Last summer we shared a Q&A post that I often refer others to for answers to commonly asked questions—how do you manage your rentals? How do you make your money? Advice for renovating homes with your partner? Advice for getting started in real estate investing?
Our first Q&A post broke it alllll down in detail, so make sure to check that out for honest answers to your top questions.
A few weeks ago I shared my personal story (from the beginning!) in Instagram stories (saved to a highlight here) because so many of you are newer around here. This lead to a flood of questions—more than I could answer in the highlight—so I figured it was time for another Q&A round!
Do you have a degree in interior design? Do you think you need one to do what you do?
No—my degree is in graphic design, but I think design is universal and there is some overlap of concepts (color theory, scale, etc). You most definitely do not need a degree, or even formal education of any kind to be a successful blogger, DIYer or influencer. Of course, more knowledge is better, but most of this job is learned through experience with time.
What was your/Lucas’s job before the blog?
I was a graphic designer for the NCAA division at Football Fanatics, Lucas was in enterprise sales for a training & development company.
Do you two have a team or do it all yourselves?
It’s just Lucas and I—he’s taken on the role of project manager/DIYer, while I run the blog/design work/social media. But we couldn’t do it without his parents, who watch Esmé during the week.
I haven’t worked with anyone since quitting my last job in 2011 and I love being a solopreneur, but some days I wish I had another creative to collaborate with! It can definitely get lonely at times and I think it would be fun to have a community/support network of some sort.
How long did it take blogging/influencing to be able to fully support you and your family?
I started blogging in 2011, but blogging was so different back then and I never dreamed it would become a career. Honestly, I didn’t start treating it like it was my job until after we moved to Florida in 2018. Only in these last few years have I started taking it more seriously—specifically in 2020 when Lucas decided to quit his job to work with me full time.
I know some new bloggers can get there in a year or two, but it has been a long journey for me!
Do you ever get burnout with your creative outlet also being your job?
I’ve come to realize that I’m truly my happiest/best version of myself when I’m creating and bringing ideas to life. It’s the other parts of the job that make me feel burned out—mainly social media, to be honest. I love sharing and teaching, but not the pressure to post constantly and keep up with trends. Being an introvert makes it a lot harder, and I’m still trying to find the right balance.
Tips for monetizing a blog if you were starting today?
- Only start a blog if you are passionate about a topic and would blog as a hobby for free. It’s a ton of work, and you will not stick to it long-term unless you live and breathe the content you are creating.
- Optional but a good idea: take a blogging course if you are serious about this as a career
- Create consistent blog content that provides value to others (this is the most important step)
- Build a community on social media
- Start building a newsletter
- Join an ad network (i.e. Google Adsense when starting out) and realize it’s going to take a long time to see results
- Apply for affiliate programs (i.e. CJ, Impact Radius, RewardStyle, Amazon) and only promote products you love/personally use
- Consider selling a product (physical or digital) if you have something valuable to offer
Would love to hear more about your life in San Francisco!
I was born there, but never actually lived in the city until I moved in with Lucas in July 2016. We rented an apartment with two other 20-somethings (and my share was still more than my previous mortgage payments!) It was a wonderful, fun, and brief experience—we moved out in April 2017 to travel for the rest of the year.
The city will always hold a special place in my heart and sentimental memories, and I’m glad I had that experience while I was young(ish)—but we would never move back for many reasons.
Why Tampa? It’s my hometown and I love it here 🙂
Lucas went to University of Tampa and enjoyed his time here. I had lived in Florida for a couple years (Jacksonville) and missed the tropical climate. Tampa had a low cost of living and was one of the top markets for real estate investing when we were deciding on places to live in 2017 (though prices have risen quite a bit since).
Will you stay in Florida? Dream city to live in?
We discuss this a lot, because extended travel has always been our dream. We don’t want to be tied to one city forever. Now that we’ve started to build a foundation here in Tampa (and my sister/her family lives nearby) I can’t imagine ever leaving completely. I think we will always have a home base here, but eventually we’d love to be able to travel (or live elsewhere) for at least a few months out of the year.
What would be your ultimate dream home?
We fantasize about building a large chateau/castle-style home on a lake (designed by Christopher AI). We would use it as a gathering spot for friends/family, the place to host reunions/weddings/events, and pass down to our children/grandchildren to enjoy with future generations. It’s fun to dream 😉
What excites you most about this coming year?
The Hacienda Hideaway room reveals! We have so many new DIY techniques and design details I think you guys will love. I’ve been dreaming about these spaces for a very long time and cannot wait to bring them to life!
Where do you shop? Love your style!
Everywhere! Many of my all-time favorite finds are thrifted/secondhand. Facebook Marketplace is always my first go-to for furniture/mirrors/art. For home decor, I’ll start by browsing the Google Shopping results. Often, I find the largest selection/best prices on Amazon, followed by the other big-name stores: Target, Wayfair, Walmart, Overstock, World Market—then I’ll cross check to find deals on Ebay. For custom/handmade pieces, I love Etsy.
I’d love more info on how you design a house. All the rooms are different but cohesive!
This question came up a lot in my end-of-year reader survey, and I plan to sit down soon and write a detailed step-by-step post about my process. I like to stick with one general style for the house and allow myself creative freedom within those boundaries. All of my homes have had a unique theme which has guided the design direction (Modern Farmhouse, Cottage-Cabin, Earthy–Tropical, French Country Modern, Mediterranean Villa).
I don’t like to label my own personal design style (I’m inspired by so many styles!) so committing to one ‘vision’ for each home makes it much easier to make design decisions.
How did you learn how to use the basic tools? Best resources?
By doing! In the beginning I referenced other blog tutorials a lot (and still do) and YouTube videos can be the most helpful. But the only way to truly learn is to try it yourself (again and again). Start small, get comfortable with the basics and you’ll learn something new each time. You just have to get those reps in!
Did Lucas ever get overwhelmed when starting out? My husband does all the time and I don’t know how to help that not happen.
(Lucas will answer this one): I still get overwhelmed with some of the projects I take on! I get more confident with each project I complete, but when I’m tackling something new that is complicated, I often have to fight off that feeling by taking a few deep breaths and breaking down the problem into smaller pieces. I love puzzles and figuring things out so I have to change my mindset from “this is too much” to “how can I solve this?”
It often helps to talk through the project/challenge with Jenna as she sometimes sees things I don’t or can look at it in a different way. Also, her excitement about whatever it is I’m working on can give me that extra push I need.
Do you renovate yourself, hire a team in each location, or both?
We typically hire out the basic jobs (plumbing, electrical, flooring/tile, anything exterior) so Lucas can focus on the custom/finish carpentry work. It has been a struggle for us to find reliable contractors at a price point within our budget, so sometimes it makes more sense for Lucas to do it himself. We’re always weighing the pros/cons of time vs budget, and whether or not to hire out.
How did you find your fixer properties?
Believe it or not, they’ve all been on the MLS! We found both our current home (well, the original Heights House) and the Poolside Palms within hours of hitting the MLS and put the first offer in. We saw potential that no one else did in the Hacienda Hideaway and The Riverside Retreat. My four previous homes were also listed on the MLS.
How much help did you get from family or otherwise for the capital to buy your first home and on?
My very first home back in 2008 was purchased with a traditional bank loan, 20% down. My ex and I qualified for the mortgage and had some help with the down payment with a loan from his dad (which we paid back when it sold).
I qualified for a bank loan for the Cottage House Flip, and had a small private loan to assist with renovations. The original Heights House was purchased in cash with loans from private investors, and rest have all been traditional bank loan and/or our own funds.
Do you ever pull out equity from your homes to purchase rental properties?
How do you save to furnish a whole vacation rental? Seems overwhelming!
The cost to furnish/stock the home has to be built into the overall investment cost. It can be very overwhelming (especially with a larger house) and staying super organized is key—lists and spreadsheets and calendars are your best friend. We spent three of the most hectic months of our lives getting the Poolside Palms ready (at the beginning of the pandemic, not recommended) but you just take it day by day and keep chugging along. Expect delays to happen and to go over budget.
How do you prevent guests from ruining stuff? We have an Airbnb and nothing stays nice!
There really isn’t much you can do! Our property manager builds in an ‘incidentals’ fee for each reservation for damaged items. We’ve had to replace a handful of things already (rugs, towels, bedding, furniture) and it’s just something you have to factor into your operating expenses.
It’s a tricky balance between buying expensive/quality furniture that should last longer, vs inexpensive items that you can easily replace. Eventually, you start to learn what type of materials/surfaces hold up best to heavy wear and tear (and we’re still working on that!)
And that wraps up Round 2 of Q&A! I hope this post provided some insight for those curious about blogging, DIY, investing or any other part of our journey. If you have any more questions, feel free to drop them below (it’s completely anonymous) and I will try to answer them in our next Q&A.
Next up: Kicking off our long-awaited laundry room makeover!