On today’s episode,
In this episode, I have a very fascinating guest, Charmaine Smith. She’s a fashion designer, a licensed real estate agent for high end properties, and a serial renovator. Charmaine and I are chalk and cheese when it comes to delivering our reno projects but our renovating aspects are so aligned that I had to invite her to share her story of being a hands on renovator. Also, she will share her top tips to the women out there who want to venture on renovating for profit.
Listen to Episode 105– Serial Renovator : Charmaine Smith
- [00:00:28] Renovation Bootcamp
- [00:01:49] A serial renovator
- [00:03:18] How Charmaine came to renovating
- [00:04:23] Charmaine’s renovation preference
- [00:05:20] A very hands on renovator
- [00:06:46] Renovating tools
- [00:07:34] The quality of a reno is the key to a decent price
- [00:08:52] Role model and inspiration in renovating
- [00:10:35] Charmaine’s renovating experiments
- [00:12:11] The bifold door story
- [00:13:23] Sourcing in China
- [00:14:33] Budget always blows
- [00:16:47] Her strategy in renovating
- [00:18:34] Emotions that are not felt
- [00:20:45] Doing what’s worthwhile
- [00:22:06] 3 top tips for women renovators
- [00:22:46] Keeping all the notes
- [00:23:44] Having a good accountant and solicitor
- [00:24:55] Chalk and cheese renovators but with aligned aspects
- [00:26:34] The budget queens
- [00:28:14] Epic profits
- [00:30:20] Every area has its wrong side of the street
Serial Renovator : Charmaine Smith
“A property sells really well if it’s styled really well. Not quite as just ‘styled’, some people are fabulously good at that.”
This episode is sponsored by The Renovation Bootcamp, it’s the renovation fast track for replacing your income now or at retirement. It’s a core training and the prerequisite for our Wonder Women program. It’s the perfect mix of online and live training. There are eight modules delivered online that you can complete at your own pace. Alongside that, we run eight live Zoom tutorials where you can connect with me and our resident experts to help you apply the training to your personal circumstances. It includes our signature system, the one that we use to produce an average of AU$100, 000 profit from cosmetic plus renovations, plus a repertoire of strategies to make sure that you can progress regardless of what’s happening in the market.
Bernadette Janson: Hello! It’s Bernadette back with another episode of She Renovates and today I have Charmaine Smith here. Charmaine is a… is it right to say you’re a serial renovator, Charmaine?
Charmaine Smith: Yes, I guess you can probably say that.
Bernadette Janson: She’s a very hands on renovator. Charmaine and I are like chalk and cheese in the renovating department, but she has a fascinating story and she is doing amazing things with renovating and property in general. So I’ve invited her on to share a bit about her story and how she goes about the process. Welcome Charmaine!
Charmaine Smith: Thank you so much. Thank you for inviting me to such an interesting thing for the girls out there.
Bernadette Janson: Yeah. So I’m just wondering just to kick us off, if you’d like to share a bit about your background and how you actually came to renovating?
Charmaine Smith: Long way back, I was an art student at the high school and then a fashion design student and then I had a business in fashion for many years until we had the recession we had to have. Thank you Mr. Keating, everybody remembers that one. I then decided to go into real estate, given that I have a fascination and interest for property. I’m actually a licensed real estate agent, but don’t tell anyone. I didn’t like general brokerage, so I hunted down and became involved in off the plan project marketing, which involves being involved in building works.
Over the last twenty two years, I’ve been selling high end, high profile apartment properties for many, many developers and real estate agents. And just having a love for property, I started doing my own thing on the side, as it was a bit of a hobby. I did a few things beforehand, I had an apartment in Thredbo that I drove down and renovated. That was a big trip. I renovated the office for the Fire Brigade Credit Union, given my father was a senior fireman at that time.
I built a house in North Katoomba from scratch. A bit hands on there, but I did have a builder and I built a Australian style cottage, a timber cottage, which was gorgeous. Then I bought in South Katoomba a derelict house, my God, that was fighting off. That turned into an amazing, amazing property. I should have kept it, but I did sell it and I did make a profit. I bought it for $275,000. I put in about $80,000 and I sold it for about $550,000, so there was some good return in that one.
I bought a property down in Ulladulla which I keep in my superannuation, and that I renovated hands on as well. I mean, I do enlist electricians and plumbers for things that I’m not legally able to do and for heavy things, I can’t lift heavy things. I collected a bit of a team of people in different areas that I call upon. But now I’m finalising a renovation of my own warehouse in Erskineville, finishing off a garage, studio and loft, which is steel and concrete and more of a contemporary style and my own property.
When I do renovations, I tend to like traditional cottages. Then balancing that with a full time job over this last year’s been a bit different because my full time job disappeared with Covid. But that’s okay, I’m not worried about that.
Bernadette Janson: Yeah. So it sounds like you do all the carpentry yourself?
Charmaine Smith: Not all carpentry, I have a carpenter that I work with together. I tend to employ trades that are okay with me being hands on and involved. A lot of the fellows don’t like girls on the job, I don’t know why, but that’s a sad thought for them. I have to build something, I’ll build it. When it comes to plumbing, that’s not that difficult. I do stormwater plumbing, I do all the trenching work myself, digging holes. If you want to get fit, seriously if you want good abs, you start digging trenches and you’ll lose weight and get fit very, very, very quickly.
I do as much as I can. My electrician is a good friend of mine, so he shows me how to wire up and I just do it. I got quite a lot of lights up and then I do need to get someone like him to check it and sign it off. You don’t just do that without an expert checking it.
Painting and silicone work. I hate anybody doing silicone, I’m really fussy about it. I get a bit fussy about things like that, but I’ll do whatever plaster work needed. Sanding, I hate sanding plaster, but whatever you need to do, if I can’t do it myself, I will get someone else to do it.
Bernadette Janson: Wow! I hate sanding plaster too. In fact, I hate anything about sanding to be honest. I’ve done my share of it too but I gave it up. You must have collected a reasonable tool kit?
Charmaine Smith: I don’t have high end tools. I’d like to, but I’m pretty hard on my tools. I actually quite like the lower end, the aceto range. You burn it out, you throw it away, sorry about landfilled, sorry and then you go find another one. I do have quite a lot of tools. Every time I visit my parents, I always take a carload of tools because there’s always something that needs to be done and fixed. I don’t like being without my tools. So yeah, I do have seven metre high scaffolding, which is quite good fun, I do enjoy that.
Bernadette Janson: Wow!
Charmaine Smith: That scaffolding, if you want to lose weight, run around scaffolding for, for a couple of months and you just turn up absolutely so quickly. Forget the gym that costs too much.
Bernadette Janson: Beautiful! I’m gathering that for your projects, you don’t turn them over quickly.
Charmaine Smith: We all try to and the one on my own home, that’s been a slow grind, mostly because I’ve been working my day job as well as doing this and also waiting for trades. I only like to use certain people and you really have to wait for them to be available and that’s not always good. But the first house I built in Katoomba, I actually advertised it for sale by owner.com blah blah, that was sold before it was finished. I never even got a chance to to style it. A lady was walking up the driveway with her husband and she said, “This is it, I want this” and she just had to have it at any price so that was pretty handy. Then the second house in Katoomba that I renovated, it was the same story. I think that was only on the market for about three weeks.
I think people can see quality. So you do the job right and you don’t get dodgy over things then people say that there’s work having to be done. If you can show them photos of what you have done along the way, then they can trust and believe that the renovation is a good job.
Bernadette Janson: Absolutely. The quality of the reno is definitely a key to getting a decent price. So, who would have been your role models or who are the people that inspire you?
Charmaine Smith: My mother, she’s one of these people as a can do person. She taught me how to sew when I was terribly young and she’s hands on with anything needed fixing around the house. My father was a fireman and very rarely saw him. So, mum just had to do everything. So she just taught me.
Then just watching, being on building sites for my job, I was always watching what the trades were doing and asking questions. When you’re in Bunnings looking at products, don’t bother asking a Bunnings person because generally they don’t know. There’s always a 1- 800 number on a product, no matter what you’re looking at that you can ring. The technical advice guys or person girls, maybe a really, really, really happy to help you with their product and advise. So information is so out there now, it doesn’t take much. You can YouTube and do things but most YouTube videos are internationally based and don’t cover the kind of products that we have here or our Australian standards.
We have incredibly high standards in Australian buildings so you’ve got to be careful to follow a YouTube tutorial. But anyway, it does give you some help and some ideas. I like rendering. That’s one of my little passions. I really do enjoy rendering and you watch a few YouTube kind of videos and you think “no” I do it my way, I do it a bit differently.
Bernadette Janson: I mean, I am in complete aww!
Charmaine Smith: I just like hard work. I’m getting older now, so it’s getting a bit harder but still, if you’re going out there, do it and be physical. With rendering, I rented a garden wall here in my house with paper and cement. I thought I’d just try mixing up cement with shredded paper and mushed it all up and spread it all over the wall and I really like it. But some people think it’s not so fabulous but I think for me, for what I wanted that soft sort of look it I think it worked really incredibly well. But you do have to paint it and seal it really seriously because it is paper, it will melt underneath.
Bernadette Janson: Well, so you like to experiment?
Charmaine Smith: Very much so. I do moulding. I did a short course in moulding. I went out to Mudgee Winery with a wonderful teacher by the name of Claire Tennant. She’s a professional casting moulder and she taught a group of us how to mould. So now if I have a piece broken on a ceiling that you just can’t find another, you can create a mould and then remould it and attach it. Also to little things, I actually moulded my parents’ hands, which was a gorgeous thing. And now at the front gate, I have a sculpture of my parents’ hands, which is really quite sweet. If you’ve got something broken in a heritage home, it’s impossible and very expensive to find that little broken corner. And if you have another corner, that’s right, you can silicone mould it and make a cast and then boom, you can make as many as you like after that.
Bernadette Janson: That’s amazing! Yeah, those skills are priceless because it’s not just the saving of the money, it’s the time and the grief you go through trying to find the solution.
Charmaine Smith: Oh, absolutely. You call companies that are frantic and busy. I actually tried to connect with a company up in Newcastle to find some framework for bifold doors. It was disappointing, actually, this technical advisor, he said, “Listen, lady, I don’t have time for this” and he hung up on me. I was like, “Are you serious?” And then not so long after I had an email because apparently I ended up on the database. They said “Our company is amazing and we’re here to help” so I sent them a message back, “Well, Brett’s not.” and explain why. Then I got a phone call from this guy who said, “I didn’t say that” and I said, “Well, yes, you did.” So, sometimes it can be a bit difficult.
I ended up just importing the bifold doors from China, instead. I do a lot of importing a product if I need it. It’s not so hard but you got to be careful there.
Bernadette Janson: Yes. Do you go to China to source?
Charmaine Smith: No need to get on an airplane but many years ago I did when I was importing silk fabric for the fashion label that I had. It was very difficult with the language barrier but now there’s plenty of good websites and I tend to prefer Alibaba most people have heard of. The only problem is you generally have to buy in bulk, which is not so stressful. I just bought one set very large bifold specific sizes, exactly what I wanted. They created a video of it, built and finished, packed it in flatpack and sent it to Australia, happy days. It’s beautiful, it works really incredibly well and for an amazingly good price.
So that’s all about research. It takes a lot of time, people think it’s easy, but it’s hours and hours and hours of evening after work time research to find products that you want. Then to feel like you trust the company at the other end and paying them the money up front and then hoping that it gets to you. It generally does, they do have an insurance protection system.
Bernadette Janson: I have bought supplies from Alibaba, more particularly light fittings and panelling and things like that. Yeah, I did have one instance where I ordered cases from Alibaba and the same company did El Cheapo second ones and they sent me the second ones, which were about 20% off the price. I gave up in the end. But some like that guarantee works and sometimes it doesn’t but anyhow. So, in terms of your budgeting for your project, do you calculate your time on an hourly rate? Or do you allow for that?
Charmaine Smith: Look on my home, no, my home is my passion. It’s like my sculpture. It’s my finale of building work. Yes, I’ve been very budget wise but I’m putting in a lot of hours and my partner who was just calling always gives me a hard time and would say “you don’t value your time”. But when you find you’re passionate about it, for me, time is irrelevant. I’m happy to do it and at the end of the day.
When I buy a property to specifically renovate and on sell, I don’t start from the bottom and work up because I’m very good at 3D visualising a finished product. I can see what I can do with it and I know what it’s going to look like probably given my background. But I do a lot of research in an area. Then make sure I know what properties are selling for if they have this, that or whatever, new kitchen, new bathroom, extended, whatever. So I start with the end price. If I’m going to sell it for X, what is it going to cost me to do the renovation, not including my time and then what am I going to pay for? It doesn’t matter what they have, the person has it on the market for it, it’s what I think the value is. Then that’s what I’m going to pay for it and that includes my solicitor’s stamp duty and whatever else goes involved in that. If there’s a reasonable profit in that, worthy of being away from home and doing all the hard yards, then I’m happy with that.
Bernadette Janson: So do you have a particular strategy for building? Are you following a strategy? Or are you just being guided by the opportunities that present you in terms of building wealth with renovating?
Charmaine Smith: I’d like to say I had a really good strategy, but for me it’s more a particular area of growth. What is going there? I guess that’s a strategy. What kind of properties are going to sell well once it is renovated? Maybe that’s a strategy. I have a property down on the south coast in my superannuation, which has been with community housing, I just rent it with community housing and that’s been there about four years now.
Well, it’s about time to bulldoze and rebuild. So the land is big enough to put two houses on but I probably would use a project home builder on that one. A bit hands free and I can just keep doing what I do in Sydney and just walk away from that and just wait for it to be turned in and finished.
Bernadette Janson: Yeah.
Charmaine Smith: I think it depends on the property and the land. Whether it’s worth doing a project home, whether it’s worth talking to a local builder, what value you’re going to bring it, whether it’s worth doing some just small check ups, you can do some really reasonably small check ups and make a place look fabulous, especially gardens. A lot of properties for sale tend to neglect the garden, but paint the front of the house or do the inside and not do the outside.
Real estate agents, as we all know, tend to be a little relaxed in showing people, so they say “Just do a drive by and if you like it, I’ll show you through.” so it doesn’t always help. I don’t know, I don’t think I’m the sort of person that has a strategy, maybe I do.
Bernadette Janson: Yeah and one of the things that I find when I’m just working on projects, I find it quite lonely. So you’re clearly someone, would you call yourself an introvert?
Charmaine Smith: No, not really, I’m a Leo, I’m quite a sociable person. However, I do like working on my own and being in projects marketing of the plan, I’m often manning a sales suite on my own. I mean, I don’t even care. I work either way. I can work with the team or I can work on my own. And I’m not a lonely person. I don’t have that gene. I don’t have loneliness. I don’t have jealousy. There are few things that I just don’t feel. Yes, I’ve lived on my own since I was twenty two when I bought this house and I’m used to it.
Bernadette Janson: Personally, I think that’s one of the things about what if whatever you do, you really need to know yourself and to like sort of design your life around what works for you. I can tell you if I was doing what you’re doing, I would not last two weeks.
Charmaine Smith: I’ve spent a lot of time camping out, sleeping on the floor, moving camp bed from room to room to renovate a room and move to the next room. I’ve actually lived quite rough working on it, but I find it rather exciting for me. It works for me. I mean, it’s not going to work for everybody.
Bernadette Janson: No. I just find it really fascinating, the sort of multitude of ways that I’m saying women, not exclusively women, but because we’re talking about women, choose to articulate their love of renovating. And like I was talking to someone recently who is a passionate renovator and she drives. She and her partner drive around the outback doing renovations for people.
Charmaine Smith: Oh, good on them.
Bernadette Janson: Yes. I’m going to get them on to the podcast. I just think it’s really amazing and I think it demonstrates how versatile a skill. To be able to design your life around it and design a life that’s so full of creativity and joy and do it in a way that works for you.
Charmaine Smith: Yeah, I’m a bit committed in the city for the time being. I have a 20 year old cat so I can’t go too far until he drops off the perch. But it would be wonderful to go to country, town to country, town, travel Australia and do some things for free. Some older folk that maybe need the fence painting or something, why not just go and lend a hand.
Bernadette: How awesome would that be?
Charmaine Smith: I know it would be pretty amazing. When money becomes not such an issue and you can actually give back a little bit in life with what you do and if you enjoy it, then why not?
Bernadette Janson: Yeah, there’s something we did a couple of years ago. We support an organisation that runs quite a few orphanages in Thailand and we bought a property and renovated it so that we could give the profit to them to help them run the orphanages. So we did that like bought, renovated and sold. So a lot of our students helped end up with a big time effort and we made one hundred and twenty thousand in profit. The impact that that has on little kids that have had a really rough start in life, it makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile.
Charmaine Smith: Yeah, that’s it. It does make you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. Absolutely.
Bernadette Janson: A project for a lot of good. Now, what would you say your three top tips would be for women who are thinking about getting into renovating? What are the things that they should consider?
Charmaine Smith: It depends on whether they’re going to be hands on. If you are going to be on the tools and being involved or even even so, if you’re not hands on, I think you need a good team, your electrician calling the sparky, you need your plumber, you need your carpenter, you need contacts, the scaffold company, you need those connections and have a nice book.
Keep all your notes, keep all your contacts, and you can just flick your pages and go to it. So I think you need to be organised with your contacts. I think if you’re just going to buy and renovate, it doesn’t matter what area, I think you need to research the suburbs. Personally, I like regional because firstly, it’s affordable but everybody knows the exodus out of Sydney at the moment, but regionals are really moving up in price and they’re being well sought after.
A lot of people don’t want to renovate. They just want to go to a nice country town and go, “Oh, well, it’s gorgeous!” and just buy it. So you might find doing your homework on what is available and what sells once it’s been renovated. So you do your realestate.com or your domain.com research. Keep your file notes for all of that. Hot tips, rest! Eat and rest, which are probably I am short of.
Have a good accountant. I mean, if you don’t have a good accountant, you probably have someone you could suggest that I’ve got a great guy. Also a good solicitor to look over contracts. Second house I bought up in Katoomba, I just said to the agent and I’ll pop in now and sign the contract because the contract was only six pages thick, it was pretty easy. They panicked, “Oh, no, we can’t do that.” well, you can, but anyway.
So having a good solicitor at an affordable price to go through your contracts and advise you. Don’t always think with your heart. Think, research and get a building inspection. Building inspections will always be a 200 page scary document but you’ve got to look through that a little bit, one thing people tend not to do is get a plumbing inspection. A lot of old homes have terra cotta pipes and that can be a really huge expense if you had to dig them up and replace them and make sure in your contract where your easements are, sorry, I’m giving you a whole bunch here, where easements are. You don’t want to buy a property and think you’re going to extend and then you’ve got a sewer line straight underneath or something.
Bernadette Janson: I think the really great thing Charmaine, is while you and I might be at odds with how we actually deliver the result, we are completely aligned with those aspects of renovating. So we’re definitely singing from the time book.
Charmaine Smith: Yeah, just go in with your eyes open, that’s all. Test the market, check it out, be aware, know your budget and budgets always blow out. It just happens but you can find lots of stuff on Facebook marketplace and Gumtree and maybe even eBay, that’s going to be affordable, that you can fix up and make it just work. Not that I actually ever get to the point of styling most of my property to get sold before I get there, which is such a shame, I actually like to do that. I’m not sure that I am but I think styling is good and you can sell it yourself, so long as you’re prepared to put in the time to do that.
Bernadette Janson: I think the thing with selling is I think you need to be aware of your limitations personally, and there are some people that cannot sell, obviously, you do it professionally. The other thing you’re saying about budgets always blow out, I absolutely agree with that. Often I look at it, so we put in a contingency, but it almost always goes over a few thousand. If I increase the budget, it would still go over a few thousand, so by keeping it tight, it keeps you really honest and it makes you work harder, would you agree?
Charmaine Smith: Oh, yeah, that’s right. It makes you focus on looking for options and researching. It’s like the kitchen that I bought. I bought a sink and like I said, the kitchen came with it just from Gumtree. It’s a perfectly reasonable one year old IKEA kitchen. I didn’t have to put it together, which was quite good, but for 500 bucks, I had to add five more units. So for about fifteen hundred dollars, I’ve got a kitchen that’s worth four thousand dollars. So you know that extra money that I’ve saved while I can do a season benchtop instead of another product, which I wouldn’t use anything else.
You can kind of like, “Oh, I budgeted there. I can use that over there.” There’s always going to be a bit of a blow out so you do have to be careful. I mean, just be savvy when you buy something such as buying paints, do things like get your Dulux trade card. Get your Bunnings trade cards, they save you five percent here and there.
At Dulux, my local guys, I have cans of paint that just seem to be the wrong colour for somebody. Like they mixed it wrong, but if it’s an undercoat, does it really matter? You’re going to paint over it anyway. I’ve got a fifteen litre can of undercoat, which normally would cost $200 but I them for $38. I mean, that’s amazing, sorry, I’m a little budget queen. That’s just amazing saving, so that’s there for me to do a whole stack of painting and I got some rendering paints. There is a lovely fellow over on the north side who had this great idea of doing some rendering and he sold all of this rendering paint for $60, which I know is worth hundreds of dollars, so I’m happy with it.
Bernadette Janson: I love it! Actually, I did an episode with one of our reno queens, Michelle Lewis. Much earlier, we went through a whole heap of tips for doing a budget reno and she’s very similar. She goes round, gets second hand kitchens and makes epic profits on really low priced properties. The most recent one she bought in Adelaide for $195,000 I think it was, and turn it into a $400,000 property.
Charmaine Smith: I have a connection with the lady Karen Beaubrun, she’s in Adelaide and she turns around some amazing properties at great profits in that area. The thing is, if you’re in Sydney, it’s really hard in Sydney City to afford to buy the basic product before you can actually do the reno. That’s why I quite like regional. I mean, Adelaide is let’s not say regional, but Adelaide is affordable for under three hundred thousand. But then you can do that in East Maitland or Cessnock or not so much Orange Bathurst anymore, they’re pretty popular locations, Goulburn, beautiful homes in Goulburn that you can do fabulous things with and turn it around. But you have to get off your backside and go there.
Bernadette Janson: Absolutely, yeah. Actually an area that we love is Newcastle. I had a student recently come through the end of last year. She came throughout the boot camp and she was hellbent on doing her first reno. And seriously, she was just out the door, she bought a property in Newcastle for $285,000 and did a $50,000 reno. She had trades and turned over in about six to eight weeks and she made a tiny $55,000 profit.
Charmaine Smith: Good on her. I wonder if it was a house?
Bernadette Janson: It was a house.
Charmaine Smith: That’s interesting.
Bernadette Janson: Mind you, Newcastle’s going off at the moment. She’s just got the next one, I think she paid 380 for that, but yeah so it definitely can be done. But it’s like anything you do need to research and you’ve got to know your market inside out.
Charmaine Smith: Every area has its wrong side of the street.
Bernadette Janson: Yeah absolutely.
Charmaine Smith: The Blue Mountains, you have to be on the east side of the highway, not the west side, you know, it’s like really? It’s across the road, but it’s just a local thing. Even here in Sydney on the way up to Lake Gordon, if you’re on the west side of Gordon, we couldn’t sell an apartment building there for the love of money, but if it had been on the other side of the highway, it would have sold double the money. So this is kind of silly, but you gotta know these things and you’ve got to go and talk to the local people, local bakery, and maybe go to the pub and ask a few people, “Hey, where’s a good spot around here?” It was a classic one for having a location but everything’s like that.
Bernadette Janson: Well, listen, I want to thank you for your time. I’ve really enjoyed the chat. I think you’ve brought a different perspective to renovating and I feel certain that our listeners will really love this episode. I’m just wondering whether you would like to share some images of your renos with us?
Charmaine Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Because I’m so busy, I never get a chance to update my Facebook page, but I’ve been doing that madly over the last couple of days. I’m so, so not even halfway there. So it’s my Facebook page is Oikos Properties, I can email you that anyway, the link.
Bernadette Janson: That would be great. And we will include that in the show notes, thank you.
For those who are listening, I hope you enjoyed that. I will make sure that we get Charmaine’s Facebook page linked to so you can check out her work. We always love to get reviews because it helps to share the love and let people know what great content we’ve got on this She Renovates podcast. So if you have time to write a review, we would so appreciate it. And that’s it for this week.
Thanks so much, Charmaine and thanks everyone for listening.