Duplex Manifesto Walk-About

DSC_5715 The multi unit marketplace has been spicy hot in the past 18 months.  Inventories are in dire confinement, while character rich properties in demand locations are very difficult to come by.  We have seen a net effect of this demand on pricing, as buildings that had previously had a target price level in the three hundreds are now selling above the fours.

These two examples lie on opposite ends of the building spectrum, Aldrich in East Harriet is blocks from the shore of Lake Harriet and offers a coveted single family community for ease of management.   The building however has neglected maintenance throughout the space: from rotten windows, to poorly run electrical, to brick molding and decayed tuck-pointing.  Following our personal growth as renovation enthusiasts, we lean towards the later property- one with sound mechanicals, clean brick lines, straight floors and positive sloping drainage.  A depletion of even 100,000 on the initial purchase price will dissolve quickly with a neglected craftsman era building, this lesson is one that takes a gray hair or two to truly grasp the importance.

  • 3545 Girard Ave S.  1927 Built Tudor up/down duplex in CARAG/ECCO area of Uptown. 1450 square footprint makes for impressive units.  A grandma owned and cared for property with covered hardwoods, wallpaper from every decade, and impeccable maintenance and mechanicals.
  • 3940 Aldrich Ave S. 1926 Mediterranean Villa style Duplex in East Harriet, 1480 square footprint.  A landlord owned property with amazing original charm, coved archways and architecturally details, however the apparent fiscal corner cutting for many years is blindly apparent, while looking sleek in the photos; we would require 45-60k in upfront investment to shore up this building.

DSC_5720Girard is a once a year find in all of Minneapolis.  Upon a walk through of its shag covered hardwoods, you can feel the decades of life lived here by likely only one or two residents.  We do judge a book by its cover in classic homes: witness the pristine wood grain and impeccable condition of the door hardware.   This is a true "estate-sale" find in the multi-unit landscape.  Residing in arguably the hottest rental area in all of the metro, one that hardens its buildings with constant annual turnover, which over the course of 90 years, will produce quite a worn patina on each multi unit building throughout uptown.

The cream wool carpets are kindly providing a time capsule shelter over the original 1.5" oak hardwoods.  The millwork throughout has likely its original coat of 1920's shellac, while Grandma made sure to replace each and every window in the building with high-efficiency inserts.  A remarkable cosmetic turn-around is in store for Girard, a building of this care deserves the finest in modern appointments.

DSC_5721DSC_5722Kitchen is spacious and could be opened to the dining and living, as one convenient peril of the absense of built-ins, is the ability to open up the space.

Two schools of thought here: we would stagger this renovation on the kitchen and bath front; establishing a revival plan that is phased with:

  • hardwoods, paint, and window treatments first.  
  • Kitchen and baths could use new appliances and fixtures in the near term,
  • while complete renovations can happen once cash is restored from a couple season of rents. 

Emphasis in multi unit updating is placed on items that drive revenues, the later years following an interior revival are meant for "accounting updates" to keep your CPA satisfied with the expenses across revenues.  These items include:  exterior common area updates, landscape lighting, irrigation systems, exterior sound, etc.  We are placing more emphasis as it creates a true niche in the marketplace competing more with trendy condo developments.DSC_5723DSC_5725Bathrooms always have room for vast improvement in multi-units across Minneapolis.  Size becomes the ultimate inhibitor:  we alleviate this by eliminating the large vanity cabinet, a floating or wall mounted marble remnant countertop with an undermounted sink is the perfect remedy.  This provides clean view of the original hex tile floors that exist throughout Minneapolis craftsmans.

This bath is common of grandma properties:  the dixie cup dispenser, some flicker fluorescent sconces, rental increases can be had without addressing this bath outside of paint.DSC_5726Just to confirm, we always find a polite location to pull carpets, shown here is the oak hardwoods resting for decades within the hall closet at girard.   Projects like these are very emotional for our hardwood restorers, being the first one in to sand 1920's floors is always a rare occurrence.  In all cases, we strive to establish a clean uniform stain coat that will contrast the tone of millwork, base, and casing.  Three topcoats of oil with buffing in-between coats will leave these unit with a complete new swagger.DSC_5727Above the charming mediterranean style closet windows, below more evidence of original hardwoods in the upper hall closet.  The seller made very wise updates to the mechanicals: high efficiency insert windows, new boilers, electrical and plumbing updates.  This represents 40-50k in maintenance items that many novice building owners would fail to appreciate, until you have been on the receiving end of those tabs!DSC_5735The upper unit is an incredible time warp, 1980's blue berber with matching window treatments, wallpaper that is straight 90210! Becky is checking on the status of the fireplace conversion, in this case an electric unit that would be removed immediately.  Fireplace flue scoping and inspections are typically controversial, as many professionals differ in the opinions of hairline flue cracking as it relates to fire liability.

The nautical ship door knocker hopefully will survive what ever restoration occurs at this property, we love maintaining the small touches left by prior owners!Original vanity cabinets are terrific!   Restore them always!   We are big into can-fan lighting in multi units, as they offer constant dehumidifying while providing modern light.   Keeping bathroom moisture levels down will extend the life of your tile and grout.  DSC_5742Diving into this boundary waters mural is an absolute while walking Girard.   Why not have a northwoods themed room from your upper porch, a south facing wall of windows overlooking the Minneapolis' scenic Lakewood Cemetery.   This room is what sets this building apart from an income perspective, providing a true two bedroom unit plus flexible guest or office room, makes these units layout similar to any Uptown area single family home.  DSC_5744The boiler room in Girard is straight George Jetson, grandma invested some major dough in heating updates: Slant Fin & Burnham are both modern brands that will deliver decades of efficient heating.  I would ballpark this update around 20,000!DSC_5748Brand new two car for your tenants enjoyment! South views of Lakewood and a short stroll to Calhoun and Uptown certainly wont hurt rental demand now and into the future.



Now we arrive to 3940 Aldrich, a 1926 Mediterranean-leaning tudor that has incredible cosmetic appeal.  From the photos, this building seems like the more attractive play, and looks can be deceiving.  Listed in an as-is, Aldrich went pending shortly after we walked through, with an asking price of 419k, this will not be an inexpensive endeavor for the incoming investor.

The landlord approach is evident throughout this building:

  • cheap electrical installation- exposed conduit
  • poorly painted millwork, painting 1/2 of craftsman built in cabinetry requires a complete strip and restoration in our opinion
  • rotten windows throughout building
  • old hvac systems that will require updating
  • poor grading and foundation care

DSC_5698Classic craftsman fireplace in this millwork rich living room, dual radiators will splash with energy in high gloss enamel.  Fireplaces can be a liability, a majority of early era homes possess cracked flues, which can be in excess of 5-6k per unit for a proper repair, thus leading to gas insert conversions, which we do advise in rental environment from a liability perspective.  DSC_5700

DSC_5703Kitchen size in Aldrich is incredible as duplexes go, eventual renovation with the sacrifice of the booth, will create a space many East Harriet single family homes would lust for.  An abundance of original cabinetry that is crying for a complete restoration.DSC_5704Exposed conduit, the cheapest of ranges, and the mobile dishwasher.  All are tone setting emblems of the "coin-laundry" slumlord!DSC_5710Becky is on a hot trail of a duplex hunt.  She will become a landlord before the snow melts, and her fuzzy look depicts the obvious glaring maintenance tickets needed to bring Aldrich up to speed.  DSC_5706DSC_5708DSC_5709