Long gone are the days when an enterprising developer could buy a rundown house cheaply, slap on a new coat of paint, gussy up the front yard and flip the house for a quick profit. Right?
Not according to Amy Randazzo, president of Modern Day Homebuyers, Inc. Beginning two years ago, she built her company with a new twist: She still buys rundown homes, but she upgrades them with high-tech gadgets and expands them -- then sells them for a not-so-quick profit.
Her latest project is what she bills as a smart-tech home at 427 Chiquita Ave. in Mountain View. What started as a less-than-1,300-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home on a quiet street in Shoreline West (near downtown) is now close to 3,000 square feet, with five bedrooms and three baths.
In 2015, Randazzo purchased the nondescript home for $1.5 million, and has since added close to a million dollars to the tear-down-to-the-studs house. It went on the market in early September for $2.75 million.
But she didn’t just rebuild the 1948 house on steroids; she brought the home up to 2016 high-tech standards, beginning at the front door.
A new Ring system means the doorbell "acts like a security system in that you can be remote with it. If you’re out to lunch with a friend and someone rings the doorbell, you can talk back to them from your phone. They won’t know that no one is home," Randazzo said.
Another "smart" touch is a remote garage-door opener. "If you leave and wonder if you closed it, you can control it from your phone," she said. Or, if you have a friend who needs to get into the house while you’re out of town, you can open the garage door remotely to let the friend gain access.
Randazzo is very keen on the two Nest thermostats.
"They are really great for energy efficiency. It learns your lifestyle. It also will give you a green leaf to tell when you’re at optimal energy-saving temperature. It senses when you are home or not home, when the temperature needs to be at a certain degree," she said.
Three USB ports for charging phones and tablets are built into outlets in the kitchen, office and master bedroom area.
Although her formal education is in accounting, Randazzo learned quite a bit about interior design while working in the family-owned Design and Interiors retail furniture stores in Los Altos, Los Gatos and Lafayette. After her father died she joined her mother in running the stores.
"I did accounting, but also helped buy furniture, do floor displays, helped customers do interior-design projects," she said.
When her mother decided to retire and close the stores, Randazzo needed to rethink what was next for herself.
"I have three children at home and wanted something flexible but wanted to tap into my passion for design. I also love real estate," she said.
Today she incorporates that passion for design while choosing the myriad of finishes in the homes she renovates.
Located on a nearly 10,000-square-foot lot, the Chiquita house features a very long great room, beginning with a kitchen that has an island and breakfast bar. The countertops are Carrera quartz.
"Quartz is a popular material. We’re using it in all the homes we’ve been doing," Randazzo said, adding that the quartz offers "a little bit more of a modern twist, doesn’t have as much movement as marble or granite. ... (It’s a) cleaner look."
Cabinets are painted a very light gray, and the floors throughout are a dark slate-gray European oak with seven-foot-long planks. Walls are painted in the gray/blue family, "a lighter tone to keep it open, giving a nice, larger feeling," she added.
Appliances include a Viking range and dishwasher, plus a built-in wine cooler.
Beyond the breakfast bar with its stools is a dining area, then family room, ending with La Cantina glass sliding doors that fold out and lead to a deck made of pavers.
All three bathrooms feature tile from Hera Tile & Stone in San Jose, with two-tone beige/gray glass tiles (contrasted with pebble glass in the cut-out over the tub) in the first bathroom; larger white, wavy tiles and a herringbone Carrera quartz floor in the second; and 4- by 2-inch Carrera tiles as well as rough-cut stone in the cut-out above the tub and octagonal tiles on the shower floor in the master bathroom.
Randazzo prefers to keep her color scheme monochromatic.
"Because I don’t know my buyer, I keep them fresh and clean looking, don’t gravitate towards colors that are too overwhelming. I feel like the buyer can add their own accents in that way. ... (It’s) a lot easier to throw in an orange towel or red couch," she said.
Drawing on her experience with buyers who chose fabrics and upholstery at Design and Interiors, she concluded that "Colors are so personal. Strong tones should be kept for the buyer’s decision later on. We change too; you might love red today, but five years from now hate it."
She also drew the line at installing solar panels.
"The thing is, the owner could do it just as easily when they move in. I didn’t want to obligate them to do that (by leasing the panels). I think the option should be open to the buyer," she said.
The home does include a tankless water heater and a new furnace in the attic.
Outside, new pavers run up the driveway, with a path leading to the front steps. Working with Patten Landscaping in Mountain View, Randazzo added plantings to frame the entryway, as well as drought-resistant plants along the edge of artificial turf in front.
They opted for real grass in the back yard, along with an herb garden in troughs, also visible from the family room and master bedroom.
The Chiquita house is just one of six projects that Randazzo is working on flipping now. Three are in Mountain View, two in San Jose and one in Oakland.
One of the biggest challenges is finding the right properties.
"The key for me is I really don’t fight the market. I’m not one of 10 offers that’s on the table for a run-down house. I’ve created contacts and now some (of the people) I’ve had experiences with are agents who have a home that they don’t want to show: It’s too rundown, they want to get out right away, want a cash offer that doesn’t meet the appraisal. I’m a great out for them," she said.
"I will help people out of tight real-estate situations where it’s a family home and they need the money out for some reason. That’s been a great fit for me. Also, if it’s a home that’s been sitting on the market for a while, I like to figure out what that reason is. I just look for off-market houses.
"I have great agents that I work with. They talk me up to their other agents, if you have a home that meets these criteria, I have a buyer for you. It just makes it easier for everyone. The market is crazy. I can’t compete in a bidding war.
"The lucky part for me is we do have a large pool for that -- who want walk-in-ready, don’t want to do any work.