at the Highlands Beer Festival every year. I’m also super excited for the recently announced Bourbon & Beyond festival this fall! If it’s nice weather and I can walk around and drink beer, count me in!
* Favorite Pizza Spot: Boombozz. Their hot subs are pretty legit as well.
* You’ve got to try: The pork chop at Jack Fry’s. It’s a time machine in there, I love that they have a piano player, and the food is amazing – especially the pork chop!
* If someone is visiting from out of town and only has time to go to three places, where do you send them?
I usually recommend Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum, especially if there’s a racing meet going on. Then a distillery tour – the Bulleit Experience at Stitzel-Weller is great because it’s just outside of downtown as opposed to an hour’s drive. And then Louvino in the Highlands for dinner!
* You and your Dad work together on your projects, what is it like working together?
Working together has been very rewarding. We actually have very similar tastes and viewpoints when it comes to how we want to renovate/get to the finished product, so we almost always agree on decisions/approaches to take. Obviously working with my dad means that I get to spend a lot of time with him, and I’ve learned so much over the past 4 years that I likely wouldn’t have learned otherwise – mostly from doing all of the work on the first house ourselves, ha!
* How many houses have you flipped? What has been your favorite?
We are just finishing up #12, and I think this one is my favorite – it’s so unique and just a really cool property. It’s a true mid-century modern house, which is not very common around here, so I’ve had to do a lot of research before committing to design elements – we’re trying so hard to honor the original character of the house, while updating it for today’s families and style of living.
It’s a 4,000 square foot ranch, so it’s really sprawled out, and there’s a ton of natural light which helps the whole house feel so bright and airy. Plus, it has a pool, so I had my own personal pool last summer, which is definitely a perk! It’s probably been my biggest challenge design- and budget-wise, and I can’t wait to see the final product!
* What do you look for in a property?
The top three rules in real estate are location, location, location – and I think that’s definitely true.
We are so careful to buy houses in desirable locations, and pay attention to what’s around it as well – we’ve walked away from more than a few properties because they were surrounded by apartment buildings, for example; or if they were too close to a busy main road. Besides that, we look for the ability to create a home that is desirable to end buyers – can we open it up to be a mostly open concept space? Are there at least 1.5-2 bathrooms? (properties with only one bath are much harder to sell in almost all areas.) Is there a decent yard space for kids and pets to play?
Since we are investors, the end goal is to sell it – so we have to be able to attract the most potential buyers, for a quick sale. Evaluating what the buyers want, vs. judging it on our own personal taste, is the most important factor and something we remind ourselves of constantly.
* What tips do you have for someone looking to flip a house?
- Know what the “standard” level of finishes is for the neighborhood. If your house doesn’t measure up to other houses in the area, you will have a more difficult time selling, and you likely won’t get as high of a sale price. This can be anything from requiring a true master suite with a double vanity, or something like off-street parking.
- Don’t blow your budget and think that you can list for a higher price just because you spent more on renovations. A house is worth what the market is willing to pay for it, no more. Spending $20/sq ft on tile instead of $8/sq ft, generally speaking, isn’t going to make your house worth more – but you spent a whole lot more money than a flipper who watched their materials budget.
- The more items you can check off of a buyer’s “checklist”, the easier your house will sell. Refer to the first bullet.
- Don’t let emotions get involved, ESPECIALLY at the purchase. Being in a bidding war brings out the competitive side in all of us. Don’t think “oh I can pay $10k more than I said I would for this house, I’ll just cut the reno budget to make up for it”. This NEVER works. True story: this is how we purchased the house that ended up being our first loss.
- Flipping houses is a lesson in being uncomfortable. You’ll have to deal with things that you’ve either never heard of or never wanted to see ever in your life, and gain a working understanding on them fairly quickly in order to decide how to proceed. This can be anything from treating a bee infestation to finding a licensed plumber you can trust, and anything and everything in between. Problems with houses aren’t going to solve themselves, and procrastinating will probably end up costing you more money in the end. So put on your big girl (or boy) britches and get to learnin’ and fixin’, because once you buy a house and it’s your money on the line, you can’t just hide and hope it works itself out.
- Know that time equals money, literally in this business. Just because you can save some money by doing something yourself, doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the best business decision. If doing that thing yourself will take you way longer than it would a paid professional, especially if that causes other delays/push backs of your timeline, or if it will prevent you from completing something else on your insanely long to-do list, it’s probably better to hire it out.
* What is your favorite part of the renovation process?
I think my favorite day during a renovation is cabinet install day. That’s when things really start to come together, and the “vision” starts to turn into reality. It’s amazing seeing all of the different design elements I have picked out actually put together in the space, instead of just one thing at a time in different showrooms or websites. I also really love looking back at the “before” pictures once we’ve completed a project, and seeing how far the house has come.
Lastly, hearing all of the support and positive feedback from the neighbors is super rewarding – we do this because we love this city, and hearing that the neighbors appreciate our work makes us feel good about the work that we do. Everyone needs a little positive affirmation every now and then!
* How do you approach design elements for the houses?
I start with researching what is “standard” for that house’s neighborhood and price point, and make sure I incorporate those things – that can be anything from at least a half bath in the basement, or a soaking tub in the master bath. From the very beginning, we think about how a family is really going to live in the home and what the purpose for each space is – durability of finishes (especially flooring and countertops) is always a factor. We don’t want to install finishes that won’t last, or will be easily damaged by kids and pets. Then, I do my research on what other remodelers and builders are doing – usually get this from HGTV shows (not kidding), or industry showcases like Homearama. Personally, I tend to go for “light and bright”-type spaces, and I think they present better to potential buyers, so I will almost always pick white or off-white cabinetry, for example. It’s usually pretty easy to tell when a house for sale has been “flipped” because the finishes all look the same, and they can be kind of boring – I try not to be boring. I watch the budget, but will bring a bit more style and personality into the designs.
Finally, I try to incorporate a few unexpected or personal touches into every project – in the last house we did a large “doggie den” under the staircase so the four-legged family members have their own area; and I’ve also turned a vintage Singer sewing machine I bought off Craigslist into a bathroom vanity.
* What have you learned and perfected along the way?
I’ve learned more things that I can remember, or that anyone wants to read for that matter. I think the biggest is time management, and always to be thinking two steps ahead. I’ve learned that ideas and inspiration come from anywhere. So I take pictures or send an email to myself in order to remember it – yeah, another thing I’ve learned is that you can’t remember everything, so write things down.
I’ve learned to speak up when something doesn’t sound or feel right – ignoring it will usually turn into a bigger problem down the line. I wouldn’t say I’ve “perfected” anything, but we’ve definitely gotten better at planning – the more planning and decisions you make up front at the beginning of your project, the quicker and more smoothly your project will go. But, that absolutely doesn’t mean that the original plan will stick the whole way through, because it won’t: you better have or find a plan B, C, D and E because you’re going to use them!
* What’s next for Brenlow Properties?
We are trying to get our business more widely-known and trusted in the community so that we can find project houses before they get to the public market. The real estate and remodeling industries run on referrals, so it’s important that people trust us and our work enough to connect us with a seller.
We’ve bought houses privately before, and it just saves so much time and hassle for everyone involved. We don’t do as much volume as other investors, so we are not able to take on as many unknowns (like buying a house sight-unseen from the auctions) because we cannot spread the risk across multiple projects. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing – so right now we’d love to be able to connect with private sellers before they list their property publicly. Besides that, my dream project is to take an older home that has been converted into a duplex/apartments (these are all over the place in Crescent Hill and Clifton, Highlands too) and restore it back to a beautiful single family home. So, it would be really cool if we could find a project like that. If you know any crappy houses in need of some serious love, send ‘em our way!
* Shameless Plug!
We wrote an ebook! I frequently get asked questions like “how did you get into flipping houses?” and “I’ve thought about getting into that, can I buy you a beer and pick your brain for a few minutes?” Seriously, all the time. Even though I love free beer- I can’t possibly answer every question that comes my way, both in person and through email and social media. So, my solution, along with my flipping BFF and co-author Wendy, was to write an ebook on the process of flipping houses.
It covers the entire process – from finding a property and figuring out how to pay for it, to creating a budget and selecting finishes, to staging and selling. It is 100% real talk, and not some skeezy sales pitch to get you to buy tickets to some seminar. We don’t do shit like that, we actually give you the information. You can purchase our ebook “Shut Up and Flip A House Already: A Guide to Help You Shit or Get Off the Pot” here.
It’s normally $14.95, but we’re offering a special discount to Lou What Wear readers! Use code LWW15 at checkout to get 15% off your copy!