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Professional house flippers share their secret to success

A serious health crisis led to career changes for an enterprising couple who share their demo-to-reno secrets

Meet & greet
Tyge (project manager/ house flipper) and Christina Dellar (interior designer/house flipper), Valor, six, and Zeph, three.

There are certain times in married life when you question your partner’s thinking. A very dated old bach in Whangapāroa was one of those times for Tyge and Christina Dellar. Christina swore it had renovation potential – she had visions of a chic coastal home reminiscent of a lofty Hamptons house. Tyge, on the other hand, wasn’t sold. Sure, the location was great, with beautiful views of Manly Beach in an up-and-coming suburb, but the concrete block walls downstairs screamed bunker rather than beauty.

Now, both the Dellars are highly experienced in doing up houses to flip – this was to be house number eight – but even with all that experience, Tyge couldn’t see how this house would be a winner with a bit of work. Luckily for him, that’s Christina’s job.

“We both have our own roles when it comes to flipping houses. I keep an eye on the market, look at sales, work with agents, view houses and source projects for us to do up and sell. The uglier the better, to be honest,” Christina laughs. “Tyge checks out the practical side of them and how much work is needed. If a house checks out, we formulate a plan together, then he does all the work on the house (including ordering demo work, organising sub-contractors and materials, and project management) and I do interiors and interiors purchases.”

The flipping business
A standard house flip for the Dellars goes like this: a house is purchased, Christina sets the vision of the renovation, Tyge and his team get stuck in and complete the reno between six to eight weeks (yes, you read right), it goes on the market for a three-week campaign, and then – all things going well – they sell, at a profit.

“We try to be quick and efficient so that our money is only tied up in a property for a four-month stretch,” says Tyge.

Six to eight weeks for a full home makeover is incredible, even for experts.

“Tyge is a machine,” Christina agrees. “He has a good balance between being organised and having a vision – it still amazes me.”

The couple work full-time flipping houses now – Tyge has been doing it for more than two years and Christina (a make-up artist of 14 years) jumped on board this year. Covid lockdowns and the uncertainty of her make-up jobs with weddings and events being postponed gave her the final push she needed.

For builder Tyge, it was a serious health event that saw him turn to house-flipping as a career path.

“One morning I made our boys breakfast, then I went to get ready and just lost the feeling on one side of my body. I was 37 years old and having a stroke. It was a real wake-up call and a catalyst for change. It got us talking about what we really wanted to do with life – for me, it was to work for myself and to create the life we want. Flipping houses does that for us,” Tyge explains.

With their first flip they bought the house for $715,000, then sold for $990,000, making $120,000 after costs and tax. With their shared skillset and stellar first result, it was immediately clear that flipping houses was a viable business option for the talented couple. It’s piqued the attention of others, too – they have grown an Instagram following at @demo_to_reno sharing the flipping journey.

And yes, they pay capital gains tax.

“It’s our business and every business pays tax so we view it that way. Once you realise it’s a part of doing this, it makes the pill a little easier to swallow. Everyone has to pay tax so that’s totally fine,” says Tyge.

Seeing the beauty in old
The housing shortage in New Zealand has resulted in many Kiwis building new homes, but the Dellars argue – convincingly – that there’s an overlooked option.

“There are loads of tired old houses around New Zealand with good bones that just need some love. Most people won’t buy a house that needs that much work – they’re busy, it’s beyond them, they don’t know where to start – but if we can transform them and give families another option, it’s a win-win,” says Christina.

“I’ll see a house as what it could be for a potential buyer. I love it when we reach the end and see people buy it and see their excitement for the home and their life ahead in it. We’ve sold to first-home buyers, families, couples who are pregnant, couples who are downsizing. You feel a part of their story in a small way.”

In the beginning, the couple maintained they wanted to provide a newly renovated home for under $1m but skyrocketing property costs means they’re spending that much on the homes to start with. Instead, they’re focusing on refreshing homes that wouldn’t get a second glance because they’re in the too-hard basket for most home buyers, and then taking pride in the fact they’re adding good stock back into the housing market.

Their latest flip
Their recently finished Whangapāroa project had been a family bach for many, many years and lived in by an elderly relative. Dated and slightly dilapidated would be an apt description. The ceiling was textured and the walls all covered with “funky” wallpaper. Downstairs felt cold and bunker-like with concrete block walls. But Christina knew the good bones were there – she loved the light, the oversized beams in the lounge, the high ceiling and the layout.

There were also hidden gems, including the floor-to-ceiling wardrobes in the main bedroom, which they simply painted white and changed the handles to brass to add wow factor in the space. Fresh white paint on the tongue-and-groove walls gave an instant coastal vibe.

The makeover took just seven weeks and that included the level four Covid lockdown.

“We had the demo done Monday, the kitchen plans were done and ordered by Wednesday and by Friday the rewiring in walls and plumbing was done. Tuesday was lockdown,” Tyge recalls.

But it didn’t put the pair off-track for long. In just seven weeks they transformed the dated bach into a coastal delight. They achieved this by painting inside and out, adding new fencing, building a big deck out the back, covering the cold concrete blocks downstairs with gib walls and ceilings, replacing all the plumbing and electrical, replacing old aluminium sliding doors with three sets of timber French doors (a fast way to add that desirable indoor-outdoor flow), put in two new bathrooms, a new kitchen, new lighting, and new flooring throughout the house.

Where possible, Tyge tries to restore any original timber flooring to its full glory in their flips, but this one was too patchy to save. Instead, they replaced the mish-mash of vinyl and carpet with a cohesive flow of laminate and carpet.

It was a case of white, white, white to achieve the Hamptons look Christina had in mind. Old decks look new with a new wash of white, and even the fencing was made white to stick to the vision.

“For paint, we have very basic go-tos: Resene Black White on basically all houses. Inside and out on this house because we wanted the coastal look. And for houses with a black exterior we use Resene All Black. Very simple,” Tyge laughs.

There are other materials they come back to, time and time again.

“We always go for engineered stone counter tops – the others look cheap and are impractical. Spend the money on a good benchtop in the kitchen. People will run their hands across it, we promise you,” Tyge says.

“We always use sheer curtains with roller blinds behind for that flowy, holiday vibe, which softens the room. We take the curtain right up to the ceiling, as high as we can go, for the illusion of height,” Christina explains. “For me, pendants are the easiest way to bring character to a room, over a dining table, above a staircase, above kitchen bench. If it works, they’re good in a main bedroom to make it special – hanging either side of the bed or over the bed – or in some kid’s rooms. Pendants make an instant difference to a room and they really tell a story – the choice of shape and material instantly tells a visitor what this house is about, such as sleek and modern or bohemian or coastal. Plus they’re easy to update or change with your theme.”

There’s one other thing the Dellars always do with their flips: get stagers in.

“Having the right furniture makes such a difference. If a home is badly staged it doesn’t get the viewings in or tell the story. It might be $3000 or $4000 to stage, but you’ll absolutely make that back on a better sale price,” says Christina.

The Dellars agree it could be very easy to overspend on a renovation but they’re fine-tuning where to invest their money and what isn’t worth it.

“I think there are a handful of things that will make people fall in love with the house so they’re worth doing,” says Christina. “Like pendant lights and kitchen handles – boring little chrome handles look cheap but if you go black or brass it changes the kitchen. And small things, for example a lot of people will tile a small splashback but we tile the whole wall and it just makes the kitchen pop. Making a feature of the small things can have a huge impact – I used so much brass with this house but it really added to that coastal vibe I was after. Tyge kept calling it gold; I said ‘Donald Trump does gold, this is brass. Much classier!’”

The landscaping is always left until the end and, like the house, it’s just a matter of working with what’s already there but freshening it up. For this house, it was building new decks (with a privacy screen on one), painting old decks, adding fencing, adding boxing around gardens, and refining the plants that were there.

“There’s a balance about what to keep or take out,” explains Tyge. “We want to leave something there for people to add their own way of living – keep it basic. People get excited about what they can add and how they can make it their own.”

The next project
The couple’s next assignment is another house Christina had to convince Tyge on – their own home, which is just down the road from this one.

“Tyge couldn’t see my vision for this to start with but now he does. It was a bit bland when we bought it so we’re adding character through tongue-and-groove walls, bedrooms in sage and terracotta for the boys, and all of our tried-and-true methods – linen sheers, pendants, bathrooms, and the kitchen of my dreams. Watch this space.”

The pair have honed what to look for in a potential project. For Christina, it’s about having a buyer in mind (family, professional couple, retirees etc), making sure they can create the perfect home for them from that house – and then being certain they can make it beautiful.

“We might shuffle rooms around for better flow for a family or make it fully fenced for kids. Then, I’ll look for features, to see where we can freshen it up and bring the character out,” she says.

“When you look at a house, ask yourself where can I add value?” Tyge says. “I check to see if the kitchen and bathrooms need upgrading, whether we can open it up to create open-plan living, whether we can create indoor-outdoor flow and a deck. I’ll check the condition of the property as a whole and the condition of the paint on the outside. Materials-wise, you can’t go wrong with weatherboard, solid brick or block. You want to add a bedroom or home office where possible; a lot of old houses have their own laundry room, which you don’t
need so we’ll try to create a new room. Look for three-plus bedrooms or two bedrooms that can become three.”

And the deterrents? Potentially troublesome exteriors such as plaster, internal gutters, fibrolite and anything that will require building consent.

“We stay away from anything like that because we’re trying to do a quick turnaround. Load-bearing walls, decks over 1.5m high, extensions, moving a kitchen from one side of the house to the other. For us, it’s important that we create like from like and work within the framework,” he explains.

They say there are two keys to success in flipping: being good at forward-planning and being decisive.

“We make decisions in half an hour that might take someone weeks or months,” says Christina. “We’re both decisive and are known for our 15-minute meetings. For this house, the flooring conversation was 10 minutes. If you take the time to pre-plan, and know what you want, you can make the decision faster once you have the samples,” she says.

Once a house is settled on, Christina will buy all the appliances so the subbies have all the information and specs they need when they come to do their job. This pre-planning is the difference between a job taking six weeks or three months. Their kitchens, for example, take three weeks instead of months.

Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: Emily Raffills, Point & Shoot.

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