(NEWS CENTER) — Have you ever loved doing something so much that you wished you could do it for a living? It takes a lot of guts and careful planning to leave a job to pursue your passion. Most people never do it and it's inspiring to meet people who have and are making it work.
Laurel LaBauve worked in corporate America for 30 years. She traveled all the time and longed to spend more time at home. She and her husband had renovated their own homes over the years — a dozen or so of them. They loved doing it. It satisfied a creative itch for LaBauve.
They talked for years about how they could make a business out of it. They developed a plan, ran the numbers, and waited for the right time. Then the real estate bubble burst. Six years ago, they decided to take a leap of faith. Their friends thought they were nuts.
She bought her first "fixer-upper" in South Portland in 2011 and found a builder she wanted to work with: Mike Backman of Waterhouse Builders. It was a good fit. He could take her creative ideas and turn them into practical solutions. LaBauve hates the term "flipping" because what she and Mike do are serious renovations, not just surface improvements to sell the house as quickly as possible.
She puts at least $100,000 into the renovations on each house. It takes four to six months of work on each one. She does not hesitate to tear down walls or even rip the roof off. She likes like to buy homes where she can see untapped potential.
LaBauve loves older homes, but her latest project is newer: it's a 1962 ranch. "When you are renovating old houses, there are surprises every day," she said. "You start with a plan and it changes from there because things are not as you think they are until you start ripping open the walls."
"My goal is never for this to be a great big thing," LaBauve said. "I’m happy doing two to three houses a year. I want to just really enjoy what we’re doing.
"Taking these tired, sometimes decrepit homes — and some of the houses are really bad when we buy them — and updating them for a whole new generation of families."
Of course, spending that much cuts into your profit when you're flipping houses. That doesn't bother LaBauve: "That's fine with me," she said. "That's the good thing about this being an encore career for me. We don't have college or weddings to pay for. We've already done all that."
To keep her family and friend up to date on what she is doing, LaBauve started a website and blog. But pretty soon she realized a lot of people were reading it. So she started using her site, SoPo Cottage, to market the properties she was working on, and to offer tips to "do it yourself," or DIY, for home renovators.
She and Mike have been approached twice by production companies to do a renovation TV show. Nothing has worked out — at least not yet. One of them wanted to pretend that Mike was LaBauve's son so it could be a "family" business, since that seems to do well with viewers. LaBauve laughs when she tells the story. They told the producers "no."
"I don't think my daughters would appreciate suddenly having a 'brother,'" LaBauve joked.
LaBauve said this is hard work, and it's not for everyone. She is on site with the work crew every morning at 7:30. She does tile work, landscaping, design and many other projects herself. She works long hours, but it's working for her.
"I work crazy hours if you think of this as work. But to me, this is not work," she said. "This is genuinely a good time. I'm having fun every single day."