Conversations

The Optimistic Effect of “Do-It-Yourself”

Kristina Modares and Stephanie Douglass are realtors and co-founders of Open House Austin, a community event center and real estate educational hub in East Austin.

Kristina Modares doesn’t call herself a particularly “handy” person, and it’s that notion that would kickstart her career in “do-it-yourself” real estate.

In 2012 Modares graduated college, moved to Austin, and did what many post-grads do. She began a journey of self-discovery, consuming anything that inspired her to think differently. She found a podcast, Bigger Pockets, which focused on young people making their way in real estate. This wasn’t glossy HGTV—it exposed the nitty-gritty details of getting started: finding properties, managing them, making repairs. It was an intimidating leap for Modares, but she was immediately inspired.

In 2017, she fell in love with a fixer-upper. She wanted to take on the project alone, but needed help navigating. She searched for other women doing the same, and stumbled upon the Instagram account of Stephanie Douglass, who was renovating a house with her mom. They were getting into it—ripping out cabinets, redoing floors, and painting everything themselves. Modares knew she had to meet Douglass.

After chatting online, they decided to meet up. They talked for hours about real estate, goals, and how they’d never met other women with similar ventures. They became fast friends, continuing to tackle DIY projects separately while working as realtors. They were finding support in each other and learning a lot, but they wanted to make a bigger impact.

In 2018, with several projects under their belts, the pair started a new business to inspire others to “do-it-yourself.” Understanding the optimistic effect of DIY, Modares and Douglass founded Open House Austin, a community event center and real estate hub that helps others by redefining the first-time home buyer experience through straightforward education and support.

They recently met up to chat about their experiences and how learning to do things for themselves has had an optimistic impact on their lives.

Kristina Modares: I’m not very handy. I’m resourceful, but if my toilet breaks, I probably can’t fix it. I think that’s why DIY projects are intimidating. On television, you see homeowners with sledgehammers, leading us to think that’s the only way to be a true “DIYer.” I’ve learned there are many ways to define that phrase. To me, it means buying a house as a single woman and navigating all the details. And the way I tackle DIY projects has changed over time. As the person who really inspired me in DIY, what’s your take?

Steph Douglass: The essence of DIY is inherently personal. My definition came as I realized the biggest pain points in my life were related to time and money. I was teaching fourth-grade math and dreaded the rigid hours. At that same time, as a first-time home buyer, I began to realize the power and income potential of owning property. To me, the definition of DIY became maximizing my property holdings to ease my major stressors.

Later, I bought a second property with my mom, and we renovated the house through trial and error. During that time, I became addicted to the idea of financial freedom through real estate. I eventually got the confidence to get my real estate license, which led to the replacement of my salary and altogether reduced my time and money pain points.

After that first big project, I felt like I could take on anything. It gave me the courage to jump into bigger projects.

KM: That reminds me of when I was 22. I was researching different ways to buy property with limited cash, and found that purchasing a fixer-upper with a partner could help get me in the door. I learned so much working on that first project. I felt like I had graduated and wanted to share my experience with others: “You can do it, too!”

SD:  The first DIY project is almost always the most impactful. For me, that was the bungalow renovation I was documenting on Instagram. My mom and I share a blind confidence, and together we felt like we could take on the world. We slept on an air mattress and worked from sunup to sundown. We worked through our failures and learned by doing (and YouTube videos!) Then reality hit—we were laying on the floor, covered in sawdust, sweat, and dirt, feeling defeated.

KM: A couple years before we met, a friend and I purchased a commercial building in San Antonio with the intention of getting our hands dirty. We had no idea what we were doing. It was frustrating, but also invigorating. Many days we worked from 8 a.m. until midnight, harshly reminded of our lack of knowledge. One day, we made ten trips to Home Depot. TEN!

SD: I call this the “DIY curve.” You start feeling excited and energized. You gather materials, skim some tutorials, and you’re off to the races. Then things take a turn. Something takes longer than it should, you’ve wasted your time, you probably haven’t eaten, and you feel like nothing is possible. A snack might help, but the key is to regroup, form a new plan, and probably make another trip to the hardware store.

When you finally get to the finish, the pride you feel is almost worth it.

KM: Yes! Even on the hardest days, I felt so accomplished. After that first big project, I felt like I could take on anything. It gave me the courage to jump into bigger projects.

When I first started in real estate, DIY meant doing everything myself, for better and for worse. But as I took on more, I learned you can’t do everything on your own. As I began to have less time and more resources, DIY meant having the vision and getting help. A DIY project I’m working on now is getting a property ready for Airbnb. I set up the plan and budget, but hired people to help make it happen. Sounds more like HGTV, right?

SD: Totally. I loved the project I did with my mom, but realized my talents were better used elsewhere—planning and being creative with what I have. I’m glad my DIY definition has progressed, but the experience I gained while developing my skills is invaluable. Now, I can leverage others’ talents to reach my broader goals, but I have the knowledge to navigate the situation better.

KM: I think it’s good to have scrappy DIY foundations. It affects everything moving forward. For example, starting Open House Austin! It was a big project, but it didn’t seem so daunting because of what we’ve already been through on our own journeys.

SD: Ultimately, we hope to make the DIY journey more approachable for others who may be too scared to jump into a project themselves.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Francis

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