Culture Scan

At the intersection of real estate, media, and pop culture.

The Heart of the Remodel

At the International Builders’ Show earlier this month, I was lucky enough to meet up with Mina Starsiak at the Owens Corning booth on the expo floor. Starsiak—a licensed real estate pro and REALTOR®—and her real estate attorney mother, Karen E. Laine, have been rehabbing and selling homes in the Fountain Square neighborhood of Indianapolis since 2007. The two recently caught the attention of HGTV, which enlisted them for the upcoming television series, Good Bones.

Mina Starsia of Owens Corning

We talked about family dynamics in real estate, the teardown trend, being bold with remodeling choices, and more. Here’s an edited excerpt of our chat.

What’s it like working with your mom on these houses?

I’m definitely the business end of the partnership and my mom is kind of the dreamer. She’s the one always wanting to do spray-foam installation—which now is standard in all our houses—solar panels, channel glass, and she’s the one who found the colored shingles. She’s the one who really dreams everything up and I make sure that we can get it executed, business wise. So the first time we sold one of our houses and paid someone else commission, I was like, “I can do that too.”

It sounds like your guys’ dynamic is pretty different from how we would imagine a traditional mother/daughter relationship working!

Yeah, it probably is, very much so. I always joke with her whenever we come to these shows that she needs to be hooked to one of those backpacks that they make look like little stuffed animals, but that are actually leashes for little kids [laughs]. She’s so sad she couldn’t make it here, because the home shows are her happy place. She just wanders in to the booths and says “Let’s do this, let’s do that,” no matter how expensive it is. And then I’m like, “OK, we’ll talk about it.”

Tell me a bit about how you guys make your mark but still try to integrate your rehabs to your little pocket of Indianapolis.

Initially we didn’t even realize that we were doing anything special. We paint our houses funkier, different, bold colors. We use different tiles and tried to use color inside, and in different ways. And that fits with Fountain Square; it’s urban, it’s a little funky. We’re not really into that super modern style that’s really boxy. That’s not really what we go for. Most of the houses that we fix up don’t have a lot left to salvage, so we try to choose items we can bring back to life to help the homes stay consistent with the nature of the neighborhood and the block. We even think that through with the color choices outside. We’ll look at the five houses on either side and that goes into the question of, “OK, what color are we going to do here? Well, there are no blue houses on this block so let’s put a shade of blue in that pops.”

We stick in the same little area. We could make a lot more money if we jumped around the city. But we both live next to each other. When we moved in, our block had no fixed-up houses. And now there are only two that aren’t renovated! Our little area has changed pretty significantly, and not just because of us. It’s also other people who are doing similar stuff and it’s completely changed and it’s really cool. We are selling homes to people who are our neighbors.

With some of these really old, run-down homes, is there ever a temptation to just tear it down and start over?

Oh yeah. A lot of the homes we do, people—even our subcontractors—will say, “We should’ve torn it down and built new!” That’s how bad some of the properties are. The problem is, if you tear down and start new there’s nothing to draw your inspiration from. My mom comes at it more from a feeling prospective, and she says you have to have something there to work with. It’s not that the past defines the remodel, but it informs the resident’s decisions in the house.

If it’s a blank slate, for me, it’s almost too many options. I’m the one who does the start of the floor plan. We’ve built two new-construction houses and they were the hardest floor plans I ever did because there’s nothing to start from. When I have a foundation I’m like, “Okay it’s kind of a math equation. I can do this, this, and this. I need a bathroom…” and it just happens.

Even if the financially smarter decision is to tear down and build new, it just doesn’t feel like there’s as much heart in it.

Do you have any advice for people who are rehabbing houses and making bold choices—whether in terms of color and style or avoiding the teardown trend—where subcontractors and others are trying to talk them out of it?

The biggest hurdle is knowing your options. It’s tricky. In general, construction is a man’s world. But my advice would be to just ignore that. Say what you want. Do your research and know what you’re talking about. You can’t come into a conversation and represent your own ideas, thoughts, opinions, and feelings if you don’t know what they are or if you haven’t taken the time to figure it out. Just being informed so you can go in feeling comfortable with what you’re asking your contractor to do.


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