Episode 3: The Trials And Tribulations Of Renovating On Finger Wharf – Interview with Maria Burwood
Maria Burwood is the founder of Showcase Renovations. An elite team member in the Wonder Women program of The School Of Renovating. Maria is a passionate renovator, engineer and project manager with over twenty years experience in the industry.
On today’s episode,
Bernadette interviews Maria Burwood. They discuss her most recent renovation project – a three bedroom penthouse spanning two floors of the Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf in Sydney.
Listen to Episode 3: The Trials And Tribulations Of Renovating On Finger Wharf – Interview with Maria Burwood:
Podcast: Download (Duration: 22:14 — 20MB)
- How Maria secured a property originally planned for a family home renovation and why she decided to flip it
- The 3 major challenges Maria faced in renovating a heritage listing
- Why Maria gave all the reins to one builder and project manager and how it became a success
- Maria’s approach to an apartment without an outdoor area and how she used a palette of natural materials and resources to make it work
- What Maria would have done differently if given a chance
- The financial outcome of the project
- How a private buyer’s agent managed the selling of the property and the flow of buyers
- Maria’s motto, “Making Success Seamless”
- How being a part of Wonder Women has helped her achieve renovation success
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Bernadette: I'm Bernadette Janson the founder and CEO of The School Of Renovating.
Today I'm speaking with Maria Burwood. Maria is one of our Wonder Women. She's part of our elite program. Maria is an incredibly motivated and accomplished renovator. And I've asked her here today to talk about her recent project, which was a bit of a challenge. I think there's a lot we could all learn from it. Welcome Maria!
Maria: Thank you Bernadette. Thanks for having me here today.
Bernadette: Before we start would you like to just share a little bit about yourself.
Maria: Yes. Well, so professionally, I'm an engineer and a project manager. And in my off time, I'm a veteran investor and an absolutely passionate renovator. I've been doing this since I was 16, when my parents pretty much dumped me into a project, that was a debilitated old building where they didn't have time to manage, and it spurred my passion. Besides that I am the modern Brady Bunch family. We have four children under the ages of 10, and my husband is also an engineer. So we're keeping everything in the family.
Bernadette: We're going to be talking about a specific project today. Would you like to share what that project was and how you came about securing the property.
Maria: Yes. So my last project, which I also consider a little bit of a crown or a jewel in my crown, is a penthouse, a three bedroom penthouse, which spans two floors of the Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf. It's the iconic Wharf. And what I really loved about it when I first saw the property is that it comes with such a rich history. And it's the only structure in the world of its size. That's made completely out of wood and is over 100 years old. So we thought, you know what? Let's make this home. And we pursued the property, and it was a little bit of a challenge at first, because before we went into it we realized it's going to have to be renovated to make it our home. And there was a lot of discussion to negotiate the prices down, simply because there was so much that had to be put into it to make it livable. Being a wooden structure, it was leaking. It had fire safety issues. So there was quite a bit, but we saw the potential in it.
Bernadette: Okay. And so that was originally going to be a family home renovation.
Maria: That's right. It was going to be, like I mentioned, we fell in love with it and we thought, you know what this is? We need a place for our family to grow big into, as well as we wanted to make this offer of a home. And we really saw the potential in it. And I stress that because we are in a way got blinded by it, and made rookie mistakes that usually an investor makes when he goes in, and sees a property, purchases it for the potential, rather than also considering the target around it. And once we had it all designed exactly for our needs and purposes, what happened was we started spending more time in the area and realized it doesn't fit our family. It's not a young family place. It's more an entertainer's place. So our intent quickly changed and we realized, we have to just flip it and move on. Now to do that, that was a challenge in itself because we've had it all designed. Everything was done and paid for and ready to go, we've even had the approvals through, which in a structure like that, I'm sure you can appreciate, were a challenge onto themselves. Wasn't actually the heritage listing that was the problem, it was associated with keeping the structures integrity, as well as fixing the original mistakes with it.
When Meriton came in to save it from being demolished and design into an apartment block. So then we were faced with the task of basically redesigning it. And since we made it into a flip. We had to consider also the financial aspect was no longer about spending on what was for us, but what was going to return a profit. So price came into it and we had to be quite savvy to do that. We actually redesigned it all ourselves and we being part of the Wonder Women program is fantastic, because you're able to have this supportive team with amazing ideas, we can bounce them off each other and suddenly realize that, that's it. This is unique. This is the x factor. Let's go. So yeah, that's how the intent started and changed.
Bernadette: Great. Would you like to elaborate a little bit more on what the challenges were in renovating in that particular building?
Maria: Oh I laughed because I think, it's almost better to ask what wasn't a challenge in that building.
But you know it really made me a stronger renovator. But also really appreciate the details that are required, that you maybe take for granted if you're doing it, as with more experience. The major challenges, I mean are limited to the three major ones. Because from them really everything stemmed. I think it really came down to the building, the original building being such a wooden structure that called for, out of the ordinary approvals, we needed body corporate. We need a building management. We need strata and we also needed structural engineers. Fire safety engineering, acoustic engineering beyond what an average strata requires. So these ones were very specialist hand-picked teams, that set on the building committee, which only met every so many months. And this prolonged everything, and of course it increased the costs. But things like that, you expect that in building a renovation.
What we didn't expect was that the rules that came with approvals were that you had to appoint trades and a builder. That was sort of pre-screened and pre-approved by the committee. And, as an analogy that's like saying wedding in a florist, the prices just got exponential.
And actually in my experience I find that suddenly the level of detail, or the attention to detail, and somebodies actual will to help you also alters, but not necessarily in a positive way. I think maybe there's a little bit of stigma of you can afford it, and we can make money on it, and this will bring me on to another point later.
But the second challenge which arose from that was being that this was going to be a home. We actually decided we were going to have it project managed by an external party, because we were time poor, and this wasn't going to be an investment. Now that it's an investment, are still being time poor, we had to go with this plan.
And unfortunately, I say unfortunately because we had a project manager and the builder. But he is a classic professional in his trade. So what happens is they are good at this skill, and that's what they are focused on, on the site. They don't then have time to go and see what everyone else is doing and supervise it, see the little details that may or may not be going wrong. They are on the tools as they say. And this actually posed surmountable problems for us, and more to the classic mistakes that we made was, we assumed that he could be trusted, that he schedules everything were real. He does his mistakes 101 for building, he failed to actually follow the schedule. He didn't make any orders, he didn't actually had anyone come to site, the budget blew out, the time scales blew out, and it was just a disaster in that respect. And we decided to, about in the fourth month, which was already one month over the project date, we're going to have to step in and we had to go in.
Basically I hired a dedicated onsite manager, who was one of our Wonder Women and together we really worked hand-in-hand to just complete the whole project in three weeks. 85% of the entire build in three weeks. So there was an unsurmountable achievement, but it was just the little details that we were able to integrate. That we thought aren't going to be possible suddenly became possible. So this was a huge win.
But that brings us to the third challenge, because the builder didn't appreciate us doing that. And still felt he should be paid for the job. And with the building, we didn't just need to get approvals before the renovation. This building required, not so much approvals but clearance that everything is okay. We had to sign a clause that if they do not find the property sufficiently to their standard, we have to actually start again. This was kind of scary to us. You can imagine.
And our builder was holding, being the body who subcontracted all the trades. He held all the certificates, all the insurances, so we had to pretty much give in to his blackmail. Because there's no other word for it. In order to get this project across and be able to sell it, we could do nothing without these documents. So these were the challenges. And as you can imagine other things spin from that.
But that's pretty out there.
Bernadette: So that's a huge achievement to be able to rein that in. Because the role of the builder and the project manager is, it's a role of trust. You're really entrusting a lot to them, and to have that person go feral, for want of a better word, can be quite debilitating. So well done.
Maria: Thank you. Yeah it does feel like an achievement I have to admit.
Bernadette: Yes, on such a tricky project. Very well done. And so now I know that the apartment didn't have an outdoor area. Now these days we say like in terms of renovating, the indoor-outdoor thing, it's almost mandatory. So how did you deal with that?
Maria: It's a very good question actually. The fact that we didn't have a balcony or the elephant in the room became really apparent the minute we decided to change our intent with the property. Because like you said, apartments suddenly on the walls, come with open decks exclusive water views and we had the water views. We didn't have the open deck. So, we thought about it and I decided that one feature is, let's not focus on what we don't have. But really enhance what we do here, which is the exclusivity, the luxury, the uniqueness of the property. And overshadow the fact that we don't have that outdoor living, and the way I did that, was by bringing the outdoors in.
So this started with a palette of natural materials resources and colors. We used all through the apartment Calcutta or marble which is and was honed. So it gave this texture and look of a pebble that has been upgraded with time by water. We used driftwood colored joinery and dark walnut colored wide boards which were a bit of a salute to the building in itself with the texture so it looked like a railway sleeper almost.
And it was good. It did the job but there was something missing though, said we wanted to instill that freshness and have that X factor that was like WOW. Nothing else mattered. So we actually redesigned, as I mentioned before, it's two stories, we redesigned the entire stairwell. To actually enhance and enable a vertical garden wall. And it really did the trick. It just brought life into the whole apartment and this naturalness and color being irrigated as well.
It's something we didn't count on, was that it created this amazing smell in the unit that was nature. It was as if you were in a forest, when you walked pass around it and it just completed everything. So it was definitely what sold the apartment.
Bernadette: And that spanned the two stories?
Maria: It did span the two stories. It was I think three meters in length and I had a little juliet section cut out of the top, so it almost looked like a veranda that you looked across with a timber finish. That again gave it that look like you're in a forest you're outside you're in nature.
Bernadette: If you had your time over again, what would you do differently?
Maria: Probably the challenge there is, I would not have bought a property to flip, that I intended to buy as a house. Having said that, I think this is life and sometimes we have to embrace what we get and work with the challenges. Having said that, in my experience now as if I had my time over, I would definitely go and hire a professional project manager. Not rely on every builder that says that they will manage a project.
Also a design architect who we hired. She also offered her services, in her case for example she failed in her due diligence on the builder, that he was not sufficiently licensed to do a project of this scale, creating other problems. So it's little things like that that can be avoided when you have a professional project manager, and it would have saved us probably the two hundred twenty thousand we had to make up, for the builder failing to manage the project.
Bernadette: So that's quite a substantial learning.
Bernadette: It sounds like doom and gloom but would you like to share the financial outcome of the project?
Maria: Oh Absolutely. I mean while it does seem doom and gloom, it's actually where I found the project really enriching. I found it very, it wasn't fun, but it was actually fun and seeing it come to life. Financially it was great after our expenses and the cash we had to invest in it. We made over three hundred and seventy thousand on it which was a very hefty profit for that. And that's definitely set us up for the next projects. We are not that all upset because we walked away with.
Bernadette: That’s not too shabby.
Maria: Not at all. Not at all.
Bernadette: And how was the project received by the buyers?
Maria: It was definitely, we had the first people through the property, we had it listed through a private agent and the reason is. So sorry I should say. I enlisted a private buyer's agent, again through the Wonder Women, simply because it became like, it was like a hyena in a safari. I felt I was suddenly inundated by the principles of every major real estate and it’s not meaning to brag but it actually became quite intimidating and you start thinking they're telling you these prices and it's creating doubt in you and others over inflating.
The private buyer's agent, she was fantastic, she put it all in place and she just brought in the customers. She didn't worry about telling us anything else and it was the start of a signing NDA, non-disclosure agreements, because people who didn't ever want the property officially listed, who wanted to buy it, came through and saw it. It was that unique diamond in the rough that we wanted to create. Like we really hit the target there. The buyers were plenty and it became, that point of uniqueness.
Bernadette: Beautiful. So you've taken some more lessons out of that experience haven't you?
Maria: Indeed I have.
Bernadette: What has been your course of action since that project? Where are you going now?
Maria: Right. Well Fred will be into it. I think going back to what you said about what I would do differently. One thing that this project, an experience that really opened my eyes to, is there's this huge gap, this disconnect between actually finishing projects and people going out to renovate. And I started when I started talking to parents at my kids schools and even friends, I suddenly realized this almost dread of going to renovate of actually changing something in their house, that they would like to or in an economy like today where buying a house. That's exactly how you want it becomes almost unattainable. You buy something that needs a little bit of a fix, It made me realize how much I took for granted.
My own experience and ability to do this and saw that's where I could really help people and I could really make a difference, is by bridging that gap. And providing that connection for people to feel safe when they are doing their renovations, which is their home or when they're doing it for personal wealth. So I formed showcase renovations and I call it, our motto is "Making Success Seamless". And I think after hearing that story, that makes more sense. Because I believe a renovation, no matter what scale, can be absolutely seamless. It can be done on time, on my own on budget, and respectively in quite a short period of time.
If it is managed correctly, a professional project manager and I stress a professional project manager. Their job is to have eyes at the back of their head, in the front and not out with what everyone else is doing, they pick things up. You get just one centimeter wrong during the rough in stage and you might face having to take the whole wall down. That's so much money so much time. That's what showcase renovations is about, we are what you work with us. You get your personal renovation concierge, they are with you the whole way.
And that doesn't mean that, oh they will just palm you off, and you deal with the trades you have to jump the little pieces in between. No. You work with us. We do all of that for you. You just sit back, you relax, you don't have to worry. And our project managers, they are professional project managers who aren't just paper pushers. They're experienced renovators themselves. So for them, your home and your project, it's like their own. Your success is our success.
And this is the road that it's taken me. I think it was almost like a natural progression. I feel after my experience. I feel I owe it.
Bernadette: I think you solved your own problem.
Maria: I think so. I think indeed it has. And renovations can be fun. And I found it really distressing to see how scared people are just to have to deal with trade because they do feel being taken for a drive.
Bernadette: Yeah. I think we've pretty much covered it all. Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Maria: Just again I'd like to highlight that yourself and also the Wonder Women have been really just amazing, in terms of crystallizing what I want to do and how I want to solve problems. Not that I haven't been able to solve them, but to do it in such an innovative, creative way where you feel like Yep totally can do this. Nothing is off limits. Nothing is too big that has been the biggest thing.
Because sometimes when you are there on your own, you think, should I dare myself to do this and just have someone? Yeah. And I can show you how you can make it better. That's that is invaluable.
Bernadette: And that's what we love to see. Thank you so much Maria.
Maria: Thank you.
Bernadette: If anyone wants to get in contact with you how will they do that?
Maria: I have a website we're www.showcaserenovations.com.au and on the website you will find all the information you need including my contact number.
I can give it to you, but I think it's easy if everyone checks it out, and just get it there right? And one thing is, we value a comfortable cup of coffee, so have a coffee on us and you'll meet a personal concierge that will always stay with you if you decide to go with us.
Bernadette: Beautiful. Well, thank you so much Maria. I hope you enjoyed that.
It's a renovation story with a difference and I think it's great to know that there are such talented and skilled people out there to help you with your renovation you don't need to be exposed to any unnecessary risks. If you've got someone competent that's got your back.
So I hope you enjoyed that and I'll see you in the next episode..