Storybook Homes owner Niki Thompson believes every home has a story. She finds an old home, creates a narrative and uses that storyline as the blueprint for renovation.
Conway, Arkansas’s, older homes speak to house flippers Niki and Rory Thompson. We’re not talking about the stately mansions of the well to do; these are the solid working class homes that sprang up before and after WWII in and around Conway’s downtown. Storybook Homes looks for projects in need of some serious TLC, which Niki provides through sweat labor and the help of subcontractors. Every renovation brings a story, and Niki shares those stories through her blog, Two Story Sister.
Q: Let’s start with the name. Why Storybook Homes?
Niki: We started as ReHome Properties, and literally within the same month another company formed with a similar name and similar business, so it led to confusion.
Last year we made the hard decision to rebrand and rename. One thing I started doing on my blog, and it’s kind of crazy, but how I come up with a design plan is that I come up with a story about the home. That story dictates every design decision we make. I started sharing some of the stories with my blog readers and people enjoyed them. So that’s how we came up with Storybook Homes. Now I include a story with every project.
Q: Why this business? What inspired you to start flipping houses?
Niki: Honestly, probably just years of watching HGTV. Rory and I had flipped homes off an on since the beginning of our marriage, but it’s really been the last two or three years that we’ve gone all in. At that point I took a bigger role that wasn’t just cosmetic but knocking down walls and things like that. I just fell in love with it.
Q. So is this your day job?
Niki: This is my day job. I am a dietician and about two years ago I quit my job at UAMS to focus on this full time. Rory owns several storage facilities and has real estate properties, both commercial and residential, and operates a moving company.
Rory: I’ve been involved in real estate for a while. This is Niki’s primary business and I help her on Wednesdays with some odds and ends and lend a hand on some projects.
Q. What’s your business strategy? What do you look for when deciding to buy a home to flip?
Rory: We look for houses that are extremely cheap in a section or two of old town Conway that we feel is on the upswing. We buy them only if we can get the price right. Because we’re doing so much renovation and upgrades, we can’t afford to pay too much for the houses, so it has to be a point where someone is willing to let them go for dirt-cheap.
Q. So all your business is in Conway?
Niki: So far. We try to keep an eye out in Greenbrier and Maumelle but to be honest, it’s just so convenient to have our work be five minutes from home. We’ve never bit the bullet and branched out, but it’s not something we’re opposed to.
Q: What’s unique about your renovations?
Niki: I think our buyers appreciate all the extras we put into a project. We don’t just renovate, but totally redesign the homes. And while we may spend the majority of our efforts on kitchens and master bedroom suites, we try to do little extras throughout the house, including focusing on exteriors and curb appeal. They’re not cookie cutters.
Q: How many renovations have you done and how long do they typically stay on the market?
Niki: We sold 15 to date, and they’re usually on the market two weeks to a month. We’ve been very fortunate.
Q: Looking at your blog, it appears you don’t make money on all your projects.
Niki: That is a very true statement. We’re hoping to turn that around. A lot of times we overspend, to be quite honest. When we first started in old time Conway, we struggled to get $70-80 a square foot. Last home we sold at $110 a square foot. We’re hoping this is the year it starts to payoff.
It all comes down to the comps (Comps, or comparables, contrast criteria from recently sold properties in a neighborhood, such as sale price, age of house, size and square footage, to determine a home’s value.) Our clients are wiling to spend the money but it’s hard to get them appraised. It’s getting easier because we’re creating our own comps.
Q. Let’s talk marketing. How do you reach your buyers?
Niki: 90% is social media through the Two Story Sisters blog, Facebook and a little bit on Instagram. Also word of mouth. The rest is through Zillow.
Q. House flipping looks like fun on HGTV, but like every business, I’m betting this one has a down side. What is it?
Niki: You don’t make money on every project. It’s hard. I have not had a project yet where I haven’t cried just because of all the unknowns. It’s building character, and I’m learning how to deal with adversity. I’m also working with a whole different crew of people. I’m used to dealing with people in the medical filed. It’s just a whole different animal when you move into construction. And the poor guys I work with, they’re not used to working with me, so it’s been a learning curve for everyone involved.
Q: Any advice for future would-be home flippers?
Niki: Have another source of income.
Rory: Yeah, don’t quit your day job.
Want to Learn More?
Go to Niki’s Two Story Sisters blog, where she shares her experiences, before-and-after photos, and the story behind the stories that go into a Storybook Homes project. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.