From Real Estate Acquisition Through Design-Build

If you’re considering buying and renovating an established home to fit your unique needs or dreams, you will have to deal with multiple people and companies. To complete the process, you will have to secure a realtor, architect, builder, contractor, and possibly even deal with other vendors. For the average layperson, it can be all too consuming and confusing. But, what if one company could do it all from real estate acquisition and closing through the design-build process? Imagine dealing with only one company to purchase a property, design, and build your dream place.

Wolk360 in Raleigh, North Carolina, is an innovative and creative buy-design-build firm specializing in helping clients create the perfect home. The firm is unique in that it has a multi-disciplinary team of designers, architects, builders, and real estate agents, so clients do not have to deal with multiple players when pursuing their dream. From acquisition, planning, development, demolition, and build they serve residential and commercial clients with high-quality start to finish custom projects.

Company founder Jonathan Wolk, AIA, is passionate about finding properties that are an exact fit for clients and seeing the project through from design, demolition, and build-out to occupancy. The approach is called the “full 360”. We sat down with Jonathan to discuss their disciplined 9-step process.

Jonathan, what led you to create the “full 360”?
When we were just doing design-build, I discovered that the decisions were made before the designer or builder, coming from the real estate side. For example, someone would say they wanted a three-bedroom, four-bathroom house and are looking for it but can’t find it. When a designer, architect, and builder look at existing properties, they can see ways to transform a house to fulfill a clients dream. A real estate agent can’t do that.

Even if our firm isn’t handling the real estate side, we can look at an existing house in a culture of tear-down and build from the ground up and imagine something that delivers precisely what the client wants. So, instead of tearing a house down and rebuilding a $2M house, we can work with the pre-existing structure and produce a renovated custom home at a lower cost. Being part of the acquisition process allows us to be on the front end, helping the real estate agent and the buyer achieve their goals.

So there is an easier way?
We’ve created a streamlined process. It’s very similar to what Apple has done with fully integrating their software and hardware. We are looking to incorporate real estate, design, and construction. The client has a single source of responsibility and continuity, so they don’t have to deal with multiple sources, contracts, and vendors. It smooths out the entire process, so the client has worked with one team that helps deliver their vision at the end of the day.

This process does take a lot of pressure off the clients, right?
Everyone is busy, whether it is a residential or commercial client. Time is a precious commodity. It is a complex and emotional process for the buyer. For many people, it’s the most significant investment they will make, and there is a lot on the line. So to find three companies on your own that you can afford to share confidential information and time with is taxing. When people meet with us and we explain the turn-key process, they get it. By dealing with one company, they save time, reduce their anxiety, and can save money along the way.

Think of it this way: Many real estate agents don’t want to find a $300,000 home when the client has a $750,000 budget because they work on commission, and that’s understandable. Architects have a reputation for imposing their will and don’t understand budgets, and because we are a team, we have a sensibility about design and budget. Our goal is to design the client’s vision. If you look at our portfolio, our projects are very diverse because we produce what our clients want and we aren’t promoting a stylistic or cookie-cutter agenda. I love those architects that push a stylistic agenda, but that’s just not our style. We understand our client’s goals, and we work with them to achieve those goals.

Simultaneously we work to help them with a budget. Today, with labor and material costs fluctuating dramatically due to supply and demand, Covid, and dramatic price increases, we have to work that out early in the process and monitor it constantly to execute.

The Wolk360 approach is really about a relationship, isn’t it?
For many, this is the most significant investment in their life or that time in their life. It is about a relationship, and there has to be a high level of trust. And we have gone through some of the most challenging times of my career over the pandemic. Between labor and material shortages and strange weather, this year has been challenging. Conversely, everybody is busy, which adds to it.

They have to trust that we will execute even if there is frustration over a delay. For example, we had a project where we waited months for the windows, and when they arrived, they were the wrong windows, then we had to wait for months for the correct windows to arrive. Our team works endlessly communicating with our clients. I’m a believer in a very open book process and constantly communicating with our clients. It’s an intimate relationship, and to do that with three separate companies (realtor, design, and construction) that’s asking a lot of the client. If you drill down into it, that is a lot of sharing with many people. What ends up happening if you don’t want to share it with three different people you end up compartmentalizing, and then the three entities don’t have the complete picture, vision, goals, and constraints.

Most of our clients are incredibly busy. We typically deal with people who own and run their own companies; they have families, and having meetings with three different companies takes up a lot of their time. Dealing with one company promotes trust and saves a lot of time.

Can you describe the 9-step process?
Everything begins with a consultation which we call the “why and what for?” For example:

– Why are you looking for a house?
– What kind of house or neighborhood?
– Why are you looking to downsize?
– Why are you looking to expand your business?
– What’s happened in your life to promote this change?
– Are you new to the area?
– What do you need, where do you want to be?

The process is about trying to get a feel and understanding of the reasons clients want to move and the specific location where they want to live. Then, we ask about the budget, their programmatic requirements, do they even know what those are, is this a forever home or a five-year home? Are the kids young or leaving soon to go to college? Is it an investment property? We discuss all of these things in the initial conversation to understand what the client wants. The next step is the real estate component.

Step 2: Real Estate
This step involves agency agreements, contracts, the total budget, and determining what we need to look for in terms of property size, look and feel, location, etc. We establish the budget to decide if we are finding an existing home to renovate or if we need to search for land on which to build.

The second phase of the real estate process is looking at properties, touring houses, and making offers. Wolk360 ensures the client has the necessary bank approval to make offers loaded up, whether for a property or an existing home. We do a quick schematic design if we find something, primarily a remodel, renovation, or even a tear-down. At this point, we have our feet in two phases. We are in the real estate phase, but we also jump into the design phase to look at a specific property and what it can do for them.

If they like what our team proposes, then we do a quick napkin budget and make an offer on the property, and in this market, we may have to make several offers on the property they want. Eventually, we get it, and then we move into the design phase.

Please describe the design phase.
We survey the house or the property, and we come up with a design and do another construction budget where we look at floorplans, elevations, materials, and further input from the owner. Then we move into construction documents.

What are the construction documents?
These are the plans we use for building and permitting. They are detailed drawings, and we work out the details of what they want, like quartz/granite countertops, fixtures, flooring, tile, and more of those materials. While working through construction documents, we also work through the pre-construction, finalizing the budget, and putting together a loan package: the design plans, project schedule, and the final pricing budget to close. The client can present this to their lender and say here is the property, design, and what it’s going to cost. Now they have a total package and can close on their construction loan and their mortgage.

What’s the next step?

We can begin construction with another contract and the necessary deposits to get us going with a launch meeting to kickoff and get all our contractors on site. We review the schedule, everybody’s role and review final selections with the owner. We begin construction, and depending upon the size of the project, it can be a two, three, six, nine, or 12-month process. We do regular updates with clients onsite and let them know what’s going on during this time. I always tell clients that things move very quickly at the beginning of construction, whether it’s demolition and framing, then it gets all sheeted up, and things slow down. After that, the tedious work begins like plumbing, electrical, HVAC, drywall, finishes, and other minute details. It seems like everything is cruising to the owner, and suddenly it comes to a grinding halt, but it doesn’t because now you are doing the small, tedious work of finishing, and that takes time.

Throughout the construction process, we communicate with the clients on progress, material, and supply delays. We used to touch on this, but in today’s market, we have to stress it. It’s not just shipping delays, but material cost increases are crazy. For example, a year ago, 2X4’s were $3, and today they are $9! When you are buying 100 2×4’s that’s a huge hit. A lot of our clients understand it, and nobody likes it. We don’t like it, and it doesn’t increase our profit, and that’s why at the beginning of the process, we communicate these escalating material costs, so there are no surprises for the client. We have to build in contingencies, and we share this at the beginning of the process.

Our team understands this emotional time for our clients and that a lot of money comes with a great deal of trust. It’s a frustrating, crazy, and exciting experience. The building or renovation of a house is a stressful process for families. Someone once said that building a house breaks up more marriages than infidelity. We take that into account from the get-go and communicate that to new clients. The Wolk360 team wants to make the process as smooth as possible for our clients and ourselves.

Wolk360 is grateful for our clients because most of them understand these nuances, and they have the means to afford it.

What happens upon completion of the project?
Upon completing the project, we do a final walkthrough with the client to start generating a punch list early. We get our CO and, they can move in and start living in their new home, but it doesn’t end there for us because that’s when our warranty begins. There is a one-year warranty. We tell our owners not to wait for the year to be up if something were to arise. We make sure to do quarterly warranty check-ins. We tell our clients not to wait for the one-year warranty but to let us know when anything concerns them.

WOLK360 was founded in 2016 by Jonathan Wolk, AIA, as a turnkey solution for small and mid-size projects to provide a single source for busy Owners. To provide cost-effective solutions to our clients, we are a lean organization with a team of reliable sub-contractors that has a long history of working together. Projects range from new residential, residential renovations, first and second-generation office, and retail fitups ranging in size from 1,000 sq. ft. up to 100,000 sq. ft building renovations.

(Phone) 919.291.7622​ Email: jonathan@wolk360.com

Chop The Top #2

Wolk360 is a real estate, design-build firm specializing in helping clients acquire property and build their dream home, business, or investment property. A recent project in Raleigh named Chop the Top #2 is a prime example of its capabilities in helping clients fulfill their dreams. Jonathan, President and founder, recently discussed the project:

We worked with a real estate agent to help their client who saw one of our recently completed projects and they liked it.

We toured a beautiful house on a corner lot in downtown Raleigh. The plan is to gut the inside of the house, reconfigure the downstairs so they will have a large kitchen, expand the front room with large windows, and a porch on the back of the house. Then we will “chop the top” off the house and add a second floor with a master bedroom, bedrooms, and a reading nook with beautiful glass.

We are going through the budgeting process and will then go over a final budget to finish the plans, submit for a permit, and get ready to start construction. We have already begun some exploratory demolition to check on things like the foundation and wall conditions. Our goal is to begin the primary demolition and construction later this month.

How old is the house?
The house was built in the early ’50s, just after WWII. One of the cool things about this property is that it’s located in an older section downtown on a corner lot. We did discuss the possibility of tearing the house down and rebuilding. However, if we tore this house down, we would not rebuild as big of a footprint because of the new “setback” requirements. One of the benefits and value this property gives is building more space by maintaining the existing footprint than a tear-down—one of the nuances I love about this property and project. We are adding value to the property by saving the house because you would not build it today.

After seeing what we did with the Hargett Street project, an old bungalow we gutted downtown, they came to us. We took them on a walkthrough of that project, and they liked what they saw. The client said, “This is precisely what we want to do. Can you help us?” We worked with their realtor to find properties and search together to see what might work. Then, we found this particular property. Being an all brick house gives it value. Even though it’s in bad shape, it’s got character and is in a great location. You could not build this house today under current restrictions and codes.

The client currently lives in the suburbs, and they are downsizing. They’ve lived all over the world and want to live downtown. They like the culture downtown. The ability to walk to a bar or restaurant is a plus as well. They can downsize with a smaller house with more character than what they had in the suburbs. The design we’re working on meets their new living needs and preferences. It has this entertaining kitchen and a nice-sized living room. We are using the space on the lower level, and instead of all these rooms chopped up like they were, we are opening up the entire lower level. The footprint and square footage is good; it’s just basically how do you open it up? How do you make it bigger than it is? And with the opportunity to add in a second-floor provides them all the benefits they need for their lifestyle and focus as they transition into empty-nesters.

What are the challenges in a project like this?
We sat down with the clients and talked about their specific needs and what they wanted. They have elderly parents and enjoyed a ground-floor bedroom that is a bedroom but not a master bedroom. And quite frankly, that was good because it wouldn’t fit with the house’s Footprint configuration.

What I like about the place is that it’s got a small foyer upon entry, but then it has this nice sized living room that’s essentially existing with an old wood-burning fireplace that we will convert to gas. Then, it had a tiny kitchen, small bedrooms, a dining room, and we decided to open up all that space to give them a nice big kitchen that works off the living room and found a nice little niche to put the stairs in for the second floor.

When you come to the second floor, you’ve got a master bedroom that essentially sits over the living room, and you have a nice-sized master bedroom that stacks. The goal was to simplify using the existing parameters of the house and staying within them. So there are multiple bedrooms upstairs and a little niche space, or a reading room. The design opportunities started to come together. We have the windows for the bedroom that cast a lot of light for the upper hallway, and that nook has a nice high window that brings morning light into the room. Going back and forth with the clients, we wanted to maintain the exterior brick and keep the stone front porch, and everything will be painted white. After putting together the design, it’s come together nicely and meets the client’s goals.

Describe the process of chopping the top of the house to add the second floor.
One of the first questions to ask is; can the footings support the second story addition? The answer was no, so we had to come in and reinforce the footings to add the second floor. In Chop the Top 1, we built additional foundations and added posts to support the additional floor. We are doing an elevated slab in this house so the whole floor is structural and easier to bring down the loads to where they should be. When taking off the roof of a home, you’ve got to look at the foundation and start underground with exploratory work to decide what the solution is for going up.

The next step is to chop it off with selected demolition on the interior and take the roof rafters off piece by piece. They will come back in and add the flooring and foundation support, then add the walls and a new second-floor roof.

It’s about a nine-month timeline, give or take a month. Supply and logistic demands will mean we have to order ahead of our specific project calendar. Spray foam insulation is an issue the industry is adjusting as we have many other supply and cost issues.

Wolk360 in Raleigh, North Carolina, is an innovative and creative buy-design-build firm specializing in helping clients create the perfect home. The firm is unique in that it has a multi-disciplinary team of designers, architects, builders, and real estate agents, so clients do not have to deal with multiple players when pursuing their dream. From acquisition, planning, development, demolition, and build they serve residential and commercial clients with high-quality start to finish custom projects.

WOLK360 was founded in 2016 by Jonathan Wolk, AIA, as a turnkey solution for small and mid-size projects to provide a single source for busy Owners. To provide cost-effective solutions to our clients, we are a lean organization with a team of reliable sub-contractors that has a long history of working together. Projects range from new residential, residential renovations, first and second-generation office, and retail fitups ranging in size from 1,000 sq. ft. up to 100,000 sq. ft building renovations.
(Phone) 919.291.7622​ Email: jonathan@wolk360.com