By Matt Skoufalos
After 14 years at PartsSource of Aurora, Ohio, Director of Catalog Operations Gregory Hemphill has grown with the organization in a number of different ways. So in the past year or so, he decided to try out the business techniques he’s learned in that time on the open market. With a longstanding interest in real estate and property management, Hemphill launched his own company, The Hemphill Group, in the northern Ohio market where he lives. He said the area needs more affordably priced, quality homes. Also, Hemphill said that he believes there’s an opportunity to restore some older properties to good use.
“There’s a lot of home builders now focusing on $250-300,000 price points and above in our market,” Hemphill said. “I see a recurring theme of [people asking] ‘Where can I buy a quality, well-built house for $120-200,000?’ If I can focus on getting foreclosures, working with the banks, and putting together a great team, I can get homes for a cheap price, put time and energy into it, and flip it.”
Hemphill assembled a group of friends with expertise in the building trades, parlayed some financial resources, and began to work out the best way to achieve his goal: to create housing that matches the experience of a $300,000 home for one-third to one-half the price. The best way to start, he reasoned, is to do what PartsSource did, and build a high-quality, vetted supply chain that can lower those costs.
“We all have the same goal in mind: how do we build a high-quality house?” Hemphill said. “We strip everything to the studs, and we negotiate with the suppliers. If I can keep doing these houses and keep these guys working, they’re going to give me better price points.”
Hemphill and his partners look for underpriced homes in up-and-coming neighborhoods. They gauge target properties by their likelihood of selling quickly, which means considering a variety of factors, from school systems to crime rates and location. Most of their target area is in the Medina County communities within a half-hour of Cleveland, where Hemphill said, “It’s a seller’s market.”
“There’s a lot of people wanting to move into these areas, and people trying to move out of the big cities,” he said. “When I talk to people, they settle for developments, [but] they’re looking for a rural-type house with a couple acres of land that they can go in and make their own.”
Their first project was an 80-plus-year-old home on Tonawanda Avenue in Akron. The three-bedroom, one-bathroom home was “run-down,” Hemphill said, but he and his partners could see it had appeal beyond its proximity to a local park.
“When we walked through, it just kind of made sense,” he said. “It was kind of quaint.”
After their bid was accepted, the group tore into the bank-owned property with gusto, stripping plumbing, flooring, and updating knob-and-tube electrical wiring. They bolstered up the joists in the kitchen, fixed up a water line that had ben leaking from the second-story bathroom, restored the plaster walls, rebuilt the staircase, and added a den in the basement. Outside, they restored a sagging garage and replaced all the landscaping. When they were finished, the homebuyer who settled on the property, a single father with a 12-year-old son, was emotional, Hemphill said.
“He told the realtor, ‘I never thought I could afford something this nice with the amount of money I make,’” Hemphill said. “This guy is so extremely happy that he has a property he’s proud of. It’s not just making a couple dollars on the side; I can help people change their lives.”
Now the group is working on its second project, restoration of a walkaway project on May Avenue in Northfield, Ohio. After working with the bank and title agencies, Hemphill and his team got to work bringing the home up to code. They removed eight overgrown trees from the property, opening up the space to sunlight and removing the looming threat of falling branches. That move made “a night-and-day difference,” Hemphill said.
“It didn’t look like that creepy dark house on the corner of the street anymore,” he said. “Everybody on the street got excited; it just increases the value of everybody’s home.”
Work is still underway on the 1,400-square-foot rancher, which is being restored from the ground up. The biggest changes will be the addition of a full, walk-out basement, a new back deck, and reconstructed front porch, which Hemphill said will feature an extended roofline and outdoor ceiling fan. The three-bedroom, two-bath home is also getting an all-new kitchen and lower-level half-bath.
It’s a lot of work to manage construction projects after a full day at the office, and Hemphill said his evenings frequently run until midnight. But it’s also a lot of fun and exciting, and involves close collaboration with friends. As the business grows, he foresees managing projects farther out of his immediate geographic area, too.
“I’m a certified project manager,” Hemphill said; “I manage [these projects] like I did the projects at PartsSource. We keep moving.”
Hemphill said the experience has also taught him a few lessons quickly, including how to hew closer to estimations on trash, demolition needs, and other hiccups that can inflate the costs of a project. To offset those issues in the future, he said he’s spent more time planning his work and promoting the jobs he’s doing.
“If you want to do it, then figure out a way to do it,” Hemphill said.
By Matt Skoufalos