Year In Review

Have you seen them? I saw my first one this week and it made me both excited and a little bit sad.

I’m talking about the back to school ads that are popping up everywhere – on tv, in the newspaper, on every end-cap at the stores. This in-between season is the perfect time for us to reflect on the past year and look forward to the year to come.

Since last July we have actively worked on 8 houses. There has been great success (yay! We finished!) as well as plenty of struggles and surprises along the way. What I love about this job is that every house is different, so remodeling each one to try and highlight its own unique character and create a space that is updated appropriately is both tricky and rewarding.

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We had one house this year where, frankly, there were lots of things we had to do that we hadn’t anticipated (things like rewiring, removing the structurally unsound back deck, repairing plumbing, etc.). Post inspection, we usually have a good idea what issues will need to be addressed, but in this case we found several issues that demanded our attention before we could move forward. In the end, we had put in a lot more money than we had budgeted so instead of selling the house at a possible loss we decided to keep it as a rental. We have found great tenants and are excited to see how this new venture as landlords for this house plays out.
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To be completely honest, as I look back on this year I can see that we spread ourselves a bit too thin. There were times when we took on too many houses with not enough labor to help or held onto a house too long. Both instances reduced our opportunity for a profit. The flipside (ha!) of this is that we learned through these experiences. We decided to fail-forward, to learn from our mistakes and make careful and clear guidelines that will help shape our future.

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What kind of guidelines, you ask? Well, for starters, we created a Pro Home Solutions mission statement.

Have a positive impact on neighborhoods in our community and the people who buy our homes by providing quality remodeled homes at an affordable price by utilizing our talents and passion.

I have always known it is important to work on your business and not just in your business, but exactly what that looks like has been difficult for me to grasp. Now I know. Working on my business means learning, growing, and building models that will help launch us forward as a company. For example: budgets. It’s easy to wing it. What is difficult is setting, reviewing and following budgets. Your gut might be a good guide for some aspects of this work, but it is not a good tool for budgeting.

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Another area we have grown this past year is with our staff. By working alongside our lead general contractor through several of the house issues that have arisen, we have figured out how to work harder as a team to achieve the best results for everyone.

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Looking forward, my goal for this next year is concise: balance, balance, balance. As some of you may well know, I tend to go big or go home. My personal and professional goal for this year is to learn to be okay with a different scale. For our family this means enjoying great weekends together and not worrying about planning month-long adventures (though those are pretty amazing, too!). Professionally, I would like to see Pro Home Solutions involved with volunteer projects, like maybe helping with a Habitat build or something similar that would utilize our talents.

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What will be different next July at this time? I fully anticipate we will have several projects in the works. The team we work with now is comprised of talented, easy-going people who care about the finished product. I love the team we are working with now and hope to continue to be working alongside them next year.

What else will be different? Well, we will be a family of six! The newest member of the Provorse family is due early January.

Families that Flip Together…

So this happened.

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That’s our Teeter’s house. And that’s my sister and her family. Also known as the new owners.

Here’s the story: In October I was hosting an open house at our newly completed Teeter’s house. I love this house. It’s directly across the street from a school, it’s down a quiet street, in a great part of town. It’s not exactly a ranch, not quite a bungalow, it is it’s own combination of unique space and beautiful craftsmanship.

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My kids had spent the day with Beth and Jon, my sister and her husband who live in Cedar Rapids and have kids the same age as our two oldest. Through a series of changed plans, it happened that Beth and Jon came to the open house I was hosting in order to drop my kids off. The open house was coming to a close so I invited them to take a look around while I talked with another guest. It was their first time in the house.

I was standing in the front sun room when Jon came up to me. His face was a little flushed and he said, “I want to live in this house.” “Okay, Jon!” I joked back. “Sold!”

But here’s the thing: I was joking. He was not.

Beth walked up to us and heard Jon say, “I love this house. I want to live here.” “What? You do? You want to move to Iowa City?” (Side note: it wasn’t six weeks ago that we all heard Jon declare that he did not want to move to Iowa City.) So back through the house they went, this time looking at each room as potential owners and not just supportive family.

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They committed to buying the house that day. In less than a week we signed the papers. I couldn’t get my staging supplies out of the house quick enough — to say that they were ready to move in is an understatement. Jon, who works at the Hospital, started parking at the house. He no longer has to commute to Iowa City, park miles from work and take a bus. He’s now about 6 blocks from the Hospital. The kids transferred school and now go to school with their cousins. After many, many trips in the family car, this past weekend the moving truck brought the last of their belongings from their old home to their new one.

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Jon and Beth weren’t necessarily looking to move. They were never prospective buyers. We did not consult with them or ask their opinions about renovations. Though some of you may remember us asking our Facebook friends what color they thought would look best on the front door!

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They bought the home because they liked the renovations (including the bright red door — thanks for your votes!) and they could see raising their family inside it’s walls.

It thrills me to have them now live in Iowa City. The three Lohman sisters are living in the same town for the first time in almost 18 years! This might be trouble.

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We feel proud that the work we do speaks for itself. It feels good to know that the quality of our work stays the same whether we are working for an unknown buyer or our own family.

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This flip truly was a family affair. That’s my mom helping with landscaping this summer and our youngest Jameson supervising the new front porch construction.

Congratulations Beth and Jon on your new home! This is a story we will always tell.

We’re Living In a Flip

One question we often get is whether or not it’s hard to leave a “flip” house that we’ve lived in as a family. It’s a good question and I can see why people would be curious. Generally, my answer is the non-committal “yes and no!” On the one hand, we keep the memories from each house and in a weird way it’s helped me separate my memories from kid to kid. Each of our babies came home from the hospital to a new house; Lohman to our first flip, the Dubuque St. house, Avery to Church St. and Jameson to our Oakland house (and I guess you could add Belle the dog to our current house!). We love to take on new projects, it’s what we do. It’s exciting to look at a house and figure out how to make it not just a home, but our home. So on the other hand, leaving a home we’ve flipped and lived in feels like a natural extension of the rhythm of how we live our lives.

All that to say, living in a flip has its own unique challenges. With the exception of Dubuque St., we’ve completed major kitchen renovations in each place while living there. We had to get creative when it came to washing dishes without a kitchen sink and sometimes without water on the entire first level. Let’s just say that our bathtub and bathroom sinks got a little extra use those weeks! I remember even taking a laundry basket of dishes to my parent’s house to use the dishwasher when I needed a little extra help. We ate lots of meals from the crockpot and ate out when we needed to. Oddly enough, it was easier than I thought it might be to not have a stove. Hmm… maybe our meals aren’t that different without a kitchen than with one!

It can be messy living in a flip, especially when major renovations are taking place. We’ve learned to put cardboard down so we can walk through unfinished spaces. We wear shoes and put up plastic “walls” to keep spaces off limits for the kids. But it can also be a source of entertainment. Our youngest son Jameson especially loves having people in his house to talk to and watch as he shows off his super-hero moves. It’s not unusual to find him with his plastic tool kit in hand wanting to “help” with a project.

Here’s one thing that we’ve discovered living in a flip: we do things the same in our own home as we do in the houses we flip for other people. We use the same workers, the same products and put the same amount of time and care into the decisions we make. The folks we hire do great work with or without us present, which is a strong testament to the people we choose to work with. If anything we worry less about our own house because the decisions we make only have to please us. When designing and choosing for an unknown buyer it can be tricky to toe the line between conventional and artistic taste.

Our current home is the fourth house we’ve lived in while renovating. With each home the scale of our renovations has grown larger. Our first home, Dubuque Street, we completed minor renovations, such as installing hardwood floors, painting, upgrading the scary basement bathroom and landscaping. (Mind you, this was before we sold-it-all, went to Spain and came back with the vision for starting our own business.)

Next we moved to Church St, a beautiful home built in the late 1800’s.

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We removed layers upon layers upon layers of wallpaper in a majority of the rooms, did a compete remodel of the kitchen and bathroom (that house had only 1 bathroom on the main level and I was pregnant with Avery at the time. Talk about memories!), we refinished the hardwood floors, created a cozy back patio and, like always, painted and landscaped.

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More photos of Church St. are on our website.

On Oakland St., we opened up the kitchen and dining room during a complete remodel, added a bathroom on the first floor and remodeled the upstairs bathroom, refinished the floors, put in new windows, lighting and landscaping.

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More photos of our Oakland house are on our website.
Our current home is in a rare moment of quiet – well, as far as renovations are concerned. With three kids our house is rarely ever quiet. As you likely expect, we’ve remodeled the kitchen and dining room, as well as 3 of the 4 bathrooms. We tore out the old, dated trim on the first floor, replaced it and began the process of adding crown molding to several of the first floor rooms. We’ve painted anything that stands still and updated the lighting.

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This is us. We live, we work, we have loads of fun. We’re living in a flip. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Paintings of Jay Provorse

“Michelle was away for the weekend, so I took the kids to the craft store to buy art supplies,” Jay Provorse explains as he walks carefully through the basement filled with toys to reach the small studio he’s created in the corner. “We bought canvases and paint so that we could make a mother’s day gift for her.” The result? Three small, mostly kid-decorated canvases containing the sentiment We Love You. “That’s when I fell in love with painting.”

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In three years time, quite a bit has changed. He now paints at night, mostly after the kids are in bed and the house is quiet. He starts, literally, with a blank canvas and lets his mind wander. “Most of the time an image will pop into my head, like of a sunset, the forest, the beach, the ocean.” These images guide his initial choice of color and design, though he freely admits that the final product is often far from the image he held in his mind at the outset. “I’ll look at a painting when I’m done and think Wow! How did I do that?!

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With the exception of canvas and acrylic paint, Jay is less than conventional when it comes to the materials he paints with. He rarely uses brushes, choosing instead scrapers, paper towel rolls and tape which allow him to experiment with texture. He’ll often scrape off layers upon layers of paint in effort to achieve the result he is looking for. “Sometimes it feels like I’ve painted over my own art,” Jay freely admits.

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Most recently, Jay has found success experimenting by using a top coat epoxy to offer his paintings a gloss finish.

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“I never know when a painting is done until the moment it is done,” Jay says. “Suddenly I look at it and I just know that it’s finished.”

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Jay comes by his talent honestly. His mother, Avis Provorse, took art classes in drawing and painting and Jay remembers her devoting time to her art. Small pieces of her work can be found around the house.

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Prior to the weekend when Jay painted with the kids he never lifted a paintbrush. He’s never had a formal class or personal instruction. But he has spent time paying great attention to detail. Beginning shortly after high school when he worked as a ski instructor in Colorado, Jay drew mazes. Intricate, large scale mazes.

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Shortly after Michelle and Jay were married they marketed these mazes and sold them in local businesses around Iowa City. Along with Jay’s growing collection of canvases, rolls of these mazes can be found tucked away in the corners of the basement.

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Jay’s paintings fill the walls of his home. Michelle and Jay will often showcase the paintings at open houses for Pro Home Solutions. His work has been featured at nodo Coffee and Catering, but mostly his paintings adorn the homes of close friends and family.

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Ever humble, ever enthusiastic, Jay is a storyteller. Whether discussing his paintings, his mazes, the work he and Michelle do around Iowa City, or the wild escapades of his youth, Jay favors humor, detail and love.

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When Houses Are Homes

I never knew Orrie before Grandpa and I never knew him before Norma either. When I was introduced to him GrandmaNormaandGrandpaOrrie was already one name. He the steady to her worry and she the party animal to his, well, steady. Together, they created a home that is the place I go to in my head if I need a reminder that there is a place that exists made of unlimited love, enthusiasm, and acceptance. I had an invitation to experience that, and so did everyone else–all the other family members, all their friends and ours, and all strangers they came into contact with. In their world an open invitation was more valuable than an exclusive one. Of all the accomplishments, this may be the greatest, creating a place that this world, too often, convinces us is impossible.

–Jeff Houghton, courtesy of The Unresolved Mystery

Every house has a story. Sometimes that story remains a mystery to us and all we ever know is what we uncover as we work our way through the renovation process- a penciled in growth chart or small holes in the wall around a long-gone dart board. But when we are fortunate, we meet family, friends and neighbors who fill in the gaps and help us understand the place each house has in a neighborhood and in a family.

This spring we had the honor of renovating the home of Orrie and Norma Rew. I didn’t know the Rew’s personally, but am friends with their family and have grown up knowing the role they played as advocates for education, caring individuals and part of large, loving family in Iowa City. I went to High School with their grandson Jeff and 20 years later we still joke about being MORP dates.

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I was honored when Jeff’s mom asked us to take on the renovation. To be honest, it can be a little intimidating to work on a home where you know the family that celebrated Thanksgivings around the dining room table and played catch in the front yard. But it’s an honor nonetheless and our hope is to create a space that doesn’t disappoint. We want the house to feel like it’s been remodeled perfectly for its particular style and genre. Our goal is to breathe life back into the house.

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I was asked recently if it felt different to know the story of the home we are renovating as opposed to a home where we know nothing of its past. To be honest, I don’t know that it changes the outcome much, and I think that affirms the way we work to maintain the integrity of a house.  I generally have a vision for the house from the first time I walk through it. But what is effected is how I process changes as they occur during the remodel. For example, when the wallpaper in one of the bedrooms at Orrie and Norma’s house started coming off it was like uncovering a long lost treasure! The first thing I wanted to do was share it with the family who knew the home much more intimately. These are the times I’m especially grateful for Social Media.

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We are not afraid to make dramatic changes to homes. The before/after pictures of our houses attest to this. With that said, we spend a lot of time planning for and thinking about the “big picture” of the house. Through a series of what I like to call gut-checks we determine what feels integral to the character of a home. Those are the pieces we keep. If pieces of the home seem like an oddity that even the previous owners could have lived without, we consider removing or remodeling. Functional character is always best.

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Everyone has different opinions and tastes, and as strange as it might sound that offers us creative freedom. We know that not everyone is going to love the same thing, and that is okay. Heck, in this business that is a good thing. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to flipping houses… but there are some choices that turn out better than others! We are proud of the work we do and hope that is reflected in our work. It is an honor to be chosen as the accepted offer on a home–whether it’s a single seller or an entire family selling as a group. There is a level of trust and an understanding that we will treat the house as we would want others to treat our family home. That, and I don’t want my MORP date regretting going to MORP with me because of my design decisions.

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Hello, Neighbor

Welcome to the new Pro Home Solutions blog! Our business is growing and thriving and we wanted a chance to catalog how we experience everything from the surprises to successes, the disasters to the delights of owning our own business of buying, restoring and ultimately selling homes in our community.

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We are a husband (Jay) and wife (Michelle) team who way back in 2005 began plotting how to bring to life the vision we had for our life. A vision that started with our family but also included buying, fixing and selling homes. Our family is our priority. We wanted to create a life that supported this value. Our previous jobs had prepared us well, so with a deep breath we sold our house, our car and the majority of our belongings and headed… where else? To Spain to experience life and culture in a new way and to embark on our new journey together.

We returned to Iowa City and in 2006 and established Pro Home Solutions on a wing, a prayer and a huge loan. Starting our own business has transformed our lives, our family and the community we live in.

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We have three rambunctious and lively kids who have grown accustomed to piles of tiles in the kitchen and flooring samples in the living room. Our business doesn’t afford us much rest, but for us our number one priority is our kids.

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We work with several individual contractors and are hands-on when it comes to flipping houses. We are active in every part of the remodel; from searching for new houses to buying, choosing the best materials, working with specialized contractors, staging the homes for open-houses and ultimately selling our hard work to new homeowners.

We look forward to having this space to give our buyers, friends, family and community an inside look at our business!