High Rise Condo Remodeling | With Katie Fore

High Rise Condo Remodeling | With Katie Fore

Katie Fore of The Elevated Stag joins the show.  We discuss the challenges of remodeling your high-rise condo unit, dealing with the structural committee for your HOA, and how Tiff's Treats can go a long way to stay in people's good graces.


Troy: Welcome back to Real Estate Insights with Troy Schlicker. Today I am joined by Katie Fore with the Elevated Stag. How is it going today, Katie?

Katie: Going great. Thanks Troy.

Troy: It's great having you on. It was actually nice seeing you in person for once. As, as convenient as it is to do these things virtually makes it real easy for recording and really easy for, much easier for the scheduling side of things versus having to get to the same place at the same time. It was cool to actually see you in person this week, so that was fun.

Katie: It was great. Thanks for coming by.

Troy: I actually got to go down and see the condo where you're at, and also where you're doing kind of one of your first renovations in the condo. One of the kind of newer, probably, I actually think it might be the newest high rise in downtown at 44 East as far as completion of the project in that regard.

And you're already in there looking to make changes. Things haven't turned out quite as good as some people have wanted.

Katie: Yes there's definitely some floor plans that aren't people are not favoring. There's some finishes, when you're in a building like this, oftentimes the developer only offers, two or three finishes that you get to choose from when you're purchasing the unit. And if somebody isn't super happy with any of those finishes, they may choose to come in and totally revamp and redo things.

Troy: Yeah, that, and then especially with the high rises there, like cuz this one's 48 floors or 49 floors, like that's a number of years that it takes to do the project. And so in a lot of cases they have picked out material. Three years ago, potentially two, three years ago, that they're deciding to put in.

And like you say, they're only doing a couple of different options. And so not that again, not that it looks that dated per se, but it also doesn't necessarily always look that phenomenal either.

Katie: Yeah, and I think what we talked about the last podcast was about material selections and how quickly those can get discontinued. And so that's also happened here. There's several units that have needed to do some repairs and like the flooring just doesn't exist anymore. So there's also part of that as well, when you have to choose new flooring.

If there's not something that matches exactly, then, you may have to make some adjustments there as.

Troy: You think there'd be a way? Not that. Not that it's easy cuz it's almost all wood flooring in the main part of the home. But you think because of that there'd be a way if needed, I know you guys aren't doing the flooring specifically, but they'd almost have a way of trying to recapture. That flooring for any of the units that are, would ever change that just so they would have extras available.

Now again, that's probably more time, effort, and cost than it's really worth. Cuz the developer, once they get it done, they don't really care. But

Katie: That's the main

Troy: Yeah, they're just kinda whatever, we're done. We did our part. But I think I would imagine that could be rather valuable, if, again if just one unit had, a thousand square feet of that flooring, like that could be valuable to three or four different units down the road that have small little things that.

Katie: Yes, especially because the flooring is continuous in a lot of these high rises, so they don't have transitions between rooms, which means if one room has an area that needs to be repaired and they don't have that flooring, it, you're gonna basically have to reor the entire condo or create a transition between the two rooms and find a different flooring that would compliment what's already there.

Troy: Which, yeah, at that point in time it gets challenging because, say, trying to, I think what I, you see a lot of times is people try to match it and then that actually usually looks worse than trying to compliment it in a lot of cases.

So speaking of high rises seems like as good a topics any to maybe talk about some of the additional challenges that you face doing remodels on high rises versus doing remodels on houses and even just even condos in general.

Like high rises do present some of their own unique challenges compared to. Lower rise condos, but both condos, high rises and low rises are gonna have some distinct differences from regular homes. So what are some of those big things that you run into on high rises that you don't, maybe don't run into in homes?

Katie: Yeah, so I've worked in a lot of the downtown condo buildings from 360 to 555 Bostonian the fifth and we west building over on West sixth Street. And then now 44 East and the high rises present a different challenge because. There is of course an HOA, which, lot of communities have that, even single family homes.

But you have the HOA board and the structural review committees that have to approve a lot of the projects that we do, which means we have to submit pretty extensive plans along with materials. The pictures of the materials, the links to the actual materials themselves so they can review those.

There's specific underlayment requirements that go into the flooring. So if you remove any flooring and then replace the flooring, you actually have to put a specific type of soundproofing underneath these floors and that can present its own challenge because they, each building has a different requirement of soundproofing that, you wish that they could just all be the same.

But they're not. Procuring that from different vendors that is, is just a small part of it. And then it comes to logistics. So getting the freight elevators reserved, especially in newer buildings because you still have a lot of people that are moving in. We also have the construction crews that are still on site, finishing up some of the higher floors.

And so we're sharing a lot of the. Space with those people and trying to get elevators to be able to reserve for the timeframes that you need them, for your crews to come in and to bring debris down and to bring materials up. It can br you know, it's just a lot of moving parts. So having great relationships with the concierge teams, the H hoa committees and the loading dock managers is really tantamount to whether your project succeeds or fails or rises and falls on.

Troy: And it's just a lot more challenging as a contractor as well too, right? Like normally you go to a single family home, you just pull your truck right up to the side of the house and can start doing your thing. And and that's not the case, especially if you're, especially if you're in downtown because one, trying to park somewhere is a challenge in and of itself.

And then, it doesn't make, obviously you have to do it if you have to do it, but. Either lugging all your stuff up to the 32nd floor or, oh shoot, I forgot something in my truck, and I've gotta go down to the 32nd floor to pick up one thing that I forgot

Katie: happens a lot. People forget their tools. They forget a screwdriver, they forget something else. They have to run back down to the truck and. Parking of course, is an issue. We're lucky to have at least a street down 44 East down east Avenue. There's typically additional parking if they get here early enough.

Throughout the day, it fills up, of course. But they don't get the luxury of parking in the back alley. They have to like unload and then they have to go park their truck somewhere else. I've literally had an electrician and I think a tile guy at one point that just, they drove downtown and looked for about five minutes for parking, couldn't find any, so they just left.

We'll come back another day,

Troy: we're just, I'm not, we're just gonna deal with that.

Katie: those things happen, and then it throws your whole schedule off. So that it is just a lot of. Management that I think a lot the homeowners don't necessarily know until they've had to do it themselves. And then they're like, yeah, I wouldn't wish this on anyone.

And those of us who do attempt it and I feel like I thrive in this environment. I really enjoy the challenge of it. And people think I'm crazy, but there's a reason that we charge a premium to work in these buildings. It's, a lot, it's just a whole different ballgame than working in single-family.

Troy: Yeah. One of the things you mentioned too was the structural committee, which I. Maybe a lot of people would understand more so when it comes to a condo, right? Obviously you can't just be knocking walls down and playing Jenga with a condominium building. That's not gonna end up very well for anyone.

But on those committees, do they. For the high rises, do they have restrictions as far as even some of the interior design aesthetics and stuff? Or is it more so just truly the structural components of the unit? So that stuff isn't compromised? Obviously with the building as a whole.

Katie: Yeah, they require us to send all the materials so that they can see what's being used. There are certain restrictions within the bylaws that say, like you can't have all tile throughout your unit. So if somebody wanted to remove all the wood flooring and put only tile in there would be issues with that because of the soundproofing.

And making sure there's correct moisture barrier between the concrete and the tiles. And there's just a whole slew of other things that, that go into that and that aesthetically the client has to be aware of. It's not necessarily like what colors they choose, but it's the specific material that is something that they will consider and that they look at.

Troy: Nice. And is that, and I'm assuming, say with most of the units, obviously the soundproofing side of stuff is probably pretty common for all the different high rises, especially because here in Austin, all those high rises are relatively new. Even the. Old 360 building is still not even 20 years old from, in that regard.

So it's, they're still new and gonna be under a lot of those new things. Whereas, potentially older low-rise units may not have some of those built in if they weren't thinking about some of those things ahead of time, back when they were built in the sixties or seventies.

Katie: Yeah, and the the like exterior, so obviously all exterior, whether it's the hallways in the common space or the exterior of the building and the windows all of that is something that is not allowed to be altered. But that goes so far as to make the color of your shades have to be a specific color.

They can't just be whatever you want, so they have to go. Anyone that's installing shades along the exterior perimeter of their condo has to go through an approval process of the color of the shade that they're going to have installed.

Troy: Yeah. And so again, like I say, it makes, I think people can maybe understand more being in a common space, like those highrise condos that. Some of that stuff is seems very obviously necessary, right? No one would want the sound barrier removed from the floor above them, so they had to deal with that on a daily basis so they can understand that for them too.

Obviously when you get start to get to the color side of things, people tend to be a little bit more perturbed that they have restrictions on a place that's their own. But I think a lot of people don't realize that even when, a lot of times when you're buying a single family, If it's a home that was built in the last, especially the last 10 to 15 years, but even the last 20 or so years that you ha if you have an hoa, which you're likely to have, if it was built in that timeframe here in Austin, Texas, then you probably have some, a structural review board with that hoa.

For the single family home subdivision two. Now it's not as restrictive as the condominiums are because you don't have a neighbor directly below you. You don't have a neighbor touching you. And so usually you can get away with doing the majority of what you want to do inside the home. But a lot of them will have structure review stuff for exterior things because they want to keep up with the aesthetic of the neighborhood.

Wanna make sure that all the homes, To a certain degree the same. So that way they try to keep property values up so that way it's a more uniformed kind of feel rather than what in some of the areas in Austin where it's not, where there aren't HOAs. And it can be very gentrified. You can have a home from 1954 next to a home from 2021 that's, four times as big and almost looks out of place that way.

Katie: Right.

Troy: What do have you run into any surprising. Hiccups when it comes to talking to the structure review boards, either for condominiums or for single family homes. At.

Katie: I think maybe a little early on, yes, but I, it's been pretty consistent across the board in the different buildings. Obviously there each has its own little bit of nuances that you have to learn and understand and and. Some people are really strict about the policies and the procedures, and some are a little bit more lax and you get to know that, between the buildings, but making sure that the subcontractors and the contractors that are coming in to do the work are fully aware of all that.

So nobody gets their panties in a twist if that happens

Troy: and it's funny with HOA boards, right? Like they can be can be again. Usually they have some, they, they obviously have rule, some rules and regulations, but sometimes they can be guardrails and other times it's Prison bars as far as what people are wanting out of 'em. And so again, with the condom news in town, I'm sure again, once you start to do it, it becomes easy.

You understand how to navigate the system the same way that as you start to do anything on a regular basis, it just becomes a lot easier to handle and do. And so it feels like second nature now for you guys.

Katie: It does. And I run into a lot of homeowners that and even some newer contractors and designers maybe that are new to that particular building. And I overhear a lot of convers. And I see what they do that irks the the staff that, makes their jobs harder if they forget to reserve the elevator.

And they moving crew show up for a furniture install, but they didn't tell anyone. And they basically have to turn them away because it's like you

Troy: It isn't just, it isn't just your, yeah. It isn't just your service elevator to use, per se

Katie: But a lot of people think it is. It's really surprising that in a community building like this, how many people feel so entitled that they should be able to use it whenever they want. And unfortunately that's just not, it's not the case and it's not ever gonna work that way. And so I try to be really proactive.

I try to communicate regularly with our dock manager. On each of the buildings, but especially with ours here being my personal home and residence at 44 East I wanna make sure that everybody that works here knows my name and understands what I'm trying to do, and that I'm not trying to piss anyone off that I'm, trying to do everything the right way.

They can just help me if I'm doing something that I shouldn't be to let me know so I can do it differently.

Troy: You don't wanna be getting a scowl from the front door staff every time you leave to go get a coffee and come back in the

Katie: My goal is to make their jobs easier. That's at the end of the day, that's what I want. I want everybody's job to be easier and for things to go as smoothly as possible so that everybody gets their job done and that there's no issues.

Doesn't ever work that way, but we try.

Troy: And it's also the surprising thing to me that like more people don't understand that's the way to potentially get something done that's a little bit outside the box from time to time. Instead of, again, you talk like the entitlement instead of just expecting that I can I just can do this.

No. If you play by the rules and are overcommunicate communicative with the staff, with the people that need to.

Katie: For

Troy: Be there. Then suddenly when something, a delay

Katie: pops up or

Troy: yeah, and you need to change it around, they're way more likely to say, oh yeah, we can make that work for you.

Instead of just saying, Nope, sorry, you're gonna have to do it some other time. So

Katie: TIFs treats also helps.

Troy: there's not a whole lot. TIF treats doesn't, it doesn't help.

Katie: I'm like, TIFs treats are my best friend. I try to send those on a regular basis to the buildings that I'm working in that's bright to their heart.

Troy: Yes. Now again, yeah I've never had anyone complain about TIF treats at all that way. Another thing that I know overheard you guys talking about when I was there on Wednesday too though, was was the size of one of you guys have a kind of a unique door coming in for office.

To make an office space. And another thing that I think people have to make sure they keep in mind on Highrise condos and condos in general is like how they're gonna get the materials up there. Now again, most flooring and that kind of stuff, okay, great. It's in boxes, not a big deal, but it's possible that someone thinks of, oh, this would be great in the unit, but how are you gonna get it up to the 32nd floor?

You're not carrying up the stairs. And like even doing that. And so like understanding just the logistics of what the break elevator is and getting all that kind of in place before you go order $1,500.

Katie: tell you how many times that I've had clients that have ordered something, and this was prior to us working with them, but they've told us a story about how they ordered a piece of furniture and it wouldn't go up their elevator or it wouldn't go up the stairs cuz they had a really sharp turn.

So they bought a piece and then they had to send it back. Or they had something that they had to try to sell because it was not returnable. And they didn't pull out a tape measure just to, to see if it was gonna actually fit or not. And that actually, I mean for the door you're talking about that we're gonna be installing in this unit here that was a big part of why we did our pre-construction, pre-construction walkthrough.

So the one before you came to, we had done another one with everybody on site and we had talked through Matt had his door guy on site. And so we talked through that and said, okay, how high can we get, make this? And then we measured all the doors. Checked the freight elevator and we're like, this is how high, this is the highest that we can make this so that it will actually fit when we bring it in.

And we had to change the plans cuz we wanted to make it bigger, but we just couldn't do it.

Troy: Couldn't work. You didn't want, you don't want the Ross scene from friends where either trying to pivot up the couch. Yeah. Speaking of clients or potential clients that have had kind of that P S T D from not getting things done right the first time. You were talking a little bit beforehand as well about a client that's looking at potentially remodeling a place. Partially because that hasn't been, it hasn't been that long ago that cuz he had done the remodel.

He said what, five years ago?

Katie: Yeah.

Troy: Like it's po I generally I generally don't recommend people getting their place remodeled every five years. Now you, if you have the money to do it, you go wild and get it remodeled every five months. I don't really care. That'd be great. That's great job security if you can have a re a revolving client every five months, but Right.

Generally you want, you are trying to think of hopefully getting remodeled that it's a more, a longer term.

Katie: sure.

Troy: Play because usually you're not gonna return the get the return on investment from a financial standpoint if you're remodeling that quickly. But part of the reason that they were looking at remodeling was the fact that the la, the previous person they used just wasn't, not that they weren't good, but they weren't necessarily listening to the client's needs.

And we were talking a little bit about how. Way more common than when people realize in both of our industries, on the design side and on the real estate side,

Katie: Yeah, and I think also The clients themselves, a lot of them won't speak up. They don't feel comfortable speaking up or saying something until it's too late or they're, they wait until the project's done and then they, might leave a bad review or they might just talk bad to about it to their friends and their experience, but they never really say anything to the designer.

And that I think, goes in any industry. I wish more people would speak up early. I've never really had that problem. I've sometimes, to my own fault, but I think that In that particular situation, yeah. He was not pleased with the outcome of some of the design choices that were made and didn't feel like he had been fully consulted.

And I think he put a lot of trust in that person to make those decisions when I think she probably should have taken a little bit more of a stance of yes, he wants me to just take the reins, but I also need some more feedback from him. And so that's what we're trying to do now. We're trying to take a step back and really make sure before we go forward, sourcing any actual construction work that we have him sign sealed and delivered on this particular design.

Troy: Yeah, and like I say, I think it's, it definitely happens in real estate now. It's rare that someone goes out and buys a home. That they don't really end up wanting. What usually I'll see more so is they'll, I'll have someone that starts to work with me who was working with another real estate agent and was like, they just kept showing me homes that weren't at all what we were looking for whatever reason.

Like they were too big, too small, wrong part of town, like they. They, what usually in my experience is the realtor finds homes that the realtor likes, assumes that the other person will like, but the other person's the home buyer's situation is completely different, right? I've helped clients buy homes that I personally wouldn't have bought, not because.

I wouldn't have bought not because the homes themselves were bad, but they were in parts of town that I didn't wanna live. They were, much larger than homes that I wouldn't, I don't, I'm single. I don't need a three, four bedroom home that's 3000 square feet. That doesn't, wouldn't, isn't a smart thing for me.

I don't, I like not having to do a bunch of yard work, so I wouldn't want an acre of space and stuff that way, but a lot of. Realtors and designers and stuff either don't listen or they say, they also don't ask enough questions upfront. Like they, you hear someone say, who isn't experienced in buying a home or getting designed, done, Hey, yeah, that here's, here are the highlight of things that I want and I'm, I trust you.

And it's we're gonna trust me to ask you the right questions so we can get you the right thing. Not just trust me to go forward and buy a house for you because you said you trust me.

Katie: right. And there are people out there that are okay with that. And that's certainly, fine. There's definitely designers out there that have a very specific aesthetic and people go to them because they like that aesthetic and they want them to just. Chooses and pick everything for them.

And then there's other people that they really want something specific for themselves and maybe they can't articulate it very well. And I think that's our job as professionals to be able to get that out of them in whatever way we can. Whether it's asking really good questions, showing them examples just being able to pull out what it is that is in their heart's desire and not our own.

Troy: Yeah. One of the things I've found too is that it's a lot of times. To get a client to say no. So if they're bordering on a few things, like I can be like, Ooh, let me show them this house. I don't think they'll like it, but now they'll be able to articulate why they don't like it.

And then that will lead to, okay, so you don't like it because of this, then let's look at, what the opposite of that. Oh, we don't like it because it's two stories instead of one store. We didn't like it because of, something with a layout or again, the size of the yard and stuff. And a lot of times,

Katie: really funny that you say that.

Troy: A lot of times it's not that they suddenly have this light bulb aha moment because again, they're not doing it on a regular basis, but it's a lot easier for them to say, no, I don't, this doesn't

Katie: It's getting them to make a decision one way or the other. They're making a decision and when they make a decision, they feel empowered. And even if it's something as small as like when I'm, on my wardrobe side of the business when I'm showing clients. Ties, for example, I know I'm gonna show them a couple of ugly ones cuz I want them to say no.

I want them to say, Nope, we're a process of elimination. And then we're gonna narrow it down to two or three that they really love. And that's how you get people to start actually moving forward and making progress.

Troy: Yeah. Other. Yeah. Otherwise it's, again, it's, there's just so many decisions to make that if it's okay, just, again what kind of design do you want? There's just so many options that it's the analysis by paralysis kind of syndrome of I don't know. I trust you. Let's, again, that's great, but let's start actually figuring out what that is.

Because in most cases, there are. Some more specifics, there might be a few different options that would work for them, whether it's their clothing, whether it's their interior design, whether it's the home. But let's figure out what those few specific things are. Then make sure the budget works and then from there we can go and actually move forward with what what's

Katie: Yeah, when we start working with design clients, and most of mine, being guys, they typically fall into one of two or three categories as far as the design goes. But I have design boards of pretty much all the different designs that you could have out there, whether it's mid-century or modern or minimalist.

F modern farmhouse. I have all of these that I can show them, and then I'm like, let's narrow down the ones that you like. And it has pictures, like inspiration pictures from each of those styles in bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and living areas. And so they can look at these in pretty quickly.

You can eliminate the ones that they don't like, and then we can start to hone in on the stuff that they do. And they might pull some from each different board. And. Find two or three that they actually like, and that's where we start from. And then we'll create mood boards based off of those and try to hone in a little bit more on theirs based on specific questions that we ask during the design phase.

Troy: Yeah. Aside from not asking enough questions or not talking enough during the process, is there, are there any other things you would recommend to a client to help make the process? Smoother, easier, more, be more of a positive experience for them.

Katie: You mean as far as the overall design

Troy: Yeah. Like just you, you were mentioning, you were mentioning that, right? Like that people, like in his case, he probably knew somewhere during the process that he didn't like what this other designer was doing, but didn't speak up and you're like, speak up. But so aside from something like that, what is, are there, is there anything.

Kind of pet peeve wise or things that would be beneficial to you and a client that a lot of times maybe they don't do or they don't realize they sh could or should do that would be helpful during the process.

Katie: Yeah, I think the speaking up is a big one. I think that is difficult for anybody. Like most people don't like confrontation. Whether it's good or bad confrontation, I don't think that they want to have that. And so it can be challenging. I think it's more important on the designer to elicit that from them as much as possible.

So I try to do regular check-ins and like, how are you feeling about everything? What is there anything that we could be doing more, better or different? I try to keep that open dialogue so they don't feel like they have to say it first, because that's where they, they might have a hard time to say it, but if I bring it up, then they're like, oh, actually now that you ask, and then they feel more comfortable being able to say those.

For sure. And then I think just having at least some kind of an idea, before you jump into remodeling your house, it's probably a good idea to go through and look at Pinterest or look at some kind of inspiration photos online or in magazines and just get an overall feel like what you like.

Maybe have some of those ready to go for the initial design meeting because that will give the designer a really good place to jump off of. Most people don't know design lingo and verbiage and the designer might be asking questions like it might be a little lost in translation in the beginning, and so having some pictures you're like, okay, you really love this style.

And then here we can show you some more examples of that so we know that we're on the same page.

Troy: Yeah, no, I think. In in any industry, right? But obviously in both your and my industry, like there's a lot of verbiage specific to the industry that unfortunately people like ourselves can start using when we need to make sure and realize that not everyone knows all the acronyms that I can use, like the.

35 different acronyms that I can use for real estate and HOA and P I T I and all that kind of stuff. And it's important to try to communicate on the level that the client's at. But then also you say, make sure that they're comfortable asking questions and providing feedback because that's it's their ult, it's ultimately their home that they're buying or redesigning.

And we want them to have as good of experience as.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely.

Troy: Cool. Somehow half an hour's gone by and it doesn't

Katie: Oh wow.

Troy: I know, just by super fast. And so now since it's a Friday, we should be going to happy hour I think. But we will have to share some more tips and insights on the next episode.

But I really appreciate you taking the time to jump on

Katie: Yeah. Thank you again for having me, and looking forward to the next one.

Troy: it's always a lot of fun.

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