4/11/14 - Picked up our blueprints... Selfie!

4/11/14 – Picked up our blueprints… Selfie!

I’m designing our house. From scratch. And my husband’s building it. Because we clearly have nothing better to do in-between running our business and raising two little boys. The method behind our madness? As Reverend Run (from Run DMC) would say, “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work, baby (smoooooch!)”

THE BACKSTORY In 2008, we left our Silicon Valley corporate lives behind, and after watching far too many HGTV shows, we moved to Atlanta to start a House Flipping Adventure. Over the next 5 years, we got married, had 2 kids, started an investing business, flipped over 60 houses, consulted on and staged over 100 more, wrote a couple books … you know, just the regular stuff…

THE MOVE  We always knew Atlanta had an expiration date for us… so when the Atlanta real estate market started to boom again in the Spring of 2013, we sold our home and started thinking about where to go next. With an outstanding school district for our kids and many close friends and family members nearby, we decided to head up to Ellicott City, MD, a suburb between Washington DC and Baltimore. And when we got there, we started looking for a new house for the family.

THE FRUSTRATION  You’d think that all our real estate experience and my getting my real estate license in Maryland would make the house search easy-peasy, right? Not so much. Were there any decent foreclosures to rehab? Nope. Any land to build on? Nope. Any regular retail houses priced below market value? Haha — now that’s a good one! To say we were frustrated with the house search would have been a MAJOR understatement. But somehow, it always works out how it’s supposed to…

THE ESTATE SALE  One Saturday morning, our good friend got in her car to start her weekly Yard Sale scavenger hunt. Guess what? There just so happened to be an Estate Sale DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET from where she lives. Our friend found the person in charge, who happened to be one of six now-adult children who grew up in the house. Turns out her parents (who built the house back in 1959) had recently passed away, so the kids were liquidating the house and its contents.

THE PERFECT PROPERTY  At the time our friend saw the Estate Sale house, we were in the process of closing on the sale of our Atlanta house — July 15, 2013. Immediately after the sale of our house, we hopped in the car and spent a SUPER! FUN! 12 hours driving north to Maryland with two toddlers and a car-sick dog just to meet with the homeowner of the Estate Sale house on July 16. The neighborhood and lot were fabulous. The house itself? Not so much. But, that said, if we could get this place for the right price, we just might be able to figure something out. We looked at the plat map and realized that our only viable option was to tear down and rebuild from the ground up.

THE NOT-SO-PERFECT LOT Before deciding if it would be prudent to even try to buy the house, we decided to do some research. “Wow, you sure do have an irregular lot!” said the guys at the County Planning & Zoning Office. Thanks for the reassurance, gentlemen. We couldn’t figure out all the lot details with the information we had, so we hired a surveyor to figure out exactly what we were dealing with. Essentially, due to outdated setback lines, we were extremely limited in where we could potentially build… but did that stop us from making an offer to buy this property? Of course not! What’s the worst that could happen? 🙂

THE ACQUISITION Always up for a challenge, we figured we should just buy the place and start designing a house. A far-too-narrow building envelope made it tricky to say the least, but we figured we’d make it work somehow or another! After some negotiation, we settled on a purchase price of $225,000. Now, to figure out what — if anything — we could actually build on the lot!

THE VARIANCE (ADMINISTRATIVE ADJUSTMENT) Quickly after the purchase, the tables turned in our favor. The Director of Planning and Zoning clued us in to the fact that due to our irregular lot, we could apply for a variance (specifically, an Administrative Adjustment) to reduce the setback lines by up to 20% in each direction. HALLE-FLIPPIN-LUJAH! Time to start designing the perfect house!

THE MASSIVE DELAY One step forward, five thousand steps back. We made awesome progress designing a house we loved, we hired an architect to develop code-compliant permit drawings, we got approval from the County on our Administrative Adjustment. But to apply for building permits, we needed to stay UNDER 5,000 square feet of land disturbance to the property. And no matter how hard we tried, that just wasn’t going to happen with the house we wanted to build. An additional 6-to-12 months of Site Development and Environmental Concept Planning was in our immediate future.

THE TEMPORARY NOT-SO-SCOTTPAD So we hired a civil engineering firm to get to work on the plans, STAT! Our awesome fabulous lovely wonderful perfect house was within (a very long) reach, but we needed somewhere to live in the meantime. Anyone know of a 50+ year-old house in desperate need of WAAAAY too much work, so our little guys and dog could destroy it with immunity? Oh that’s riiiiight, we just so happen to have bought one … with the lot :o) Let’s move in, since I can’t wait to start cooking on a circa-1959 stovetop and do dishes 76 times a day without a dishwasher. Oh, and that huge oil tank in the basement will be super-economical for heat in the winter, right?

THE WAITING GAME Well, at least the additional planning requirements allotted us more time to perfect the house design. After 6 months, we were finally granted verbal approval from the County on our Site Development and Environmental Concept Plans… then just another (whole freakin’ entire) month to receive that verbal approval in writing. Now we’ve (FINALLY) been able to submit for our Building Permit and I’ll tell you what: approval can’t come soon enough. It’s June 2014…let’s get this party started!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

moose June 11, 2014 at 10:48 pm

I am sincerely happy for you guys. Love and nuch support from Texas 🙂


J Scott June 11, 2014 at 11:12 pm

Thanks Moose!


Francisco July 3, 2014 at 9:38 pm

J and Carol ,

What a team the both of you make together . Much success and a wonderful Blessing on your Dream Home !!! You definitely keep honest and I am a believer in
your story . Someday I keep seeing my first rehab because of you !!

Keep up the fantastic work!!!
Francisco , Bronx NY


Phyllis E August 11, 2014 at 12:53 pm

I live in Maryland, too (down in rural/semi-rural Calvert County–which is directly south of Anne Arundel County between the Chesapeake and the Patuxent River). Ellicott City is such a charming place–I love the quaint downtown and the history. If you also have family near by I can see why you wanted to move there.
I recently bought and read your flipping book and was listening to you on a Bigger Pockets podcast and heard you mention moving to Maryland so of course my interest was piqued. I was hoping to discover that you thought that Maryland was a great place for flipping houses (my husband and I are just starting to investigate the possibilities). I would love to hear your take on the real estate investing “climate” in Maryland (both for flipping and “buy and hold” –I have heard that Maryland isn’t very landlord friendly compared to Virginia, but I am not sure if that is only in certain counties of Maryland.)


J Scott August 11, 2014 at 8:43 pm

Hi Phyllis –

We’re still pretty new to Maryland (only been back here about 7 months), so we don’t know all the ins and outs, but we’re certainly finding that there are some good locations for rehab deals. Anne Arundel County, Prince Georges, Baltimore County all seem to have some decent deals. We aren’t doing much buy and hold yet (we own one in Reisterstown), so other than that part of Baltimore County, I can’t really comment. But there does seem to be opportunity!


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