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Dave and Kortney Wilson: Making it in Music City

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Dave & Kortney Wilson

By Adam Freill

There are countless contractors out there moonlighting as musicians and dreaming about a life in the limelight. It may come as no surprise that there are far fewer musicians who have dreamt of trading in their guitars and microphones for hard hats and work boots, but that’s what happened with Dave and Kortney Wilson, a couple of Canadian kids making their way in Nashville.

Although they each made their way to Music City independently, they found each other through mutual friends while both were emerging artists, and the pair has been making each other laugh and cringe, in a good-hearted way, ever since.

”When Kortney got her record deal, I thought that she was going to be really rich and famous, so I attached my wagon to her horse,” laughs Dave while sitting at the kitchen table bantering with his wife and recalling their early days together.

”We were both really lucky,” says Kortney. ”We both signed major label deals, and got nice big record advances, but then they just sat on our records.”

The need to provide for a growing family led the pair to the home renovation and reselling business.

”We put up every bit of equity that we had in the house that we owned at the time and, in a way, we were very naïve,” explains Kortney as Dave pipes in a comment from across the table about maxing out one’s equity as not being great advice for aspiring home flippers. ”We pulled all of the equity out and we bought our first flip, and we made $25,000. Our goal was to make $10,000.”

Looking back at that goal, the pair get a laugh at how much things have changed. ”Right now,” says Dave, ”if we run our numbers and only see $10,000 profit, well, if you’ve watched the shows, you know how quickly I can run us $10,000 over budget.”

Good fortune and good buying, as well as proper planning, are all keys that have led them to success in a challenging business, one that they showcase under a different set of lights and the glare of a television film crew for their shows Masters of Flip and Music City Fix.


Location, location, location



They say that the neighbourhood is the first consideration in real estate, and when it comes to flipping a home for profit, that theory still rings true, most of the time.

Ask the couple what they look for when shopping for a home to renovate and Kortney is quick to state, ”A great location is always key. A great location, especially with a great price per square foot.”

Since the renovation cost, per square foot, doesn’t change much based on the map, knowing that they can ask a higher price in certain neighbourhoods makes for a better return on their investment.

”If it costs us roughly the same price per square foot to renovate, regardless of the area, being able to sell in a really great location that fetches a higher price is obviously where we make our money,” says Kortney.

Of course, the Wilsons are not about to overlook some diamonds in the rough.

”Lately we’ve been breaking ground in up-and-coming areas,” she adds. ”It makes the numbers a little bit harder, but it is always fun to get the highest comp in the area.”


Did you know?

Kortney is from Ayr, Ont., while Dave is from Ottawa. They met while each was independently pursuing a music career in Nashville, Tenn.


Competition is growing



The Wilsons target between eight and 14 homes to renovate each year, filming most of them for their television series, but with Nashville having become a hot market, that’s made the real estate game and the renovation business far more competitive.

”Nashville has gotten even more popular, and the construction costs have just risen exponentially every year,” says Kortney. It was different back when they did their first renovation.

”It was during the recession when we started flipping houses. The advantage was that we didn’t have a lot of competition buying them, so we could spend months negotiating if we wanted to,” she says. ”The disadvantage is that the market wasn’t that strong. Sometimes we would have to sit with a house on the market for months and cover those costs.”

With buyers turning Nashville into one of America’s fastest growing cities, they now face another challenge, professional labour. Dave explained that the competition for the trades to help them complete their projects has been considerable as the city has grown in popularity.


Lessons from the pros



Despite the plethora of shows that fit a full project renovation into a neat and tidy half-hour, it’s not an easy way to make money.

”You have to have a sense of humour if you are going to renovate. Otherwise it will eat you alive,” says Kortney while asking Dave what mistakes rookie renovators tend to make.

”To me, I think the rookie mistakes are things like overspending,” he says ”Overspending on tile and flooring; things that you really research and find better prices if you take the time.”

Unrealistic timelines jump out to Kortney. ”That’s a big one. Often that timeline gets pushed a little bit. I think that would be the number 1 mistake, and we have to work that into our budgets.”

The other mistake that homeowners and flippers make, she says, is a failure to properly vet the tradespeople they are hiring. ”You go to your kid’s soccer or hockey game and someone there says they do electrical, or someone you know says, ‘My contractor is awesome,’ so you take their word. You have to call around. Do your due diligence.”

She and Dave echo the need to get three bids, and to know what is included in each contractor’s bid. ”It is better to do that on the front end,” she says. ”If they are offended by that, then they are not the right person.”


Mechanical Expectations



Some renovators look for builds that only require a few patches to the walls, some new flooring and some paint, but Kortney and Dave are more than ready to tear down or move walls to create a better layout and flow for their projects.

”We don’t base our buying on how great the plumbing is or the electrical,” says Dave. ”We know that there is a great chance that we’ll have to rip everything out.”

”Finding a house with updated plumbing and electrical is a huge win for us,” admits Kortney, who adds that while they don’t worry about having to upgrade the mechanicals, there is a worry when they buy a home: foundation issues.

”We don’t have basements like where we grew up in Ontario,” she says, ”so it is hard for us to navigate our way under some of these houses. Sometimes we can’t, and won’t know until we take up the floor.”

“If you don’t go the professional route, it will likely cost you more money in the end.”


Flipping horror



Every contractor, regardless of trade, has a war story or two to share, and renovators are no different. Whether it’s having to reorder a custom countertop because of a mis-measured wall, or getting the call that the shipment of tile from Italy went overboard in a storm, there’s always something that comes up. For the Wilsons, it was a smell.

”We had a plumber we were working with. Everything was going well, but he forgot to cap the cleanout in the backyard,” recalls Dave. Leaves from a tree in the backyard had buried and covered it, and nobody went back to check on it because it was out of sight. ”We all just forgot about it.”

”The people who bought the house called us about three months later saying that there was a smell in the house, and that it smelled like sewage.”

Taking their team over to the home, nobody was able to pinpoint the problem until the plumber arrived and installed ”a two-dollar fix,” capping the cleanout.

”The crazy part about it is that the house went under contract, had an inspection, we had our final on code. We did our own final. It passed several points of inspection,” says Kortney.

”But these poor people who had to live through that.” Thankfully they were good sports, and happy to have a smell-free home again.