HR: Interviews #1: Todd Thomas

Blog entry by MsDebbieP posted 09-07-2010 08:45 PM 12399 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
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This interview is from the September, 2010 issue of the Creative Hands Network News.

Todd Thomas has been a member of HomeRefurbers since December, 2008. Thank you, Todd, for this wonderful interview!

1. Not everyone is a handyman when it comes to fixing up houses, how did you first get started at refurbishing rooms/homes?

I kind of fell into it really. About 3 to 4 years ago, I was selling insurance at the time, making a living but hated it, and the church we were attending bought an old building in town to remodel and turn into a church building. The church was renting space at the time. My wife and I talked about volunteering with some of the work, and I decided I would give them about 5 to 6 weeks. Well, as you can guess we had about 50 or so people the first week and not so many the following week, until there was just one other person besides myself. Good thing he was a remodeler, because at the time I didn’t know one thing about this stuff. He taught me as we spent the next three months fixing up this building. I really enjoyed the work and the creativity it gives you.

One of the elders said, “If you ever want to get into remodeling let me know and I’ll help you out.” The next week a friend of mine said she had a house to sell cheap, 35k, and did I know anyone who might want it. I said “I do, I do!!!” Called the elder and he wrote the check for the house and gave me the materials money to remodel and sell it. I laugh to think of all the stupid things I did on that house… but I finished it up and it sold right away and I made a profit. Thomas Construction was born…

Click for details: another home remodel

2. What was it about refurbishing homes that initially caught your interest, enticing you to get into it at the level you are now?

This may sound a little stupid but I liked the creativity part of it. I like trying to make something new, that someone would like, out of something that no one really wanted. I guess its the artsy side of me. I really like trying new and different things. Most of the houses in the area I’m in, Oak Ridge, TN, were built in 1943, during the war, and do not have any bearing walls and the beautiful red oak flooring runs under the walls. This allows me to change whatever I want and make it appear to be a totally different house. And it’s nice to get paid to do it. My wife thinks that it’s buying all the tools that drives me. She may be right.

3. Tell us a bit of history of your journey from that beginning to where you are today.

Well, I was 47 at the time and thought to myself, “Do I want to sell insurance the rest of my life?” The answer was no! So I kind of re-invented myself, with the help from my friends and things have fallen my way. I always say, “God takes care of babies and fools” and I guess I’m too old to be one of those. At first I did the houses with the guy from the church that taught me how to do most of this. Then I started to have some ideas of my own and started doing them by myself.

Now you have to remember that 4 years ago, if one end of the hammer didn’t have rubber on it, I probably would have not known what end to hold. Yest it was that bad. My wife can back that up. Started to get some knowledge and experience in doing things, collected more tools – you can never have enough tool. lol :)

I think one of the biggest influences on me was when I was working with some guys on a job and they seemed a little bitter about things and really didn’t care about the quality of their work, just about getting the job done and getting paid. Everything they did, they said, “good enough”. They said that when I had done this type of work long enough I would be just like them. Gosh I hope not.

I live by a couple of rules with my work:
1) always try to do better next time.
2) If I would not want it done to my own house, don’t do it to a client’s house, and
3) If I’m not learning and moving forward, I am going backwards.

But I really liked it and threw myself into it reading all I could, buying books and surfing the web for ideas. I love the challenge of doing /trying new things. Like right now in the home I’m doing, I laid about 1300 sq feet of rustic oak flooring and filled the knot holes with black wood putty and finished it off with a tung oil product. Everyone thought I was crazy, seeing all that black putty on the floor. Now they are like “wow, that’s beautiful”. I get a lot of my work from word of mouth. I think of my remodels as rebuilding the house. I will usually re-wire and re-plumb the entire house, bringing it up to code and adding things.

4. What inspires you regarding refurbishing homes?

What I really get a kick out of is taking a beat up, broken down home that rats wouldn’t live in and turning it into something nice and new.

Click for details

5. What are the greatest challenges that you have met along the way? (and how did you overcome them)

Wow, there have been quite a few…
  • in the beginning just having the knowledge to do some of the things. I look back at some of the ways that I did stuff then and I am so much more efficient now.
  • Keeping control of my ideas, I try to put too many into one house. I try to make each one different and unique, so the clients home isn’t like someone else’s.
  • Keeping to a budget, this one is hard for me as I will almost always come to a spot where I have a “wow this would really be cool if I did this…” but the market may not be able to take it, at least right now.
  • Financing projects is getting tougher as well. I have a good relationship and history with my bank.

6. What is the greatest reward that you have received from refurbishing homes? (personal or tangible”

The money is fine, but I really like it when at the closing table I usually get a thank you and the client tells me how much they love the house or a certain feature I put in. I will often have people ask what the “builder warranty” is. I tell them that the home is 70 years old and that it expired in 1944. Ego, I guess. lol. I try not to take myself too seriously.

7. What is your favourite tool that you use for refurbishing homes?

Well this is an easy one. Everyone knows it is a sawsall… lol..

8. What is your favourite creation in refurbishing homes?

Let’s see.. I’ve done stone fireplaces, double stone showers, vaulted ceilings, put down that cool rustic floor with the black wood putty but I think my personal favorite is I am just finishing up an end grain block floor, about 450 sq feet and finishing it with tung oil and it turned out very cool if I do say so myself!

Click for details

9. What tips would you give to someone just starting out or currently struggling with refurbishing homes?

Wow.. heavy question.. tough market right now for someone just starting out.
  • Try to work closely with a Realtor, I do and it really helps. We have other Realtors calling to see from time to time if we are working on a house that will be done soon.
  • Keep good records. It may be fun to do but you have to make money at it as well.
  • Keep true to your goals.
  • I’m very big on quality. I don’t have a “Flippers” reputation. I have more of a “custom home builders” type of thing working.

Click for details

10. How did you find HomeRefurbers and what is it that keeps you coming back?

Well, like a lot of us, I came over from LumberJocks.com. I keep coming back because I love the site. It’s good for new ideas and I get stuck once in a while and it helps to have others that can help you. Like having a big company that you don’t have to pay for.. Plus I feel I can add to or help some others with their problems. I’ve run into a lot of them.

_Thanks, Todd, for taking the time to answer the questions and for sharing your wisdom and experiences with us!

-- ~ Debbie, Ontario Canada

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posted 09-14-2010 12:27 AM

Thanks, Todd. That’s a very nice story, I don’t know if I can top that.
And thanks for making this world a better word by fix all those homes rats would not even move into.
And thanks for giving God the credit he deserves.

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