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ALEK RINI: Builder, remodeler and a proud flipper

By on March 31, 2019 in Featured Homes with 0 Comments
Alek Rini, builder, house flipper and remodeler, stands proudly in front of the Orondo fireplace. He kept it woodburning at the owner’s request, and repeated the decorative stonework from the home’s exterior.

ALEK RINI: Builder,     remodeler and a proud flipper

Story by Susan Lagsdin

Photos by Donna Cassidy

“When you’re building new houses in a development, there’s a pretty similar process. But on a remodel, every single house I work on is different — there’s always a creative challenge in there somewhere, no matter what condition it’s in to start.” 

Alek Rini of Element Homes stays deeply involved in his simultaneous ongoing projects. Though he builds high-end houses (150 new homes in the region over the last few decades) some that he works on are custom remodels for owners, and some are off-and-then-on the real estate market, meant to be flipped. 

Don’t cringe at the verb “to flip.” It’s just expeditiously buying, renovating and re-selling a house, and a house flipper can enjoy the same status and success as any reputable architect, realtor or landscaper. 

The walled-off kitchen and dining room once peeked out onto the Columbia River (small picture); Alek Rini’s remodel brought guests and chef alike a full-on view that was lacking in the 1981 original.

And, of course any individual with time and skill can buy a fixer-upper and labor, maybe on a steep learning curve, to make it more livable. However, professional builders and contractors would be voted most likely to succeed. 

Alek is a professional, and he doesn’t mind the designation “house flipper” at all. While continuing to build new homes, with his building crew — often 23 strong, many of them long-term employees — he not only does traditional remodeling but consistently buys-fixes-sells (“flips”) about eight homes per year, depending on the heft of the project. 

Alek was thoughtful in recounting the lessons he’s learned, and most of them apply to any remodeling situation, no matter who the owner is. 

In the flipping business, however, “You have to buy right.” He continued, “Even with a thorough inspection, you need to cover extra costs ahead of time — assume that any big remodeling project is going to yield at least one disaster.” As HGTV fans know, there are dark structural mysteries in many old homes. 

With no added square footage but with a good deal of collaborative creativity, the former kitchen space (upper right), was transformed by the sleek quartz cooking counter with its downdraft fan (lower left).

Alek works compatibly with local Realtor Nick McLean on buying and selling houses. “We have a good relationship; he’s done this kind of rebuilding, so he knows what kinds of homes I’m looking to buy. It really helps to have one broker you can depend on.” 

He’s fortunate to be able to invest his own money and avoid the steep fees and interest that banks need to charge, and he’s careful; when he looks at houses to buy, about one in five make the cut. 

In the course of his own work, he looks at a lot of other builders’ products. He appreciates learning from their solved problems and good design choices, but he’s also critical of sloppiness. 

“Pay attention to finishing the job,” he said. “It may look good, but it’s the tiny details that really show. Don’t skimp; choose good materials, and then polish and clean it up.” 

He added a pet peeve. “I hate to see a house with a totally redone $50,000 kitchen that has a shabby front door. An interesting new door is a great addition to a house.” Its curb appeal signals better things within. 

The two homes featured here are good indicators of the range of Alek’s remodeling work. 

The one on the Orondo waterfront was completely renovated for a Lake Stevens couple who had loved the location for years but wanted more space, a typical request in today’s housing market, with building lots near $100,000 and median home prices near $340,000. The former vacation house will soon be, with its make-over complete, a permanent home for the actively-retired owners. 

Alek said, “My first big idea was to attach the garage to the main house, which was a simple rectangle, and make a big L. That added 700 square feet. Then we totally gutted the house and repositioned some of the rooms.” 

In doing that, he added banks of view windows and created a tall ceiling and a varied roofline. “That added some engineering problems,” he said. “Nothing we couldn’t solve.”

The owners were in on every step and have become his friends. “They came over every week,” Alek said, “and I texted pictures whenever they needed to make a decision.” 

The result is a personalized and updated home, just the right size for entertaining family, that capitalizes on its riverfront location.

A victim of deferred maintenance, it had degraded considerably over 100 years, but keeping the Craftsman look outside and doing good-quality stylish restoration (in this case new windows, floors, walls, ceilings, cabinetry and appliances) helped Alek sell it after five months of work, for three times its purchase price. 

The second home, a small craftsman on a quiet, tree-shaded sidewalk street close to downtown Wenatchee, was “flipped.” 

Alek said the small downtown Wenatchee house, bound for resale, was not a wreck (left), but sadly in need of refreshing. Woodlook vinyl floors, cool gray paint and white trim were an instant refresher in the main room (right).

“This one actually sold before we were even finished; it was listed for a day.” Alek said. “The buyer wants me to do a few extra things… a stove fan, a patio pad, paint the garage, and sure, I’ll throw those in, no problem.” 

Last-century charmers like this have cachet in Wenatchee’s real estate market, and keeping interior floorplans and the basic footprint, with no structural revisions, obviates paying for and waiting for extensive permits. 

Flipping houses is less personal than custom remodeling, and his connection to this buyer came only after the fact. All the design choices were his alone, so what he needed to do was supervise his crew and watch the bottom line. 

Timing is crucial, of course; it’s best when the sale of an improved home closes before the cash offer on the next project.

Alek attributes his ability to build, remodel and flip houses all year long to his experienced crew, and he takes good care of them. As soon as it turns cold, he puts propane heaters inside, in the heat of mid- summer he keeps big iced watercoolers on site, brings burgers or pizza occasionally. He likes to keep them, and himself, busy. 

He has unpretentious goals. 

“I’ll probably never quit working — I just want to keep doing a good job. I want to support my family and leave a little something for them when I’m gone.” 

Looking at the numbers, it’s likely in the future that hundreds of north central Washington homeowners will also have a little something of Alek’s craftsmanship and work ethic.

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