My Husband and I Quit Our Jobs to Fix Up Homes (With Zero Renovation Experience)
Everything we learned along the way.
Published Apr 14, 2019 7:00 AM
Chris and Claudia Beiler’s design journey started with a proposal. “Chris asked me to marry him in the attic of his house,” recalls Claudia. But when he got down on one knee, Chris didn’t just ask her to spend the rest of her life with him: “He was like, ‘Hey, I think it’d be awesome if you married me… and we turned this attic into an apartment.” Suffice it to say, they were committed in more ways than one.
Both born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Chris and Claudia were longtime family friends before they became life partners and, eventually, business partners. With little to no personal experience renovating homes (Chris worked in solar design as an engineer, and Claudia was a bus driver), the couple jumped in blind.
“We really had no idea what we were doing,” continues Claudia. “Neither of us knew Pinterest existed. I didn’t have Instagram. We just did it off our gut and, when we finished, we had created something really beautiful.”
Their first-ever remodel left an impression. So much so that the pair decided to quit their jobs and pursue renovations full time. That’s when The Chris & Claude Co. was born. “There have been a few times where [we thought] it would be nice to simply be able to go to work and take orders from an employer, but 95 percent of the time, we are so grateful for the opportunity that we have been given,” shares Chris. “ I think being entrepreneurs is in our DNA.”
Over the past four years, the pair have transformed countless row homes in Lancaster City—the majority of which they’ve purchased without ever seeing the interior. We recently caught up with Chris and Claudia to learn what it really means to buy, sell, and design homes with soul.
Calculate Your Budget—and Then Double It
Luckily, Chris and Claudia learned this rule early on. “We have come a long way in budgeting for older home renovations, but it seems you can never figure enough for all the surprises that can come along,” says Chris.
The unforeseen expenses? Along with major structural problems that can result from water and termite damage, it’s often the finishing details (think light switch covers and extra paint supplies) that can set a budget back. “You look at the world of Pinterest and you go, ‘That’s what I want,’ but then you go and try to do it and all of a sudden there are all these costs that go into it,” adds Claudia.
Often catering to artists, photographers, and other creatives looking to settle down in the area, Chris and Claudia pull out more stops than the average house flipper. Swathing the bathroom in retro tiles, adding a swing in the bedroom, or stuccoing the fireplace comes at a price, but it’s totally worth it.
“What we’re doing is creating a lasting product, standing behind it, and working really hard to make it beautiful. Our basic rule of thumb is to gut the house of all the old fixtures unless there’s something unique from the original house that we can keep,” she continues. “It adds up fast.”
Don’t DIY the Fundamentals
In an effort to spare their budget in the early days, Claudia and Chris took on almost all of the dirty work themselves. While they learned a lot about the inner workings of a home in the process, it’s one of Claudia’s biggest regrets looking back.
“We wish we had pulled in more professionals with those earlier homes, instead of trying to do everything ourselves,” she says.
Focus on the Kitchen and Baths First
The kitchen and bathroom are the two rooms potential buyers care about the most. As such, the duo has made it their personal mission to go the extra mile with bold color choices and contemporary finishes in each of these spaces. You won’t find standard subway tiles and snoozy granite countertops here.
“Countertops and backsplashes, as well as farmhouse sinks and faucets sets, are the two things that really set a kitchen apart,” shares Chris. “Even if you don’t have the money to buy high-end cabinets, basic cabinets can look like a million bucks if you [invest in these items].”
As for the bathroom, Chris notes that a glass shower surround can instantly elevate a space. Bright recessed lighting can also help transform a dated bathroom into a breezy oasis—no matter the size.
Expand Your Guest List
After renovating the tiny attic that would eventually serve as their first home, the couple was tight on cash and needed a way to make up for the money they spent adding an exterior staircase, a functioning kitchen, and a lofted bedroom. That’s when they discovered what was then a little-known website: Airbnb.
“We would move home with our families for the weekend or go camping,” recalls Claudia. “We were kind of embarrassed about it, but we started to realize that we had created something that other people wanted and eventually our friends started asking us to help with their houses.”
Commit to Curb Appeal
In more than one case, Chris and Claudia have sold a home the same day it hit the market. Their secret? Curb appeal.
“Nice landscaping will give you the most bang for your buck,” says Chris, noting that one of the simplest (and most affordable) changes you can make for resale is giving the yard a little TLC. “Landscaping and mulching aren’t that expensive and they can really set your home apart in the neighborhood.”
A little yard work can go a long way, especially if you’re targeting millennials. After all, young homeowners care more about a manicured lawn than they do an upgraded kitchen.
Be Logical About Your Upgrades
Although Claudia’s eye for high-design upgrades has proved to be a major selling point, she’ll be the first to admit that aesthetics can sometimes get the best of her. While working on their Louise Avenue project, Claudia wanted to go big in the bathroom with color. Let’s just say, her bold dreams were quickly (and literally) flushed down the toilet.
“When we bought the house, it had a maroon toilet and sink from the 1960s,” she shares. “On my first walk-through, I was like ‘I have to keep these.’” She loved the old-school fixtures so much that it even inspired the retro pink kitchen they designed for the home.
“Then, inspections came around,” she continues. Understandably, the homeowner wasn’t smitten with the idea of a toilet that was a struggle to flush. “If it takes three gallons to flush a purple toilet and one gallon to flush a 2019 toilet, you should probably replace it.”
Stage Like You Mean It
Before Chris and Claudia ever stick a “for sale” sign in the yard, they add life to the space with furniture, art, and storied objects. Jute rugs, record players, and old books suddenly make the space feel a lot more personal and decidedly livable.
“I read that only 10 percent of homebuyers are able to picture a house if it’s not staged, so I started scouring Goodwill, Facebook marketplace, and Craigslist,” shares Claudia. “That house sold the first day it was on the market.”