I Quit My Corporate Design Job to Flip Houses

Karen Goodman's Fridays just got waaaay more casual. And dirtier. 
Karen Goodman’s Fridays just got waaaay more casual. And dirtier.

Karen Goodman has the job you dream about on weekends… when you’re sucked into your seventh episode of anything on HGTV. Yep, she flips houses. But unlike most flippers, Karen has a background in design and actually gives a crap about how her projects look, not just how much money she’ll make. I talked to this Boston gal about quitting her not-so-fulfilling 9-5 to become a flipper. Here’s her story.

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Two-and-a-half years ago, you were working in the corporate interior design world. What did you do from 9-5? What did your life look and feel like?

I was an interior designer for architecture firms. I worked on a range of projects from healthcare to corporate, but the bottom line was that I sat in a cubicle and stared at a computer for 40 hours a week. I sat in a cubicle designing cubicles. The work didn’t allow for much creativity and I found the unchanging routine mind-numbing. I was on the same train every morning with the same people, sat in the same chair for 8 hours, staring at the same screen and repeated the same thing the next day. I was at a good company with great people, so I knew if I wasn’t happy there, it was time to look at other creative career paths.

What pushed you to finally quit your job?

I always said that I studied interior design in school because I couldn’t picture myself sitting behind a computer all the time and yet that’s where I ended up.  It just wasn’t me!  My confidence took a huge hit because I was pushing myself aside to fill the role that I felt I needed to.  I was at a “something’s gotta give” point and it was time to make a major change before I lost myself completely.

Was the decision scary for you? Why or why not?

It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done!  I’m a play-it-safe gal, so going out on a limb like that scared the crap out of me!  If it wasn’t for my husband rooting me on (and maybe giving me some gentle shoving), I’m not sure I would have ever had the guts to do something so drastic.

Feb 8th, 2013, my last day at the 9-to-5, was actually a huge snowstorm. It was completely bittersweet since pretty much no one made it into the office, but it gave me a chance to be a crying mess without everyone’s eyes on me. I was surprised how emotional I was leaving. I wasn’t sad, but the unknown is pretty darn scary!

I so relate! Who or what helped you cope?

My husband has had a lot to put up with in the past 2.5 years. At times I’ve turned our house into construction staging or a temporary storage unit, not to mention the crazy stressed out wife he’s had to deal with.  Yet somehow he’s there, holding me up, pushing me to the next project, believing in my talents, and reminding me that if it was easy, everyone would do it.

Before. Would you honestly cook in there? Ew.
Before. Would you honestly cook in there? Ew.
After. I can almost taste the chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven.
After. I can almost taste the chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven.

What appealed to you about flipping houses?

I’ve always been a hands-on person, so in my head, it just made sense as a way to dip my toes into residential design and make a bit of cash on the way. Seeing traditional flippers generally makes me sad. It’s not about the house for them, it’s all about the money. While yes, the money is certainly a (pretty huge) factor, I’m trying to rescue these houses.  Every house has a history and a story.

My soul dies a little every time I see a cool old house being torn down for another soulless new construction.

Before: Hello, Boo Radley. 
Before: Hello, Boo Radley.
After: Beyonce ready.
After: Beyonce ready.

Like everyone, I love watching HGTV and thinking about all the things I’ll do when I start flipping houses (which will probably be never). What’s the biggest misconception about your new career?

The biggest misconception is that it is in any way glamorous. Yes, the finished results look pretty amazing, but up until about a week before the final product, it’s a mess, I’m a mess, and any organization is so far out the window it’s in another time zone. It isn’t unusual for there to be paint in my hair, who-knows-what under my fingernails, and bruises on my shins (because I’m a dainty flower). What I wouldn’t give for a manicure that would last more than a day!

Before... you needed a shower after taking a shower. 
Before… you needed a shower after taking a shower.
After. When can I move in?
After. When can I move in?

How much of your flips do you DIY? What do you hire out for?

This really depends on the houses themselves.  My very basic rule on this one is if it has to do with structure, plumbing, or electrical, I call the pros.  I’m only willing to deal with aesthetics myself (tiling, light woodworking, painting, etc).  Even then, it all comes down to time versus money. I’ve had several flips where I did almost everything myself, but to avoid burn-out, I’m trying to hand more over to my contractors. I could never be hands-off though; it’s just not my style.  For example, my agenda for the coming week includes painting, tiling a backsplash, installing cabinet knobs, and probably a few random repairs thrown in.

No more boring water cooler chat for Karen!
No more boring water cooler chat for Karen!

Happiest moment since starting your new gig? Saddest/most frustrating? I’m sure you’ve cried at least once. I probably would cry once a day.

Happiest moment: earning on one house what would’ve been my yearly salary. The cherry on top was that the house sold from the very first open house!  That same house was also the most frustrating, tear-inducing, challenging, and personally trying project that I took on. An antique craftsman bungalow was a labor of love, but it almost broke me!  (<<< Hey Eleanor note: but how friggin’ gorgeous is that house? I’d be throwing money at you, too, Karen!)

How has quitting changed your life?

I’ve found myself again. It took a while, but I gave myself a vehicle to rebuild my confidence and figure out where I want to take my life. That’s the more profound answer. The more topical answer is that being your own boss is kinda cool.  Yes, I do work more hours and much harder than I ever did before, but ya know what? If a friend comes to town unexpectedly, I don’t have to ask for time off. The flexibility and creative control of my life is worth every extra hour that I put in.

Think this your current lifestyle is a forever thing?

As it currently stands, definitely not. As an entrepreneur, definitely. The goal from day one was to use flipping as a way to get into residential design and eventually real estate rentals. With my residential design business finally taking flight, I see the flipping slowing down a bit, but certainly not stopping. I’ll probably always be looking for a cool new project.

That's a nice office view, if I do say do m'self.
That’s a nice office view, if I do say do m’self.

What are the three most important things you’ve learned since quitting your corporate job & working for yourself?

I still struggle with this one, but set a routine. Without some semblance of a routine, lack of motivation and focus can creep in.

Stand by your strengths. You went down this road for a reason, so quit doubting yourself and do what you do!

I know I already mentioned this one, but “if it were easy, everyone would do it.” Being your own boss is going to be difficult and challenging and trying, but if you’re willing to put up with the not so easy parts, it’s TOTALLY worth it.

Advice to someone who’s thinking of liberating their life?

If something feels off in your current life, it probably is! We only get one to live, so I say take the leap!! (But make sure there are a few pillows at the bottom, just in case).

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Check out more satisfying before & after pics on Karen’s site, Year of Serendipity, and on her Instagram. She makes it look so easy!

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What it's actually like to flip houses.
What it’s actually like to flip houses.

Want more quitter stories? I’ll bet you do! Here’s a bunch!

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Comments (3)

  • Sarah Maus 2 years ago Reply

    Wow, another interview that so closely parallels my life! I just quit my full time job in architecture to be a real estate agent, flip houses, and do freelance design on my own. Cheers to another female entrepreneur getting her hands dirty! I will definitely follow Karen to see how her work on the east coast compares to the Twin Cities market. Thanks for sharing this story!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    Very cool. I want to hear more about what you’re doing, Sarah!

  • Emily 1 year ago Reply

    I am only 17 and my mom, brother, and I have been watching home makeover/ flipping houses since before I can remember. She is always saying "one day I want to try flipping a house", I keep telling her to try it, but she won’t take the leap yet. I can’t tell you how many hours we look up houses that could use some work, around our area. We sit there dreaming and talking about all the changes we would make. Hopefully one day she will try it. So glad you choose the take the leap! Congrats and Good Luck!

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