Alma Project Update + New House Inspiration

By Kate Riley June 9, 2014

So there’s good news and bad news on the housing front. Let’s start with the bad, or shall I say, the disappointing setback. You may recall I was given the task in February to furnish a house for our local COTS (our charitable efforts we dub the Alma Project) and I embraced the challenge and off I went thrifting for the cause snagging furniture to use for the project. Then two months ago, I was asked to hold off on any further improvements because the city that owns the house was all of a sudden considering selling it and four others instead of extending the long term leases to the transitional housing program.

There were many meetings and pleas before the city council to not sell and to continue to foster the program which transitions people from homelessness back to society. Two weeks ago we were told despite the protests that the city decided to sell so the disheartening news is the houses are no longer available for the program. I’m really saddened by the situation, but we’re determined to find other houses from private donors to lease to program, I’ll keep you posted if any land in our lap. Many of those thrift store purchases I’ll be selling and donating the proceeds to COTS but two I’ll keep for …

dashed line

…the good news, at least for us, which is that after a long and arduous search, Matt and I found a house to buy and last week it became ours. First I should say to those who have asked, no we are not moving!  We love our current house and its location. I have no intention of redecorating it, I love it the way it is, and we have absolutely no plans to leave. This is the tale of our search for a second home to upgrade and renovate.

We’ve always loved architecture and remodeling, we spend a lot of our time discussing how to improve homes, spaces, and yards, and what we’d do if given the opportunity with a particular home which is why we set out to buy another house. I haven’t taken official “before” pics of the home we bought yet, I will soon, so meanwhile here’s our story mixed in with some inspirational images for the upcoming remodel.

global inspired entry

So as you know Matt is a real estate appraiser and broker and together we have fixed up houses and condos within our means since the 2000s and even expanded and remodeled our primary residence beginning in 2006. But after the recession hit it was game over on investing for awhile while we waited for the market to stabilize. Real estate has been volatile for years, hitting rock bottom everywhere, but now in many communities the market is showing signs of appreciation.

We haven’t bought real property since before recession, we decided to wait instead and save our money and invest when the time was better for us. We paid off our debt and started placing money into a savings account every month.

tiled staircase christine markatos

Of course it’s important to have diverse investments but we love real estate the most for the simple reason you can fix it up, put your personal stamp on it, and then sell it for profit in a good market or hold on to it as part of an investment portfolio. It’s what we do best, he’s the appraiser, I’m the decorator, both of us are DIYers and together we decide what fixtures and finishes work best in the renovation process.

We almost bought a house in Salt Lake City with my sister last year, but then they found one on their own, we were thrilled for them, so we turned our attention back home to California. And for six months we tried to purchase real estate in our own backyard.

*Ahem* That was maddening, to put it lightly. In much of California, it’s a seller’s market again. We looked at over 50 fixer upper homes for sale in our budget and made multiple offers on homes within 20 miles of our current home. None of our offers were ever accepted, we were outbid every time by all cash buyers and we just couldn’t compete.

It was extremely frustrating process that we endured for months. As nice as the weather is out here, what’s true is that California real estate compared to the rest of the nation ranks as the least affordable.

stylish loggia southern living

So in order to buy, we had to change strategies.

We turned our attention out of state and decided to buy a house in a nice residential community in Nevada around the corner from my parents house where real estate per square foot is one third of what it is in our backyard.  home value comparison

When we factored in holding costs and travel expenses, we discovered that we still came out ahead in the investment equation. We finally got a contract on a dated older home that needed a lot of upgrades and had the home inspected and ordered the appraisal. I really loved and wanted to fix up that house, especially that kitchen, I started to get excited and started pinning ideas to Pinterest.

BUT. As we all know, it’s important to not start measuring for flooring or window treatments until the deal is closed. It’s deflating to get your hopes up and start remodeling in your head only to find out later there is a problem. Which is what happened to us in March. The appraisal on the house we were buying came in way under the contract price and the seller wouldn’t drop the price to that value. And we weren’t willing to pay more than the appraised value. Left at a standstill, we canceled the deal and had to start searching again.

The good news is we found house to a house in April to renovate (with a pool!) and finally closed on that property last week. We’re going to be travelling back and forth fixing it up, we’re both self employed so we can make it work with our schedule. It will take a year  to complete the process but it’s our new blank canvas and we can’t wait to get started.

blue glass tile backsplash

The bonus is the house is so close to Mom and Dad in Las Vegas, we get to spend a lot of time with them when we come to town to work on the renovation. We’re sure it will have great resale value when all fixed up and they can keep an eye on it in our absence.

We realized we cannot do all of the renovation ourselves so the big stuff will require help from some contractors but the cosmetic projects (painting cabinets, tiling backsplashes) we can do ourselves. It will take longer since it’s out of state but I’m a dreamer and a doer and with that combination, the house will be beautiful when complete.

The vibe we’re going for with the new house is a mix of Mediterranean influence and a touch of tropical/coastal: Palm Beach meets Portofino, Santa Barbara meets Santorini, Miami meets Marrakech. It will be a little oasis in the desert with colorful patterned tile and textiles, a mix of natural and stained wood and white; the objective is to blur the lines between indoor and out.

We have some headaches ahead, things we’ve never tackled before (popcorn ceilings, pool repair) but other spaces we’re excited to redo: bathrooms and kitchens. The plan is to enjoy the process and embrace all of the crazy things that come with fixing up a house, the unexpected surprises and the learning that comes with it. It will be an adventure…

I’m off to meet with contractors at the house this week. I’ll share “before” pics of the house soon. Summer is jam packed with camps and road trips and projects on the new home in Nevada. Let the fun begin…

image sources: house beautiful / markatos design / southern living / rachel reider / house beautiful

More ideas for the project to be found in my Renovation Inspiration and Mediterranean Style galleries on Pinterest!



  1. I’m sorry to hear about the setback with the Alma project – so disappointing – but really happy for you that you finally found a house! Looking forward to following along on all of the projects that will come along with it!

  2. I loved reading posts about the Alma Project. That is sad news. I have wondered how to get involved in something similar in my own area. What a difference to provide someone with a safe and comfortable place to live, and with additional style and beauty. What a wonderful thing.

    I look forward to seeing your upcoming projects!

  3. Oh I am just so sad to hear about the setbacks the Alma Project is experiencing!! Please keep us updated and let us know if there is anything we can do to help. I don’t have an extra house in California lying around, but I’m sure if we all put our heads together we can come up with something…. :)

  4. oh this will be so fun! i have loved watching you work on your house, and can’t wait to see what you do! love the inspiration pics- that recycled glass tile in the second to last pic is what i just used in my kitchen, or at least identical.

  5. So sad about the Alma projects. Greed is the word of the day it seems. I loved seeing what you guys did and how much you enjoyed working on those projects. It’s a calling to work on those types of projects and the best rewards it seeing how it changes a family.

    Can’t wait to see what you guys do to the new house. Is it a flip or rental? I’d flip…I hate rental. :(
    I watch hubby deal with the rental side and it is constant hard work and lots of heart ache, too.
    Best of luck. I know it will be beautiful and like Joel said, we get to take the journey with you.

  6. Thanks all! @Jake’s a Girl we’re holding it as a fixer/second home for now so I do plan to remodel it and furnish it. Someday we’ll consider selling it once it’s all upgraded but we love the idea of spending lots of time in that area so near my parents and improving it as a second home for us to enjoy.

  7. Kate, I’m sorry to hear about the Alma project. You’ve done such a great job helping them and beautifying their spaces. However, it’s exciting for you and your hubby to venture on a fixer-upper. Can’t wait to see some great before, during and after shots of the home.

  8. I have a great, easy method for removal of popcorn ceilings. It takes bravery to try, but since you are just strating construction the mess wont be muchof a worry. Get some cheap, thin plastic drop cloths and layer them on the floor. Use your garden hose with a flat spray head and spray 3 ft sections at a time. really saturate the popcorn! Use a 1 ft drywall trowel and scrape off the popcorn from the ceiling, letting it fall on the plastic on the floor. Continue around the room. when the ceiling is done roll up the plastic and toss in the garbage. Wipe down all the walls afterward to remove any popcorn drips. You can re-texture if needed or just prime and paint if the surface is ok. I removed the popcorn from our entire house – by myself using this method!

  9. Brilliant Sarah!!! Thank you so much, I’ve read the saturation method really does work – we’re lucky there is no asbestos so we will give it a try! Sounds messy but whatever works, right?!

  10. I can’t get over how expensive real estate is in your area! It’s too bad the Midwest isn’t an option for you – lots of great deals out here! I can’t wait to see what you’ll pull together next – I’m sure it will be amazing when it’s all said and done.

    P.S. – What a bummer about the transitional housing. You did such an amazing job, and it was such a meaningful and important project. I don’t understand the logic behind government decisions sometimes, and this one is no exception!

  11. Absolutely loving the design inspiration so far — cool blues & greens with a hint of the East. This will be fun to follow, looking forward to it. Good luck!

  12. Kate your time, labor , and decorating expertise have a value which you graciously donated to your Alma Project. IMO the local government’s plan to sell the property seems as if they will gain unfairly from the value of your donation. As a fellow attorney, I don’t much care for unfair situations (unjust enrichment)! Good luck with your new project.

    • Thank you Anne, I really appreciate that! We will have to turn to the generosity and good intentions of private citizens, I know they are out there !

  13. Congratulations Kate! I hear you about the California Real Estate Market. If it wasn’t for all of my family being here we would leave. Where we live already overpriced houses get offers over asking. I love the theme for your new house and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. Good luck! xo

  14. You always come up with something special Kate. Been back and forth to your blog a few times now and always enjoy what you can do. Now come sort my house out its a mess :D.

  15. I’ve been doing real estate investing for several years and its so much fun to be able to renovate a new property! I understand your excitement and wish you all the best. Las Vegas is a tough market. Overall, people who’ve owned there since 2007 have all lost value. Northern California is also an interesting market. I’m kind of surprised you missed buying when the prices were so low cause normally that’s when you’re supposed to buy! Property appreciation is one of the best parts of real estate investing! We bought two properties when prices finally dipped in the normally very pricey DC market and one of them doubled in value within four years! Gotta love what a good DIY effort will produce for you! The key is to not overdue it on the renovation in either the length of time it takes or the amount of money you put in, but still produce a great home that will instantly appeal to buyers or renters. It’s a blast, as you know.

  16. Sad news about your Alma Project. So many investors with cash are wrecking the market for aspiring middle class people. It’s a political discussion in every area. Luckily you were warned off early enough. As far as remodeling by long distance, Check the local Angie’s list for contractors that do the big stuff. Angie’s list isn’t full proof, but the contractors you find there are really responsible, have been in business for long enough to know something, and trustworthiness makes a big difference when you are calling in consults. We’ve done a couple of houses that way, one in Omaha, and one in Florida. You can even get house sitters on the list who will show up for cable hookup or deliveries. Good luck to you.

  17. Congratulations and good luck with the renovation. Look forward to reading about it.

  18. Really important tip Helen! Yep, we’ve already found a few great contacts with A recommendations through Angie’s list, what a great resource right?

  19. Oh, I am so sorry about the Alma Project. It is so sad when the hoop-jumping prevents us from doing good for others. I will be praying about this!

    Congrats though on the investment piece- I can’t wait to see the before and after! xo

  20. what a bummer about the Alma Project homes…fingers crossed that some new ones become available. and wow what perseverance on the investment property! you definitely have more patience than I do and it obviously paid off :-) can’t wait to see the progress, I’m forward to a lot of your wonderful posts!

  21. Sounds like a great project! Something my contractor suggested in my house (which was infested with popcorn ceilings) was just to drywall over the old popcorn ceiling with 1/4 inch drywall. It worked perfectly and didn’t make a giant mess. Worth every penny.

    Good luck on your new adventure.

  22. My husband and I just removed popcorn ceiling in our dining room…. the easy way…. sheetrock over it! it is smooth, beautiful and no mess. Took one day.

    Best of luck to you!! I enjoy your blog so much and am so sad to hear about the Alma Project. Really is a head-scratcher!

  23. Congrats on your house purchase! We used to live in Mission Viejo (S. California) and recently move to Las Vegas because of the real estate opportunities. We have purchased 21 houses that we have renovated in the past 4 years (3 we flipped) This is a great city and real estate does sell here pretty quickly! Just be careful not to ‘over improve’ the property if your plans are to sell it.

    The appraisals are still pretty low because of all the foreclosure comps……and the appraisers don’t take in to consideration pools, landscapes, wood floors, stainless appliances, solar, etc. They still have to use the comps which are low. We have really great (inexpensive) contacts for granite, kitchen cabinets, flooring, etc. if you need any recommendations.


    • Great to know Ruth, you’re right! The market is just starting to appreciate again, so we’re hopeful!

  24. Sorry about the Alma Project.

    Good luck with the new place – looking forward to seeing your new projects.

  25. Good luck with the new home Kate! I just took on my first renovation house, and you will learn a lot. As for the popcorn ceilings – if you are removing the flooring, save yourself a lot of time and take a garden hose to the ceiling on the mist setting instead of using a dinky garden sprayer…it made the removal process so easy, now the finessing and sanding, not quite as fun, but it is so worth it! Can’t wait to read about it!

  26. So sorry about the Alma Project but I do look forward to the renovation of your new house. You guys will make it a beautiful house.

  27. I really look forward to following along! We have dreams of buying a fixer in a year to a year and a half and renovating it. Or, maybe I just watch too much Rehab Addict! But we are excited to try. Best of luck!

  28. What exciting news! I look forward to seeing what you do with the new place. Especially with the Miami + Marrakech theme! Very cool. California bounced back faster than other places. It’s like your real estate pendulum is swinging further both directions out there.

  29. Congratulations! Always so exciting to get underway with a new old house. Good luck with the big jobs, and have fun with the decorating…

  30. Private donors and private investors is the way to go. When you involve those who have nothing to lose personally in the decision process (government), you surrender control.

    Good luck with the new adventure!

  31. Sad to hear about the Alma project but congratulations on this endeavor! Love what you’ve envisioned for the space, can’t wait to follow along.

  32. Kate, this is so cool. This is where my husband and I hope to be one day! We are searching for an investment property or new home now :), so exciting to read your journey.

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