Renovation expert Mina Starsiak Hawk is usually upbeat on her Indianapolis renovation show “Good Bones.” But in her new spinoff, “Good Bones: Risky Business,” it looks like her efforts to turn a giant Victorian home into a bed-and-breakfast could do her in.
“A big Victorian project has always been a big dream of mine, and I finally got the chance to buy one,” she says on the first episode, “Mina’s Pricy Passion Project.” “It’s going to be my biggest renovation—and my biggest financial risk yet.”
Starsiak Hawk says she’s “at a unique place in the business where I’ve bought my mom out of the company; she’s fully retired. There’s a lot of movement and reorganization within the company, and the decision to buy this is probably not one that anyone would want me to make.”
Nonetheless, she’s committed.
“I want this house to be a lasting legacy in the neighborhood, but it could end up costing me everything,” Starsiak Hawk says. “This obviously isn’t the best business choice, but I think it’s a good one.”
She turns out to be on shaky ground from the very beginning. She paid $190,000 for the 23-room property, which includes a 5,500-square-foot main house with three stories and a 2,500-square-foot brick carriage house with two stories and a shed addition.
That sounds like a good deal, right?
“I’m thinking the renovation will cost me about $500,000,” she says hopefully. Perhaps a little too hopefully.
Her architect assesses the property and estimates the renovation will cost $600,000. Then the contractors she hires step in and give her an estimate of $727,155.
Starsiak Hawk will have to sell several properties to scrape up that amount, and the project seems to be getting riskier and riskier before they even break ground.
Still, she persists. “‘Risky business’ is my middle name,” she claims as she resolutely moves forward.
As she does this, she reveals some essential renovation and real estate investment tips that any of us could use.
Always check a property’s history
There’s no telling exactly when the main house was originally constructed, but the first architect says it was likely built in the late 1800s.
But the online listing reveals the property history, which states that, in the past five years, it has “passed hands from investor to investor to investor,” says Starsiak Hawk.
This gives her useful information, including the fact that the investors thought the property would be an easy fix, but was more than they expected and something they eventually gave up on. Also, Starsiak Hawk gleans that the seller is likely to be flexible on the price and eager to get if off the books.
Get creative with the basement
Basements don’t just have to be storage space, playrooms, or extra apartments. Starsiak Hutch realizes this, and since the large basement of the main house is fully plumbed and has walls that need to be demolished, she realizes it can be anything she wants it to be.
“This is my favorite basement we’ve ever had,” she says. “I … could make [it] into a cool space where you could just come down here and have a glass of wine, like a speakeasy.”
And she’ll still have room for all the HVAC equipment, because in a house this size, there’s going to be lots of it.
Check support on the second floor
Starsiak Hawk is surprised when her architect says that the second floor of the carriage house was built without sufficient support beams or pillars.
“This floor was clearly added much later—and not very well,” he says. “This floor doesn’t have any structural capacity for having people up here.”
While Starsiak Hawk is not surprised, she says this news is “upsetting because that’s a huge chunk of money.”
Don’t be afraid to reduce square footage
Meanwhile, the front shed built onto the carriage house has to go, even though a considerable amount of square footage will be sacrificed.
“Typically, we do not want to reduce square footage, and we are taking probably, like, 800 square feet with this shed addition, but I want to gain more space in the backyard for when we host events,” Starsiak Hawk explains. “This is completely improperly built, taking up the whole backyard, and it’s got to come off.”
With the tacky shed gone, the facade of the carriage house is much more striking.
Factor in time to get permits
Starsiak Hawk decides to work on the carriage house first, turning it into two apartments and an events center, which could possibly produce income while she’s completing the main residence.
“Unfortunately, getting started on construction is easier said than done,” says Starsiak Hawk. “Because of issues with the permits, work on the carriage house has been halted for weeks.”
Fortunately, other projects can be done while they’re waiting on permits for the carriage house, so they’re not wasting time. This includes demolition in the main house, work on the grounds, and more.
Will Starsiak Hutch complete her dream project, or will she be another investor who turns the property over to someone else? This show’s next six episodes will reveal the answer, and no matter how it turns out, we doubt it will be easy.